Seeing Visions and Dreaming Dreams

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Seeing Visions and Dreaming Dreams

Genesis 37:1-28

Joseph Dreams of Greatness

Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob.

Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.

Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamed. There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words.

He had another dream, and told it to his brothers, saying, “Look, I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, “What kind of dream is this that you have had? Shall we indeed come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow to the ground before you?” So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.

Joseph Is Sold by His Brothers

Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Here I am.” So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.

He came to Shechem, and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” “I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’ ” So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.

Matthew 14:22–33

Jesus Walks on the Water1

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Joel 2:28 tells a prophecy that Peter interpreted in light of Pentecost – the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of Jesus after his ascension. However, this particular event was not the first, nor the last time that God worked through visions and dreams. Both the Old and New Testaments have multiple accounts of prophetic dreams and visions in both young and old.

Hebrew poetry, as found often in the prophets, creates emphasis by repeating the same kind of phrase with a slightly different term (known as parallelism). I take that to mean, Joel meant little or no distinction between dreams and visions here. Functionally, they serve the same kind of purpose. Dreams and visions from God push us out of our comfort zone and into God’s mission.Tweet: Dreams and visions from God push us out of our comfort zone and into God's mission.

Those dreams and visions do not bring guaranteed results though, certainly not immediately. Joseph’s dreams came true, but not for many, many years. It is also possible that the suffering he faced from telling his family about those dreams may have been necessary for him to accomplish the results of those dreams. God does not usually show us everything in detail – just our part. Tweet: God does not usually show us everything in detail - just our part.

Even Peter’s vision of Jesus, which was not a hallucination as he feared, but an actual sight of Jesus walking on the water, served in the same way. It called Peter out of his current place of comfort and moved him out into uncharted waters. Unlike Joseph, his vision had immediate effects, but they did not last long at all. Again, Peter probably misunderstood. Seeing Jesus walking on the water was probably less of a promise that Peter too could someday walk on water, and more of a realization that Jesus could not be held back by such things. It was also proof that this particular vision of Jesus was really Him in the flesh and not some evil spirit as Peter feared. Like Peter, we are often slow in comprehending the full importance of God’s visions and dreams we receive. At least until we need to. As in everything else, these gifts are meant to be taken in faith, and more often change the prophet even more than the people around them.

What visions or dreams has God given you?

How have they brought you closer to Christ?

How have they changed you?

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  1. (Mk 6:45–52; Jn 6:15–21)

The One That Sticks Out

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The One That Sticks Out

Genesis 37:5–11

Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamed. There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words.

He had another dream, and told it to his brothers, saying, “Look, I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, “What kind of dream is this that you have had? Shall we indeed come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow to the ground before you?” So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.

Matthew 16:1–4

The Demand for a Sign1

The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” Then he left them and went away.

They say it is the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, but it is also true that it is the nail that stands out that gets the hammer. One of these is an American and the other is a Japanese proverb. I see both in both cultures. It can be hard to tell when it is the appropriate time to stand out and when it is time to duck your head down and conform to everyone else around you.

Some people conform better than others. I struggle at times because I think if I do not see that person that seems to always stick out, that person may be me. Joseph was definitely that person. Worse, he did not have an off button. Maybe he was somewhere on the autism spectrum and was always stuck in his own head, unable to notice the grumpy faces of his brothers when he started talking about his dreams. On the other hand, maybe he was just a jerk and knew exactly how he was tormenting them. It didn’t matter. The effect was the same. They couldn’t take it. (To be continued…)

Jesus faced a similar kind of opposition. There were so many things that seemed so blatantly obvious to Him about God to which everyone else was completely oblivious. I know He was frustrated by their lack of… well sight. They were blind to a whole world that He saw plain as day. They thought they were wise in their modern era of plumbing and libraries, but they were no better at being able to see the movement of God than their ancestors that wandered in the wilderness.

