When God seems to disappear…

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Genesis 46:When Israel (a.k.a. Jacob) set out on his journey with all that he had and came to Beer-sheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. 2 God spoke to Israel in visions of the night, and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” 3 Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there. 4 I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again; and Joseph’s own hand shall close your eyes.” 

With a famine in his homeland of Canaan it was not feasible for Israel to remain there – where he and his entire family would have starved. So they headed to Egypt where there was food available. V.3 indicates this would not be a quick trip, but that Israel and his family would be there many years, growing into “a great nation”. Then v.4 says something interesting:

“I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will bring you up again…”

It was a long journey to Egypt so knowing God would go with them would have been good news. There was also a promise that the relocation to Egypt would not last forever. God would eventually bring them back to Canaan. All good. What fascinates me is what is NOT included here.

As you know Israel’s family did grow very large and numerous. The Hebrews thrived in Egypt numerically. However, they did so as slaves not as free people. In fact they spent hundreds of years as slaves, laboring in the hot son with whips at their backs producing goods for the Egyptian economy under Pharaoh’s rule. I’m sure this is not the life Israel envisioned for his family when departing Canaan. Interestingly, God does not mention this in our passage.

God was with them on the journeys to Egypt and back, but what about the in-between?

Considering the nightmare that became the Hebrews existence in Egypt one might get the impression that God was NOT with them during those trying years. I’m not saying this was the case, I’m just saying it’s a reasonable conclusion given what happened. Or, if God did not outright abandon them, it’s almost certain that God fell silent during those years. There are no recorded prophets of God or other messengers during the time in Egypt, at least not until Moses came along.

Have you ever had a season in your life when it seemed God had abandoned you? Ignored you? Did your pleas for help seem to fall on deaf ears? In fact you might be in the midst of such a season right now. I have had seasons like this and it’s awful. No doubt. So this morning I’m remembering Jesus’ words spoken to his disciples just before he ascended to heaven to be with the Father. He said, “Remember I am with you always to the end of the age”.

Lord Jesus let it be so. Make yourself know to those of us who cry out to you today. I pray this in your holy name. Amen.

 

How easily we forget…

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Matthew 15:32 Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.” 33 The disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd?” 34 Jesus asked them, “How many loaves have you?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” 35 Then ordering the crowd to sit down on the ground, 36 he took the seven loaves and the fish; and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.

What’s ironic about this passage is the fact that the same situation emerged in the previous chapter – but with 5,000+ people instead of this 4,000. One would think they might have said, “Hey Jesus can you do that fishes and loaves thing again?” Nope. It’s like the feeding of 5,000 never happened. Their faith appears to quickly have gone back to square one.

I’d like to say I have a more durable faith but I’m not sure that’s true. For instance, I see weak faith in myself regularly as it relates to my preaching. I’m regularly second-guessing myself even when I have been prayerful in my preparation. Is this really the message I need to give? Is this faithful to the scriptures? Does this particular story or that particular illustration bring the point to life? What if this is all wrong? I act as if it all depends on me, on my preparation, on the visuals I choose, and so on. It’s easy for me to think myself into a pretzel and become paralyzed with anxiety and fear that I’m making a mistake.

Yet in my mind I know that the Lord has a way of making up for whatever shortcomings I have as it relates to preaching – or anything else. I need not worry, just do my best and let the Lord handle the outcomes. This morning I’m praying I can more fully embrace this truth. Lord, let it be so. Amen.

So much more to learn…

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Psalm 25:4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. 5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.6 Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. 7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!

David is asking God to come to his aid against enemies. We don’t know how old David was when he wrote this psalm, but he was old enough to have been king for a while – well into adulthood. I find David’s humility interesting here.

V.4 Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.

From his earliest days as a boy tending sheep, as a young warrior defeating Goliath, as a servant to King Saul, then finally as a king himself it would seem David was no stranger to the ways of God. He had found favor and blessing his entire life, despite hardships and struggles from time to time. God was clearly with him in every significant endeavor. And yet in this passage he suggests he still has a lot to learn.

V.5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation…

It was about 30 years ago when I began my faith journey as a committed believer in Jesus Christ. From my first days as a church member at First Lutheran Church in San Marcos, to my call to ministry in my later 20s, to serving now as pastor for over 20 years I have learned so much about life with the Lord. And yet the longer I follow Jesus the more I realize how much more there is to know. I’ve just begun to scratch the surface with Jesus.

Lord today I’m humbled by the humility of your servant David, writer of this psalm. He was a giant of the faith and yet acknowledged had more to learn. Like David I ask you to teach me your ways, guide me in your truth, hold me in your grace. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Revenge or forgiveness?

