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 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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Against Better Judgment

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Against Better Judgment

Genesis 49:1–33

Jacob’s Last Words to His Sons

Then Jacob called his sons, and said: “Gather around, that I may tell you what will happen to you in days to come.

Assemble and hear, O sons of Jacob;

listen to Israel your father.

Reuben, you are my firstborn,

my might and the first fruits of my vigor,

excelling in rank and excelling in power.

Unstable as water, you shall no longer excel

because you went up onto your father’s bed;

then you defiled it—you went up onto my couch!

Simeon and Levi are brothers;

weapons of violence are their swords.

May I never come into their council;

may I not be joined to their company—

for in their anger they killed men,

and at their whim they hamstrung oxen.

Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce,

and their wrath, for it is cruel!

I will divide them in Jacob,

and scatter them in Israel.

Judah, your brothers shall praise you;

your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;

your father’s sons shall bow down before you.

Judah is a lion’s whelp;

from the prey, my son, you have gone up.

He crouches down, he stretches out like a lion,

like a lioness—who dares rouse him up?

The scepter shall not depart from Judah,

nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,

until tribute comes to him;

and the obedience of the peoples is his.

Binding his foal to the vine

and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine,

he washes his garments in wine

and his robe in the blood of grapes;

his eyes are darker than wine,

and his teeth whiter than milk.

Zebulun shall settle at the shore of the sea;

he shall be a haven for ships,

and his border shall be at Sidon.

Issachar is a strong donkey,

lying down between the sheepfolds;

he saw that a resting place was good,

and that the land was pleasant;

so he bowed his shoulder to the burden,

and became a slave at forced labor.

Dan shall judge his people

as one of the tribes of Israel.

Dan shall be a snake by the roadside,

a viper along the path,

that bites the horse’s heels

so that its rider falls backward.

I wait for your salvation, O Lord.

Gad shall be raided by raiders,

but he shall raid at their heels.

Asher’s food shall be rich,

and he shall provide royal delicacies.

Naphtali is a doe let loose

that bears lovely fawns.

Joseph is a fruitful bough,

a fruitful bough by a spring;

his branches run over the wall.

The archers fiercely attacked him;

they shot at him and pressed him hard.

Yet his bow remained taut,

and his arms were made agile

by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob,

by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel,

by the God of your father, who will help you,

by the Almighty who will bless you

with blessings of heaven above,

blessings of the deep that lies beneath,

blessings of the breasts and of the womb.

The blessings of your father

are stronger than the blessings of the eternal mountains,

the bounties of the everlasting hills;

may they be on the head of Joseph,

on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers.

Benjamin is a ravenous wolf,

in the morning devouring the prey,

and at evening dividing the spoil.”

All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them, blessing each one of them with a suitable blessing.

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.

1 Corinthians 6:1–11

Lawsuits among Believers

When any of you has a grievance against another, do you dare to take it to court before the unrighteous, instead of taking it before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels—to say nothing of ordinary matters? If you have ordinary cases, then, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to decide between one believer and another, but a believer goes to court against a believer—and before unbelievers at that?

In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—and believers at that.

Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

The Ancient Hebrews, as well as other cultures, believed that the patriarchs and matriarchs of families had the power and responsibility to pass on both their material possessions as well as their prophetic blessing to their children before they passed. They took this act seriously, perhaps Jacob more than others. After all, he had used trickery as a young man to steal away the blessing from his brother Esau.

Most of Western civilization has diluted this down to wills and financial inheritance, although there are a number of rural pockets where inheriting land is still more important than inheriting money. We shall find out soon what the millennial generation decides to do with the land they inherit. Land, and the older kinds of inheritance are more than physical property and possessions. They are symbols of values like hard work, stewardship, clean living, hospitality, and caring for your community. A farm does not work itself, and even with hired work, you still have to handle the occasional crisis, care for the workers, and recognize how dependent you are on God sending the right weather at the right time.

So Jacob/Israel was tasked with distributing out the futures of his 12 sons. He needed wisdom to give them hope and direction for things they actually could and would take care of… and at this point in their lives, they had precious little material goods other than what Egypt had given them. These prophetic futures for them and their families were some of the best he had to offer to them.

What kinds of prophetic hopes are you passing down and calling out in your family?Tweet: What kinds of prophetic hopes are you passing down and calling out in your family?

It takes Godly wisdom to do this well. It takes God’s help. It may seem impossible, but with God all things are possible, and, more to the point, it is our responsibility to do it, for if we will not pass on God’s blessing to our own family, who will? Perhaps this is part of Paul’s frustrations with the believers in Corinth, who could not judge between themselves on petty disputes and were going to the pagan judges to arbitrate for them. With disputes about property ownership (and you know there was some of that) between literal family members as well as family in Christ, surely they could have found a way to let Christ arbitrate for them. Alas, they could not, or would not. They were too used to going before human judges who could be persuaded with fancy words or bribes, in order to get their way. They gave up better judgment and settled for a battle of the most persuasive.

