Shining

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Shining

Exodus 23:14–19

The Annual Festivals1

Three times in the year you shall hold a festival for me. You shall observe the festival of unleavened bread; as I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt.
No one shall appear before me empty-handed.

You shall observe the festival of harvest, of the first fruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall observe the festival of ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord God.

You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with anything leavened, or let the fat of my festival remain until the morning.
The choicest of the first fruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God.
You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.

Philippians 2:14–18, 3:1–4a

Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you— and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me. “

Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord.

Breaking with the Past

To write the same things to you is not troublesome to me, and for you it is a safeguard.

Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh— even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh.

Sacrifices

Context really throws us for a loop when it comes to understanding the sacrifices God commanded in the Old Testament. Our retroperspective, reading backwards into that time and place, is completely colored by consumerism, animal rights, humanism, the industrial revolution, and a market society. All of these things were nonexistent in the time of Moses, and most of the millennia in which the entire Bible was written. They are new things that we try to look for to connect with in the scriptures, often leading us to see shapes in the shadows that are not real and are not there, like the men inside Plato’s cave.

So What was the purpose of all those sacrifices in the Old Testament anyway?
The sacrifices, as set out in the books of Exodus and Leviticus were set around functional events (such as when a person was sick and had been healed, or when a person realized they had sinned), and around seasonal times of reflection and celebration. Those seasonal celebrations were set to retell the story of the people’s relationship with God, beginning with Passover, their day of atonement and deliverance from slavery and Egypt. The next series of celebrations followed both their story getting to the Promised Land as well as their agricultural seasons.

These celebrations served the dual purposes of bringing the community together and reinforcing the story that their community was based upon and the values that God was instilling within them. As any ruler knows, there is a certain amount of taxation that is necessary to remind people that their leadership has value. It is not an act of cruelty. It is a fact of human existence that if we are not asked to give anything, we begin to love the giver more than the gift. We begin to become entitled. Offering up meaningful and valuable sacrifices created a bond between God and His people. Most ancient religions were very similar. Perhaps the biggest difference was that God regulated those sacrifices so that all people, rich and poor, could participate, while keeping them from going too far, sacrificing too much, such as one another or their children. God gave them clearer boundaries that helped them keep their community identity centered around Him without allowing it to fall into fanaticism.

Traditions

Today, we rarely practice sacrificial rituals, at least in an agricultural sense. We have many traditions though, and the bigger the effort involved, the more sacred the tradition typically becomes. First birthdays are a big deal. Fifty-first birthdays… not so much. First weddings are a big deal. Fifth weddings… not near as much. There are small but sacred traditions practiced by military families when their soldier family members ship out, as well as when they return, that those who have not ever offered up their spouses and children to the military sacrificially will never understand.

Some of these traditions are very good, and embody the best values we have. Others are not good and embody some of our worst. Hazing parties in secret societies often embody our worst. Bachelor and bachelorette parties sometimes embody our worst. Reunions of all sorts can often go either way. People look on us and see our true values by when and in what way we choose to celebrate Tweet: People look on us and see our true values by when and in what way we choose to celebrate

God’s ultimate purpose is not to prevent us from celebrating, nor to control our celebrations. Instead He wants to infuse our lives an give us something good that is really worth celebrating. He wants our joy to shine forth from us in such a way that the world stands up and takes notice of us and the God we are thanking in our celebrations. He wants the world to hear about and see His work in us.

What do you have to celebrate this week?

How will you celebrate it?

What role does God have in your celebration?

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  1. (Ex 34:18–26; Deut 16:1–17)  

Words and Deeds

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Words and Deeds

Genesis 45:1–15

Joseph Reveals Himself to His Brothers

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

Matthew 15:10–28

Things That Defile1

Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

The Canaanite Woman’s Faith2

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

What is more important, your words or your deeds?

I attended a city-wide prayer meeting this week addressing the problem of racism in our community in light of the recent events in our nation. I expected social commentary and some light political engagement – both of which I thought were appropriate for that moment. I was surprised by the theological debate that came out of that meeting. It was not particularly pointed or argumentative, and even though there were a number of pastors and theologians present, the debate actually came out amongst the lay persons.

