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Monday, 22 February 2021

Mark 1:9-25 You are My Son

 

Lent has begun, even though it feels as if Christmas and New Year’s is barely over. Lent is a seven-week period in the church year leading into Easter when the church focuses on repentance. Repentance is about making changes in how we live, refocusing on following Jesus and on how we live with others. The desire for change comes as we gain an awareness of how our sin separates us from God and what it cost God to be reconciled with us and that God’s grace to us comes at a huge cost to Jesus. During Lent, we will be moving through the Gospel of Mark. Mark is often described as the “Wow” gospel. His whole reason for writing his gospel is to get us to sit up and go “Wow” as we discover who Jesus really is.

Right from the get go, Mark tells us who Jesus is, “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” There’s no guessing about who Jesus is in Mark’s gospel; it’s clear right from the start, from beginning to end. Scott Hoeze and Carrie Steenwyk write, “All through the gospel of Mark people wonder who Jesus is. A few people hit on the right answer but are repeatedly told to keep it quiet. Only when Jesus dies on the cross is someone allowed to say publicly, “Surely, this was the Son of God!” Once Jesus has given the last full measure of his life, it’s safe to identify him.”

Mark begins his gospel by introducing us to John the Baptist whose role is to point the way to the coming Messiah, the coming Christ. As part of John’s preparing the way for the coming of Jesus, he focuses on calling the people to repentance for the forgiveness of sins; calling the people to turn back towards God and righteousness and right living. John sounds a lot like the Old Testament prophets who kept calling the people to turn their lives and hearts back to God and not rely on simply following religious practices and empty words of faith. John points to Jesus, “And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Only God can baptize with the Holy Spirit, that means God is coming!

In Luke’s gospel, we discovered that John and Jesus are cousins, but there’s no mention that they really knew each other, but when Jesus begins his ministry, the first thing he does is seek John out to be baptized by John. You may be asking, “Why would Jesus feel the need to be baptized since he has nothing to repent about, and especially since John’s baptism is with water while Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit?” By being baptized by John, it identifies Jesus with the people he’s come to save; we call this vicarious sin-bearing. We get an image of this in Isaiah 53, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

John’s baptism is a baptism of repentance for forgiveness. With John’s baptism, we change to receive forgiveness, but John points ahead to Jesus’ baptism where we receive that forgiveness because Jesus takes on himself our punishment for sin to the cross so we can have peace with God. John’s baptism points to turning our lives back to God through Jesus. Jesus’ message is, “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Jesus calls us to change the direction of our lives and believe the good news that he is the Son of God, the promised Messiah; that he is the good news. Jesus is all about restoring people, offering them a new identity rooted in the kingdom of God. Right after baptizing Jesus, John’s put in jail. His role is over and Mark’s focus in now completely on Jesus.

During Jesus’ baptism, heaven’s torn open; the Jordan River has become a meeting place for heaven and earth. We hear echoes of Jacob’s dream of a ladder between heaven and earth where angels travel up and down on heaven’s business. As Jesus comes up out of the water, the Spirit comes down from heaven and descends on Jesus in the form of a dove and a voice from heaven declares, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” What a wonderful image of being baptized with the Holy Spirit! We see a picture here of the inter-connectedness of God with the Father declaring his love for the Son and the Spirit anointing the Son for the father’s business on earth. You don’t get one person of the Trinity without the others. It’s also important to remember that when God speaks, we listen. So often we talk expecting God to listen, but when God does speak, we need to listen.

No matter how other people in Mark’s gospel respond to Jesus, Mark clearly lets us know that Jesus is God’s Son. Those of us reading or hearing Mark’s story of Jesus’ life are never in doubt about who Jesus is. At Jesus’ death, after the temple curtain splits wide open and the Holy Spirit flows out into the world, using the same word as the heavens opening here with Jesus’ baptism, that we hear a Roman centurion confess, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” In Mark 3, Mark even records an evil spirit falling before Jesus and confessing, “You are the Son of God.” Both heaven and hell acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God; it’s those of us on earth that have the hardest time confessing Jesus as the Son of God. This is why there are so many off shoots of the Christian faith, most of them seeing Jesus as a good man, even as a demi-god, but having a hard time with the belief that Jesus is the Son of God, fully God. If we confess that Jesus is the Son of God, then we have no excuse for not following him and everything he taught.

Faith is all about relationships, our relationship with Jesus and our relationships with each other. The main image is that of family; family is a key image in the Bible of our relationship with God. Here we have the God the Father and Jesus the Son shown in a close relationship filled with blessing and love. Through Jesus we are adopted as daughters and sons into God’s family where we experience God’s love and blessings. Families can be funny things, but they are held together by bonds of love and commitment to each other, by sacrificial love, wanting the best for each other and being there for each other. Cain and Abel are the first brothers in the Bible. Cain kills Abel in a fit of rage and God asks Cain where Abel is and Cain asks, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” God doesn’t reply because the answer is obvious, “Yes, you are supposed to care for, protect, and act in love towards your brother.” Jesus, our older brother, God our Father commit completely to us, they’re so committed to us that Jesus dies for us. Jesus tells us that people will know we belong to him by our love for each other, our commitment to us, an echo of Jesus’ commitment to us.

Right after Jesus’ baptism, Mark’s story takes a surprising turn, At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and the angels attended him.” Pastor Scott Hoeze writes, “When the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus and God expresses his love for him, the first order of business is a blunt, brutal engagement with evil. Why was Jesus baptized and, furthermore, anointed by God? It certainly wasn’t step 1 to a comfortable life of fame and glory. “He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” The animals in question here aren’t squirrels and raccoons—they’re threats to life and to human flourishing: lions, jackals, and other predators. In the Bible the wilderness is shorthand for chaos, the precise opposite of the cosmos God created “in the beginning.” Israel saw the wilderness as a place to seek God and be shaped by God spiritually, learning trust and dependency on God. Jesus seeks out the Father to prepare for his ministry. We see God providing for Jesus, even in testing by being attended by angels.

Jesus comes as the Son of God to bring shalom. Shalom is peace, it’s blessing; living well with God and each other, looking to bless each other and be a blessing. Satan brought chaos into the world through sin and he continues to stir up chaos and brokenness. The Son of God has come to restore shalom: shalom between the Father and us, shalom into our world again. Jesus calls us and equips us, his brothers and sisters, with his Spirit to be shalom bringers and creators in our community. As we see the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit relate to each other in beauty and harmony, we turn and look into our own community here in Lacombe and ask ourselves, “How can we be agents of healing and shalom, where is God already working so we can join him, how can we bring beauty and harmony into Lacombe as followers of the Son of God?”

