All Good Things

Please read Psalm 85 in your Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Jesus is Keeper of all God’s promises, the Giver of all good things.

One part of the process of maturing is setting aside the myths and mistaken thinking that comfort and guide us when we are young and/or immature.  For example, the inevitable moment in growing up when we set aside the Santa Claus myth.

In his book Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller tells the story of when he first realized that Santa was not real.  He was eight years old at the time and at the mall.  Needing to use the restroom, he went inside and was awestruck to see Santa himself, standing there using the facilities.  He thought it an honor to see jolly ol’ St. Nick, even though he was outside of his usual environment.

Santa finished what he came for, turned around and caught young Donnie staring at him.  He said, “Ho, ho, ho, kid.”

There were no words in young Donald’s mind and nothing came out of his mouth.   Santa shrugged & walked out of the bathroom.

After being starstruck wore off, Donald realized that Santa had left the men’s room without washing his hands.  Yuck!  He could not believe that someone with Santa’s reputation for fussiness about keeping naughty and nice lists could be so lacking in simple hygiene.  It was then and there that Donald decided there was no such person as Santa Claus and the guy with germy hands was just someone trying to earn some extra money during the holidays.

He left the restroom to join his family who were already in line to see Santa Claus.  He asked his mother to be excused.  He sat down in the lingerie department and consider the ramifications of this important decision.

(Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller, 2004, pp. 22-25.)

This process is not just for children, however.  All our lives we are supposed to continue maturing, continuing to put away the myths, superstitions, and half-truths that have made us comfortable but are wrong.

Jesus came, in part, to keep God’s promises.  He became one of us to give us the whole truth about God and set us free from the untrue things that hold us back from real life with God.  Psalm 85 is packed with “adult words” and encouraging promises.

  1. The key words in these promises.

FAVOR (v. 1).  The object of God’s FAVOR is the LAND.  The Promised Land was one of the chief points of Jewish theology, it was a sign of God’s love for His people.

Restoration (v. 1+4).   The historical object of restoration was to be returned to their LAND, to end their 70 years of captivity.

Forgiveness is named and described in four different ways.

God forgave and COVERED ALL THEIR SINS (v. 2).  True forgiveness requires some forgetting, putting away the offense.  When God forgives, He forgets completely.  We must do the same.

The psalmist pleaded with God to forgive and SET ASIDE ALL YOUR WRATH AND TURN FROM YOUR FIERCE ANGER (v. 3).  Forgiveness requires giving up one’s right to seek revenge or punish.  To truly forgive, both the forgiver and the forgiven need to humble themselves and make some sacrifices

He also pleaded with him to PUT AWAY YOUR DISPLEASURE (v. 4).  Forgiveness does not allow grudge-holding.  Love does not keep a record of wrongs.  This truth is expressed twice in verse five, in slightly different ways.  (Do not BE ANGRY WITH US FOREVER, and do not PROLONG YOUR ANGER THROUGH ALL GENERATIONS.)  They show a concern for the future and a desire to move forward.

Revival (v. 6).  To “revive” something is to restore or renew life; to spark vitality where life is ebbing.  This is a gift from God, another act of grace.  Asking for and receiving God’s forgiveness is the first step toward revival.  Every revival has begun with intense times of conviction of sin and repentance.

LOVE (v. 7).  LOVE is an Old Testament virtue.  It may not be as obvious as it is in the NT, but it is true that throughout the Bible, LOVE is the greatest virtue.  This verse is as accurate and abridged statement of the Gospel as you’d hope to find in the NT.  LOVE has always been God’s thing.

RIGHTEOUSNESS (vs. 11+13).  We think of RIGHTEOUSNESS in moral terms and that’s true, but not the whole truth.  The origin of RIGHTEOUSNESS is not in our moral willpower.  It comes with the Holy Spirit.  It is another grace God gives us.  The Bible says that any righteousness we can achieve is inadequate to save us.  As v. 13 makes clear, the human form of RIGHTEOUSNESS was expressed in the living and teaching of Jesus.  We follow His example.

  1. The results of the promises kept.

REJOICE IN YOU (v. 6).  Joy is supposed to be our “default setting.”  If life is characterized by anger or gloom, something must change.

SALVATION (vs. 7+9).  It is likely the original readers/singers of this psalm saw restoration, revival, and SALVATION as returning home from Babylon.  For us, SALVATION takes on a more eternal perspective.  We think of SALVATION as our going from earth to heaven.