What debate am I talking about? The question of whether or not we needed to address the problem with racism with words “prayers” or actions “prayers with feet on them”. Some wanted to put words as more important than action. Others felt differently. You might be inclined to think it was a racial distinction, but it is a divide that crosses over race, gender, and every other possible divide. It wasn’t a sharp distinction either. I’m sure everyone present would have agreed that both words and actions were necessary. The reasons for emphasis dug down deeper to the concept of responsibility. Who is responsible for righting wrongs, us or God?Tweet: Who is responsible for righting wrongs, us or God?

Those who lean a little more heavily on God’s responsibility typically favor prayer over action, whereas those who lean a little more toward our own responsibility lean more toward action than prayer. Please understand that both are necessary. I have met very few people who truly opt for only one or the other. But let us look at some scripture to see where words and actions fit into our faith.

Joseph, used words to threaten and actions to frame his brothers falsely as thieves, perhaps in order to get his whole family reunited in Egypt. Then he used his words to forgive and his actions to bless his family. He used words and actions for both good and bad, motives set aside.

We often think that right acts can make up for wrong words, but Jesus taught that it is our words that defile us, not what we eat. The next extension of that teaching is that words are more important than actions. That is not what Jesus said, it is an interpretation of His meaning. Following that teaching, Jesus engaged in some word banter, which appears slightly ruder than normal with a Gentile woman. However, He ends those “wrong words” with a “right action” of healing her daughter. What are we to make of all this?

I don’t think right or wrong actions or words really compensate for each other. Instead, I believe our words interpret our actions the way stage lighting directs our gaze and understanding of where to look and how to understand a play. Actions alone can be misunderstood, so we use our words to explain them. Words alone explain nothing though and sound hollow, like a hidden narrator on a blank stage.

What does this mean about God, us, and responsibility? God uses His words to explain and interpret His actions. We should take our cue from Him. Our prayers need feet and our feet need prayers. Taking responsibility in our world to make things right is not a matter of control (and when it becomes so, we are in the wrong), it is a matter of compassion. Do we care enough to follow God into places that are beyond our ability to fix, to carry grace there and serve God in whatever capacity He leads us?Tweet: Do we care enough to follow God into places that are beyond our ability to fix, to carry grace there and serve God in whatever capacity He leads us?

Where do you see wrongs that need to be made right?

What places of injustice do you see God already working in?

What is your responsibility there?

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  1. (Mk 7:14–23)
  2. (Mk 7:24–30)

Fearing God

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Fearing God

Genesis 42:1–28

Joseph’s Brothers Go to Egypt

When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you keep looking at one another? I have heard,” he said, “that there is grain in Egypt; go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die.” So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt. But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he feared that harm might come to him. Thus the sons of Israel were among the other people who came to buy grain, for the famine had reached the land of Canaan.

Now Joseph was governor over the land; it was he who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground. When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke harshly to them. “Where do you come from?” he said. They said, “From the land of Canaan, to buy food.” Although Joseph had recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. Joseph also remembered the dreams that he had dreamed about them. He said to them, “You are spies; you have come to see the nakedness of the land!” They said to him, “No, my lord; your servants have come to buy food. We are all sons of one man; we are honest men; your servants have never been spies.” But he said to them, “No, you have come to see the nakedness of the land!” They said, “We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of a certain man in the land of Canaan; the youngest, however, is now with our father, and one is no more.” But Joseph said to them, “It is just as I have said to you; you are spies! Here is how you shall be tested: as Pharaoh lives, you shall not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here! Let one of you go and bring your brother, while the rest of you remain in prison, in order that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you; or else, as Pharaoh lives, surely you are spies.” And he put them all together in prison for three days.

On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: if you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here where you are imprisoned. The rest of you shall go and carry grain for the famine of your households, and bring your youngest brother to me. Thus your words will be verified, and you shall not die.” And they agreed to do so. They said to one another, “Alas, we are paying the penalty for what we did to our brother; we saw his anguish when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen. That is why this anguish has come upon us.” Then Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to wrong the boy? But you would not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” They did not know that Joseph understood them, since he spoke with them through an interpreter. He turned away from them and wept; then he returned and spoke to them. And he picked out Simeon and had him bound before their eyes. Joseph then gave orders to fill their bags with grain, to return every man’s money to his sack, and to give them provisions for their journey. This was done for them.