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Genesis 45:1-18 Sent Ahead by God

 

We’re at the end of our series on Joseph, we’ve skipped a few chapters because of the start of Lent next week, but this morning’s story brings Joseph’s and Judah’s story full circle. Judah’s responsible for selling Joseph into slavery and now Joseph and Judah are face to face again, though Judah’s not aware of that at the moment. I encourage you to read through Joseph and Judah’s story again at home to get a feel for the power of the moment here in Joseph’s throne room. Joseph’s been in charge of Egypt for about nine years now, his dreams of ruling has come true, even his brothers have kneeled before him. Now they’re back again to buy more food, this time Benjamin’s with them, as Joseph had commanded them.

Joseph stuck his silver cup in Benjamin’s sack on the brothers’ way home and now they’re cowering in fear before this powerful ruler. Judah has just begged to take Benjamin’s place in slavery to spare Jacob more grief, Judah’s willing to sacrifice his life for Benjamin’s. Judah admits that this trouble is because of the sin they committed in selling their other brother into slavery. Judah’s changed over the years, just as Joseph has. Both have become mature leaders who take responsibility seriously. Judah’s developed a sacrificial heart as well along the way.

Hearing how Judah has changed, how sorrow for their father and regret for his past have shaped Judah’s heart, seeing his brothers take care of each other, Joseph breaks down; the emotion of seeing his brothers moves him to reveal to his brothers who he is. Joseph’s emotions and weeping are so powerful that all the Egyptians in the palace are able to hear him, even though they were all sent from the room beforehand. Joseph’s servants are concerned and let Pharaoh know what’s happening. Joseph turns to his brothers and now we see a powerful moment of forgiveness and grace, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?”

The brothers are horrified. The brother they thought was dead, the brother they sold into slavery is now the second most powerful man in the land with the power of life and death over them. Now we see just how wise in the ways of God Joseph has become, he sees his brothers’ fear and acknowledges their sin in selling him into slavery, but he also recognizes that this was part of God’s working out his plans to save his people, “Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” Joseph sees God’s hand at work, even in the hard times.

It’s easier to see God’s hand at work looking back. During hard times, we focus on getting through, we look for next steps forward or ways to escape; looking for what God is doing through the hard times often only comes later on. God was looking way ahead, putting in place a plan to create a safe place for his people to grow, to provide for his people. This is where the sermon first started, but as I looked more at Joseph’s story, the theme of forgiveness and reconciliation stood out more and more. This is a story of God at work, as Joseph recognizes, “But God sent me ahead of you to prepare for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” This is about God’s long-term plans; God’s thinking years and generations ahead, putting in place his plan of salvation.

Joseph’s story points us ahead to Jesus who came to save his people. Jesus saves us by a great deliverance whose beginnings were already set-in place right after Adam and Eve first sinned. This is where the switch in the sermon began this week. Joseph could have responded in so many negative ways; ways that used his power to punish his brothers. He could have chosen revenge over forgiveness, bitterness over grace, anger over love, power over humility, vengeance over reconciliation. Over the past few weeks, we have watched how God has been with Joseph, no matter the situation, how God was shaping him, not just to lead Egypt through the famine, but also to protect and provide for his family and to provide Joseph’s family with a place of plenty to live out the famine. This will help Joseph’s family to grow into a nation, a nation who will be a blessing to the other nations as promised to Abraham.

Joseph’s forgiveness is real and his desire for reconciliation is genuine. Joseph recognises that God took evil and turned it into good, used it to move forward his plan to save people, this insight gives him the ability to forgive his brothers and to seek reconciliation with them. Paul hits on this in Romans 8, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose… What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

We see how Joseph has matured in his faith and as a person. Joseph chooses forgiveness, grace, love, humility and reconciliation. He holds his brothers responsible for their past choices, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt,” but he also points to God’s hand in everything that has happened to save lives. Later on, after their father Jacob dies and the brothers are afraid Joseph will take revenge on them, Joseph reassures them, “Do not be afraid. You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, so that many people should be kept alive.” Forgiveness is hard work and it takes time. When you need to offer forgiveness because you can feel your heart becoming hard and bitter, or others see in you and are brave enough to confront you about it, it doesn’t happen overnight. Joseph misses his family; he wants to be part of the family again. Yet, as the brothers know, if you have power, you may feel you don’t need to forgive because you can take care of justice yourself. Forgiveness flows out of our relationship with Jesus.

Rev. James Howell writes that when Jesus said on the cross, “Father forgive them for they do not know not what they are doing,” Jesus could easily have said the same as Joseph, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, so that many people should be kept alive.” God saves, Jesus saves, not just so people don’t die, but so that we can be reconciled with God, but also to call us to reconciliation with others that we’ve broken relationships with. Reconciliation means taking an honest look in yourself and coming to a knowledge on how much we need God’s forgiveness and we’re humbled, moving us to extend forgiveness to others in a desire for reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5 is the reconciliation chapter in the Bible. Reconciliation is about healing, renewal, new life, confession, repentance and life change, “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

God reconciled us to himself through Jesus and calls us to be ministers of reconciliation in the world. As a sign of what God has done for us through Jesus, we practice gracious reconciliation shaped by sincere confession and a determined repentance with each other. What an amazing calling! Rev. Howell recognizes that “Reconciliation takes time, a long time. Reconciliation isn’t forgive and forget; it’s genuine healing for everybody involved. Joseph needed the healing as much as the brothers and their father did. The beneficiaries of this reconciliation? Not just this family, but people who had never known them!”

Reconciliation is costly, it cost Jesus deeply, he was separated from the Father and Holy Spirit for the first time ever on the cross. Think about that! At the heart of reconciliation is love and compassion for others; the same love and compassion God has for us; that led Jesus to the cross, that saves us from the chains of slavery to anger, hatred, vengeance and bitterness. Reconciliation is healing of wounds, healing of relationships, healing of the soul. It begins with God and is then lived out here among each other. Is there anyone you need to work towards reconciliation with? Is there confession, repentance and healing needed with others? As your pastor, I would be honoured to walk that journey with you as you seek reconciliation and healing.

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Genesis 41:1-40 From Prison to Ruler

 

Dreams, dreams, and more dreams. There is no one’s life more impacted by dreams in the Bible than Joseph’s. It began with Joseph’s dreams about ruling over his brothers, then the next two dreams that impact Joseph’s life come while he’s in prison and the Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker each have a dream that Joseph interprets with God’s help. Now we hear about more dreams that end up impacting Joseph and these are given to Pharaoh, the most powerful person in Egypt, the man whose prison Joseph is running.