PEACE (v. 8).  This is REAL peace, the kind that passes human understanding (see Philippians 4:7).  More than the absence of conflict, this is an emotional stability that exists in the face of conflict, a contagious positivity and ease.

HIS GLORY will DWELL IN OUR LAND (v. 9).  God’s presence is His glory and is manifest in light.  God is among His people and in the LAND.

The combined virtues of LOVE and FAITHFULNESS, RIGHTEOUSNESS and PEACE become possible (v. 10).  We know it is difficult to be loving AND faithful at the same time.  God will sometimes require us to do the faithful thing and someone will feel like we’ve been unloving.  Doing the right thing will put us at odds with people doing the wrong thing, or doing nothing.  When your choice is between doing God’s will OR anything else, pick God’s way.  Be obedient to God first and let the people sort themselves out.  We have to answer to God.

THE LORD WILL GIVE WHAT IS GOOD, the LAND WILL YIELD A HARVEST (v. 12).  Whether or not we recognize it at the time, the LORD will do what is GOOD for us.  What we HARVEST depends on what we have planted (see Galatians 6:7-8).

  1. Our part in receiving these promises.

We must LISTEN TO WHAT THE LORD GOD SAYS (v. 8).  On a practical level, this means two things.  First, listen to the LORD, not the world and CERTAINLY not the devil.  Second, as James 1:22-23 states, don’t just listen to God’s word and then go out and do whatever you please.  Apply the word.

Be FAITHFUL SERVANTS (v. 8).  Pride can get in the way of being a SERVANT, but you must serve others if you want to serve the LORD.  God’s will is that we should serve each other, not be individuals unconcerned about each other, or worse, in competition with each other, or worst of all, in conflict.

TURN NOT TO FOLLY (v. 8).  FOLLY here refers to claiming to be a child of God but behaving like a worldly person, not following the way of God.  It is the worst kind of FOLLY to see the life that God offers and then reject Him.

FEAR HIM (v. 9).   FEAR of God means at least three things.  One, feeling awe for God; being overwhelmed by His glory and goodness.  Two, having respect for God; complying with His will because you recognize His authority.  Three, it is legitimate to have a healthy FEAR of God.  A healthy fear is based on knowledge that God has all power and that one day we will have to stand before Him in judgment.

Verse 11 lists two virtues and describes their different points of origin.  FAITHFULNESS is something we practice: that’s why it SPRINGS FORTH FROM THE EARTH.   To be faithful, we must make our daily decisions based on the guidance we receive from God’s word; it involves our will.

RIGHTEOUSNESS is a virtue we receive from heaven: that’s why it’s said to look DOWN FROM HEAVEN.  To be righteous, we must allow the Holy Spirit within us to guide us into the right things to say and do.

  1. Jesus was born to keep these promises.

This truth is affirmed in the Gospels.  In Matthew 1:21, an angel declared to Joseph one reason for the birth of Jesus; “[Mary] WILL GIVE BIRTH TO A SON, AND YOU ARE TO GIVE HIM THE NAME JESUS, BECAUSE HE WILL SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS.”

To Mary, the angel Gabriel declared a different purpose, “YOU WILL CONCEIVE AND GIVE BIRTH TO A SON, AND YOU ARE TO CALL HIM JESUS.  HE WILL BE GREAT AND WILL BE CALLED THE SON OF THE MOST HIGH.  THE LORD GOD WILL GIVE HIM THE THRONE OF HIS FATHER DAVID, AND HE WILL REIGN OVER JACOB’S DESCENDANTS FOREVER; HIS KINGDOM WILL NEVER END.” (Luke 1:30-33).

Paul affirmed Jesus was the keeper of God the Father’s promises (see 1 Corinthians 1:30-31).  He is our RIGHTEOUSNESS, HOLINESS, and REDEMPTION

Jesus is Keeper of all God’s promises, the Giver of all good things.

Don’t be content to just hear the words; be ambitious to do them.  The world needs godly people ambitious to do God’s will.

War on Weariness #3

What do we do when we are wearied?

Fruitfulness in ministry (aka “church growth”) is not the solution to a dying church’s problems, but it is an exchange of one set of challenges for another.  We can see this principle illustrated in the very first church, the one that arose in Jerusalem after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension.

The First Church (as I like to call it) had the extraordinary success of growing by the THOUSANDS in the moments after it began.  One of the challenges that arose involved a successful ministry to widows.  Like a modern “food pantry,” the First Church was giving away food to the poorest of the poor – widows.

