Restored (Part 2)

This is a continuation of Part 1 that you can view here.

Shoulder the Debt (vs.18-20)

Paul went on to say, “If [Onesimus] has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it” In essence Paul said, “Don’t worry about what Onesimus owes you. I got it covered. I am good for this. Trust me.” Paul didn’t have much, but he was prepared to draw from his own tent-making funds to make things right between his friends. He was willing to pay for whatever Onesimus stole or whatever fractured their relationship. Whatever it cost.

Onesimus took responsibility for his sin by coming to Philemon, but he didn’t have the means to repay what he owed. He was a slave. He had nothing. Everything was his masters. All that Onesimus had he held in his hand—the letter and Paul’s promise to shoulder the debt.

Paul even took the pen in his hand and signed the letter. He made it official. The letter was his IOU. Now Paul took more than the financial or legal debt, he also took upon himself the emotional debt—the hurt, the pain, the injury, the betrayal. That was an immense burden, but it is the weight of the burden your shoulder when you put yourself in-between. Restoration takes you to the place of shame and pain and death.

Does that bring an image to your mind? It should. You and I had a debt we could not pay. Jesus stepped in-between and paid it. He stood in your place. He was rejected and despised. He took your pain and suffering. He took the eternal consequence for your sin. Theologians call this the doctrine of imputation or “to put on one’s account.” Jesus puts your debt on his account. He shouldered the debt, the pain, the shame, the injury, and betrayal. And he says to the Father on your behalf, “[Justin] no longer owes You a debt because I paid it fully on the cross. Receive [Justin] as You would receive Me. Let [Justin] come into the family circle!”

We, like Onesimus were disobedient and useless servants. But by God’s grace and forgiveness, we became useful again—to him, the church, and the kingdom. While Paul sealed the promise with his signature, Christ sealed it with his own blood. Interestingly, Philemon is the only letter where Paul doesn’t talk about the death and resurrection of Jesus. Because he is acting it out. It is the gospel in real life—in a real relationship.

Paul became like Jesus to Philemon and Onesimus. And this is what you look like when you help restore. You become an image of Jesus and the gospel when you bring two people together who need to be restored.

Restoration ministry is not just for pastors or professionals. If you’ve been restored to God, then you are equipped to restore people to God and others too, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Cor. 5:18-19; cf. Colossians 1:13-22) The implications of the gospel are very personal, never private.

Paul makes it as personal as one can get. He says, “—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.” Wow! Boom! Knockout punch! Paul isn’t saying he is Philemon’s Savior, but that he led him to the Savior. He says “Philemon, your eternal life is indebted to me. And by comparison, Onesimus’s debt is pretty puny.” Paul puts his relationship on the line here. He pushes all the chips to the center of the table. He’s all in. He blows the roof off what we tend to think of Christian friendship or fellowship. Biblical friends are willing to get uncomfortable, press in, poke around, even land a loving punch so that their friends are right with God and others. As Solomon said, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” (Proverb 27:6)

Paul’s true motivation comes out, “Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.” Jesus wants Philemon and Onesimus restored. Paul wants it too. Paul can’t think of anything more refreshing to his heart (lit. “guts”) than see them restored. He simply wants Philemon to do what he is so good at doing—loving Jesus, others and Onesimus.

Do you need to act like Jesus and put yourself in-between two people? What resources do you need to free up to shoulder the debt of someone who needs to be restored?

Trust God will help Make it Right (vs.21-25)

These final verses show us how to encourage, motivate, follow-up, and ultimately trust God with the results. Restoration can’t be forced. All you can be is faithful.

First, Paul says, “Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.” Paul is confident in the work God has done in Philemon, confident in his love for Christ, confident that “love believes all things,” confident in what God can do through the fruit of obedience, and confident Philemon will do “more.” Possible referring to Onesimus’ freedom or sending him back to Paul. Could this confidence be said of you?