Two years after Pharaoh’s cupbearer is reinstated to his position and forgets about Joseph, Pharaoh goes to bed one night and has two dreams. These two dreams are both really similar to each other: they’re dreams of opposites, dreams of change, dreams that start off wonderful and quickly turn into nightmares. The first dream is of seven wonderful fat sleek cows. These are the kinds of cows every farmer dreams about. Then comes a horrifying change, the seven fat sleek cows are swallowed up by seven ugly, gaunt cows, but they stay ugly and skinny. In the second dream, Pharaoh sees seven healthy full heads of grain, the kind of grain every farmer is praying to grow every spring. Then comes the horrifying change, these seven beautiful heads of grain are swallowed up by seven thin, scorched heads of grain, but they stay ugly and thin.  Pharaoh doesn’t understand these dreams, and it bothers him because he senses there’s a message in them.

Pharaoh calls his magicians and wisemen to the throne room and tells them his dreams, but not a single one of them has any clue what they mean. Now a light goes off in the cupbearer’s head and he remembers his own dream and who interpreted the meaning of it for him. He turns to Pharaoh and tells him, “I know someone who can interpret your dream for you. He’s a Hebrew prisoner, but he’s good at this kind of thing. He helped me understand my dream when I was in prison and things turned out exactly as he said they would.” So, Pharaoh sends for Joseph, and Joseph’s quickly brought up out of the prison, cleaned and washed, because you don’t go in front of the Pharaoh smelling of prison. Joseph is now in the presence of the most powerful person in Egypt; what is God’s plan here; we sense that this has to be a God moment.

Pharaoh says to Joseph, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Once again, Joseph points straight to God, giving God the credit for being able to interpret dreams. Joseph tells Pharaoh, “I cannot do it, but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.” Joseph is confident that God has placed him here to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, he hasn’t lost his faith and trust in God and keeps turning to him, no matter what’s going on. Joseph remains humble, telling Pharaoh that God is the source of his wisdom.

Pharaoh describes his dreams to Joseph and tells Joseph that none of the magicians could interpret them. Joseph tells Pharaoh that the two dreams point to the same thing and that God has given him two dreams to show him what God is about to do. Seven years of prosperity and great abundance are coming, it’s going to be an amazing seven years, but they’re going to be followed right away by seven really hard years of famine that’s going to wipe all the prosperity away. The famine will be so severe that no one’s even going to remember the seven wonderful years. Sounds a bit like Alberta’s economy. Joseph tells Pharaoh that God gave him two similar dreams to show Pharaoh that there’s no changing God’s plan and it’s going to happen soon. This is not a good interpretation, especially since there’s no changing God’s mind on it. Hard times are coming.

Joseph then takes a really bold step of faith, he tells Pharaoh, “Now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of the Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.” Remember, Joseph is an administrator, someone trained to organize people and systems so that the organization or business runs efficiently and their goals are met. He sees that if Pharaoh’s not proactive in responding to the upcoming famine, then Egypt and the countries and people around Egypt are going to suffer greatly.

Think about this for a moment. Joseph’s a Hebrew slave offering the most powerful person in Egypt advice on how to do his job and run his country. Why should Pharaoh listen to a slave? He has plenty of capable administrators in his own country, people that understand the culture and values of Egypt and able to figure out a way forward. There’s no need to listen to a foreigner. Just because Joseph can run a prison and a household, that doesn’t mean he knows anything about running a country.

Now we see God’s hand directly at work in raising Joseph up out of prison and into a place of influence. Pharaoh turns to his advisors and asks, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?” Now Pharaoh’s not expecting anyone to disagree with him, that just doesn’t happen, and now comes one of the greatest life changing moments in history, “Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.” In Acts 7, as Steven, the first martyr, testifies about God’s faithfulness and plans, he remembers Joseph,Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him and rescued him from all his troubles. He gave Joseph wisdom and enabled him to gain the goodwill of Pharaoh king of Egypt. So, Pharaoh made him ruler over Egypt and all his palace.”

This is more amazing than we first realize. Pharaoh has just acknowledged the power of Joseph’s God here in Egypt; raising up Joseph, God’s man, to a place of extraordinary power, a foreigner who answers only to Pharaoh. Pharaoh has also raised Joseph’s God to a prominent place in the pantheon of Egypt’s gods. Pharaoh sees that Joseph’s God, unlike other gods, is not limited by geography. The most powerful person in the land acknowledges God’s power and that what’s coming cannot be stopped by Egypt’s gods. We hear an echo here to 400 years into the future when God once again will show his power over Egypt’s gods when he leads his people back to the Promised Land. That fills us with hope still today as we know that God is God of gods. We see God’s power when Jesus comes to earth, fully human and fully God to raise us up out of our prisons and slavery to sin to set us free to love and serve him by defeating sin, Satan and death on the cross.

While God’s working in the background of Joseph’s life, Joseph remains faithful in all the lesser roles God places him in to prepare him for this moment. Joseph’s life reminds us that our gifts and talents are given to us in order to serve the Lord by serving others. Over and over again, Moses reminds us that no matter where Joseph is serving, God’s with him, giving him success. Pete Wilcox writes, “the proper response to the revelation of God’s good will and purpose, for Joseph as well as Pharaoh, is not resignation and the abrogation of responsibility, but faithful action.” Joseph is put in Egypt for just such a time as this, just as Esther was in Babylon for such a time as she was in, just as Bethel has been placed here in Lacombe for just such a time as this to reveal the Gospel news, to make new disciples, to use our gifts to reveal a glimpse of God’s already and not yet kingdom that the Holy Spirit is building right here.

Faithful action that flows out of following Jesus, loving each other, serving our community and sharing our faith because our hearts are filled with the desire for all our neighbours, friends, co-workers, fellow students and others to know Jesus’ amazing love and grace and power. May we always be asking God, “What now, where do you want me to serve you and others; help us see where you are already at work so we can join you.” May the Lord give us the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the hearts to respond to his kingdom call on our lives.

Friday, 5 February 2021

Genesis 40 Prison Dreams

 

We’re back into the story of Joseph and his family. Joseph is in prison after being falsely accused of trying to sleep with Potiphar’s wife. He’s in a prison that’s run by Potiphar as captain of Pharaoh's prisons, and because Potiphar knows just how talented Joseph’s administration skills are, Joseph’s put in charge of all that goes on in the prison by the warden. No matter where Joseph ends up, his skill and training keep putting him in positions of responsibility, even if it’s only in prison. Moses, writing Joseph’s story, reminds us that the Lord is with Joseph and giving him success in whatever he does.