As Acts 6:1-7 tells us, the ministry outgrew the amount of time the apostles could give to it, and there were complaints that it wasn’t being administrated fairly.  The Twelve came up with a good solution: they got the First Church members to designate seven men to take care of this ministry.  These spiritually mature men were given the heady responsibility of being waiters.  The position thus created would come to be called “deacons.”

What is of interest to us today is not the organizational savvy of the Twelve, but the reason they gave for making that change – “[We will] GIVE OUR ATTENTION TO PRAYER AND THE MINISTRY OF THE WORD” (ACS 6:4).  Do you follow?  They became wearied with the demands of the ministry to widows and its demands on their time.  Doing something good had taken priority over their real job.  So they delegated the ministry to widows to capable men and got back to what was most important – PRAYER and the WORD.

It’s a good example to follow.  When we weary ourselves doing good things, one thing we must do is get back to the basics, the essential acts of the Christian life.  Nothing godly happens apart from our daily practice of PRAYER and study of the WORD.  It is the source of our strength for life.

REVIEW: Strategies for waging war on weariness from installments 1+2.

  1. Continue to do good anyway.
  2. Wait on the Lord.
  3. Stand firm; hold tight; hang on to Jesus’ hand.

NEW: Two additional strategies.

  1. Focus on the basics: prayer and the Word.

I refer herein to prayer and the word as the “basics” because they are two essential acts of spiritual discipline.  Maturing in Christ requires regular (at least daily) prayer and faithful study of the Bible.

Use prayer to regain strength. (Please read Ephesians 3:14-21.)  The use of the word KNEEL right away in v. 14 makes it clear this passage is about prayer.  To KNEEL indicates respect and submission to God.  All of us would do well to note and follow Paul’s attitude in prayer.

Of particular interest to us is the object of Paul’s prayer: what is asks of God on behalf the Ephesian believers is that HE MAY STRENGTHEN them (16). The means of God’s strengthening is HIS GLORIOUS RICHES…WITH POWER (16) and THROUGH FAITH (17).

– GLORIOUS RICHES = there are no limits to God’s generosity, no end to His provision.

– WITH POWER means we can pray for God to empower us physically, spiritually, or in any other way we need His help.

– THROUGH FAITH reminds us that faith is the condition and the conduit through which God’s strength becomes ours.  We must have faith to believe in His provision and to trust in Him.

The place of God’s strengthening is our INNER BEING (16) and our HEARTS (17).  Paul wrote elsewhere that even though our outward self is “wasting away,” God renews our INNER BEING on a daily basis (see 2 Corinthians 4:16; Colossians 3:10).

The result of God’s strengthening is SO THAT CHRIST MAY DWELL IN YOUR HEARTS (17).  The dwelling of Christ in us is manifest in 6 ways.

– BEING ROOTED AND ESTABLISHED IN LOVE (17).  Love is the most worthwhile sign of God in us.

– MAY HAVE ALL POWER (18).  God provides ALL the POWER we need to fulfill His will.  When we supply our obedience, then we experience God at work.

– TOGETHER WITH ALL GOD’S PEOPLE (18).  God’s people experience His power together and celebrate it together, contrary to our individualistic culture and the self-help version of religion we see in too many churches.

– TO GRASP…THE LOVE OF CHRIST (18).  GRASP means to “perceive” or “comprehend,” not “clutch” or “hoard.”  Love is self-emptying.

– TO KNOW THIS LOVE THAT SURPASSES KNOWLEDGE (19).  This sounds self-contradictory; however, the first KNOW is understanding by experience, the second KNOW is understanding by analysis.

– BE FILLED TO THE MEASURE OF ALL THE FULLNESS OF GOD (19).  The more spiritually mature we become, the more of God we experience.

In case all these promises were not sufficient to encourage us in a wearied state, Paul concludes with a doxology that transcends our limited understanding (20-21).

Use the Word to lead you to renewal. (Please read Psalm 119:25+28).  Set aside some time to read the entire chapter: PSS 119 is 167 verses long, the longest single chapter of the Bible.  All of it thanks to God for His Law.  In chapter that lengthy, you’d assume every aspect of gratitude for the revealed will of God would be covered!

Our attention this morning is limited to vs. 25+28, both of which specifically mention the WORD of God (using it as a synonym for Law) and the property of the WORD to uplift our weary moments.

We see a three-fold pattern in v. 25.

– Confession of weariness: Right away the psalm-writer admits he is having a very weary moment: I AM LAID LOW IN THE DUST. His mortality is clearly in view.

