An Invitation to Dance

(Please read Jeremiah 31 in your favorite translation of the Bible.  I have used the NIV.)

God’s people have reason to dance with joy.

  1. Look who’s dancing. (vs. 4 +13)

In the Bible, dancing is an act of WORSHIP on occasions of JOY. The Bible records occasions when God’s people danced.  Generally speaking, these were worship services, feasts, and at military victories.  (The men danced a/t battle site, immediately after the victory was won.  Women danced in a parade with the returning soldiers.)

There are two familiar examples of joyous dancers in the Bible.  In Exodus 15, Miriam, beside the Red Sea, danced immediately after God vanquished the Egyptian army.  In 2 Samuel 6, David danced before the Ark of the Covenant as it was finally brought to Jerusalem.

In the New Testament era, dancing was a point of controversy, so we don’t read much about it.  Some early Christians distrusted it because pagans danced as part of their worship.  However, some of the church fathers wrote in favor of including dance in worship.

Let’s take note of our passage for today: dancing in Jeremiah 31.  Who is dancing in this prophecy?  THE JOYFUL (4) = Everyone who celebrated what God has done for them.  MAIDENS…YOUNG MEN AND OLD AS WELL (13) = Neither age nor gender were no barrier to praising the Lord in this way.

Why were they dancing? Because at last God’s promises were being fulfilled; they were delivered from their enemies.

  1. You too have reasons to dance. (vs. 3, 5-20, 31-34)

While this prophecy was fulfilled in part during the lifetimes of the Jews returning from Babylon, part of it remains to be fulfilled in our lifetimes.  Also, the spiritual principles that are at the heart of these promises are just as true today.  So let’s take a look at the reasons for joyous, worshipful dance that are detailed in Jeremiah 31.

First, God LOVES you (v. 3).  God’s love is definitively stated: I HAVE LOVED YOU WITH AN EVERLASTING LOVE and I HAVE DRAWN YOU WITH LOVING-KINDNESS. The national history of Judah is the same as our personal history; we’ve gone our own way, defying God.  We have benefitted from His discipline and enjoyed His forgiveness.  Take the promises personally

Second, He promised you will enjoy the fruits of your LABOR (v. 5).  When the Babylonian army invaded, they reduced Judah’s fields to rubble.  From that point on, the people served their Babylonian masters and they enjoyed the fruits of the labor of God’s people. To work and enjoy the fruit of your labor is grace, a gift from God.

One of the most frustrating things in life is to work and receive no reward. For example, consider Tax Freedom Day.  That is the day experts calculate you have been working for the government, that the money you’ve made hs gone to pay your annual taxes.  Tax Freedom Day came to us in South Dakota on April 8, the rest o/t nation averaged April 24!  We are 4th earliest!

<Retrieved from http://taxfoundation.org/sites/taxfoundation.org/files/docs/TFD%20Map.png on 5/14/16.>

Third, you can WORSHIP God (vs. 6-7, 12).  The Bible does not endorse any one style of worship as more pleasing to God.  All styles of acceptable worship are the reaction of believers to their experiences of God at work in their lives.  It is a matter of choice, with three caveats.

– It focuses on God’s glory.

– It is sincere. Sincerity is proven in different reactions, including the sorrow of repentance and the joy of salvation.  Feel all emotions in worship!

– It is done decently and in order.

Jeremiah 31 is a vision of God’s people reunited in worship.  They are GOING UP TO ZION, up the temple mount to worship God.  He reunited His people for this purpose.

Fourth, God saves us, bring us together, and makes us one FLOCK (vs. 8-11).  This FLOCK is constituted by God’s grace, not by the strength of the sheep.  In this text, they are described as folk needing assistance.  It is the BLIND…

LAME…EXPECTANT MOTHERS who God leads back to Zion.