This explains why Joseph is trusted with serving two very important political prisoners: Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer and chief baker. To be a chief cupbearer or baker meant that you had Pharaoh’s ear and trust and were often asked to give your thoughts and advice to the most powerful and important person in Egypt. We get a glimpse of what these relationships looked like in Nehemiah, In the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before, so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” The king said to me, “What is it you want?”

Because of the trust these positions carried, close relationships often grew between the king or Pharaoh and those who prepared the food they ate, trusting them with their lives. This is why the cupbearer and chief baker are still given respect in prison. Because Joseph’s gifted in making sure things get done well, he’s assigned to attend to the cupbearer and baker, to take care of their needs. Joseph’s now a servant of other prisoners. He’s now so far away from his dreams of ruling, that he must have given up on them.

Time passes and we start to wonder where Joseph’s story is heading. It’s been all downhill so far. Then a glimmer of hope appears. Moses writes, “After they had been in custody for some time, each of the two men—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were being held in prison—had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own.” Dreams re-enter Joseph’s life and we know this isn’t coincidence, God’s at work, but how? Are these dreams somehow connected to Joseph’s dreams? Moses then reveals that both dreams have meaning and, as part of Joseph’s story, we listen in because we know they’ll impact Joseph’s life, as his original dreams have.

Joseph comes in the next morning and notices that the two men are looking a little dejected. He asks them, “Why do you look so sad today?” Joseph has learned compassion and empathy for others, so unlike when he was younger. Joseph’s able to see past his own wants and needs and see the needs and hurts of others. He’s grown in compassion. When you stop to think about this, this is pretty amazing. Joseph’s been sold into slavery by his brothers, he’s been lied about and thrown into prison, and now he’s the main servant of other prisoners. Most people would be moaning about how unfair life is, and how they never get a break and deserve so much better, but Joseph has matured in his walk with God, and learned to serve wherever he is, and to care about others. Lessons so many of us need to be reminded of at times. These lessons, looking ahead in Joseph’s story, are going to be really important in his closest relationships later on.

The cupbearer and baker decide to share their dreams with Joseph, even though they believe “there’s no one to interpret them.” Joseph responds in a way that kind of surprises us, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.” Joseph has developed humility, turning to God for the wisdom to interpret their dreams. Moses never tells us if Joseph went to God to interpret his own dreams, but Joseph turns to God now for wisdom and insight. This is Joseph’s second confession of faith in God; his first confession of God was when he told Potiphar’s wife that he wouldn’t sleep with her because “it was a wicked thing and a sin against God.” We see Joseph’s growing relationship and dependence in God even though his life is more down than up, more sad than happy, more negative than positive.

I’ve discovered in life and through the Bible, that the closer our walk with Jesus is, the more our faith grows, but also the bigger the challenges we’re given, and often the more suffering that we go through. When Joseph was young, there was no suffering, then in Potiphar’s house, while it wasn’t ideal, life wasn’t so bad and the suffering was easier, but as Joseph grows in his faithfulness to God, he unfairly finds himself in prison serving other prisoners. Jesus constantly challenges our loves, our assumptions, our true values and beliefs, and then calls us to give him control over our entire life, our entire heart, soul and mind and follow him into deep committed servanthood and service. Jesus asks for both our identity and life style.

When suffering and injustice come, we can turn to our Lord who understands injustice. Jesus was sentenced unjustly to death on a cross, but that injustice provided for the forgiveness of our sin. Jesus humbled himself to the injustice, turning to his Father in prayer for another way in the Garden of Gethsemane, but accepting his Father’s plan. Through Jesus’ obedience, we receive forgiveness of our sin. John Calvin tells us to do something similar in his discussion on unjust government in his Institutes, calling the people to obedience rather than rebellion in times of injustice, to examining our own sins to gain humility, and to pray for our ruler and the peace of the city.

We hear Joseph’s suffering as he interprets the dream of the cupbearer. The cupbearer’s dream is of a vine with three branches of grapes. He makes wine out of the grapes and serves it to the Pharaoh. Joseph tells the cupbearer that in three days he will once again serve the Pharaoh, but then we hear the cry of his heart, But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.” Joseph’s faith in God may be growing, but he still dreams of being free again one day as he cries out against the unfairness of what’s happened to him.

The baker hears Joseph’s interpretation of the cupbearer’s dream and he eagerly shares his dream of three baskets of bread, but the birds come and eat the bread. He’s got to be thinking, “I like this guy, hopefully he gives me a good interpretation too.” Obviously, he didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to Joseph’s warning that interpretations come from God, not from him. Joseph’s interpretation isn’t so great for the baker. “This is what it means,” Joseph said. “The three baskets are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and impale your body on a pole. And the birds will eat away your flesh.” Definitely not what the baker was looking for! Sure enough, after three days the cupbearer is given his old position back and the baker is executed.

I wonder if Joseph’s hopes were raised when the cupbearer was raised up to his old position, but considering the way Joseph’s life has already gone, a life filled with injustice against him, Joseph should have known the cupbearer would forget. That’s what happens, once he’s free, the cupbearer forgets Joseph. Paul’s words of reassurance to the Roman church comes to mind, “But we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

I will freely admit that I never look forward to suffering, but I have also learned that those are the times I grow most in my faith; in patience, perseverance, character and hope. As we rest here in Joseph’s story until next Sunday as he remains a servant in prison, we wonder what and who God is shaping Joseph into, what God’s plans for Joseph are. At the same time, in our own times of suffering, stress and experiences of injustice and unfairness, we know that God is always in control and that he will use these times to grow us. We know that Jesus knows suffering and will give us what we need when we ask him. Don’t fear suffering, know that God is with us through it all and he has a plan we can trust.

Monday, 25 January 2021

Genesis 28:10-22 Bethel: Stairway to Heaven

I love how the founders of our church chose this story to give us our name Bethel: House of God. This story is an important turning point in Jacob’s life; it’s when he finally accepts God as his God instead of just being his father’s God. Each of us who have grown up in the church need to also make that same change in our relationship with God when we accept God as our God instead of just being our parent’s God, a time when we say to Jesus, “I commit myself to you, I don’t want to walk through life without you, I need, oh I need you.”