So perhaps it all comes down to this question: Are we sticking out because we want to be seen or because of something we see? Tweet: Are we sticking out because we want to be seen or because of something we see?Jesus could have drawn much more attention to Himself than He did. Instead He pointed to the God He saw everywhere He went. Jospeh had to take a long journey to learn that kind of humility in the spotlight. Where are you in that journey?

Do you feel like you stand out from the crowd? Is it because of your choices?

Can you see God moving in the lives of those around you or only in your own life?

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  1. (Mk 8:11–13; Lk 12:54–56)

The Other Guys (and Gals)

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The Other Guys (and Gals)

Genesis 36:1–8

Esau’s Descendants1

These are the descendants of Esau (that is, Edom). Esau took his wives from the Canaanites: Adah daughter of Elon the Hittite, Oholibamah daughter of Anah son of Zibeon the Hivite, and Basemath, Ishmael’s daughter, sister of Nebaioth. Adah bore Eliphaz to Esau; Basemath bore Reuel; and Oholibamah bore Jeush, Jalam, and Korah. These are the sons of Esau who were born to him in the land of Canaan.

Then Esau took his wives, his sons, his daughters, and all the members of his household, his cattle, all his livestock, and all the property he had acquired in the land of Canaan; and he moved to a land some distance from his brother Jacob. For their possessions were too great for them to live together; the land where they were staying could not support them because of their livestock. So Esau settled in the hill country of Seir; Esau is Edom.

Acts 18:24–28

Ministry of Apollos

Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately. And when he wished to cross over to Achaia, the believers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. On his arrival he greatly helped those who through grace had become believers, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.

Every story… every history, has its heroes and villains. There are those who capture the attention of the audience and who draw out feelings of sympathy and empathy for the challenges they go through.

Then there are the other guys, the supporting cast. Sometimes they are good and sometimes they are bad. I can easily remember Jean Valjean from Les Miserables but I cannot recall the names of the wicked innkeepers who helped raise young Cossette. Nor can I remember if the bishop who showed Jean grace at the beginning of his journey was even given a name.

Supporting roles are the pillars which hold up the platform of the stars. Our heroes only rise as high as those around can lift them up. Tweet: Our heroes only rise as high as those around can lift them up. Their stories and our stories, would be vastly different without these people.

Jacob/Israel’s very identity was tied to his brother Esau from the moment of his birth. Without his brother, he would have been an only child and may have never left home at all – completely changing the course of history. Without the conflict with his brother, he may have had younger siblings, giving us not just 12 tribes, but perhaps 20, divided between two patriarchs. Who knows?

But Esau’s part was not just in causing conflict at home, but in showing grace as reconciliation later as well. While Jacob was off on his adventures in marriage and having children, Esau was raising a family as well, enjoying the blessing and provision of God from afar, and finding healing in his own life so that, when the day arrived, he could show Jacob the grace he needed to transform the deceiver into the one who strives with God and the father of the 12 tribes of God’s people.

Priscilla and Aquila, (Notice the woman is mentioned first here!) were two lesser known, but essential heroes of the faith as well. They met with Paul in Corinth and encouraged him in his ministry so much that he took them with him to Ephesus. When it was time for him to leave there, they stayed on to care for the young Christian community. Apollos, yet another lesser known hero of the faith, followed after Paul as preacher and teacher to those in Ephasus. He knew the scriptures well and could point out the evidence that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. He, like all of us, had a weakness though… a place where he needed growth. He had little understanding about or experience with the Holy Spirit. So Priscilla and Aquila took him aside and taught him. They did not seek to take his place on the stage. They chose to be his supporting pillars and lift him up higher, thus furthering that ministry there in Ephasus and later on in Corinth when Apollos moved on to there.

It may be that we would not have the church today without Jacob or Paul, or even Apollos… but we would not have these heroes in the spotlight if there were not their supporting cast behind them in Esau, Priscilla, and Aquila. They were the ones that taught our heroes the grace they needed to teach us about grace.

Who are the supporting characters in your life?

Who are you supporting and lifting up into the spotlight?

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  1. (1 Chr 1:35–42)

The Lure of the Familiar

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The Lure of the Famliar

Genesis 35:22b–29

While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine; and Israel heard of it.

