Friday, August 17, 2012
“But he refused” (Gen. 39:8).
Scripture Reading: Genesis 39:4-9
Not every boy grows up to be a man. Some men remain boys in immaturity and childishness. Of those who grow up, no two boys mature on the same schedule. The ideal process of maturing is to grow gradually, naturally. But the time comes in the lives of some youths when they must become men with dramatic suddenness. A crisis arises. A father dies. Economic reverses are experienced. A great responsibility is thrust on him. An overwhelming temptation assails him.
Joseph, the favored son of Jacob, had to mature quickly. He was the object of favoritism by his father. He had never had it so good. Nevertheless, he was the victim of envy and resentment by ten brothers.
Joseph left home early in his youth, but not by his choosing nor with his father’s counsel and help. His brothers sold him into slavery in a foreign land. Joseph had helped to bring about his own plight by being arrogant and overbearing around his brothers. He flaunted his self-styled superiority over them.
As a result, he found himself a slave in the household of Potiphar in Egypt. His master was impressed with his intelligence, his talent, and his industry. Joseph was personable and dependable. Potiphar became genuinely fond of him and promoted him rapidly.
Then came the great crisis of temptation. Potiphar’s wife, a scheming and sensuous woman, set her evil eye on Joseph and vowed to seduce him into a relationship that would deny all that he believed and had been taught. As he resisted her advances and broke her clutches, he became the innocent victim of her accusations and the object of the jealousy and wrath of her husband. Although Joseph was faithful to his God and to his higher self, he landed in a lonely cell in an ancient prison.
Joseph’s temptation is a true story with all the intrigue and suspense of a modern production. Potiphar’s wife was a woman of rank, beauty, and fashion. She was brazen and persistent. Joseph was young, handsome, and ambitious, probably in his late teens or early twenties. But he was a slave and was looked upon, not as a person, but as chattel property. He could well have lost his sense of dignity and self-respect, vital factors in resisting the temptation of baser sins. As a slave, he was expected to do as he was told, and this was his master’s wife who commanded him.
Joseph was a long way from home. Satan could whisper in his ear, “No one will know. No one will get hurt. Everyone else in Egypt indulges in these sins when opportunity arises.” How easy it would have been to rationalize himself into saying yes to this temptation.
Joseph’s response to Potiphar’s wife reveals a remarkable understanding of sin.
1) The faith of Joseph’s master.
“My master trusts me,” Joseph was saying. “Think of my master . . . he has entrusted me with all that he has” (Gen. 39:8 NEB). He knew that this sin would mean the betrayal of a trust. We, too, have a trust. Our loved ones trust us. Our friends trust us. When a young man takes a young woman on a date, her family trusts him. What a responsibility we have toward those who love us and those who trust us.
2) The faith of his God.
“God trusts me,” Joseph added in his conversation with the temptress. “How can I do anything so wicked and sin against God?” He was aware that, although he was a long way from home and those back home might never know, God would know. Although his family back home could not see him, God had his eye upon him. All sin is against God.
When is a child old enough to become a Christian? Someone has answered, “When he is old enough to know the difference between right and wrong and to know that wrong is against God and must be made right with God.” Whenever we sin, we sin against God. Whenever we hurt someone, we hurt God even more. When we disappoint God, he is deeply hurt, for he is our Father, and he loves us.
King David, in his penitential psalm, cries out, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, O God” (Ps. 51:4). Actually, David knew that he had sinned greatly against Bathsheba in seducing her, against Uriah in having him killed in battle, against his family, against his kingdom, and against himself. But he seems to be saying, “My sin against God is so much greater than my sin even against these that it is as if against God and him only have I sinned.” Sin is against God and must be confessed by the sinner and forgiven by God.
This account of Joseph has a storybook ending. The Scripture says that “the Lord was with him . . . and made everything he did to prosper” (Gen. 39:23). We are glad we have the story of Joseph to punctuate the principle “It pays to do right.” But what if the story had not ended happily? What if Joseph had rotted in the jail? This still would have been a marvelous story of refusing to yield to temptation. The remarkable thing about Daniel and the lion’s den is not that he came out alive the next day, but that he was willing to be thrown to the lions rather than to compromise his convictions. Had he been eaten by the lions, this still would have been an inspiring story.
Now in Conclusion
Do you want victory over temptation? Do you want to do right? Then the way to say no to temptation is to say yes to Christ. Commit your heart and life to him, and the Lord will be with you and give you the grace and strength to fulfill his will.