Joseph’s Brothers Return to Canaan

They loaded their donkeys with their grain, and departed. When one of them opened his sack to give his donkey fodder at the lodging place, he saw his money at the top of the sack. He said to his brothers, “My money has been put back; here it is in my sack!” At this they lost heart and turned trembling to one another, saying, “What is this that God has done to us?”

Matthew 14:34–36

Jesus Heals the Sick in Gennesaret1

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. After the people of that place recognized him, they sent word throughout the region and brought all who were sick to him, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

One of the “Christian phrases” that unsettles me is that the Bible is an instruction book for life. The truth is, the Bible is a lot more than just that, and if we reduce it down to a set of rules to follow, we have left grace in the dust and have started on a path of works righteousness and/or philosophy of secret wisdom. The Bible is a history of God’s relationship with the Jewish people, culminating in His incarnation in Jesus Christ, and then followed by God’s redeeming work through the Church and promised return. Within that, there are laws, stories, teaching, analogies, allegories, comedy, tragedy, politics, and prayers.

That said, there is a kind of thread that comes out in two very important places in scripture and then weave themselves through the whole Bible. These are the beginning of Proverbs and the end of Ecclesiastes – the sort of “bookends” of wisdom literature found in the middle of the Bible. They say:

Proverbs 1:7

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;

fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Emphasis mine)

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Emphasis mine)

King Solomon is credited for writing both of these books. He is also credited as being the wisest man who ever lived (although there are multiple opinions on this matter). Regardless of where he ranks, I find it significant that King Solomon chose to begin and end his teaching on wisdom with one concept: The Fear of God. Tweet: King Solomon chose to begin and end his teaching on wisdom with one concept: The Fear of God.

Joseph may not have been credited with the wisdom of Solomon, but he learned the fear of God. If he learned nothing else in his journey from favored son, through the well, into the dungeon, and back up into the light of the day as a ruler of Egypt, he learned that God was in control and he was not. Ironically, this was the same faith that the sick and wounded had when they came to Jesus. They knew Jesus could help them when they could do nothing. He was in control and they were not. Beggars and princes are all in the same boat with Jesus.Tweet: Beggars and princes are all in the same boat with Jesus.

Our nation has been struggling with a desire for control for decades. We all have. Our instincts are to grab rather than give, to lash out instead of lift up with love. Those very words sound weak and sentimental though they echo Jesus’s own teaching about loving our enemies. Do we think Jesus is foolish and sentimental as well?

When do you feel helpless?

What experiences remind you that God is in control?

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  1. (Mk 6:53–56)

The Slow Boil

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The Slow Boil

Genesis 41:37–57

Joseph’s Rise to Power

The proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find anyone else like this—one in whom is the spirit of God?” So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command; only with regard to the throne will I be greater than you.” And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” Removing his signet ring from his hand, Pharaoh put it on Joseph’s hand; he arrayed him in garments of fine linen, and put a gold chain around his neck. He had him ride in the chariot of his second-in-command; and they cried out in front of him, “Bow the knee!” Thus he set him over all the land of Egypt. Moreover Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.” Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-paneah; and he gave him Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, as his wife. Thus Joseph gained authority over the land of Egypt.

Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went through all the land of Egypt. During the seven plenteous years the earth produced abundantly. He gathered up all the food of the seven years when there was plenty in the land of Egypt, and stored up food in the cities; he stored up in every city the food from the fields around it. So Joseph stored up grain in such abundance—like the sand of the sea—that he stopped measuring it; it was beyond measure.

Before the years of famine came, Joseph had two sons, whom Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, bore to him. Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” The second he named Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my misfortunes.”

The seven years of plenty that prevailed in the land of Egypt came to an end; and the seven years of famine began to come, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in every country, but throughout the land of Egypt there was bread. When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph; what he says to you, do.” And since the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. Moreover, all the world came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, because the famine became severe throughout the world.