Because it’s clear they did not save themselves, this FLOCK returned with WEEPING and prayer (v. 9).  We can’t understate this point: joy comes from knowing we’re saved by grace, not our hand.  They rejoice because the LORD RANSOMED and REDEEMED them.  Rejoice and dance because it is not about you and it never will be.

Fifth, your TEARS will be dried: God Himself will be your comfort (vs. 15-17).  RACHEL represents the nation of Judah, who wept over all she lost: her people, freedom, temple, and land.

In his Gospel, Matthew saw fulfillment of this passage in the slaughter of the innocents at Bethlehem by King Herod.  He quoted it in Matthew 2 to explain the horrifying deaths of infant boys to satisfy Herod’s fear of being supplanted and ruler of Judea.

This passage shares our grief but more importantly affirms our hope.  We all suffer loss, but thanks to God, we are defined by our joy, not our grief.

Sixth, you will be disciplined, but God is eager to forgive you (vs. 18-20).  God took His people into exile, but 70 years later, He brought them home.  Just as promised.

In this section we hear the voice of repentance.  By faith, they finally understood the seriousness of their sin. They finally felt the necessity of repentance.  Best of all, they finally experienced the relief of forgiveness.  Flooded with joy, they danced in spirit in worship of the One who forgave them.

Seventh, we’ve been brought to a NEW COVENANT; a new relationship with God (vs. 31-34).  These verses are the climax of the passage: the very best news possible.  The Old Covenant was bound to be replaced.  The New Covenant provided a better, more personal relationship with God.

Under the New Covenant, God’s will is put in our MINDS and written on our HEARTS, not on tablets of stone. Under the New Covenant, all people of faith – FROM THE LEAST OF THEM TO THE GREATEST – can have an intimate, personal relationship with God.

Of all the reasons that a person might dance, this seems to be the best, doesn’t it?  Life can be like a musical, if only you will have faith to hear the notes.

(You may view the video version of this message at YouTube.com.  Look up “EBCSF” to find it.)

Joseph: Sibling Rivalry (Part Two)

(Please read Genesis 37:12-36.)

Message: Family relationships need MORE grace, not less.

The Birth Order Effect

“The one thing you can bet your paycheck on is the firstborn and second-born in any given family are going to be different,” says Dr. Kevin Leman, a psychologist who has studied birth order since 1967 and author of The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are (Revell). But how is it that a gregarious comedian and a reclusive, introspective thinker can be so different yet share the same genes? Psychologists like Leman believe the secret to sibling personality differences lies in birth order — whether you’re a first-, middle-, last-born, or only child — and how parents treat their child because of it.

Birth Order + Parenting = Behavior

Simply by virtue of being a couple’s first child, a firstborn will naturally be a sort of experiment for the new parents, a mixture of instinct and trial-and-error. Perhaps this will cause the parents to become by-the-book caregivers who are extremely attentive, stringent with rules, and overly neurotic about the minutiae.

In contrast, if the couple decides to have a second child, they might raise their second-born with less of an iron first due to their experiences raising their firstborn. They might also be less attentive to the second-born since there’s another child competing for attention, and they probably will be less inclined to impulsively dial 911 every time the child breaks a sweat.

Firstborn: As the leader of the pack, firstborns often tend to be:

Reliable

Conscientious

Structured

Cautious

Controlling

Achievers

Middle Child: In general, middle children tend to possess the following characteristics:

People-pleasers

Somewhat rebellious

Thrives on friendships

Has large social circle

Peacemaker

Last Born

Youngest children tend to be the most free-spirited due to their parents’ increasingly laissez-faire attitude towards parenting the second (or third, or fourth, or fifth…) time around. The baby of the family tends to be:

Fun-loving

Uncomplicated

Manipulative

Outgoing

Attention-seeker

Self-centered

(Retrieved from http://www.parents.com/baby/development/social/birth-order-and-personality/ on 8/7/15.)

While Joseph wasn’t exactly the baby of the family, he held the last-born spot several years before the “Oops! Baby” Benjamin was born.  Does this description sound like Joseph?