We make a mistake running toward Christ’s mercy and away from His judgment. Our mistake is thinking they are two separate things. God judges us with mercy so we need not fear going to Him. It is also merciful that He judges us at all, because his judgement is not just having a passing opinion on us. God acts in His judgments and makes a difference in our lives. A cruel or uncaring judge would leave us in our own messes. Our merciful judge shows us where we are wrong and lifts us up by His power into right living. God is indeed a better judge than we could ever be or ever find, and it is only our sinful foolishness that fights against Him.

Where do you seek God’s judgment in your life?

How do you connect with Christ in a way as to receive His wisdom and guidance?

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Leaders

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Leaders

Genesis 45:16–28

When the report was heard in Pharaoh’s house, “Joseph’s brothers have come,” Pharaoh and his servants were pleased. Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Say to your brothers, ‘Do this: load your animals and go back to the land of Canaan. Take your father and your households and come to me, so that I may give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you may enjoy the fat of the land.’ You are further charged to say, ‘Do this: take wagons from the land of Egypt for your little ones and for your wives, and bring your father, and come. Give no thought to your possessions, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.’ ”

The sons of Israel did so. Joseph gave them wagons according to the instruction of Pharaoh, and he gave them provisions for the journey. To each one of them he gave a set of garments; but to Benjamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver and five sets of garments. To his father he sent the following: ten donkeys loaded with the good things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain, bread, and provision for his father on the journey. Then he sent his brothers on their way, and as they were leaving he said to them, “Do not quarrel along the way.”

So they went up out of Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. And they told him, “Joseph is still alive! He is even ruler over all the land of Egypt.” He was stunned; he could not believe them. But when they told him all the words of Joseph that he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. Israel said, “Enough! My son Joseph is still alive. I must go and see him before I die.”

Matthew 8:1–13

Jesus Cleanses a Leper1

When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

Jesus Heals a Centurion’s Servant2

When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour. “

A land is only as good as its leaders.Tweet: A land is only as good as its leaders.

Oddly enough, it does not always matter where they come from. One young lady managed to trace every US president except one back to one common ancestor in England. Who is the one with different roots? It’s not the one you think.

The great rulers of Egypt were no different. Some of their greatest were not Egyptian. Joseph, the Hebrew slave became one that put them head and shoulders above all the nations in the area during the time of great famine. They were fortunate to have got him and from what I gather, they got a great deal on him as well, paying the price of a slave for the benefit of a national savior.

Somewhere along the way, they got over the fact that he was Hebrew and that he had not grown up in a royal household. They respected him for his character and the results he brought, rather than his pedigree. Because they chose to follow him, including Pharaoh himself, they were blessed. Their faith in Jospeh allowed them to flourish as a nation.

Jesus also called for faith. Like Joseph, he asked for faith from those beyond the boundaries of his home nation. Again, it was the outsiders that ended up teaching Israel what real faith looked like. The lepers – cast out from society – turned to Jesus for healing and found it. The Gentiles came to Him for healing and trusted in His power without needing to see it themselves. In Jesus’s own words: “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” What does it mean when the unbelieving heathens trust God more than God’s own chosen people?

It means God moves. There is a hope that we have in watching God work throughout history. Jesus taught us to love our enemies, partly because we are called to be a blessing to the world and a witness of God’s love and grace. But there is a side note as well. God has a way of blessing His people through their enemies eventually, but that blessing only gets through if we can stop fighting long enough to see where God is working. The gold of Egypt furnished the tabernacle, the Philistines gave sanctuary to Israel’s greatest king, and Egypt again would later provide refuge for the savior of the world, when the king of the Jews wanted Him dead.

Good leaders come from being capable followers. Those who cannot follow, struggle to lead.Tweet: Good leaders come from being capable followers. Those who cannot follow, struggle to lead. This cannot be more true for a Christian society, in whose case the leader only has authority insomuch as they are following Jesus, the true leader. We have no king but Jesus, and the best our politicians can aspire to is the level of prince (or perhaps vice-president in US terms). The true leader will always be Jesus, because He has not died and left us to our own devices. He is alive and is coming back to reclaim His kingdom.

What kind of leaders have blessed your life?

What kind of leader are you?

Who are you following?

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  1. (Mk 1:40–45; Lk 5:12–16)
  2. (Lk 7:1–10)

Bait and Switch

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Bait and Switch

Genesis 44:1–34

Joseph Detains Benjamin

Then he commanded the steward of his house, “Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the top of his sack. Put my cup, the silver cup, in the top of the sack of the youngest, with his money for the grain.” And he did as Joseph told him. As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away with their donkeys. When they had gone only a short distance from the city, Joseph said to his steward, “Go, follow after the men; and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you returned evil for good? Why have you stolen my silver cup? Is it not from this that my lord drinks? Does he not indeed use it for divination? You have done wrong in doing this.’ ”

When he overtook them, he repeated these words to them. They said to him, “Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants that they should do such a thing! Look, the money that we found at the top of our sacks, we brought back to you from the land of Canaan; why then would we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? Should it be found with any one of your servants, let him die; moreover the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves.” He said, “Even so; in accordance with your words, let it be: he with whom it is found shall become my slave, but the rest of you shall go free.” Then each one quickly lowered his sack to the ground, and each opened his sack. He searched, beginning with the eldest and ending with the youngest; and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. At this they tore their clothes. Then each one loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city.

Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house while he was still there; and they fell to the ground before him. Joseph said to them, “What deed is this that you have done? Do you not know that one such as I can practice divination?” And Judah said, “What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? How can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants; here we are then, my lord’s slaves, both we and also the one in whose possession the cup has been found.” But he said, “Far be it from me that I should do so! Only the one in whose possession the cup was found shall be my slave; but as for you, go up in peace to your father.”

Judah Pleads for Benjamin’s Release

Then Judah stepped up to him and said, “O my lord, let your servant please speak a word in my lord’s ears, and do not be angry with your servant; for you are like Pharaoh himself. My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father or a brother?’ And we said to my lord, ‘We have a father, an old man, and a young brother, the child of his old age. His brother is dead; he alone is left of his mother’s children, and his father loves him.’ Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, so that I may set my eyes on him.’ We said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ Then you said to your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall see my face no more.’ When we went back to your servant my father we told him the words of my lord. And when our father said, ‘Go again, buy us a little food,’ we said, ‘We cannot go down. Only if our youngest brother goes with us, will we go down; for we cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ Then your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons; one left me, and I said, Surely he has been torn to pieces; and I have never seen him since. If you take this one also from me, and harm comes to him, you will bring down my gray hairs in sorrow to Sheol.’ Now therefore, when I come to your servant my father and the boy is not with us, then, as his life is bound up in the boy’s life, when he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die; and your servants will bring down the gray hairs of your servant our father with sorrow to Sheol. For your servant became surety for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I will bear the blame in the sight of my father all my life.’ Now therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord in place of the boy; and let the boy go back with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the suffering that would come upon my father.”

Romans 11:13–29

Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry in order to make my own people jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead! If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy.

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. You will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness toward you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And even those of Israel, if they do not persist in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree.

All Israel Will Be Saved

So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written,

“Out of Zion will come the Deliverer;

he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.”

“And this is my covenant with them,

when I take away their sins.”

As regards the gospel they are enemies of God for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”

One of the oldest cons in history is the bait and switch. It’s a simple gimmick of promising one thing and delivering another, usually followed by a quick escape from angry customers. Jacob pulled this fast one one his father Isaac, getting the blessing away from his older (slightly) brother Esau. Perhaps the apple did not fall far from the tree because Jacob, promising help to his starving brothers, set them up by putting stolen goods in their bags, making them look like thieves instead of poor people begging for food.

There is actually a fair amount of deception that occurs through the Old Testament in particular, among God’s people. Where does it come from and why did God allow it among those who were supposed to be models of faithfulness and holiness in the world? I think the answer to both of these questions is going to take us back to God Himself.

God established relationships with people from the Garden of Eden to today and most of these relationships were based on some kind of promise, usually conditional, and usually involving an exchange of blessing for obedience and loyalty. Many times God delivers some kind of blessing initially with more promised to come in return for faithfulness. However, conflict arises and we find ourselves struggling to remain faithful. We begin to question the validity of God’s promise. We begin to suspect God may have pulled a bait and switch on us.

The stories of this are many. Consider Abraham, who was promised a child – only to have it delivered 20 years later. Consider Moses, who indeed led God’s people to the Promised Land but could not pass over into it himself. David was anointed King of Israel 20 years before he took the throne – most of that time in waiting he spent as a refugee from his own people, hunted by the very government he was supposed to rule over. Job was faithful and lost everything, only to have it multiplied at the end.

Two common theme in these stories are time and the purpose of blessing. We want fulfillment now, or at least 2 day shipping for free. God is looking at the long game.Tweet: We want fulfillment now, or at least 2 day shipping for free. God is looking at the long game. God is less concerned with what we acquire and more concerned with who we become. Most of the time saints are not created by comfort. They are made in the refining fire of persecution and hardship, where God’s blessing provides the right kind of relief that creates strength of character and trust in God. It also let us see the purpose of blessing is not for us to enjoy, but for us to pour into others and reflect glory back to God. It may sound unfair, but we need to remember that Jesus walked this path already. His temptation in the wilderness was to seek the blessing early and to take the glory for Himself. He chose to save His blessing for after His resurrection – out of obedience and trust in God, and patient love for us. God holds back those blessings sometimes because we are not yet ready to receive them in a way that will truly bring us closer to Him, or perhaps because we can be a greater blessing ourselves by going without for the present and receiving only later.

Paul brings this all back to a common question: Do you trust God? Do you believe that He is good? Do you believe He will come through, even if you cannot see how? That is the essence of what faith and hope are, for we cannot hope for that which we already have. Do you believe God is the real deal, or are you stuck believing you are on the wrong end of a bait and switch?

What promises has God given and followed through with you?

How has God blessed you beyond your expectations?

What are you waiting for from God right now?

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