Acts 14:19–28

But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city. The next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.

The Return to Antioch in Syria

After they had proclaimed the good news to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, then on to Iconium and Antioch. There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.” And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.

Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. When they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. From there they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had completed. When they arrived, they called the church together and related all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles. And they stayed there with the disciples for some time.

Cooking is an act of creation. Perhaps not creation ex nihilo as God created the world, but a kind of creation nonetheless. I continue to be fascinated by the millions of different recipes every culture seems to be able to make with the same small set of ingredients. Today we have televised contests over who can make the best tasting, most original of such recombination.

One small detail has always raised my curiosity. Why is it that some recipes, such as many pastas, call for you to boil water and then put in the extra ingredients, while other foods, such as rice, require you to put them in the water first and bring it all to a boil? Some things cook fast and others cooks slow. Cooking rice apparently is like the half-joke of cooking frogs – that you cook them slow so they don’t notice the heat until it is too late.

I think people are like that too. We don’t like to change quickly and when we get thrown into hot water suddenly, we try to jump out as quickly as possible. If we can ease into that change though, we typically handle it much better. Take Joseph for instance. If he had been plucked up from his homeland and placed in charge of all of Egypt, he would have been well out of his comfort zone, probably still full of pride, and lacking the wisdom of trusting God to guide his work. The slow boil process of refining him, or sanctifying him, prepared him for the day he would save his family from their own sin.

It works the other way too. Paul brought a quick boil kind of gospel to many of the cities he visited, gaining some immediate converts. However, some of the Jewish Pharisees from Jerusalem followed after him and began to draw people back into their former ways of life. The change Paul sought to make in their lives was confronted by enemies from both the Roman Empire, as well as the Jewish religious leaders. Some of the most faithful followers that Paul inspired ended up leaving their homes and traveling along to new homes as well. Indeed, most of the first generation of believers maintained their faith by traveling from place to place as refugees (or missionaries) which, in effect, may have been like jumping from one boiling pot to another until the gospel was finally, slowly cooked into them.

God does not want to cook us, but he wants to transform us. John the Baptist promised of Jesus that he was not coming to baptize us with water, but with fire and the Holy Spirit. As we soak up the Spirit, heated by the flame of God’s love, we are transformed into something more than we could ever be on our own.Tweet: As we soak up the Spirit, heated by the flame of God's love, we are transformed into something more than we could ever be on our own.

What kind of boiling water has God led you into?

How has that changed you?

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The End of Wrath

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The End of Wrath

Genesis 41:14–36

“Then Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was hurriedly brought out of the dungeon. When he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not I; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “In my dream I was standing on the banks of the Nile; and seven cows, fat and sleek, came up out of the Nile and fed in the reed grass. Then seven other cows came up after them, poor, very ugly, and thin. Never had I seen such ugly ones in all the land of Egypt. The thin and ugly cows ate up the first seven fat cows, but when they had eaten them no one would have known that they had done so, for they were still as ugly as before. Then I awoke. I fell asleep a second time and I saw in my dream seven ears of grain, full and good, growing on one stalk, and seven ears, withered, thin, and blighted by the east wind, sprouting after them; and the thin ears swallowed up the seven good ears. But when I told it to the magicians, there was no one who could explain it to me.”

Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “Pharaoh’s dreams are one and the same; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one. The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, as are the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind. They are seven years of famine. It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt. After them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt; the famine will consume the land. The plenty will no longer be known in the land because of the famine that will follow, for it will be very grievous. And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about. Now therefore let Pharaoh select a man who is discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land, and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plenteous years. Let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and lay up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to befall the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.”

Revelation 15:1–4

The Angels with the Seven Last Plagues

Then I saw another portent in heaven, great and amazing: seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is ended.

And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb:

“Great and amazing are your deeds,

Lord God the Almighty!

Just and true are your ways,

King of the nations!

Lord, who will not fear

and glorify your name?

For you alone are holy.

All nations will come

and worship before you,

for your judgments have been revealed.”