– Prayer for strength: In fact, he is so low the highest good he can picture is survival.  He asks only, PRESERVE MY LIFE.

– Acknowledgement of the word of God as a means of his salvation: But he is a man of faith and knows that the only life worth living is ACCORDING TO [God’s] WORD.

Verse 28 repeats the pattern of v. 25.

– Confession of weariness: MY SOUL IS WEARY WITH SORROW.  “I have collapsed with intense sorrow.”

– Prayer for strength: STRENGTHEN ME.  This is not a prayer for relief from troubles, but for power to stand and survive them.

– Acknowledgement of the word of God as the means of his salvation: ACCORDING TO YOUR WORD.  God’s Word reveals how we can be saved and how to live the life of a saved person.

  1. Rely on the Lord’s strength, not your own (John 15:5-8).

When you read John 15:1-17, you’ll see that Jesus taught about the necessity of our spiritual connection with Him by using the symbol of a grapevine.  The BRANCHES of a grapevine cannot produce grapes on its own; it has to draw nourishment from t roots by way of the VINE.

The key word here is REMAIN; it indicates that we continue to rely on the strength the Lord gives us.  The Greek word for REMAIN means to “reside” and it refers to where you make your home.  It is a picture of an ongoing, life-giving relationship between Jesus Christ and His people.

I don’t think people decide to leave God as much as they forget to trust Him first and foremost when weariness sets in or other problems arise.  Our human nature is such that we habitually turn to our own devices first.  Rare is the person who prays first or turns to the Bible for direction before looking elsewhere.  My concern is that weariness is inevitable when we trust to our own resources, not God’s.  We are, after all, finite creatures.

That is why the image of a “withered branch” in v. 6 should disturb us.  It’s hard to imagine a more appropriate word picture for a life that is burned out, wearied by the world without relief because the person has not trusted in God.  Notice the outcome of withered branches; they are THROWN AWAY and BURNED.  The judgment of God is always just; He sees through the pretense of their connection to the vine and knows them to be fruitless.  The end of such lives is destruction.  The warning is clear: don’t let this happen to you.  REMAIN in connection with the life-giving vine.

On the other hand, the image of the fruitful branch should encourage us to live life on God’s terms and in His strength.  Three promises:

– First, a promise of powerful prayer in v. 7.   For those who REMAIN in Jesus, petitions made in prayer are answered with a “yes.”

– Second, God is glorified by fruitful disciples because they experience things only God could do.  Their lives give witness to His power.

  1. c) Third, as Jesus taught, “good fruit” is the godly outcomes of a life lived in obedience and truth. Producing good fruit vindicates our faith, giving evidence in action that our faith is real.  That’s much better than a malingering hypocrisy that continues because words are cheap.  Actions are the true overflow of a heart.

In a November 12, 2013 article, Eric McKiddie noted the difference between a “Success Mindset” and a “Fruitfulness Mindset” in church ministry.  It can be hard to tell the difference because on the outside, they look similar.

One way to tell your own mindset is to analyze the questions you ask.  Here are a few examples:

– Success: “How many people came?”

Fruitfulness: “How many people were converted?”

– Success: “How well did that segment of the worship service go?”

Fruitfulness: “How well did we worship during that segment of the service?”

– Success: “How well did I prepare?”

Fruitfulness: “How well did I pray?”

McKiddie wrote, “The success mindset asks self-centered questions about one’s own work. The fruitfulness mindset asks questions that focus on God’s work in others. The pastor who aims for success gets glory for himself, but the pastor who aims for fruitfulness gives glory to God.

“It’s not only a subtle difference, it’s a ‘settle’ difference. The success mindset settles for external results and personal glory instead of striving for spiritual results and God’s glory.”

<Retrieved from http://www.pastoralized.com/2012/11/13/the-subtle-difference-between-a-success-mindset-and-a-fruitfulness-mindset-in-ministry/ on 2/24/17.>

Success is something we chase, something we desire and wear ourselves out trying to attain.  It also betrays an essentially selfish heart.  When we love ourselves first, we think about success a lot.

Let me challenge your thinking.  Success is not a biblical way of evaluating your life.  Fruitfulness is a biblical way of testing our spiritual maturity in order to draw nearer to God.

This renewal of our thinking is a way to wage war on weariness.  Constantly seeking our own way and our achievements is worldly and wearying.  Who do you think is going to dust those trophies?

