Empty Words

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Empty Words

Exodus 2:23–24

After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Ephesians 5:1–6

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Renounce Pagan Ways

But fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints. Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk; but instead, let there be thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient.

We reap what we sow. Natural disasters are one thing, and largely outside of our control. Everyone lives somewhere that can be attacked by windstorms, floods, blizzards, or earthquakes, and if you happen to live in a tropical paradise free of these, you probably have a volcano to worry about, or perhaps an infestation of monkeys who steal your food and cellphones. Politically however, we reap what we sow.

Leaders set the standard as well. When the standards were lowered this past election year, that invited the masses to weigh in with their own vicious, violent, and graceless language – and so they have. Without boundaries, crowds will rush ahead in any direction their leaders take them, so that it is often not the party leaders, but extremist followers that get the whole group in trouble. Many people today want to see our President as that extremist, and by republican standards, some might consider him so. I however, am waiting to see the kinds of followers he makes himself and what kinds of extremes will follow after him, people he would not even claim himself.

I remember my first “D” in college: General Psychology. The first exam in the class was an overview of all the different kinds of psychology. I had taken Gen Psych in high school, had been and A and B student, and was certain I could ace this test without much effort. I have always had a decent memory of what teachers lectured about and was sure we would have some kind of study guide to help us know what to expect on the test. Little did I know… Some of the questions that appeared on the exam were things I had not read, nor even thought about before. I was horribly unprepared, and I paid for it on the final grade. I sowed nothing and that’s what I got back.

We as a nation have settled for empty words from politicians and not stepped up to make our nation better ourselves. Personally, I think it is ridiculous to think that one person can do it themselves, I don’t care if that person is Pope Francis, Mother Theresa, or truly even Jesus Himself (Who was killed and then got most of his followers executed by the very people He came to save!). One person can sow and reap their own rewards. I cannot expect President Trump to make my neighborhood great again if I’m not willing to jump in and do the work myself. We can whine and groan and complain all we want, but at the end of the day, we either make the world better or worse by being in it ourselves.

For too long, we as Christians have been content throwing the name of Jesus around vainly, as if he were our team mascot or star player, and bragging that our team is better than every other one. Yet we live according to the same standards as everyone else. When we face the real brokenness and evil of our world, it looks at us like the false exorcists we have become and tells us “Jesus we know, and Paul we know, but who are you?”

Who are we indeed?

I have one recurring nightmare about college. It is finals week and I walk into take the final exam for Advanced Physics. Now there are some kinds of math that I think are fascinating, but it is the kind of fascination with killer whales and great white sharks. You won’t catch me in the water working with them. I just like to watch other people work with them. I’ve never taken that class and that is my nightmare. I am stuck trying to answer questions when I don’t even understand the questions, and this is going to keep me from graduating.

That is our nightmare as well. If we dig in now we can make a difference and work to make things better. If we choose to not do the work, not show up, and refuse to learn anything, we may end up losing it all.

God calls us to use meaningful words that are backed with real action and commitment.

What problems do you see around you?

What does God think about those problems?

What is God calling you to do about them?

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Who Are My People?

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Who Are My People?

Exodus 2:15b–22

But Moses fled from Pharaoh. He settled in the land of Midian, and sat down by a well. The priest of Midian had seven daughters. They came to draw water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. But some shepherds came and drove them away. Moses got up and came to their defense and watered their flock. When they returned to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come back so soon today?” They said, “An Egyptian helped us against the shepherds; he even drew water for us and watered the flock.” He said to his daughters, “Where is he? Why did you leave the man? Invite him to break bread.” Moses agreed to stay with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage. She bore a son, and he named him Gershom; for he said, “I have been an alien residing in a foreign land.”