Wrath is like a boiling pot. It generally starts completely unnoticeable. Then you start to hear a low hissing of bubbles. Steam begins to hover around it. Then the pot starts to shake (especially if the stove is not perfectly level) Finally, it starts spewing boiling water out. This process becomes even more dramatic if there is a lid tightly sealed on the pot. It becomes explosive.

The purpose of wrath is tied closely with our sense of justice. It is like an itch that lets us know that something is wrong, that we are being bitten, or that we have been touched by something poisonous to us. Justice demands action and it is wrath that propels us into that action.

We have to be very careful how we approach wrath though, because in many cases it leads us into sin. When we strive to take justice into our own hands, we do so without the temperament of mercy and the guidance of wisdom. Following wrath alone is like cutting off an arm because it itches. When punishment becomes an end into itself, we have missed the greater goal of redemption.Tweet: When punishment becomes an end into itself, we have missed the greater goal of redemption.

We see this most clearly in God’s promises of judgment and visions or wrath. In every instance we see two aspects bubbling up out of the devastation. God leaves room for repentance. Even in the midst of the judgment itself, God often notes that the people still refuse to repent, which means that there is still hope if only they would choose to surrender to Him. Secondly, God makes the point that this wrath is simply an instrument to move the world to repentance so that – every person, of every nation, would come and worship Him. This worship is a return to our source of life and turning away from our own death and destruction we find apart from God. God’s wrath is an instrument of love that brings us home to Him when His wooing no longer works. Tweet: God's wrath is an instrument of love that brings us home to Him when His wooing no longer works.

Where have you experienced God’s wrath?

How did that wrath change you?

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God’s Sufficient Grace

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God’s Sufficient Grace

Genesis 40:1–23

The Dreams of Two Prisoners

Some time after this, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker offended their lord the king of Egypt. Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he waited on them; and they continued for some time in custody. One night they both dreamed—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison—each his own dream, and each dream with its own meaning. When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. So he asked Pharaoh’s officers, who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?” They said to him, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.”

So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, “In my dream there was a vine before me, and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms came out and the clusters ripened into grapes. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand; and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.” Then Joseph said to him, “This is its interpretation: the three branches are three days; within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office; and you shall place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. But remember me when it is well with you; please do me the kindness to make mention of me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this place. For in fact I was stolen out of the land of the Hebrews; and here also I have done nothing that they should have put me into the dungeon.”

When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was favorable, he said to Joseph, “I also had a dream: there were three cake baskets on my head, and in the uppermost basket there were all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating it out of the basket on my head.” And Joseph answered, “This is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days; within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head—from you!—and hang you on a pole; and the birds will eat the flesh from you.”

On the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, he made a feast for all his servants, and lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants. He restored the chief cupbearer to his cupbearing, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand; but the chief baker he hanged, just as Joseph had interpreted to them. Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.

Matthew 8:23–27

Jesus Stills the Storm1

And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”

Some days I am terrifyingly picky. I get ideas that I want to work out in specific ways. I believe that if I can think it, it should be both possible and probable in reality. Reality usually tells a different story and lets me know that I have an active imagination.

I want everyone to have some kind of happy ending. The story of Joseph frustrates me again and again, because it seems like people suffer without reason, particularly Joseph, the hero of the story. Things seem to work out wrong in three separate ways here.

First, Joseph, a baker, and a cupbearer are all imprisoned. Joseph is imprisoned wrongly, due to the lust of his master’s wife. We are given no reason for the imprisonment of the other two, but the kind of camaraderie they form draws out our sympathy and hints at injustice in their plight as well. Why should these three be suffering?

Second, they all have strange portentous dreams, and Joseph (who has dealt with his own dreams) asks God for an interpretation of them. God tells them that these dreams show that one (the Baker) will be executed while the other (the cupbearer) will be granted mercy and released. Why would God communicate through powerful dreams an arbitrary message of death and destruction for one and life and freedom for another?

My last problem with this story is, after the dreams come true, the cupbearer, who received mercy from God and help from Joseph simply forgets him. Joseph is left sitting in the dungeon. Why would such a vessel of mercy continue to be punished?

These stories rake against my sense of justice. It makes me want to dig for more information. Was the baker actually guilty of something? Was the cupbearer? Did someone poison Pharaoh’s food and these two were the only ones who touched it before Pharaoh received it?