Second, Paul adds, “At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.” What does Paul mean? Is he hinting that he will come to follow up on Philemon? As if Paul says, “I am coming to check up on you.” It seems that way. We don’t know this for sure. We do know that Paul cared about both of these men. He loved them. He wanted to see the fruit of their restoration with his own eyes.

Third, Paul connected Philemon to people they both knew, “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.” Paul mentions five men in these verses calling them “coworkers”. The list is identical to the list as the of the letter to the Colossians. Presumably, each of these people would vouch for Onesimus and concur with Pauls’ request for restoration.

These men were assistants to the gospel. They were no less important than Paul, they are essential team players who know their role on the team. They are often selfless, not ball hogs. John Stockton holds the record for the most assists in the NBA. Over his 19 seasons he had 15,806 assists. His record is seen by many as one of the most untouchable records in any sport. He has early 4,000 assists more than #2. He has half the amount of assists as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has points (38,387) over 20 seasons.

What is ironic about this list of assistants is that Paul had problems with many of them, yet he includes their names nonetheless. Relationships are plagued with problems, but as Paul would attest this doesn’t make them less or more valued. They are all brothers.

Epaphras founded church in Colossae. Pastored a church with a lot of problems and was in prison with Paul (Col.1:7-8; 4:12-13).

Mark was the writer of the second Gospel. He had a falling out with Paul on their first missionary journey (Acts 12:12). Paul hinted that Mark couldn’t hack it because the mission was too hard so he bailed on Paul. Before his second journey, Paul, urged Mark stay back, but Barnabas took Mark and split from Paul. Like Onesimus, Mark had been useless, but was now useful to Paul, Barnabas, and Christ (Acts 15:38; 2 Tim. 4:11).

Aristarchus was loyal to Paul and went to prison for his association with Paul (Acts 19:29; 20:4; 27:2; Col. 4:10). Demas had a good start to his ministry, but ended badly. 2 Timothy 4:11 informs us that Demas deserted Paul, “because he loved the present world.” Paul was deeply hurt by Demas (Col. 4:14).

Luke was “the dearly loved physician” (Col. 4:14) who penned the third Gospel and the book of Acts. He traveled with Paul, helped care for him, and became a dear and faithful friend. He was the only person with Paul in his last days before his execution (2 Tim. 4:11).

Paul and Philemon had some pretty important friends. Each of them were one in Christ. And they backed Paul on behalf of Onesimus.

Finally, Paul ends this letter in the same way he began: with Jesus, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” Now with the context of this letter in the rearview mirror, this verse makes a lot of sense. Paul opened and closed the letter with a prayer for God’s grace to be upon Philemon, not to simply hear the information, but to do it—to reconcile—to restore, and serve the health of God’s family by mending a broken relationship. This word grace in Greek is karis. It speaks of God’s power and ability to do what he said he would do.

How do you think the story of Philemon and Onesimus ended? We don’t know for sure.  The evidence points to a “happy ending.” The fact, that we have the letter gives some proof. Ignatius wrote in the first century about a “loving” pastor in Ephesus by the name of Onesimus. Is this the same Onesimus or a guy who shared his name? Because of the date and proximity to Colossae it makes sense that this could be the same Onesimus.  We’ll never know, but I bet he ended up with a far better result than if Paul had never wrote the letter to begin with.

It is likely that the Spirit of God has put someone or more people on your mind that need restoration—two friends, parents, former members of the church. You may be the only emissary that God has put into their lives to help them make things right. Will you put yourself in-between them? Would you be willing to shoulder their debt? Will you trust God to do the the ultimate work of making it right? Can I pray for you to be a friend, brother, and peacemaker he has called you to be?

Questions for Reflection

What was Paul’s IOU? What significant point is he making when he says “charge it to my account”? How should that effect how we deal with conflicts within our church?

Do you think you have played a pivotal role in certain relationships in your life? How can God use you to bring a godly influence on the people and relationships around you?

How might the respectful treatment of individuals, reparation of harm done, and intentional face-to-face connection have contributed to healing in the meeting between Onesimus, Philemon, and then their church?