Instead, let us apply ourselves to faithfulness and let God take care of the fruitfulness.  Let us follow His lead and accept our place in His plan, whether that’s at the head of the line, in the middle, or at the end.  When we obey Him, then we know true rest and are restored from weariness.

PREVIEW: In installment #4 we’ll look at the final three strategies.

  1. Share your burdens. (GLS 6:2)
  2. Spend your sorrow on service.
  3. Invest in wellness.

Why’d He Do It? To End Division.

(Please read HEBREWS 10:19-25.  I have cited the NIV below.)

Jesus’ sacrifice brought to an end division between humanity & God and between one another.

During a wedding rehearsal, the groom approached the pastor with an unusual offer. “Look, I’ll give you $100 if you’ll change the wedding vows. When you get to the part where I’m supposed to promise to ‘love, honor, and obey’ and ‘be faithful to her forever,’ I’d appreciate it if you’d just leave that out.” He passes the minister a $100 bill and walks away satisfied.

On the day of the wedding, when it came time for the groom’s vows, the pastor looked the young man in the eye and said, “Will you promise to bow down before her, obey her every command and wish, serve her breakfast in bed every morning of your life, and swear eternally before God and your lovely wife that you will not ever even look at another woman, as long as you both shall live?”

The groom gulps, looks around, and says in a tiny voice, “Yes.”  Then he leaned toward the pastor and hissed, “I thought we had a deal.”

The pastor puts a $100 bill into the groom’s hand and whispers, “She made me a better offer.”

<Retrieved from http://www.laughfactory.com/jokes/relationship-jokes/5 on 3/11/16.>

The roadblocks in relationships are the ones we put up.  The barriers to love are walls we create because of ignorance and sin.

Today we’re going to see that one of the reasons Jesus gave His life on the cross was to tear down those barriers.  At His death, something supernatural happened that gave us access to God and to His love.

  1. THE CURTAIN is a symbol of division. (HBS 10:19-21).

This curtain hung in the tabernacle and later in the temple; it divided the Holy and Most Holy parts of the temple.  The instructions for this CURTAIN are found in Exodus 26.  It was to be made of fine linen and decorated with blue, purple, and scarlet threads which depicted angelic beings called “cherubim.”  I’ll tell you why that’s important a little later on.

The most important CURTAIN in all Judah was the one that covered the Most Holy Place and the Ark of the Covenant within.  Only the high priest stepped around that CURTAIN and then only once a year to cover the sins of the people.

Part of holiness is separation; that is a virtue.  When the Bible uses the word HOLY, it refers to something that is set apart for God’s glory and His exclusive use.  It has no everyday usage.

All this was done at God’s command.  The Ark was referred to as the “seat” of God and was the physical symbol of God’s presence with His people.  In this way, God was seen as present and distant at the same time.  He was to be approached by the priests, who acted as mediators for the people.

But taken too far, even well-intentioned separation becomes division.  The worst division is that between God and His people. There must be some separation because God is holy in the sense of being pure.  We are not yet perfected, so full fellowship is not possible in this life.

But people who make excuses say God is so separate from us He doesn’t see what we do or care; that He doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter.  In cases like that, separation from God is self-inflicted and shows a lack of faith.

Divisions between people are also serious.  Divisions arise between people when our desires are in competition.  Divisions arise when we emphasize our differences and ignore our similarities.  Divisions arise when one or more of us refuse to heed the voice of God and love each other. (Sin creates divisions, love repairs them.)

  1. At Jesus’ crucifixion, THE CURTAIN was torn in half

(see Matthew 27:45-46, 50-51 and Mark 15:38).

His crucifixion was a supernatural event with symbolic meaning.  Both Matthew and Mark’s Gospels report that at the moment of Jesus’ death, the CURTAIN at the center of the temple – the most significant piece of cloth in the land – was suddenly torn from top to bottom.

It was not done by any hand of man – no one would dare to do such a thing.  Instead, it was done by the hand of God and designed to send this message – the Old Covenant, the former agreement, is nullified; TOP TO BOTTOM!  This detail is included to convey to us that the old system of separation was made obsolete and a new system, a new means of access to God, was provided.

It provided access to God, removing the barrier.  The CURTAIN that had once signified separation was now torn and a new way opened.  This symbolized an access to God for all people.  Instead of a CURTAIN separating us, the text informs us that Jesus opened up a NEW AND LIVING WAY into the presence of God.