God bless you, Pastor Mike
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
“Then God said to Jacob, ‘Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau’” (Gen. 35:1 NIV).
Scripture Reading: Genesis 32:22-28
One of the crisis times in a family is when a grown child leaves home. Parents are tortured with questions, “Is it time?” “Is he ready?” “Have we prepared him?” “Will he stay true?” If we have failed our child, it is too late to start over. We must leave him in the hands of the God who gave him to us as a baby.
It was a trying day for a loving father when the prodigal son left home. It is God’s plan that our children come to the time when they ask to be free to leave home and we must be willing to let them go. The sadness of the occasion for Jacob was that sin thrust him out from his home. It was sin that caused the prodigal son to leave home. It was sin that thrust Adam out of the garden of Eden. It was sin that sent the murderer Cain out into a hostile world. The writer John tells us that Judas, after he received the sop, went out, “and it was night.” What a tragedy when sin sends one out into the darkness.
Jacob was not the great person his grandfather Abraham had been. He was shrewd and calculating. He was crafty and scheming. He was a cunning trickster. He chose to live by his wits. His name Jacob means “supplanter,” and he lived down to his name.
The first night away from home is one never to be forgotten. That first night for Jacob was in the barren wilderness where he was frightened and alone. He fearfully listened for the approaching footsteps of his avenging brother, Esau. With a rock for a pillow and the stars as a covering, he fell asleep. As he slept he had a dream. God transformed that bleak scene into a “house of God, the gate to heaven.”
The next day Jacob erected an altar as a monument, vowed a solemn vow to God, and named that blessed place Bethel. Then he proceeded on his journey to the house of Laban where love, prosperity, and success awaited him. Then God commanded him to go back to Bethel to renew his vows and claim his birthright.
1) Sin makes a coward of us.
Jacob trembled as he approached a confrontation with his brother Esau. Always before he had outmaneuvered him. He had cheated him out of everything he wanted. Now he realized that payday had come. To add to his terror, it was reported to him that Esau had four hundred armed men with him. Sin has a way of making cowards of us. Once we have compromised, we find it harder to live up to our convictions. The writer of Proverbs wisely wrote, “Fear of man will prove to be a snare” (29:25 NIV).
2) Sin endangers our loved ones.
Jacob had left home without a wife, without children, without land, and without money. Somehow he had felt that his sin, at the most, would only endanger himself. Now he looked out and saw the tents in the moonlight where his wives, children, and devoted servants slept, and he knew they were in danger also. Sin and its results are very personal, but they are also social. Those innocent people whom we love the dearest often suffer the most for our sins.
3) Sin can be conquered, and renewal is possible.
That night witnessed a strange struggle. Jacob struggled with a mysterious wrestler. All his sins came before him. In the land of Laban, although he was blessed by God, he had relaxed his convictions. He was no longer as devout as in the past. His enthusiasm for God was dulled. He had grown worldly, and money was his god. In his struggles to outwit the covetous Laban, he had himself become covetous.
God had said to him, “Destroy your idols. Put away the sin in your life. Make things right with your brother. Take your rightful place as husband, father, and religious leader in your home.”
As the morning broke, Jacob arose limp but radiant.
Jacob had a new name.
No longer was he a trickster, but Israel, a “prince of God.”
Jacob had a new outlook.
He was right with God. He was right with his brother. No longer did he trust in his cleverness, his shrewdness, his riches, or his own righteousness. He left it up to God, in whom he trusted.
Jacob had a new life.
Old things had passed away. Behold, all things had become new. His family saw the difference. No longer was he a fugitive from God and from his brother. He who had been dead was alive again. He who had been lost was found.
Now in Conclusion
Jacob named that hallowed place Peniel, which meant “I have met God face-to-face.” As you have read this Bible blog, have you been saying, “That describes me. I have drifted away. I have grown cold and indifferent and worldly. I have neglected my vows”?
What was your “Bethel” in the past? Was it your conversion experience, as your heart first glowed with the joy and peace of God’s forgiveness? Was it some great revival or some camp experience? Was it some great joy or sorrow? Was it your wedding, your firstborn child, or that little child who died? God is calling you to come back to the warmth and thrill of a fresh experience with him, in which you renew your vows and open your heart fully to his Spirit.
God bless you all, Pastor Mike
Saturday, August 11, 2012
“Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them” (Gen. 26:18 NIV).
Scripture Reading: Genesis 26:12-25
In the biblical history of Israel, sandwiched between Abraham and Jacob, is Isaac, the son of Abraham and the father of Jacob. Of the three, Isaac is the least distinguished. Even in his old age, Abraham towered high above his son. In Isaac’s home, his life was dominated by his aggressive wife, Rebekah. In his old age, his wife and his son Jacob conspired to deceive him and to cheat him from carrying out his deepest purpose in his life.