I want to take you back a few weeks for just a moment. On New Year’s Day we looked at when Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan River and how they took stones from the middle of the river and set up a monument to God so that they would never forget how God has led them into the Promised Land. This is another monument story, another story of making sure that we never forget who God is. This is a ‘promise story,” a story where God builds on his relationship with his people. God extends his blessing that he had given to Jacob’s grandfather and dad and now to Jacob too.

Jacob has always been conniving to get this blessing from his dad. That’s why he took advantage of Esau’s hunger to buy the blessing from him, and then deceived his dad to make sure that Isaac and Esau didn’t take it back. The funny thing, funny strange, is that during all this conniving, Jacob had never really accepted God as his God. He wanted what God gives without making a commitment to God. Unfortunately, still today, that is so common; we want God’s blessings without really wanting God or making a commitment to him. God loves us way more than we love him.

What strikes me about Jacob is that it’s only when he’s messed up really bad, when he realizes that his actions can have painful consequences, that he becomes open to God’s presence. Jacob’s running away from his brother’s anger after deceiving their father and receiving the family blessing. Jacob’s heading to the safety of his mother’s family, to his uncle Laban’s place in Haran.

Jacob has had a hard day’s travel. He’s walking and has made it about 48 miles, or 77 kilometers. He’s tired and now that the sun has set, he sets up camp for the night. Jacob grabs a stone for a pillow, no Sleep Country pillows are available, and he goes to sleep. Jacob sleeps the sleep of the exhausted after the long journey and the emotional parting from his family. Since Jacob’s not coming to God, God comes to him in a dream. In his dream, Jacob sees “a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” The angels are busy doing the business of heaven here on earth; carrying messages and tasks from heaven for earth.

At the top of the stairway, Jacob sees God. God speaks now, I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

It strikes me that the longer God is interacting with Abraham’s family, the longer and more detailed the blessing he’s giving them becomes. There’s the promise of the land Jacob is sleeping on, the promises of lots of descendants, but now God tells them they will spread throughout the world, not simply stay on this one piece of land, the reminder that all peoples will be blessed through their family, but now God also tells Jacob that he will be with him as he leaves the Promised Land and will watch over him for protection until he brings him back home again. We hear the echo to Jesus’ promise to his disciples of the gift of the Holy Spirit in John 14, And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”

I love Jacob’s response; he recognizes the Lord is there even though he wasn’t even aware of it. He’s afraid, a combination of awe since he’s had a glimpse of God, and of fear, a realization of how great God is and how small he is. We remember that Moses is the one writing this years later, Moses who went up the mountain to meet with God, Moses who completely understands what it’s like to see God. As Moses writes, “Jacob was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” This is where our name comes from: Bethel, which means “house of God.” Jacob sets up the stone he used as a pillow as a monument to God’s presence.

We often think of heaven as being the place where God lives, yet here we see that God is not limited to heaven, that his presence and influence flows out into the world. This is what it means when Solomon builds the temple, and during its dedication, the glory of God pours into it. This story of Jacob meeting God reminds us that God is here and active, he’s not sitting in an easy chair in heaven watching what’s going on here on his tablet or iPad. Jesus becomes the visible presence of God and when he returns to heaven, he sends the Holy Spirit to be with us.

The central part of Jacob’s dream is the stairway, the ladder between heaven and earth with angels moving up and down it. Adam and Eve may have been kicked out of Eden and God’s presence, but God never abandoned earth or his people. Jacob’s ladder is a visual reminder that God is actively at work in our world, that heaven and earth are connected, that the work of heaven happens on earth. A former mentor, when talking about heaven would say that the veil between heaven and earth is really thin, only the breath of God thick. Jesus joined the angels in descending to earth, to equip 12 men, along with other followers and disciples to carry on his work of telling the gospel story and making more disciples of Jesus.

This is why God has placed Bethel Church here; to join God in the work he’s already doing here in Lacombe. We are like the monument stone that Jacob set up, a visual reminder of God’s presence here in Lacombe. This is why we’ve gone through this beautiful renovation; not just for us, but to be able to better reach out into our community, to be able to better serve our community, to be a place where we can feel comfortable inviting friends, neighbours, co-workers, fellow students to join us to learn more about Jesus as we follow him, as we grow deeper in our own faith and help others become disciples of Jesus. The pastoral elders have embraced the call to help you grow in your relationship with Jesus and helping us as a church family to grow and be a disciple making church family. We are focusing on this because we know that the Holy Spirit is in this place and will give us what we need, when we ask him, to help all those whom God has placed in our life to lead them to Jesus.

This beautiful building is a wonderful tool God has given us to join him in building his kingdom here, expanding his kingdom of shalom and peace. As Tim Keller writes in The Prodigal God, “The ultimate purpose of Jesus is not only individual salvation and pardon for sins but also the renewal of this world, the end of disease, poverty, injustice, violence, suffering and death.” Our renovated building, in a small way is a gift to give thanks for that gives a tiny glimpse of what God is doing here in Lacombe and calling us to join him in. This is not for us only, but a sign that God is in this place and he is at work, inviting, commanding us to join him in his kingdom work!


Monday, 18 January 2021

Genesis 39 Tempted

 

Joseph’s life is becoming more like a soap opera all the time. First, he’s on top of the world, being groomed to run dad’s business and getting the family blessing; then he gets sold into slavery after his brothers first threaten to kill him. Then, while a slave, Joseph rises to the highest position in his master’s household, an official in Pharaoh’s household in charge of the prisons. However, after a seemingly tawdry sordid affair refused by Joseph, he finds himself in Pharaoh’s dungeon, as far from his dreams of ruling as he’s ever been. We’re starting to get whip lash following the ups and downs of Joseph’s life!

Through the ups and downs of Joseph’s life, we see a change happening in Joseph. From a spoiled rich boy, we’re beginning to see a mature, faithful to God young man appearing. Walking closely with God will always change us. When we enter into a life long journey with God and Jesus, we are slowly shaped by the Holy Spirit into who we are created to be; people created in the image of God to take care of and develop the potential God has built into creation, to love God and others, sharing Jesus with those God places in our lives.

After being sold to Potiphar, captain of Pharaoh’s guard, Joseph quickly rises up in the slave ranks. His training in managing his father’s household is paying off. Moses tells us that Potiphar recognizes that “the Lord is with Joseph and that the Lord is giving Joseph success in everything he does.” Joseph works hard and with integrity and Potiphar is so pleased with him that he makes Joseph is attendant, placing all control of running his household in Joseph’s hands, a role with a great deal of responsibility. Life is looking up for Joseph, even though most Egyptians looked down of the Hebrews. Moses is writing this story down 400 years later, knowing how the Egyptians think, having grown up in the halls of power in Pharaoh's household.  