Matthew 26:6–13

The Anointing at Bethany1

Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, “Why this waste? For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

We live in a tribal world, and Donald Trump is not the cause of it. The racial division in our nation goes back before our foundations… inherited from every nation that populated our country, including the Native Americans, some of whom engaged in tribal warfare even before European colonists gave them a common enemy. If there was one thing that the English, and perhaps the Spanish as well were able to do, it was to draw groups of people together, at least temporarily, under a common enemy. I say English and Spanish because up until the early 1900’s the Irish, Italian, Polish, etc. were not considered “white”. After WWI and WWII Germans were judged with much suspicion, even though it was their nation that helped market the idea of a superior “white” race. Scandinavians, French, and some of the Northern European cultures could pass in this country until they spoke, after which, their non-American, Non-British accent would give them away as a foreigner. So what we have called racism has really been more about hundreds and thousands of tribes that cannot seem to get along.

It goes even further when you factor in lifestyles. Economic status, job type, home neighborhood… these are all markers of identity by which we judge one another, and while someone from small-town Kansas might not care which part of New York City a person lived in, you better believe New Yorkers would. And they might judge the small-town Kansas person as being backward, unprogressive, and a whole line of prejudices that go along with it. Those outside our tribe are not always seen as a fully dignified human being, the way we consider our own people.Tweet: Those outside our tribe are not always seen as a fully dignified human being, the way we consider our own people.

Writers, musicians, and other artists celebrate this growing emergence of tribalism because it simplifies marketing and allows the artist to create and perform for their own chosen group, rather than diluting their work down to a more general appeal. Seth Godin makes a living teaching this very concept.

There is loads of tribalism in Scripture, and a lot of sin that stems from it going all the way back to Cain and Abel – brothers (or sisters) who cannot tolerate being part of the same family. Jesus retells the story as that of a family reunion… of every tribe gathering together to worship God.2 I don’t see an explicit condemnation of tribalism, certainly not enough to be consistently repeated. If anything, the prophets and Paul, in Romans 2 imply that God speaks to us in our own tribalistic language, letting us all know that we belong to the wrong tribe and need to come join His own group.

No, I think that our unique edges are something God celebrates. They are not wrong, but they are incomplete. We are all like puzzle pieces, and God is the only one who can see the big picture of how we all fit together. We can exist on our own, but we miss our true purpose. It makes us all like Peter Pan and the Lost Boys who never really grow up, wanting to stay just as we are forever, but after awhile we begin to see that it just means that we don’t really fit in anywhere but among ourselves.

God wants our tribes to grow up. The tribes of rich and poor, the tribes of political alliances, the tribes of ancestry and neighborhoods… we all need to figure out how we fit together. We need to learn from each other and we need to lift each other up, because I am convinced there will come a day when the truth will be revealed: that we need each other.

Who do you identify as your tribe?

What other tribes do you interact with?

How is God leading your tribe to bring others closer to Him?

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  1. (Mk 14:3–9; Jn 12:1–8)
  2. See Revelation 7:9 and Prodigal Son

The Right Way of Being Right

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The Right Way of Being Right

Exodus 2:11–15a

Moses Flees to Midian1

One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting; and he said to the one who was in the wrong, “Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?” He answered, “Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses.

Romans 11:33–36

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord?

Or who has been his counselor?”

“Or who has given a gift to him,

to receive a gift in return?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.

There is a time and place to stand up and step out. Many leaders are born in the fires of injustice and are often some of the first to take a stand and speak out against it. Unlike those who only talk, or who choose to take personal stands against things privately, real leaders pair speech with action that inspires others to see things according to their perspective and motivates them to do something about it themselves. Leadership can be a powerful, persuasive force in our world – for both good and bad.

It is not only a matter of knowing when and where to act that is important. It is just as important knowing how to act when you get there..Tweet: It is not only a matter of knowing when and where to act that is important. It is just as important knowing how to act when you get there. This is what separates the temporary leaders from the leaders who leave a strong legacy. Leaders for the moment focus on what will get the job done right now, and they generally have an immediate following up until the moment that there is pushback against them. Then they bail… or in some cases even attack their former leader.

That is how Moses started. He had position and some degree of power, and may have even had a modicum of respect from the Hebrew community. He was in a situation much like Esther who also used her position and power at the right time and place to save the lives of the Jewish people. Moses tried that. It didn’t work. He may have been in the right time and place to see injustice and take a stand against it, but the way he took a stand completely backfired and he lost influence from both the Egyptians and his own Hebrew people.