Two events stand out in the life of Isaac. One was the experience on Mount Moriah when Abraham attempted to offer him as a sacrifice. Let it be said to the credit of Isaac that he voluntarily agreed to be sacrificed. Abraham felt that he had to offer Isaac, but he could not carry through with his purpose without the cooperation of his son. Abraham was old and feeble. Isaac was young and vigorous. Let us suppose that it had been the wild son, Ishmael, who was to be offered. He likely would have pushed the old man to the ground and run madly down the mountain. Isaac climbed up on the altar and crossed his hands so that Abraham could bind his wrists. Isaac lay inert as Abraham raised his knife. Just as Jesus voluntarily offered his life as a sacrifice, so Isaac was willing to offer his life if God so commanded.
The second event was the deception of Jacob and his scheming mother as they robbed Jacob’s twin brother, Esau, of a blessing of God from the hands of his father, Isaac. As a result of this deed, Jacob fled. Esau became so embittered that his life and usefulness were permanently impaired.
Abraham left to his son Isaac not only a spiritual heritage and a covenant promise from God, but also a vast estate of land and herds and flocks and servants. One of the forms of wealth was a set of wells that he had dug. He made it easier for his son. He dug, not just for his own day, but for those who would follow him. We take for granted so many things that have been done by those before us. We take for granted our freedom, bought at a great price by others. We enjoy fruit and shade and beauty from trees planted by an earlier generation. We travel highways and cross bridges built by others. We attend colleges founded and supported by others. We worship in churches perpetuated by the blood of martyrs and in buildings erected by those before us. Our cities were carved from a wilderness conquered by pioneers.
As is so often true in life, the wells of Abraham became choked by the neglect and vandalism of a new generation. Isaac decided to redig those wells. He did not say, “My father didn’t know what he was doing when he dug those wells. I will seek out new places and ignore his old and tested sites.” Instead, he hunted up and redug the wells of his father. He gave the wells the old names. He found in them pure and refreshing water for his family and his flocks.
There are new things that may glitter and fascinate. But the old and tested must not be forsaken. Some old and tested wells from which we drink are:
1) The Bible.
The inspired Word of God is timeless in its message and is relevant in its application in our day. An accommodating so-called new morality must not replace the authoritative moral righteousness of the Bible. A zeal to unite with other Christians must not be at the cost of the compromise of our convictions. Let us drink deeply of the well of biblical inspiration and instruction.
2) The well of prayer.
Only humans have the ability and privilege to worship God. We should exercise this privilege in the prayer closet. We also should forsake not the assembling of ourselves in public worship. Hard work never will take the place of prayer. In fact, prayer will make our service easier, more enjoyable, and more effective. Let us drink deeply of the practice of prayer.
3) The Christian home.
Today the Christian home is fighting for its life. The Christian home has always been God’s plan for people. It is the oldest institution founded by God. Wherever Abraham went, he built an altar. How we need a return to this vital practice.
4) The well of the church.
We live in a day when many have abandoned the church. Many churches are choked by worldliness, doubt, compromise, pride, provincialism, and indifference. The church is Christ’s bride. We cannot be loyal to Christ and disloyal to his church at the same time. If a Christian could be as good a Christian outside the church, Christ would not have founded his church. The church needs renewal and even reform, but it does not deserve abandonment.
The new generation is striving to build new wells. This is not bad. Progress comes through daring adventure. Isaac the peacemaker also dug new wells. But we must leave unchoked the wells that have refreshed the pilgrims through the centuries.
Now in Conclusion
One of the great wells of history was located just outside the village of Sychar. Jesus sat one day on the edge of that well and presented to a woman the claims of God and the grace of God in the form of the Water of Life. Her life was choked by sin and rebellion and despair. “Drink of this well,” our Lord said, “and you will never thirst again.” When she drank of that well, she became so excited that she left her water pots and hastened into town to tell others the good news. That same water can refresh and renew your choked life and give you exuberant joy and blessed peace. Drink deeply of God’s love, forgiveness, and grace.
God bless you all,
Saturday, August 11, 2012
“Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ ‘Here I am,’ he replied. Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will you about’ ” (Gen. 22:1-2 NIV).