Success attracts all kinds of temptations, including Potiphar’s wife. She persistently pursues Joseph in order to sleep with him, “Come to bed with me!” she invites him again and again. Joseph is successful, but he’s also well-built and handsome, a potent combination for many people. It would have been so easy for Joseph to sleep with her, and in that culture, and with the amount of success Joseph has had with managing Potiphar’s household, he could easily have gotten away with it. What a way to exercise power and forget for a while that he’s a slave.

Joseph reveals why in a conversation with her,With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” Joseph is a contrast to Judah, who in the story just before this one, slept with his daughter-in-law Tamar after she had to trick him. Judah was supposed to give his youngest son to her as a husband after his two oldest sons died because of their wickedness, but he was afraid. Tamar had to trick him into believing she was a prostitute in order to get him to sleep with her so she could have a child. Judah does not have integrity in his relationship with Tamar.

Evil and temptation never give up though. Even though Joseph refuses to go to bed with Potiphar’s wife, she doesn’t take no for an answer. Joseph goes out of his way to try to not even be in the house with her and never alone with her, he knows the danger and alure of temptation, especially sexual temptation. Joseph reminds me of Billy Graham and his determination to not place himself into a situation of temptation. Yet, even with all his precautions, one day Joseph drops his guard a bit and he finds himself in the house alone with Potiphar’s wife and she immediately tries to tempt him into her bed again. She grabs Joseph by his cloak, but he slips out of it and runs away, but his cloak remains behind with her. She goes on to use his cloak to accuse Joseph of trying to rape her. It’s not always easy to do the right thing, to run away from temptation, to be the only one who is living life to please God instead of ourselves.

Potiphar’s wife first turns the other slaves against Joseph and then, when her husband Potiphar comes home, she turns her husband against Joseph. “She tells him this story: “That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.” Potiphar really has no choice, even though Joseph has made him a lot of money and did such a great job for him, he has to believe his wife and he throws Joseph into Pharaoh’s prison where Potiphar is in charge.

Walking away from temptation is hard. We all know that. The temptation of lust is powerful, but so the temptation to anger, sarcasm, bullying, cheating, lying and so much more. Doing right pleases God, but it may make you look silly in the eyes of those who do not follow Jesus. An article I read this past week talked about how our society had degenerated in terms of how we treat each other, nastiness, anger, mocking and dismissing others is common, due to the prevalence of social media and the easiness of being our worst instead of our best. It’s tempting to lash out, it’s more difficult to be Christ-like.

It’s unfair that Joseph gets punished for doing such a great job and being really good looking. Why would God allow someone who is growing in their faith, working really hard to do what God wants, maturing as a man, and has integrity suffer through all the injustice that Joseph is facing? Shouldn’t God be blessing Joseph instead. Joseph could have slept with Potiphar’s wife, enjoyed himself and even have gotten away with it because Joseph was such a hard worker and made Potiphar’s life so much easier. Potiphar took the easy way out, did no thinking, did no real digging into what really happened, he just wanted to keep the peace in his household, had no real relationship with Joseph because he was only a slave. The saying goes, that “evil flourishes when good people fail to do the right thing.” Joseph’s soap opera continues.

Yet I do wonder sometimes why we are surprised as followers of Jesus when we have times where we suffer and things are unfair. Jesus never told us that following him would be easy, he specifically told us that persecution and suffering comes as part of following him, that we will suffer for doing good. Matthew 5:11–12, Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” In Matthew 16, “Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” It’s in suffering, persecution and the unfairness we face in life that we learn a deeper trust and dependency in God, a greater appreciation for Jesus as he actually carried his cross to his death for our sin. This is why we chose to live Jesus’ way. Peter reminds us of the importance of, “keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:16) In 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul reminds us, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

The shining hope in Joseph’s story, even though it’s a soap opera going the wrong way, where the highs get lower and the lows get deeper, is that no matter where Joseph is, whether it’s in the pit because of his brothers, in slavery to Potiphar, or even in a Pharaoh’s prison, the Lord is with him, showing him kindness and granting him favour in the eyes of the prison warden. The Lord gives Joseph success in whatever he did, wherever he was, though never quite in the way Joseph must have hoped for or imagined after his dreams of becoming a ruler.

Through all these ups and downs, through the suffering and unfairness, Joseph continues growing in his faith in God, and in living his faithfulness out, no matter the cost or confusion that must be in his heart and mind over why his life is working out the way it is. Joseph resists temptation, not because it might get him into trouble, but because he realized that it would be sinning against God. Resisting temptation will not always pay off for us in the world’s eyes, but we resist because it’s who we are as children of God, followers of Jesus. Our faith is not just believing the right things about God, but it’s about living in the Way of Jesus, orienting our heart to Jesus’ heart, submitting our desires and will to Jesus’ will and desires. Faith involves developing Christian character, spending our entire life asking ourselves, “Who is God calling me to be, how is he using this situation to shape my heart and soul?”

We should not expect people to praise us for this, we should actually expect non-followers of Jesus to mock us for how we live for not indulging our every desire. Our joy and happiness, our peace and strength come from pleasing Jesus, not ourselves. God has a plan for our lives, he has created opportunities for us to serve others, to grow in humility, generosity, grace and maturity. An important part of our faith is that we continue to mature in our faith. A former mentor told me life is a life long opportunity to look more like Jesus and the more difficult the times are, the greater the opportunity to be more like Jesus. So as you walk through life, whether young or old, keep asking God, “Through this, how do you want me to live, who are you calling me to be?”

 

Friday, 15 January 2021

Genesis 37:12-36 Sold!

 

The Bible is filled with families who are chosen by God to move his plan to bring the Messiah, who is Jesus, who will save his people and fulfill God’s promise that Abraham’s family will be a blessing to all nations. However, there are few families as messed up as Jacob’s. Last week we looked at the roots of the hatred Joseph’s brothers have for him: favouritism by Jacob to Joseph and Joseph’s inability to understand how arrogant he sounds as he shares his dreams of ruling over his brothers with them. Even Jacob rebukes him over his dreams.