Now the sons of Jacob were twelve. The sons of Leah: Reuben (Jacob’s firstborn), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. The sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s maid: Dan and Naphtali. The sons of Zilpah, Leah’s maid: Gad and Asher. These were the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Paddan-aram.

The Death of Isaac

Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre, or Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had resided as aliens. Now the days of Isaac were one hundred eighty years. And Isaac breathed his last; he died and was gathered to his people, old and full of days; and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.

Acts 17:10–15

Paul and Silas in Beroea

That very night the believers sent Paul and Silas off to Beroea; and when they arrived, they went to the Jewish synagogue. These Jews were more receptive than those in Thessalonica, for they welcomed the message very eagerly and examined the scriptures every day to see whether these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, including not a few Greek women and men of high standing. But when the Jews of Thessalonica learned that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Beroea as well, they came there too, to stir up and incite the crowds. Then the believers immediately sent Paul away to the coast, but Silas and Timothy remained behind. Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and after receiving instructions to have Silas and Timothy join him as soon as possible, they left him.

Sometimes life gets so crazy, complicated, and frustrating, that we start to earnestly yearn for the the simpler times of our youth. A time before taxes and insurance. A time before marriages and re-marriages. A time before obstinate, disobedient, self-centered children (and for the life of us, we cannot figure out where they learned to act that way).

Like the Hebrew people, we long for the simplicity of the life of a slave in Egypt.

Israel (the person) was having one of those days. Probably one of those years. His son Reuben, whose mother was the neglected Leah, had been caught sleeping with Israel’s concubine Bilhah, one of the younger women Israel had taken in. Bypassing the morality of having concubines for a moment – just look at the picture above. Israel’s home family, between himself, four women, and four sets of children, was messy. Rachel, his beloved wife had just died and he was left juggling a family that he had acquired through a father-in-law’s deception and the jealous rivalry of two sisters, each trying to have more children than the other. Now, the neglected family members were stepping over each other and using one another as if Israel himself were not even there, perhaps because he, in his grief and in his disappointment with the way his life had worked out, had neglected them for a long time as well. It was a mess and it was beyond anything he knew to do to fix it.

Then his father died.

While this was probably another kind of sadness, it was also an opportunity to leave the mess behind and return to a simpler time. He returned home with his twin brother Esau, whom he had recently reconnected, and there they both buried their father together.

He took off his title of Israel – the one who has strived with God, and was able to just be Jacob again. It was probably a blessing to return to that simpler time.

However Jacob, the name that means heel-snatcher or deceiver, was no longer deceiving anyone but himself. God had not called him to be Jacob. He had been renamed Israel. He was a new creation and had a new life to live, and it was something that required more than it took to just be Jacob. The old had died, and with this burial, he would never be known as Jacob again. From here on out, he would forever be Israel, the father of the 12 tribes of God’s chosen people… and it was time to get back to doing just that.

This was the gospel message the Paul brought to all the nations to whom he preached. The old is gone and you are a new creation. Yet there is always a temptation to go back to the familiar. When the Jews from Jerusalem started following Paul, they appealed to that temptation in these new Christians, and the Jews in particular, trying to get them to give up grace and go back to a life where you get what you deserve, and in so believing, you can better yourself by works above the others around you. It was a life where you could get ahead and know you were ahead by looking down at others around you as opposed to this new life of grace where you are already ahead and you lift others up around you.

We may come from a completely different kind of upbringing than either the Jews or ancient Gentiles, but we all have a kind of simpler time in life we feel tempted to return to when faced with the chaos and complexity of the present. It’s a trap. Tweet: We all have a kind of simpler time in life we feel tempted to return to when faced with the chaos and complexity of the present. It's a trap.

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God did not call us to flip-flop back and forth between new life and our former way of living. As Jesus taught, the one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the kingdom. New life in Christ is not compatible with former ways of living, no matter how much we may miss them at times.