Scripture Reading: Genesis 22:1-14
One of the most important characters to appear in human history before the birth of our Lord was Abraham, the father of the faithful and the friend of God. If we measure him by the world’s standards, this would not be true. He ruled no nation. He conquered no territory. He wrote no books. He enacted no laws. The sphere of his influence was only in the religious field. Christians, Jews, and Muslims all claim him as father of their faith. It was he who gave us the blessed heritage of a belief in one God, Jehovah.
The pilgrimage of Abraham began when his father, Terah, was commanded to leave Ur of the Chaldees to go to a land preserved for him by God. There a nation was to grow that trusted in the true God. In Ur the family was surrounded by those who believed in many gods. “Come out from among them and be ye separate,” God was saying. It is God’s will that his people be a separate people.
The pilgrimage of Terah ended about halfway to Canaan. “And Terah died in Haran.” A patient and long-suffering God began again with Terah’s son, Abram (later changed by God to Abraham). “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto the land that I will shew thee,” he told Abram (Gen. 12:1). Abram obeyed, and the adventure began. He traveled by faith, and God led him into the Promised Land.
Abraham prospered as people count prosperity. He enjoyed a vital relationship with God. He had entered a covenant agreement with God. He was heir of the promises of God. But there was one blight in his life. He had no son to bear his name and to perpetuate his life through his descendants.
Then a miracle took place in Abraham and Sarah’s old age. Sarah gave birth to a son. This son, Isaac, was special to Abraham because he was the son of his old age promised by God. In him a potential nation resided. God had promised Abraham that his seed would be as “the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable” (Heb. 11:12). That promise rested in Isaac.
Perhaps Abraham looked up at the stars, remembering the promise of God concerning his own descendants. I can see him late one evening, sitting by his tent, waiting for the stars to come out so he might worship and exult in God. I can imagine that he noticed a wisp of smoke rising from a distant mountain. It was a heathen tribe offering a human sacrifice. I can hear him saying, “Poor benighted people! Offering up a son to a god who cannot hear, who cannot answer, who cannot respond.”
Quick as a flash, the thought comes to Abraham, “Would you, worshiping the true God, be willing to offer up Isaac to him?” He brushed it away, but it kept coming back. That night as he slept, he heard the clear voice of God, “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering.” And as he heard the command, it seemed as if all the stars in the sky toppled to his feet.
The next day Abraham promptly obeyed. He did not rationalize. He did not argue. He offered no excuses. You know the rest of the story — the climb up Mount Moriah, the binding of Isaac, the staying of the hand of the father, the substitute ram caught in the thicket, the worship of father and son, and finally the descent of father and son arm in arm.
What is the meaning to us today of this dramatic but distant event in biblical history? I would suggest several applications.
1) The name given to the place where the scene took place-“Jehovah-jireh,” “the Lord will see to it,” “the Lord will provide.”
Abraham learned that in God’s own way, in God’s own time, he would provide a sacrifice. In our day, God’s will must be done God’s way and by God’s timetable. We must wait on him, knowing that he will provide what we need.
2) Moriah is the place where we give back our dead to God.
Our Jewish neighbors often name their cemeteries “Mount Moriah.” This is where they, like Abraham, solemnly offer back their beloved dead to God. This time comes to us. Climbing Mount Moriah means to face this experience with faith, submission, and obedience. We must be good stewards of our sorrow. We must show those who are not Christians that we have an inner grace that is sufficient even for this trial.
3) Moriah means a willingness to give up that which is most precious in our lives if God commands.
It may be our child. It may be our companion. It may be a secret sin. It may be a sweetheart or a friend, one who is not best for us. God may call our child to be a missionary. It may be our business or unethical business practices. It may be our appetite, our lust, or our pride. Whatever we cling to, whatever we love more than God, we must relinquish when he commands.
4) God does not ask of us what he was unwilling to do himself.
Just as Isaac climbed Mount Moriah with the wood of his altar on his back, so did God’s Son stagger toward Mount Calvary with the wood of his altar, in the form of a cross, on his back. When they came to the top of the hill, this time there was no substitute, and God’s Son died as an atonement for our sins. Fulfilled again were the words of Abraham, “God will provide himself a lamb.” This time it was the “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
Now in Conclusion
Can’t you see Isaac in the long ago as he watched that ram die? Can’t you hear him saying to himself, “He’s dying instead of me. But for him, I’d be up there”? As you look now at the cross, you find yourself saying, “He’s dying instead of me. But for him, I’d be up there. The wages of sin is death, and I deserve to be the one dying for my sins.” This is the meaning of Moriah.
God bless you, Pastor Mike
Thursday, August 09, 2012
“We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof” (Ps. 137:2).