The story of Jacob’s family continues with Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem.” Jacob’s concerned about his sons because they have a rough history with the people of Shechem. Jacob’s daughter Dinah had been raped by Shechem, son of Hamor, so her brothers Simeon and Levi, after Jacob agreed to allow Dinah to marry Shechem, tricked the men of Shechem into being circumcised and then, when they were still in pain, murdered them all. Shechem’s no longer a safe place for them, so Jacob asks Joseph, the only son still at home, to go check on them. There are clues in the story that Joseph is being groomed to take over running the family household even though he’s a younger son from a second wife, from the fancy robe, which is not a working robe, to being at home while everyone else is herding sheep. It looks like Jacob is about to make Joseph his first heir. This cannot sit well with the brothers, especially after the dreams!

I wonder at Jacob’s wisdom, he must realize how much his sons detest Joseph after having gotten some of them on trouble with a bad report and then how Joseph interpreted his dreams, and yet Jacob sends Joseph instead of a servant to check on the others. I recognize in Jacob something in myself, how there are times I can be so smart and yet so blind to how things are going on around me. Looking back, there are times I wonder, “What was I thinking?”

Joseph heads out, foolishly wearing the very robe that shows how their father favours him over his brothers. He heads to Shechem, but can’t find his brothers. A man in the fields directs Joseph to Dothan, a few kilometers away, where his brothers have taken the sheep to graze them; a much safer place for them. While Joseph is still a way away, his brothers recognize him.

Now the Bible shows us just how deeply the brothers’ anger and jealousy has taken root in their hearts. They start plotting how to kill Joseph. Jealousy combined with anger is a toxic poison for our souls. We’ve seen this already in Scripture when Cain is jealous that the Lord accepts his brother Abel’s sacrifice instead of his and in anger, he lures his brother into a field and kills him. This spirit of anger and jealousy is at the heart of the religious leaders’ hearts as well when they arrange for Jesus to be crucified. I wonder if this is part of what happened in the USA this past week? This is why Jesus focuses so much on having a right heart with God and others, why he summarizes the commandments with loving God with everything we have and then loving our neighbour as ourselves. This is sacrificial love that focuses on the other person, wanting their good even over our own. Anger and jealousy perverts that love and focuses it inwards on ourselves and our wants and desires instead. If you are struggling with anger or jealousy issues, please reach out to myself, an elder, a trusted Jesus follower whose inner peace with God is evident and seek guidance on how to find God’s peace for your own heart and soul.  

When Joseph comes close, the brothers grab him and throw him into an empty pit after Reuben talks them out of killing Joseph. Reuben wants to find a way to get back on his father’s good side after sleeping with one of his wives in an act of rebellion. First thing they do is strip Joseph of his special robe, the sign of their father’s favouritism. Then they sit down and have lunch. This is a special depth of cruelty since, as we find out in Genesis 42, the entire time Joseph is pleading for his life.

While everyone, except Joseph and Reuben, who has left for some reason, are eating, an Ishmaelite trading caravan appears and Judah has an idea. Now we see Judah begin to rise in importance within the family. This is an important moment. Reuben, Simeon and Levi, the three oldest sons have all disqualified themselves for leading the family and receiving the father’s and God’s family blessing. Judah is next in line for the blessing, for being the line through which the promised Messiah will come. The rest of Jacob’s story is really the intertwining of Joseph and Judah’s stories, guiding and protecting the family as God’s way of preparing Abraham’s family to be a blessing to all nations.

Judah steps forward and tells his brothers, What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” Faced with the potential to have a few extra coins in their pockets and no blood on their hands, the brothers all agree to this plan. Joseph is sold for 20 shekels of silver. As Joseph is pulled from the pit and handed over the Ishmaelites, he must be wondering “Where is God, why is this happening to me?” We wonder, “How can Joseph’s dreams come true now?” The brothers then deceive their father by dipping Joseph’s robe in blood and letting their father think Joseph was killed by wild animals.

This becomes a turning point for the brothers, especially Judah, as Jacob’s grief is much deeper than they ever expected. Later on, when the brothers are in Egypt for food during a famine, Judah tells the governor to hold him prisoner instead of Joseph’s younger brother Benjamin, “Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come on my father.” Jealousy and anger are so powerful, this is why Jesus tells us in Matthew that if we hate someone, it’s like we murder them. Jealousy makes us want to take away what someone else has, not because we want it, but because we don’t want them to have it. This is a turning point for the brothers as their jealousy and anger is transformed by their love and concern for Jacob. Jesus summarizes the Law, telling us to orient our hearts on loving God and others. Paul expands on this in Galatians 5 when he tells us to nurture the Fruit of the Spirit in our hearts and minds. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Judah is starting to understand this.

Joseph goes into exile, thrown out of the family, cast out to be forgotten. Countries exile people with the goal of never seeing them again, taking away their ability to come back, making them homeless and powerless. This is what the brothers are trying to do to Joseph by selling him to their cousins who will then sell Joseph into slavery in Egypt. Joseph must have been wondering if his dreams were really from God, wondering why God wasn’t stopping this. Joseph enters into an exile from home, separated from his roots. We hear an echo back to Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve are exiled from the Garden, from the presence of God. There’s a heart ache that never really goes away.

We’re also exile and in slavery to our sin. God uses exile to teach us and remind us our hearts are supposed to be oriented towards him. God also provides a way home through Jesus. Jesus comes to guide us home by going into exile with us. On the cross we hear his cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus is separated from his Father for the first time ever, after eternity with the Father and the Spirit, Jesus forsaken for us, he dies so that we can be cleansed from our sin and return home. Jesus’ resurrection brings us new life in the kingdom of heaven, guaranteeing us a place at the banquet table of our Lord.

We are created for Eden, to be in the presence of God. Since our exile from Eden, we have been searching for home, for belonging. There are so many of our neighbours, friends, co-workers and sometimes family who live with an unrealized seeking for home that can only be found in and through Jesus. Sharing Jesus with others, inviting them to follow Jesus with you is an invitation to come home again, to become part of God’s family. Jesus’ earliest memories would have been being in exile with his parents, hearing their longing to return home again. He knows the yearning in your hearts for home, for belonging. Jesus brings healing in our relationships with God and neighbour and guides us home to our Father.

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Genesis 37:1-11 The Dreamer

 

We’re entering into a new series of stories here in Genesis and they’re introduced with, “This is the account of Jacob’s family line.” This is important to remember over the next few weeks as we walk through the Joseph stories; that Joseph’s stories are all about Jacob’s family line, not just Joseph. Joseph’s story at the beginning, surprisingly doesn’t have any mention of God; though we make some big assumptions about what God is doing. This story of Joseph’s dreams and early relationships with his brothers are foundation stories, setting the stage for the main part of God’s plan for Jacob’s family.