How do you learn how to lead well? You spend time soaking up the depths of God’s grace and wisdom. Moses had decades in the wilderness to contemplate his actions. Paul took several years himself to relearn what it meant to follow God and lead other’s to Christ. Even Jesus Himself spent 40 days in the wilderness to drink deep from God’s well. It is in that time of separation from the role of leader, and opportunity to realign ourselves as God’s children that we can best remember that all is grace. Everything opportunity we have and every tool we use to lead are gifts from God. Tweet: Everything opportunity we have and every tool we use to lead are gifts from God.Without that perspective, every act we make will miss the mark and undercut our ability to truly lead with God’s grace.

What opportunities have you missed or mishandled?

What opportunities do you have to lead today?

How is God directing you to act in those situations?

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  1. (Heb 11:24–25)

Suffering Your Inheritance

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Suffering Your Inheritance

Exodus 1:1–7

These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. The total number of people born to Jacob was seventy. Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and that whole generation. But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.

Romans 2:1–11

The Righteous Judgment of God

Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. You say, “We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.” Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.

God’s grace goes before us, creating paths that meet our needs.Tweet: God's grace goes before us, creating paths that meet our needs.

It doesn’t always work out the way we want, nor does it often work out in a way that is fair, but we cannot deny that God works and moves in our world.

Everyone has mixed baggage from their childhood and from the ancestors that came before them. The choices that our great-great grandparents made have huge effects on our own lives. Often they, not we, determined where we would be born, what kind of home we would live in, what kind of job opportunities we would have early in life, who we would be able to connect with socially, etc. For instance, I was born in rural Illinois because my great grandfather decided to leave his own rural home in Kentucky and move up to work in the fields in Illinois as a teenager. Instead of finishing school and learning to read, he went for a place with abundant work and food, during a time when our nation had little of either. That limited his ability to afford schooling for his children, which carried on to my own parents as well. Two generations struggled to make it through high school with one decision.

In terms of hurdles, that is nothing compared to what many other people face. It just shows that life requires effort. We cannot expect everything to be handed to us without giving up strength, maturity, and wisdom. Mind you, it is not just the trials of life that shape us, it is the mundane, day-to-day routines every bit as much. Our “normal” life teaches us what “normal” looks like and encourages us to create more of it around us.Tweet: Our

So whatever we build, we build on the foundation that our predecessors laid for us. It is our context. The context of Moses was that he came from a people who were immigrants in a nation that had welcomed them in with mercy. Within several generations though, the Hebrew people vastly outnumbered the Egyptians who had let them in. The Egyptian Welfare eventually dried up and things became tense between the landowners and the visiting Hebrews, who were probably working those lands before they were officially made slaves along with all the other immigrants of Egypt. Moses was born into a mess.

Paul tells us in Romans, that we are all born into some kind of mess or another. We all start off in the wrong context, thanks to all those who went before us. But God’s grace even then, creates a path for us to the right place, the right context. The trouble is, just because a way is made, does not mean we have to take it. God can make the way. We have to walk it.

Where has God made a way for you in the past?

What foundations in your life do you need to move away from?

Where is God’s grace leading you today?

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The Wheel Turns Again

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The Wheel Turns Again

Exodus 1:8–2:10

The Israelites Are Oppressed

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.

The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.”

Birth and Youth of Moses1

Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.

The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

Matthew 16:13–20

Peter’s Declaration about Jesus2

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Wheel in the sky keeps on turnin’

I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow

Wheel in the sky keeps on turnin’

“Wheel in the Sky”by Journey)

Some 2500 years ago, a debate ensued between two philosophers named Heraclitus and Parmenides about the nature of reality and change.

Heraclitus, who is credited with the phrase, “You cannot step in the same river twice.”, believed that everything changes all the time. Change is the only constant in our life.

Parmenides, on the other hand, argued that if something changes then it ceases to be the same thing. With constant change there could be no such thing as identity.

What does that matter to us? Well, we deal with change and identity on personal levels and perhaps even more significantly across generations.