  1. The tearing of THE CURTAIN represents removal of divisions (HBS 10:22-25).

The torn curtain is a potent symbol we might miss because it is given scant attention in the Gospels.  Here in Hebrews its significance is explained to us. Regarding our relationship with God, the passage indicates three different ways the death of Jesus on the cross was God’s plan to end this most essential division.

First, we DRAW NEAR TO GOD with sincere faith.  You can be sure God knows a sincere heart when He sees one.  One of the ways in which we can gauge our sincerity is to note whether or not we feel FULL ASSURANCE that our faith is not in vain; our trust in God will be vindicated.  We can be emotionally secure about this.

Second, we can be forgiven; cleansed from all guilt.  A benefit to faith is being morally cleansed; our GUILTY CONSCIENCE is removed by God’s complete forgiveness.  It is written, OUR BODIES WASHED WITH PURE WATER as a symbol of baptism and also of the totality of God’s forgiveness from our selfish heads to our wayward feet, sin and guilt are wiped away!

Third, our restored relationship with God gives us reason to HOPE and HOPE steadies us in life’s storms.  Elsewhere in Hebrews (6:19), the author describes hope as AN ANCHOR FOR OUR SOULS.  The purpose of an anchor is to steady a boat and hold it in position.  Hope does the same thing.  If we hold UNSWERVINGLY to our faith we are anchored and we will avoid the wandering that adversity can cause.

The passage does not end here, it gives us direction regarding our relationships with each other, how they are restored by the cross.  We must realize all creation has been affected by Jesus’ victory.

Firstly, loving one another sometimes requires some assertive action; taking responsibility for one another may require us to CONSIDER how we might SPUR each other on to LOVE & GOOD DEEDS.  SPUR is an interesting word in the original language. Paroxsysmos means to “stir up, provoke, irritate.”  It is generally used in the New Testament in a negative sense.  (See 1 Corinthians 13:5.)

Even though the experience may be bitter, our motive in using the spurs is not to irritate, but to initiate an experience that leads to spiritual maturity: to LOVE AND GOOD DEEDS.  This is very difficult.  It requires love and maturity to do the right thing at the right time in the right way with the right motive.

We have to confess that we’re more likely to pamper or procrastinate when we need to provoke, or we attempt to SPUR one another from wrong motives to do the wrong thing.  The best kind of love knows the difference.

Secondly, we meet together for encouragement.  This is the opposite kind of experience from the “spurs.”  Christian, if you don’t generally leave somebody smiling, you need to take a sincere inventory of your spiritual life.  The maturing Christian can be characterized as positive, optimistic, and gracious.

We can’t resort to the “spurs” or give encouragement if we don’t meet together and regularly.  Being in church doesn’t make anyone a Christian, but no one can be a Christian without being in church.  What’s more, we can’t know one another well enough to SPUR or ENCOURAGE each other unless we spent enough time together to have got to know one another.  You should quote this verse to the person who claims they can worship God as effectively holding a fishing pole or at the mall.  But be gentle.

Our efforts at this love need to be intensifying, not slackening.  ALL THE MORE AS YOU SEE THE DAY APPROACHING.  The word DAY in that sentence is capitalized because it refers to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

In a sermon entitled “The Message Sewn into the Veil,” Pastor James Groce made an inspired insight into the matter of the torn curtain. He drew a line back to the book of Genesis to find a wonderful coincidence:

“What is the message in Cherubims embroidered in the veil that ripped when Christ died?

“We saw so much in the Word of God about the Tabernacle, how it ties in with the Garden of Eden. And how the whole plan of salvation is getting back into the Garden again.

“Notice that Cherubims were sewn into the veil, the barrier, that stood before the Holiest of Holies. And we find that this veil ripped open when Jesus Christ died. The barrier was removed.

“And of course this lines up with access to the tree of Life as found in Genesis. Genesis 3:24: So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.”

<Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/the-message-sewn-into-the-veil-james-groce-sermon-on-gods-forgiveness-37960.asp on 3/11/16.>

Do you see? From virtually the beginning of the creation of our race, sin has kept us from full fellowship with God.  Angelic beings stood guard at the garden and before the Most Holy Place.  But when Jesus died on the cross, the guards were dismissed.  The gate was thrown open, and access to God was made possible.

That’s one reason Jesus died on the cross.  He gave up His life so we could be reunited with God the Father.  The effect of sin that distances us from Him has been nullified.

In our relationships with each other and our relationship with God, there is no longer any need for division.  Any barriers we find are the ones we put there.