Sometimes I miss it, having read it so many times, but this same sense of injustice occurs even stronger when Jesus, the only human who could ever command the wind and the water with but a word, dies on a cross, while the crowd, and even his fellow crucified men taunt him saying, If you really are the Son of God… and the truth is, He could have saved Himself. God could have saved Him, but Jesus chose to die. Tweet: God could have saved Him, but Jesus choseto die.

Joseph, along with you and I, are not strong enough to choose humility for our sake or others. We are not likely to say, “Oh, I think a few more months in the dungeon would be good for my soul, so no, don’t let me out yet.” We would make a run for the door the first time it was opened, and possibly, like the cupbearer, forget to thank whoever held it open for us. Too often, God has to hold us down in humility, before we soak it up properly. So it is that God’s grace, that is sufficient for our weakness, and which sometimes looks like injustice and unnecessary suffering, actually helps us to be more like Jesus and identify with the suffering of others.

Where has God’s grace led you to experience suffering?

How has that experience changed you?

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  1. (Mk 4:35–41; Lk 8:22–25)

Tough Choices

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Tough Choices

Genesis 39:1–23

Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife

Now Joseph was taken down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man; he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him; he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge; and, with him there, he had no concern for anything but the food that he ate.

Now Joseph was handsome and good-looking. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, with me here, my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my hand. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” And although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not consent to lie beside her or to be with her. One day, however, when he went into the house to do his work, and while no one else was in the house, she caught hold of his garment, saying, “Lie with me!” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled outside, she called out to the members of her household and said to them, “See, my husband has brought among us a Hebrew to insult us! He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice; and when he heard me raise my voice and cry out, he left his garment beside me, and fled outside.” Then she kept his garment by her until his master came home, and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to insult me; but as soon as I raised my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me, and fled outside.”

When his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, saying, “This is the way your servant treated me,” he became enraged. And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined; he remained there in prison. But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love; he gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. The chief jailer committed to Joseph’s care all the prisoners who were in the prison, and whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The chief jailer paid no heed to anything that was in Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper.

Romans 9:14–29

What then are we to say? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses,

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,

and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy. For the scripture says to Pharaoh, “I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses.

God’s Wrath and Mercy

You will say to me then, “Why then does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction; and what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’

and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’ ”

“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’

there they shall be called children of the living God.”

And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the children of Israel were like the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved; for the Lord will execute his sentence on the earth quickly and decisively.” And as Isaiah predicted,

“If the Lord of hosts had not left survivors to us,

we would have fared like Sodom

and been made like Gomorrah.”

Life does not offer happy endings around every corner. Some days success looks like survival. Some days we pay lip service to grand visions and keep our noses to the grindstones for the tasks that lay in the minutes and hours directly ahead.

Joseph had many days like this growing up as a slave in Egypt. Caught between obeying his master and his mistress, Joseph may have felt like he had no choice… trapped between a rock and a hard place. It is in the moments that we are furthest from vision and inspiration that we are most tempted to toss it all away and quit. It is also in these moments that our true character is put to the test.Tweet: It is in the moments that we are furthest from vision and inspiration that we are most tempted to toss it all away and quit. It is also in these moments that our true character is put to the test.

It is easy to do the right thing when it is easy to do the right thing. It matters more when doing the right thing costs us, particularly if we are not going to be praised by our peers. Throughout history, those who stood up, when no one else would stand with them, are the ones we remember. They are the ones that show the vision when there is no vision. They are the ones that breath the first breaths of life into movements of legend. And, the best of them have no thought at the time that they will ever be known for their actions. They see it as simply following the will of God in their lives.

Do you want to be famous? Do you want to make a difference in the world around you? Try humble obedience to God. He has all the right and reason to claim the credit for Himself, as Paul writes above. Yet, He chooses not to. He prepares us for good things, set aside as His chosen people and waits for us to follow Him in the Way. Will you walk in that legacy He has created for you, or will you choose your own path instead of trusting Him?

What are the difficult choices you have to make today?

How are you planning on making them?

What does God teach about handling those situations?

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