(NOTE: See Part One for main points one and two.)

3. The consequences of sibling rivalry (37:12-36).

     Consequence #1 = Vengeful brothers.

Joseph’s father Jacob (aka Israel) did not discipline Joseph for tale-bearing, but used him to check up on his brothers (12-14). Why would Jacob do this if his sons weren’t men of questionable character?  Doesn’t this action show there were already divisions in the family?

The fact that they were not where he expected them to be may justify Jacob’s use of Joseph as a spy (15-17).  They may have been in Dothan goofing off or carrying out some scheme they wanted to keep secret.  Chapter 38 shows Judah running off and making deals of his own.  This may be additional justification of Jacob’s suspicions.

Still I wonder at the lack of wisdom Jacob shows in sending Joseph out like this.  Surely he knew the brothers hated Joseph.  He should’ve been able to guess that they would know Joseph was there as a spy and would mistreat him in some way.  Even if he refused to believe they’d really harm Joseph, he should’ve seen the threat of some type of harm and preserved his favorite son from ten bullies.

If it seems I’m being hard on Jacob, let’s remember a couple things. First, “Jacob” literally means “heel-grabber.”  That is a description of what happened at his birth but is also a euphemism for “deceiver.”  His character is expressed in his name.  Second, the last dozen chapters of Genesis have demonstrated his cleverness in outfoxing his father, brother, and father-in-law among others.  He was the guy who wrestled all night with God!

Where has this guy gone?  Has age consumed him?

It seems most likely to me that Jacob sent Joseph on this errand wearing the coat to demonstrate Joseph’s authority over his brothers.

He wanted to believe that they would respect his decision to promote Joseph over them, but they weren’t that kind of men.

This makes more sense because wanting to kill him over a coat has always seemed a petty and effeminate motivation for their fratricidal anger. This is important: the brother’s jealousy was not over the coat itself, but what the coat represented: Jacob’s having put Joseph in authority over them.  This was pride talking, and guys have been known to commit murder over nothing more important than pride.

This also fits with Joseph’s dreams.  They predicted his supremacy over his brothers and they saw Joseph’s promotion to “supervisor” as a step toward making those dreams a reality.

Notice that before Joseph has even caught up with them, the brothers are plotting to KILL HIM (18-22)!  However you explain it, this shows the depth of their motive.

“HERE COMES THAT DREAMER!” they say.  In the Hebrew this literally means “master of dreams.” Later they add, “THEN WE’LL SEE WHAT COMES OF HIS DREAMS.”  Both statements imply that their motive is jealousy and the focus is on the dreams, not the coat.  The irony is that God will use their actions to bring about the fulfillment of his dreams!

The brothers weren’t thinking clearly or never were good planners.  In any event, their initial plan was simple; kill Joseph, dispose of the body in a place no one will look for it (in a CISTERN; dried-out well) and make up an excuse for dad.

Consequence #2 = A Lost son.

As Joseph arrived, they set upon their brother violently (23-24). This may have appeased their anger a bit, but gave them an appetite – they sat down to eat!  During dinner an improvement to their plan presented itself (25-30 & 36).  Opportunity knocked and some pagans were on the other side of the door: a caravan of Ishmaelites (descendants of Abraham’s illegitimate son Ishmael) who were from Midian (MIDIANITES) inspired a decision to do some business.

The sale price of their brother was TWENTY SHEKELS OF SILVER. According to the price of silver at 10:00 am on 8/7/15, this was just $148.40.  But – as I’m sure these guys reasoned – it’s more money than they had before and it spares them of having guilty blood on their hands.

These Midianites were slave traders, not keepers and once they arrived in Egypt, they sold Joseph to an Egyptian named Potiphar (cf 39:1).  He was an officer of some standing in Pharaoh’s court.

In all of this, a couple of the brothers distinguish themselves:

– Reuben distinguished himself as the best of the bad guys by trying to trick his brothers and rescue Joseph later (21-22 & 29-30).  He doesn’t have the courage or caring to stop them from attacking Joseph, but he does save his life.