For example: If the Hebrew people no longer live in the land of their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, are they still Hebrew?

Or: When the Hebrew people moved to Egypt and over the generations, eventually became slaves of them, were the younger generations who knew little to nothing about God Hebrew or had they become Egyptians?

Or, in modern terms: If someone today is a Hebrew person by ancestry but not a practicing or believing Jew, are they still part of God’s chosen people?

Or, by contrast: If someone is not genetically related to Abraham, does that disqualify them from ever being part of God’s chosen people?

In other words, if you either are or are not part of God’s people, can things change? Heraclitus would say yes. Parmenides would really struggle with this. Scripture is full of people who change their identities and change their lives. The word used to describe this is repentance. God calls us all to repentance because the brokenness of our world twists any original goodness that God creates in us by pulling us away from Him. We can certainly feel like we have always been a Christian, and we may not require a dramatic experience or change to put us on God’s path, but picking up our cross and following Jesus does not come naturally to us. Tweet: We can certainly feel like we have always been a Christian, and we may not require a dramatic experience or change to put us on God's path, but picking up our cross and following Jesus does not come naturally to us.It does not come naturally because we start off being deceived about our true identity, and then living into that lie begins to change us. Changing our allegiance changes our actions, and changing our actions changes our identity until at last, by God’s grace, we finally become the person God created us to be in the beginning.

(Poetic illustration from Matthew 25)

What changes have shaped your identity?

What further changes do you need to make in your life?

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  1. (Heb 11:23)
  2. (Mk 8:27–30; Lk 9:18–20)

When the Rug is Removed

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When the Rug is Removed

Genesis 50:15–26

Joseph Forgives His Brothers

Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, ‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.

Joseph’s Last Days and Death1

So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s household; and Joseph lived one hundred ten years. Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation; the children of Machir son of Manasseh were also born on Joseph’s knees.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die; but God will surely come to you, and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” So Joseph made the Israelites swear, saying, “When God comes to you, you shall carry up my bones from here.” And Joseph died, being one hundred ten years old; he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.

Matthew 16:5–12

The Yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees2

When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” They said to one another, “It is because we have brought no bread.” And becoming aware of it, Jesus said, “You of little faith, why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread? Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!” Then they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Be careful about secrets. Jesus taught, “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.” The truth will come out eventually.

We use rugs for several different purposes, but one of them is as a cheap cover over a damaged floor. Whether it is wood floor underneath, or more carpet, a short rug can put things out of sight and out of mind. Over time, we can even forget that it is even there. The rug itself becomes part of the new vision of the floor we walk on.

But those rugs do not last forever. Whether someone comes and lifts it up in curiosity, or the time comes to move and the new owners are redoing the floor, the true floor will eventually see the light of day. What happens then?

Healing can begin. You cannot restore a floor while it is still under the rug. Joseph had spent the majority of his life covering up the past transgression of his brothers against him, choosing not to bring it up in front of his aging father. When his father died though, the rug came up, and his brothers were fearful of what he might do. The issue was laid bare and someone had to do something about it. It was then that Joseph was able to truly forgive them, and they in return, receive his forgiveness.

The issue that Jesus had with the Pharisees was often not their words or actions, it was the motives that lay underneath. What they taught sounded good, but the hidden yeast was permeating everything they did, tainting it, and in the end drawing people away from, rather than toward God. The common people and the disciples could not see beneath the surface, but Jesus could see everything clearly and challenged His disciples to be wise and discerning when their faith was challenged.

Everyone has a reason for the things they do. It may be good or bad, but there is some kind of motive underneath.Tweet: Everyone has a reason for the things they do. It may be good or bad, but there is some kind of motive underneath. Secrets come in many sizes, as do the rugs that cover them. Some are covered because of shame. Others because of fear. Some are covered out of love. Yet all of them share a connection of covering a spot of weakness that has not yet been healed and restored by God’s grace. There will come a day that everything will be uncovered though, and in that day we will finally experience the fullness of God’s grace and power in our life.

What secrets do you keep covered up?

What is your reason for covering them?

What secrets do you need to uncover in the light of God’s grace today?