What lessons can you draw from Paul’s efforts as a peacemaker as you consider how to be a peacemaker yourself?

Are there any Christ followers that you personally know who are at odds with each other? Is there anything that you could do to help them reconcile?

Why does grace play a key role in all that is going on in this book? How do you need to have more grace for people around you?

Restored (Part 1)

Do you enjoy watching TV shows about restoring things? I do. There is Fixer Upper, Property Brothers, or Good Bones. One of the shows that I like is American Restoration where, Rick Dale, restores old cars, gas pumps, collectables or Americana. What is fascinating about shows like these is how people take rusted, deteriorated or rundown things and make them beautiful again—restoring them to what they once were or even better than they were.

How many of you have renovations going on around your home? How many of you have had renovations going on at your home for more than a year, three-years, or ten-years? Sometimes the longer we postpone projects the harder it is to get back to them. It can be the same when it comes to restoring relationships, which can be much harder than restoring things.

Do you know two people who are not in a right relationship with one another, but you are in a right relationship with both of them? Can you think of a situation like that? This message is for you. This is a message about how to bring restoration to relationships around you.

Today we will complete our journey through the letter to Philemon. It is one of the most personal and powerful letters in the Bible. In the letter, Paul, is mediating a rift between two believers—Philemon, a wealthy man who Paul led to Christ while visiting Ephesus, and Onesimus, Philemon’s runaway slave who Paul had recently led to Christ in prison in Rome. Paul had just sent Onesimus back to Philemon to make things right with this letter in hand.

So far we have learned together how to be people or a church refreshed by Christ and by one another (vs.1-7). Refreshed people are refreshed by Christ and you are refreshed to refresh others. Paul expressed immense gratitude and gentleness, which set the tone for the entire letter. Then Paul asked Philemon to forgive Onesimus. Paul didn’t focus on the sin or offense, rather he focused on the big picture of what God was using for good, particularly when people are forgiven much in Christ they can forgive others (vs.8-16). Today, we will learn what it means to be restored and how to make things right in our relationships as Paul moves these men from forgiveness to restoration (vs.17-25).

You might ask, is there a difference between forgiveness and restoration? Yes, there is. Do you know people who “forgave” but the relationship remains unchanged? This where restoration comes in.

I have four children. Trying to get them to forgive and restore is difficult. After they have a tiff I get them together, “Say sorry to your sister.” It’s not uncommon for them to glance at each other and say rapidly, “Sorry.” To which I respond, “No. Stop. Really, say you are sorry.” They say, “Soooorryyyyyy!” “Now give your sister a hug.” And they become as stiff as a board as if to say, “Nope. No way. Saying sorry was enough. This has gone too far.” Restoration can’t be forced!

Restoring relationships is difficult. Period. Paul models how it can happen. Today we will discover how to know if you are an emissary (aka: representative or model) of restoration.

Put Yourself In-between (v.17)

Paul put himself in-between two people in conflict. He cared for both. He took his theology from his head to the streets and walked it out. He approached it from two angles:

First, Paul approached it from the angle of his relationship with Philemon. Paul said, “So if you consider me your partner,” The word for “partner” here is from the word koinwnos which in Greek is translated “sharing one faith” or “fellowship” (cf. v.6). It would be as if Paul said, “The one thing we share above all is Christ.” They were truly partners and teammates that shared one faith in Christ and one mission to spread the name and fame of Christ.

Second, Paul approached it from Onesimus’ new relationship to Philemon. He said, “receive [Onesimus] as you would me.” This is the first thing Paul tells Philemon to do. I can hear Paul saying, “I know it may be a surprise to see that Onesimus is back, but think of him as me. I can’t come because I’m in chains. Welcome him with open arms as if I was there instead.”

Does this remind you of another story in the Bible? It certainly reminds me of Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son. When the prodigal son returned, the father ran with open arms to meet him and welcome him home. This is the image Paul gives here, “Philemon, welcome your prodigal slave.” Think for a moment how God receives you through Christ. As a Christian you are so identified with Jesus that God receives you as he receives his Son! You are “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6) and clothed in his righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). One day, God will welcome you into eternity and throw a banquet honoring your partnership with his Son!