Joseph: Reunited

(Please read Genesis 45 and 46 in your favorite version of the Bible.  I have prepared these remarks using the NIV.)

If you’ve been following along, you’ll notice that I’ve hopped over chapters 42-44; Joseph’s intrigues with his brothers.  I confess to being chicken.  I don’t see Joseph’s reason for engaging in these maneuvers, they’re lengthy, repetitive, and they only complicate the story. I encourage you to read them for yourself.  When you can make sense of it, please contact me.

SO.  From confession to an MSN News item dated September 16 2015:

A 103-year-old Georgia woman, banned from the church she’s been attending for over nine decades, is speaking out about her expulsion from her Baptist Church.

“According to reports, Genora Ham Biggs and the Rev. Tim Mattox of Union Grove Baptist Church in Elberton, Ga., have been going back and forth over his preaching, which Biggs calls a ‘holiness style’ that has been adopted at the church since he was hired about six years ago. Biggs says that sort of preaching doesn’t belong in a Baptist church.”

Biggs, who has been attending the church since she was just 11 years old, and who once served as the church secretary, is known by some in the congregation as the “church mother,” while others have dubbed her a “Jezebel.” But a recent letter from the church directed her that she is no longer welcome to worship; she’s been banned from entering the property after being too outspoken.

When Biggs tried to attend the service after receiving the letter, Mattox met her at the door and told her she wasn’t welcome. She pushed in, and Mattox reportedly dismissed the service, sent everyone home and shut off the lights. Biggs was left sitting alone, in the dark, in a church pew.

Biggs told Fox Carolina: “I was shocked. It was not a good feeling. I haven’t seen anything like this before,” she said of the service being canceled outright.  Biggs is receiving widespread support on social media, while the church’s Facebook page has been barraged with damning messages against the actions of the church.

(Retrieved from http://www.examiner.com/article/103-year-old-woman-banned-from-church-lifelong-churchgoer-booted-by-ga-church on 9/17/15.)

It’s bad when the family is fractured.  I think we can agree on a few facts regarding this story: One, we have only heard one side so far.  Two, we do not want the problems of the church being prosecuted in social media.  Three, both sides seem to have forgotten whose church it is.  Four, we need to pray that this church family gets restored; that the conflict gets resolved.

This kind of fractured family is where we began our look into the life of Joseph.  We saw how sibling rivalry ushered in a set of very difficult and even unjust circumstances for Joseph.  Today we find out why.  From Joseph’s own lips we will learn what God was doing throughout all these circumstances, even the mistakes, miscues and outright sins that various people committed.

I pray that after today we’ll be encouraged by the knowledge that God is in control and that He has the power to take what is intended for evil and turn it to good.

MESSAGE: In all circumstances, God is working on our salvation.

  1. Reunited with his brothers, Joseph explained God’s greater purpose (45:1-15).

Whatever motive Joseph had for the two intrigues he perpetrated in chapters 42-44, he abandoned them at the end of chapter 44 and is overcome with emotion at the beginning of chapter 45.  He dismissed his ATTENDANTS, but proceeded to weep so loudly that they overheard his cries AND they felt justified in reporting this to Pharaoh.  Verse three indicates part of the emotion is concern for his father: Joseph wants to know whether he is alive or not.

For their part, the eleven brothers are confused and slow to understand.  In their defense, keep in mind this is a sudden and dramatic change.  Previously, the Egyptian official before them – now claiming to be their brother – had accused them of spying and thievery.  The passage of years and wearing the garb of a different culture no doubt changed Joseph’s appearance: he had to call them to have a closer look and see who he really was.

This is one of the more dramatic scenes of the Bible but the emotion is very understated.  The writer does not want us to miss the point in all the drama.

Joseph explained the point of it all is that God was at work all the time. He stated God’s will succinctly: “IT WAS TO SAVE LIVES THAT GOD SENT ME AHEAD OF YOU.”  Though the brothers’ intentions and actions were evil, God’s will was done.  This truth is the key to the Joseph narrative; God is in control in ALL circumstances.

This fact would be of international consequence. Countless people would be saved. But, as we see later in the passage, Joseph and Pharaoh would see to it that God’s will was on a personal scale too, and Joseph’s family would be saved.  Starting with the dreams and continuing with all the exceptional events of Joseph’s life, he was being prepared and placed by God where God wanted him to be.

The scene ends with the brothers being reconciled: hugging, kissing, and talking to one another (45:14-15).  When they parted company, Joseph gave them a bit of brotherly and friendly advice: “DON’T QUARREL ON THE WAY!”  This implies their reconciliation is complete and the relationship is restored.