While going back just every now and then may not seem dangerous or detrimental to us, it holds us back. We may not feel we lose much, and perhaps we are not falling far from God. However, we are not the only ones with a stake in our choices. It may be the rest of the world missing out on the blessing we could be if we fully embraced following God, no matter how far He leads us from our former home.

What is your temptation of the familiar?

What does the difference between your life then and now reveal about who God is calling you to be?

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No Room for Fear in Redemption

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No Room for Fear in Redemption

Isaiah 43:1–7

Restoration and Protection Promised

But now thus says the Lord,

he who created you, O Jacob,

he who formed you, O Israel:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

I have called you by name, you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,

and the flame shall not consume you.

For I am the Lord your God,

the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

I give Egypt as your ransom,

Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.

Because you are precious in my sight,

and honored, and I love you,

I give people in return for you,

nations in exchange for your life.

Do not fear, for I am with you;

I will bring your offspring from the east,

and from the west I will gather you;

I will say to the north, “Give them up,”

and to the south, “Do not withhold;

bring my sons from far away

and my daughters from the end of the earth—

everyone who is called by my name,

whom I created for my glory,

whom I formed and made.”

Matthew 15:32–39

Feeding the Four Thousand1

Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.” The disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd?” Jesus asked them, “How many loaves have you?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” Then ordering the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish; and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all of them ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Those who had eaten were four thousand men, besides women and children. After sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.

We binge on fear as a society. It is addictive, quite literally, as many of us seek greater and greater stimuli for our adrenaline. We want to feel the rush. It is not that we like to be afraid. We want to feel the relief after the short burst of fear passes away. We want to kick our fight or flight instincts into high gear and feel more alive.

Unfortunately, the producers of fear in our world do not control all aspects of our lives, and something’s those various forms of fear begin piling up on us. The news, for instance, may hope only to give us a daily adrenaline shot, but unknowingly bring on complications when we have not yet been relieved from the anxiety they introduced us to the night before, and the night before that. The creators of horror movies may be excited about giving us nightmares after seeing one of their films, but they have no way of knowing if and when it may trigger some past experiences in our lives that end up giving us nightmares for weeks or months.

In those cases, fear is not a stimulus shot… it becomes a paralytic. The response to fear when there is no place to run and hide, day in and day out, is that we simply shut down: mentally, physically, and emotionally. The anxiety spreads to other parts of our lives which may have no real cause for anxiety. Our whole life becomes lived through the perspective of terror and high anxiety.

We joke in church about “signs of the apocalypse”, which rarely means a celebratory return of our Lord and often refers to incoming trial and tribulation. While that timeline has been debated over the years, what is clear in the Scriptures is that even in suffering God remains with us. His Holy Spirit, His very presence may be one of the most precious gifts we can receive from Him, because without that presence, there really is no light, life, or love.

With His presence though, we can go through anything and everything. Perhaps not without taking some scars or suffering pain, but we can do it without being overcome by fear because the presence of God pushes out fear.Tweet: The presence of God pushes out fear.

John wrote:

God is love.

There is no fear in love.

Perfect love casts out fear.

The message of Isaiah in particular, and really all of the prophets was not that we needed to be more afraid of God or anything else. They did not ask for fear. They asked for faith. They asked for trust in God.

Missing a meal or two may not seem as fear-inducing as being surrounded by the armies of your enemies, but it may have been a different story for their disciples. According to Matthew, it was not just the crowds that were asking about food. It was Jesus Himself who commanded them to feed the crowds. It was knowing how little they had and how great the mountain was in front of them, and feeling the hand of God pushing them forward. It may have felt like skydiving without a parachute.

The same God that delivered the faithful armies of Israel delivered the obedient disciples that day. As He took those gifts of bread and fish, blessed and broke them, His presence overwhelmed their fear in a way that marked them for the rest of their lives. It was like an invisible, holy scar, they took from that encounter that would come back and remind them every time the mountain in front of them looked too great and they felt the hand of God pushing them forward. Instead of fear addicts it turned them into faith addicts.

Where do you experience fear in your life?