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Genesis 43:26 When Joseph came home, (his brothers) brought him the present that they had carried into the house, and bowed to the ground before him. 27 He inquired about their welfare, and said, “Is your father well, the old man of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?” 28 They said, “Your servant our father is well; he is still alive.” And they bowed their heads and did obeisance. 29 Then he looked up and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, “Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me? God be gracious to you, my son!” 30 With that, Joseph hurried out, because he was overcome with affection for his brother, and he was about to weep. So he went into a private room and wept there.

If you’re familiar with this story you know that Joseph was an arrogant youngster and the favorite of his father Jacob. His brothers resented this and, while Joseph was a teenager, threw him into a deep pit to die. After being rescued from the pit, Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt. But God was with him and so Joseph prospered. He rose to become the second in command in all Egypt. Here his brothers are arrived from Canaan to buy food for their family. They don’t know that Joseph is the one they are dealing with, thinking he’s an Egyptian official, though Joseph knows who they are. Joseph proceeds to play mind games with them, giving them grief while deciding what he will do with them. In our passage above Joseph begins to soften. V.30 tells us Joseph is deeply moved to meet the youngest son in the family, a brother he’d never met before.

Will Joseph give his brothers what they deserve or will he forgive them?

I can only imagine the inner conflict Joseph was feeling. He’d probably imagined many times what he would do to his hateful brothers if given the chance. He’d make them pay. But when the moment of truth arrives Joseph instead had mercy on them and forgave them. I look forward to reading the next few chapters as this reconciliation unfolds for us readers.

I know what it is to be mistreated by others, as I expect do you. Revenge is a temptation as old as humanity itself. I’m not sure I could have done what Joseph did. But what Joseph’s story reveals is what can happen when we DO forgive. Forgiveness empowers us to set aside the sting of past hurts and move on. In fact, as happened to Joseph, forgiveness can mend a broken heart and give us peace instead of bitterness.

Heavenly Father you have forgiven us so much through your son Jesus. Teach us to be merciful as you are merciful. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Flawed but useful…

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Matthew 14:22 Immediately (Jesus) made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

I love Peter. He’s an interesting combination of faith and fear. He may have sunk a bit in the water, but at least he had the courage to get out of the boat in the first place. Later we will read of him defending Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, but hours later deny knowing Jesus at all. One moment he’s courageous, the next… not so much. I can relate.

In Peter I see the Lord working through a flawed human being. As a flawed man myself there is hope for me in this story. And hope for you. Lord let it be so. Amen.

Pain and God’s purposes…

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Genesis 40:14 (Joseph said to the king’s cupbearer while they were both in jail) “But remember me when it is well with you; please do me the kindness to make mention of me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this place. 15 For in fact I was stolen out of the land of the Hebrews; and here also I have done nothing that they should have put me into the dungeon.”… 23 Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.

We’re told over and over in Genesis that the favor of God was with Joseph – despite his many trials and tribulations. As a boy Joseph was thrown into a pit by his brothers and left for dead. He was then sold into slavery in Egypt, then tossed in jail after being falsely accused of attempted rape. Here he did a favor for one of his fellow prisoners in hopes the cupbearer might do him a solid once he was set free. He didn’t. I can’t imagine how disappointing this must have been for Joseph. Things did eventually work out for Joseph, but it took many years to come about.

God has Joseph right where Joseph was needed. 

It’s true that God will send us into seasons of struggle and pain if that’s what’s required to serve God’s purposes – though it’s hard to know that’s what’s happening in the midst of the pain. I’m guessing some of you reading this post fall into that category right now. If that’s you I pray for the Lord to give you peace as you wait for relief and blessing to come. Lord, let it be so. Amen.

 

What is old, what is new…

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Matthew 13:51 “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” 53 When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place. 

Two things get my attention here. First is the disciples’ response to Jesus’ question. “Have you understood all this?” “Yes” they answered. Riiiight. I’m imagining they said yes because they didn’t want to disappoint Jesus by saying “no”. I could be wrong of course, but that’s where my head goes.

Secondly is Jesus’ statement in v.52. A scribe would be someone who was steeped in the ancient Jewish traditions and scriptures. A scribe trained for the kingdom of heaven would be one who also embraced Jesus’ teachings and so would have integrated both old and new teachings and traditions.

The church I serve as pastor will soon begin a time of structured discernment, planning, and visioning for our future together. Where will it lead us? I’m not sure, but I know it will require us to integrate our understanding of the church as we’ve been – and as we will be. Heavenly Father open our minds, hearts, and spirits to follow where you lead. Amen.