– Judah shows himself as the most self-interested by trying to make money with his brother (26-27).  However, this may have been the only way he could think of sparing Joseph’s life.

Later, in chapter 49, Jacob called his sons to him just before he died for the traditional time of blessing.  What he says about each of his sons is telling: he cursed Reuben (49:3-4) the “nice guy” and blessed Judah (49:8-12) the scoundrel!  In fact, Judah is the ancestor of King David and of Jesus Christ! This seems odd, but it was Judah’s action that saved Joseph and got him to Egypt, advancing the plan of God.

Consequence #3 = A Grieving father.

Their conspiracy develops their plan further to deceive their father (31-32).  The coat that had become the symbol of their father’s favoritism became the prop that averted suspicion from them.  Knowing the Joseph would not willingly surrender the coat, Jacob assumes the worst and accepts the brothers’ story.

Thereby, Jacob the Deceiver is thoroughly fooled and falls into deep grief (33-35).  He tore off his clothes and put on the clothes of mourning.  SACKCLOTH was like burlap; rough, abrasive and cheaply made, wearing it was a sign of deep sorrow.

Jacob mourned for SEVERAL DAYS, refusing all attempts by the family to comfort him.  He WEPT and said that mourning was his way of joining Joseph in the grave.

Sibling rivalry is considered to be quite healthy and very normal, even in adulthood. William Hansen, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, argues that its actually inevitable once that second sibling enters the family. “The oldest is suddenly shifted to the sidelines,” he explains. “It can be hard when the new one shows up and everyone is paying attention to her. That can set the stage for a lifetime of ill feelings.”

It is when the rivalry turns into envy it brings out the absolute worst in people, says Karen Doherty, co-author of the new book Sibling Rivalry: Seven Simple Solutions. “Sibling envy is like a festering wound and it sours our relationships to the point where we can’t bear the idea of our siblings being successful, or even happy, and instead take pleasure in their failures.”

But if siblings go down completely different career paths can they really compare themselves to each other? Apparently, yes they can. In some families career choices are very much impacted by the professional path the sibling has gone down.

(Retrieved from http://www.thegrindstone.com/2011/10/31/career-management/does-sibling-rivalry-give-you-more-career-drive-644/#ixzz3i4GBkgNN on 8/6/15.)

How’s this for a family of business?  Campbell’s Soup CEO Denise Morrison and her little sister Maggie Wilderotter runs Frontier Communications, a multi-billion-dollar communications company.

Their father was an AT&T exec who made her produce a business plan in order to get a bicycle. He told her, “Kids today have too much time, too much money and no responsibility. You’re going to have no time, no money and a lot of responsibility.”

One family solution was a “job jar,” in which each daughter’s chores would go. The girls could negotiate and barter their chores, but they all had to be completed by the end of the week. Morrison says her dad “would talk about the family as a team and everybody had to pull their weight.” That’s pretty cool — but also super-intense. But I guess you don’t produce a family of executives without a little intensity.

Morrison learned about the importance of relationship-building, a skill she neglected early in her career because she was so focused on numbers and results. A mentor pulled her aside and set her straight, telling her that she had to invest time in building relationships with her team. “I had been so conscious about being a working mother, of time spent on the job to deliver results and time spent at home to make sure the kids were OK, that I interpreted time spent building relationships as fooling around as opposed to, no, that’s serious business,” she explains. “That was a huge ‘aha.’”

(Retrieved from http://www.thegrindstone.com/2012/05/08/mentors/denise-morrison-maggie-wilderotter-sisters-ceos-family-926/#ixzz3i4HJjNAn on 8/6/15.)

Similarly, my prayer is that this first lesson from the life of Joseph imparts to us a sense of the sacredness of family relationships and the desire to do all we can to strengthen the ties that bind us to those closest to us.