How can you invite the presence of God into those places?

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  1. (Mk 8:1–10)

New Branches

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New Branches

Genesis 32:3–21

Jacob Sends Presents to Appease Esau

Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, instructing them, “Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: Thus says your servant Jacob, ‘I have lived with Laban as an alien, and stayed until now; and I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male and female slaves; and I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favor in your sight.’”

The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people that were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two companies, thinking, “If Esau comes to the one company and destroys it, then the company that is left will escape.”

And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, and I will do you good,’ I am not worthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan; and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him; he may come and kill us all, the mothers with the children. Yet you have said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted because of their number.’”

So he spent that night there, and from what he had with him he took a present for his brother Esau, two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milch camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. These he delivered into the hand of his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, “Pass on ahead of me, and put a space between drove and drove.” He instructed the foremost, “When Esau my brother meets you, and asks you, ‘To whom do you belong? Where are you going? And whose are these ahead of you?’ then you shall say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob; they are a present sent to my lord Esau; and moreover he is behind us.’ ” He likewise instructed the second and the third and all who followed the droves, “You shall say the same thing to Esau when you meet him, and you shall say, ‘Moreover your servant Jacob is behind us.’ ” For he thought, “I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterwards I shall see his face; perhaps he will accept me.” So the present passed on ahead of him; and he himself spent that night in the camp.

Acts 2:37–47

The First Converts

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Life among the Believers

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Bamboo grows straight and tall. Apart from some leaves at the top, they are narrow and do not provide much shade by themselves. It is why you do not often see them growing alone. Because they grow so tall and narrow, they are less able to hold the nests of birds or other animals. I’m sure the bamboo doesn’t mind not having to deal with extra guests, but because of this, they, as a plant, seem to mostly associate only with themselves and those just like them.

Contrast that with the Live Oaks found down in the Southeastern United States. These trees grow in communities with each other, but they provide homes for many other creatures and plants as well. One Live Oak is an ecosystem all by itself and a community of these trees is like a small universe.

What is the difference between these two? Branches. One has lots of strong branches and the other does not. There is a moral to be learned here among these plants though. Those who aim for the light, forsaking all others, will get there, but will be tall and fragile, blown over by winds unless they can surround themselves by other like-minded folks. Bamboo. Those who grow up and out, like the Live Oaks, and gather up others with them become stronger. Neither plant can go it alone, but each Live Oaks make a bigger impact around them compared to the Bamboo.

So, how do you branch out? You turn in a new direction. The Bible often refers to this as repentance. Some forms of repentance are more drastic than others, but the overall effect is this: you cannot branch off by continuing in the same direction.

Jacob had run away from home, and his brother in particular. His moment of meeting God occurred only after he turned around and started moving toward those former unresolved problems. Perhaps even more extreme, the people of Jerusalem began professing and living out loyalty to Jesus, the one whom they had crucified or at least deserted just a few months before.

Grace allowed them a second chance, to make new choices, and to grow new branches. It also allowed them to relate to others who may be heading off toward dead ends. Thus, branching out – repentance – not only helps us correct our own course, it allows us to be truly hospitable and able to show love to others.

What new branches have you made in your life?

How are you able to turn those branches into ways to welcome in others to your journey with God?

Running Away from Home

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Running Away from Home

Genesis 31:22–42

Laban Overtakes Jacob

On the third day Laban was told that Jacob had fled. So he took his kinsfolk with him and pursued him for seven days until he caught up with him in the hill country of Gilead. But God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream by night, and said to him, “Take heed that you say not a word to Jacob, either good or bad.”

Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country, and Laban with his kinsfolk camped in the hill country of Gilead. Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done? You have deceived me, and carried away my daughters like captives of the sword. Why did you flee secretly and deceive me and not tell me? I would have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre. And why did you not permit me to kiss my sons and my daughters farewell? What you have done is foolish. It is in my power to do you harm; but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Take heed that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.’ Even though you had to go because you longed greatly for your father’s house, why did you steal my gods?” Jacob answered Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force. But anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live. In the presence of our kinsfolk, point out what I have that is yours, and take it.” Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen the gods.