Scripture Reading: Psalm 137
As we come to the beautiful but somewhat sad Psalm 137, we are reminded of the words of G. Campbell Morgan: “A text without the context is a pretext.” The setting of our Scripture is unusually important. It is a psalm of the exile. In it the entire octave of human emotions is run. It finds us and describes us and encourages us. Let us look further then and consider:
1) The context.
God’s people were allowed to come into the Promised Land and possess it triumphantly. This occupation was the culmination of history, the climax of their national dream. It was the fulfillment of divine prophecy, the apex of personal joy. After decades of slavery and oppression, of wandering and fighting, the Israelites had at last entered the land that flowed with milk and honey. They had “arrived.”
But then something happened. Prosperity dulled their sense of acute dependence on God. They became preoccupied with things, and their holy fervor cooled. They relaxed their spiritual standards.
So God permitted his people to be carried into Babylonian exile. There they were to be tried and refined and made ready to return as a remnant to establish a new nation. Once the people were victors; now they were victims. Once they were their own masters; now they were slaves. Once they had homes; now they were homeless in a foreign country. Once they were happy; now they were sad. Once they were busy making music for God, but now their harps were hanging idly in the willow trees as they sat on the muddy riverbanks and wept over their plight. They were taunted by their captors, broken by their environment, and demoralized by their troubles. So up into the willow trees went the harps. “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” (v. 4) they asked.
2) The contemporaries.
There are among us today people of God who have hung their harps in willows. Once in the glow of conversion they came into the promised land of God’s provision. Then something happened. Perhaps the going got tough. Perhaps someone got in the way. So they quit.
Now they will not sing or play the harps. They prefer to remain inactive. They desire status without work. They want membership without service. They want identification without participation.
3) The causes.
Why did the Israelites desert their harps?
They lived in the past.
“We wept, when we remembered Zion” (v. 1). They looked into the past instead of into the future. And we, too, put our harps into the willows when we live in the past. We can draw an analogy from a poem someone wrote about the lightning bug:
The lightning bug’s a curious bug,
And of a special kind;
For he stumbles through the darkness
With his headlights on behind.
“Headlights on behind!” God’s people didn’t have life as easy as they used to have it, so they quit. So do many people today. We remember the good old days (which may not have been as good as we assess them), and because things have changed, we quit.
The Israelites had moved.
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down” (v. 1). They now had a new address. They were away from home, away from the moral and religious climate of their former spiritual environment.
Need we be reminded that ours is a mobile society-that the airways, waterways, and highways are choked with people on the move? It is not easy to be Christian away from home. Many people who are decent at home go wild when they attend a convention. They slip into the city, leaving their Christianity behind and hoping nobody will know what kind of sins they are up to.
The Israelites could not have their own way.
“They that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion” (v. 3). It was not their idea to be there. They would prefer to perform in the temple at Jerusalem, not on a riverbank. They did not get their way, so they quit.
The Israelites were mastered by worldliness.
Voluntarily or not, they served Babylon, and Babylon was a synonym of worldliness.
In almost every congregation there are those who are now idle. They have put their harps of Christian service into the willow trees. And the same people who are victimized by worldliness are the last to recognize it and the first to blame someone else for their own inactivity.
A wise man said it is all right as long as the ship is in the ocean, but woe unto the ship when the ocean gets into it. So it is with the Christian. It is good to be in the world, but woe if the world gets into us.
The Israelites took the easy way out.
It is not hard to play in the temple when the temperature is just right, but it is hard to string a harp in Babylon. It is a great deal harder to sing in Babylon than it is in Jerusalem.
So when the going got hard, the captives quit. But the quitter never wins and the winner never quits. The easiest way out is to drop out, and this was the reason for their idleness. Could it be so for many of us?
It is hard to be a Christian because it is so easy to be a Christian. It is hard to be a real one because we have made it so easy to become a nominal one. We have lowered the standards to raise the statistics.
4) The cure.
What does one do with a deserted harp?
Get it in hand.
You have one. God gave it to you. Take it down from whatever willow you have parked it in, and get it in hand.
Get it in tune.
Get it in tune, catching the pitch from God’s tuning fork. Get it in tune by a thorough cleaning. Get it in tune by letting the Master tighten the strings and tune it for you.
Get it in service.
Unused instruments get out of tune. Unused talents deteriorate. Great musical instruments are never really worn out by use but by abuse. Use what you have!
Now in Conclusion
Know you have a harp if you are a Christian. Get it in hand, get it in tune, and get it in service.
God bless you all,
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