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  1. (Heb 11:22)
  2. (Mk 8:14–21)

Common Ground

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Common Ground

Genesis 49:29–50:14

Jacob’s Death and Burial

Then he charged them, saying to them, “I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my ancestors—in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave in the field at Machpelah, near Mamre, in the land of Canaan, in the field that Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite as a burial site. There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried; there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried; and there I buried Leah— the field and the cave that is in it were purchased from the Hittites.” When Jacob ended his charge to his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed, breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.

Then Joseph threw himself on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him. Joseph commanded the physicians in his service to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel; they spent forty days in doing this, for that is the time required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days.

When the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph addressed the household of Pharaoh, “If now I have found favor with you, please speak to Pharaoh as follows: My father made me swear an oath; he said, ‘I am about to die. In the tomb that I hewed out for myself in the land of Canaan, there you shall bury me.’ Now therefore let me go up, so that I may bury my father; then I will return.” Pharaoh answered, “Go up, and bury your father, as he made you swear to do.”

So Joseph went up to bury his father. With him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s household. Only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen. Both chariots and charioteers went up with him. It was a very great company. When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they held there a very great and sorrowful lamentation; and he observed a time of mourning for his father seven days. When the Canaanite inhabitants of the land saw the mourning on the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning on the part of the Egyptians.” Therefore the place was named Abel-mizraim; it is beyond the Jordan. Thus his sons did for him as he had instructed them. They carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field at Machpelah, the field near Mamre, which Abraham bought as a burial site from Ephron the Hittite. After he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had gone up with him to bury his father.

2 Corinthians 10:12–18

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they do not show good sense. We, however, will not boast beyond limits, but will keep within the field that God has assigned to us, to reach out even as far as you. For we were not overstepping our limits when we reached you; we were the first to come all the way to you with the good news of Christ. We do not boast beyond limits, that is, in the labors of others; but our hope is that, as your faith increases, our sphere of action among you may be greatly enlarged, so that we may proclaim the good news in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in someone else’s sphere of action. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” For it is not those who commend themselves that are approved, but those whom the Lord commends.

I find it curious that Jacob, who struggled with family his whole life, finally wrested with God and received a new name, was called Jacob again at the end. It is almost as if the redemption part of his life story was just a few years in the middle of his life, after which he slipped back into old ways in old age. There at the end, he is no longer the deceiver, he is the one being deceived – first by his sons telling him that Joseph was killed by a wild animal, and later by Joseph himself, pretending to hold his youngest son for ransom in order to see his father again. His life was crazy and messy from beginning to end.

As another curiosity, he was buried with Leah, not Rachel, the woman he originally fell in love with. Not that it was going to matter a great deal to them in death, but the symbolic nature of being put to rest with your family and being with those you loved least, and apart from those you loved most seems odd. For his sons who knew the story, who lived the story, I’m sure there were some odd feelings, particularly from Rachel’s sons. Yet she had died in childbirth, just a bit too far from home to bury her in the family tomb. The wife who had to wait in line behind her older sister in life, had to do so in death as well.

I think in this particular instance, it is helpful to recognize that there really are no heroes here. Everyone in this family had sinned against one another. Everyone had been offered grace and mercy and reconciliation. Now, at Jacob’s death, he asks to have his redeemed (and now dead) body taken back to the beginning where it all started, like the Prodigal Son finally returning home.

What strikes me is their humble attitudes. Jacob did not claim to be made new, starting a new lineage of God’s people, the way his grandfather Abraham had. The sons are drawn together in grief, no longer lording themselves over each other. Death makes humble creatures of us all.Tweet: Death makes humble creatures of us all.

That was the reality that Paul tried to impress upon the Christians in Corinth. Only he know it was not only death that brings us all to common ground. Grace humbles us too, in much the same way. After all, was it not God’s grace, working in Jacob’s life even before death, that allowed him to have that humble attitude? Grace takes away our ability to boast and puts us all on common ground.Tweet: Grace takes away our ability to boast and puts us all on common ground.

How has grace humbled you?

What other experiences brought you into new relationships with people who were different from yourself?

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