So Laban went into Jacob’s tent, and into Leah’s tent, and into the tent of the two maids, but he did not find them. And he went out of Leah’s tent, and entered Rachel’s. Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them in the camel’s saddle, and sat on them. Laban felt all about in the tent, but did not find them. And she said to her father, “Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the way of women is upon me.” So he searched, but did not find the household gods.

Then Jacob became angry, and upbraided Laban. Jacob said to Laban, “What is my offense? What is my sin, that you have hotly pursued me? Although you have felt about through all my goods, what have you found of all your household goods? Set it here before my kinsfolk and your kinsfolk, so that they may decide between us two. These twenty years I have been with you; your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried, and I have not eaten the rams of your flocks. That which was torn by wild beasts I did not bring to you; I bore the loss of it myself; of my hand you required it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. It was like this with me: by day the heat consumed me, and the cold by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes. These twenty years I have been in your house; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times. If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God saw my affliction and the labor of my hands, and rebuked you last night.”

Romans 1:8–15

Prayer of Thanksgiving

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel of his Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, asking that by God’s will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you. For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as I have among the rest of the Gentiles. I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish —hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

When we think about people running away from home, we typically think in terms of teenagers who either 1.) are tired of following their parents rules and/or 2.) believe they have found the love of their life and are trying to move in with them. While we can stand and look down our noses at a youth culture today whose morals are all over the map, the reality is, this story of running away from home probably fits our grandparents and great-grandparents better. Indeed, I would take it a step further and claim that this is particularly relevant to Christians. I cannot count the number of young Christian women who will testify to leaving home at some point (most admittedly under better circumstances than Jacob) and finding new surrogate parents in a new place. It is not just that we always need mentoring figures in our lives. We do. It is that sometimes we need corrective mentoring figures in our lives to help us over the hurdles left to us by our former guardians.

Sometimes, in extreme cases, those hurdles are put there by abuse and terrible experiences that no one should have to endure. Those are the cases when it is right to get out and get help. Most of the time, it is more subtle. Small kinds of neglect or disapproval – often disapproval of spiritual beliefs or church involvement. It is hard to grow as a young Christian when your parents, the ones made to nurture and encourage you, disapprove of your faith.

Probably, the most frequent occurrence is simply family conflict. When parents get into marital disputes, children are involved, whether they intend it to be or not. That conflict becomes internalized in children and hijacks their focus from anything and everything else. Grades falter at school, social lives dwindle, they make more mistakes on the playing field, and it becomes very difficult to engage with God and the Church. Those who can maintain a strong enough sense of self during those episodes often find a way to run away, finding or creating new “sanctuaries” where they can just unload all the turmoil they have gathered within themselves. Externally, they may still be living with their families, but inside, they too are runaways.

If you are considering running away, call someone safe and official, like a teacher, church worker, or law enforcement officer first. Runaways are some of the most victimized people all over the world. It is not wise or healthy to simply run away from your problems if you do not have somewhere safer you are running toward. That is not just for teens, that goes for everyone. So do yourself a favor that may save your life and find someone safe you can talk to and get help before you try to leave home.

God has a long history of working with runaways. Almost the entire history of Jewish patriarchs were runaways in one form or another, from Abraham to David. The disciples and the early Christians were as well. Most of the people to whom Paul and Peter, and the other NT authors wrote, were living lives slightly on the run, always looking over their shoulder and the shadows of their former lives. Some were being tempted to go back. Others were afraid of what was coming after them from those past homes. Are you living the life of a runaway? You are not alone.

The end of the matter for runaways, and really all of us is this: Jesus is building us a new home! For those of us living in those new homes now (no I don’t mean heaven, I mean living in the Kingdom of God today, we ourselves are being made into a home for those runaways looking for new homes in the Kingdom of God.

Where is your home?

Is it a place that nurtures your faith?

Is it a place that welcomes in runaways who are looking for sanctuary to be with God?