We get introduced to Joseph as a 17-year-old young man. The first thing we learn about Joseph is that he tattles on his brothers after they were taking care of the sheep together. This is not a good way to act with your brothers and sisters, no one likes a tattle tale! It’s important to recognize that Joseph tattles on his brothers from his father’s concubines, not from Leah, Jacob’s first wife. Family standing and importance is an important part of the story. Then we’re told that Jacob loves Joseph more than all the other kids and gives him a special coat. Jealousy rears its ugly head! This is becoming a family thing, that the younger sons get favoured and blessed over the older ones.

You would think Jacob would know better after his own experience with his brother Esau and his father Isaac’s experience with his older brother Ishmael. Jealousy, anger and deceit shape Jacob’s family dynamics, just as they did with Abraham and Isaac’s families. God doesn’t use perfect people or families to carry out his plans, he uses some pretty broken and messed up people to accomplish his plans. This has always given me hope, it helps me believe that God can use me and my family to carry out his plans too, that he uses us and our own peculiar brokenness, just as he can use yours.

Dave Bast recognizes that God has his own ways of doing things that don’t always match our ways; using the younger son over the older son is becoming the way God chooses to move his plans forward, “Yes, there is a pattern developing here. That clues us in. You know, there are always two levels to a Bible story. You can imagine the reactions – or you can even read about the reactions of the characters toward one another, but we the readers stand outside that and we see the hand of God operating through this, because in and through the whole story, it is not just a soap opera about the ups and downs, the loves and lives and loses of these people. It is about God instituting a plan. Remember way back to Abraham in Genesis 12, “I will bless you, and through you all the nations will be blessed.” And that is the thing that drives it forward, that promise. How is Joseph going to play a role in that?” Keep this in mind over the next few weeks!

Joseph now has a dream about sheaves of grain that he interprets as being his brothers, and they all bow down to his sheaf. Of course, Joseph tells his brothers. They’re not impressed. Joseph then has a second dream and in that dream the sun, moon and eleven stars all bow down to him, and of course Joseph has to tell his brothers and dad about that dream too. This time even Jacob is not impressed, thinking that he will end up bowing down to his son.

The Bible doesn’t tell us here that these dreams come from God, we assume they do. They could have simply been the dreams of a young man full of himself as the favoured son, who simply made up what the dreams mean to make himself important. After all, he’s the son dad gives a special coat to, the son of the favoured wife. However, we remember how God appeared to Abram in a dream after Abraham had made sacrifices of animals and placed them in a row. God appeared in the dream as a burning pot to confirm his covenant with Abraham. God spoke to Jacob in a dream at Bethel, showing Jacob the movement between heaven and earth; that God’s at work on earth, not sitting idly by watching humanity mess things up again and again. Now Joseph is dreaming. Peter Wilcox reminds us, “the fact that a person has a gift from God is no guarantee that they also have the wisdom and maturity to use it well.” Does Joseph use the gift of dreams and their meanings well? Probably not. Joseph has some growing up to do.

Scott Hoezee writes, “Martin Luther King, Jr. once told the world: I have a dream; and his dream inspired millions. Entrepreneurs sometimes have dreams for building a new business, and if they realize those dreams everybody celebrates the success; but sometimes dreams can make life hard for the person who has them. Just ask Joseph. He had a dream of a future in which he would be an important person, the most important person in his family in fact; and although in the book of Genesis those dreams come true one day, they made Joseph’s life miserable for a very long time.” Dreams can inspire us to achieve great things, give us hope and perseverance, but dreams that call us to hard change also create big pushback, as with Martin Luther King Jr, as dreamers in the church who call for change often face, as Joseph faces.

God doesn’t use easy as a way forward for his people or his plans. Anything valuable and important is usually achieved only after a lot of hard work and even adversity. Just look at how he chooses to reconcile his people, that’s us, to himself. God makes things right by coming to earth in Jesus who calls the people to repent and believe, and when his own people reject him or abandon him, Jesus goes to the cross to take the penalty of sin, to die for us, and even be buried. But Jesus, on the third day, rises again, proving that the twin enemies of sin and death are defeated and this guarantees our own resurrection into new life.

Dreams are part of how we find hope and inspiration to move forward. Genesis was written by Moses during the Israelite’s time in the wilderness. The Israelites are dreaming of returning back to the Promised Land; dreaming of claiming the land that God has promised them. The dreams are calling them to change, to commit to being God’s people; allowing God to shape their lives, their morals, beliefs, and ways of thinking about the world around them and their place in it. Our dreams need to be God centered, to be interpreted in light of what Jesus is doing and who Jesus is calling us to be.

The story of Joseph and his dreams reveal to us how God uses broken families, dysfunctional people to move his plans forward to bless the world and save his people. We see that brokenness and deceit have become foundational to the family God has chosen to bring his plans of salvation forward. Joseph, in his dreams, focuses on his position over his brothers, there’s no mention at all of what God might be revealing to him about why his brothers would be kneeling before him. Joseph, as much as many of us want to see him as a devoted God follower all his life, has issues to work on, he’s a work in progress, just like we all are. We’ll watch how God shapes Joseph through the next few weeks, leading Joseph to learn to trust in him while preparing Joseph for what lies ahead for Jacob’s family. We’ll see how dreams, and especially the God given ability to rightly interpret them will become an important of Israel’s history.

Why should we pay attention to these families since they have so many issues, after-all, it’s Jesus we’re focused on, right? The stories of the people and families God works through in the Bible are important because they show us a God who is willing to work through imperfect people, that God’s family is made up of imperfect people who keep messing up. It’s not how good they are that makes God include them as part of his family, it’s that God makes them useable and worthy. I’ve had conversations with many people over the years who believe that God can’t use them because their lives, their families are hot messes, and yet, as Paul reminds us, it’s in our weaknesses, our messes, that God reveals his grace, power and glory. God has his own ways of accomplishing his plans, often very different from our ways; using the less important, the less perfect people and ways to shine the light on him instead of us. It makes me wonder if sometimes we miss what God is doing, what he is calling us to do or be, because we love our ways of doing things too much.  We’re so focused on being in control so that there are no surprises, no messes.

It’s through our own issues, our own messes that we are best able to reach others with the good news of Jesus because the people you are reaching out to then see that Jesus can really bring hope, change, new life to any one who reaches out to him, accepts him as Lord. When we accept Jesus, Jesus fills us with his life, words and courage. As we speak Jesus into our friends, our co-workers, employees, workers, and neighbours’ lives, we can be confident that God is using us to lead them to him.