  1. Pharaoh blessed the reunion with extra provision for Joseph’s family (45:16-24).

The text implies that Joseph and Pharaoh came up with the same idea independent of one another: to bring his father’s household to Egypt, where they could be cared for throughout the remaining years of the famine.  Pharaoh was especially generous; “I WILL GIVE YOU THE BEST OF THE LAND OF EGYPT AND YOU CAN ENJOY THE FAT OF THE LAND.”

Given the circumstances, Egypt was the best place for Israel & his family to be.  It’s said at least three times in this chapter to make it obvious; God worked to save His people.  Historically, we know that the sons of Jacob did prosper in Egypt.  They grew to be a great and numerous people.  You could say that Egypt provided a safe place in which the people of God could prosper.

Here’s an important truth, folks; God’s will is always what’s best for you.  In the short term, it may present difficulties, but it always ends up being for our good.

3. Joseph was reunited w/ Jacob(45:25-46:34)

You can understand how Jacob, who had been so heartbroken at the news of Joseph’s death so many years ago, might be STUNNED to hear that he was alive after all.  The word for STUNNED literally means that Jacob’s “heart grew numb.”

Jacob the Deceiver could hardly believe that he had been deceived all these years.  How could he admit such a thing, even to himself?   More likely, I think, was that the news was too good to be true.  The shock and surprise were too great to easily overcome.

What convinced him were the carts full of food and provisions that Pharaoh and Joseph had ordered as gifts to the family.  Joseph’s survival and exaltation to a place of authority in Egypt – the whole improbable tale – must be true, for it explained the evidence of his eyes.

In contrast to his “numbed heart,” the evidence before Jacob’s eyes REVIVED his SPIRIT and he exclaimed, “I’M CONVINCED! MY SON JOSEPH IS STILL ALIVE.  I WILL GO AND SEE HIM BEFORE I DIE.”  The generosity of Pharaoh REVIVED Jacob.  As we know, acts of kindness can renew a human heart.

Having made his decision to believe Joseph was alive, Jacob/Israel set out for Egypt.  At one of the caravan’s stops, he worshipped God.  Notice Jacob acted FIRST.  He acted on faith and THEN God sent a vision that affirmed his decision.

God told him, “DO NOT BE AFRAID.”  How often do we read THAT in Scripture?  And yet, how often do we allow ourselves to be bound by fear?  The LORD encouraged Jacob in four other ways:

– By reminding him of the promise first made to his grand-father, Abraham; “I WILL MAKE YOU INTO A GREAT NATION.”  This would happen in Egypt.

– By promising to be with him; “I WILL GO DOWN TO EGYPT WITH YOU.”

– By promising to bring the nation of Israel out of Egypt; “I WILL BRING YOU BACK AGAIN.”  In Genesis 15:13-14, God told Abraham that his descendants would be slaves for 400 years, but they would come out of it endowed with great wealth.

– On a personal level, promising Jacob that he would be with Joseph until the day he died; “JOSEPH’S OWN HAND WILL CLOSE YOUR EYES.”  They wouldn’t be separated again, as Joseph’s hand would be the one to close Jacob’s eyelids after he died.  This may sound like a strange way of phrasing a promise, but from Jacob’s own words, all he wanted was to see Joseph again before he died.

“When you’re in church, should you leave your cell phone in your pocket or purse? Or can you take it out to look up Bible verses or take notes?

“Almost all Americans (96%) believe that using a cell phone in church is generally unacceptable, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center. In fact, worship services are the most frowned-upon setting to use a cell phone, followed closely by movie theaters and meetings.

“However, half of Americans who use their mobile device during worship services find their phones are an easy way to look up scriptures and songs. About 40 percent said using mobile and internet technology can help messages of hope and inspiration reach more people, as well as can make personal faith more accessible to those with disabilities.  Christianity Today has noted how many millennials use their cell phones to fact check their pastor’s sermon.”

(Retrieved from http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2015/

september/sunday-morning-where-should-cell-phone-be-church-etiquette.html on 9/17/15.)

I am convinced that electronics will never take the place of face-to-face personal conversation.  I know that problems get resolved and relationships restored when people talk and listen.  I believe that even though God can redeem t worst circumstances, He prefers that we love one another first & work together to overcome obstacles to our relationships with one another.  In all circumstances, God is working on our salvation.  He expects us to join Him in that work.