Paul gets involved. He stands in the middle. He puts his arms around Onesimus. He puts his arms around Philemon. He brings them together. Paul becomes an in-betweener. Have you ever had to be an in-betweener? Can you think of two people not in a right relationship with each other, but you are in a right relationship with both? May this letter encourage you.

It isn’t natural for us to put ourselves in-between two people in conflict. It puts our relationship with both people at risk. Therefore, we can remain uninvolved and ignore the conflict. We wash our hands of the mess. We stay comfortable. We justify it by saying, “It’s not my problem,” “Someone else will deal with it,” “I’m not qualified,” “Who am I to judge?” “It will take too much time and I’m busy,” or “It’s not that big of a deal.”

Truly, if you have knowledge of two people in conflict with each other, then you are already involved. You may be the only one who knows. Unlike Cain, you are your brothers keeper. You may think that avoiding or dodging conflict is a strength, but it is a huge weakness for Christians and bypasses being a restorer of relationships in Christ’s church.

If there are two people, two believers in your family or church, do you think God’s heart is grieved that those two people are not in a right relationship with one another? Yes! He is grieved when two people say they love God, but hate each other. Do you think that God cares that you would care about their relationship as much as he does? Yes!

God is a restorer. God’s heart is restoration. All throughout the Bible God models restoration. From Adam and Eve to King David to the Apostle Peter, God takes the initiative to restore people to himself. In the Law, God gave rules that encouraged offenders to payback what they stole and make things right (Deut. 30:3-14 Num. 5:5-10). Later God sent prophets to encourage his people to turn back to him and promised to restore them to former glory (Joel 2:25). And Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9) Jesus, the Prince of peace, was the ultimate restorer.

Questions for Reflection:

Are there people you need to allow back into your space, and open up your heart again to trust, love, and even serve? God will help you, as he cares about restoration and health in God’s family like nobody else! As I said last week, you are most like God when you forgive. It is also true to say you are most like God when you restore—when you put yourself in-between.

Have you ever stood up for someone or stepped into a situation to try to make things right? What happened and what did you learn from it?

What potential barrier or roadblock does Paul attempt to alleviate in the restoration of Philemon and Onesimus?
What is the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation? How did Paul help achieve both in this letter?

What was Paul’s IOU? What significant point is he making when he says “charge it to my account”? How should that effect how we deal with conflicts within our church?

Do you think you have played a pivotal role in certain relationships in your life? How can God use you to bring a godly influence on the people and relationships around you?

living and serving with others

serving with others

Living the others can be difficult. My first experience living with another person was in college. As a freshman, I was preselected a roommate and had no idea who he would be. I was going to share a fifteen foot by fifteen foot room with a stranger. It turned out my roommate was a dairy cow farmer from Ohio and a camping ministries major. I remember after a whitewater rafting class he got a bad sunburn. He bathed himself in vinegar and smelled like a pickle for a week. Although we were very different and butted heads on occasion our living arrangement worked out.

Sometimes living and serving with others doesn’t work out so easily. Sometimes it is work. Hard work. If you are doing life with members of a church or are serving on a team with other Christians you know just how hard it can be.

At the end of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he writes five rapid-fire imperatives and one promise to those who are living and serving together in the church. The five imperatives have one singular focus on bringing unity to the Corinthian church. Take note of how intentionally intrusive they are. Paul knows firsthand that ministry relationships are full of passion and opportunities for disunity are apparent. Unless you are a hermit, being intentionally intrusive with others is important, especially if you are living and serving with others.

“Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” (2 Corinthians 13:11)

1. Rejoice.

There is no surprise that the first imperative is “rejoice”. Why? Paul longed for the Corinthians to be a cause for his own rejoicing (cf. 1:24; 2:3). He loved the church deeply. He knew there would be rejoicing in the church if all members listened to him, trusted his apostleship and walked in repentance. Paul had every reason to despise the Corinthians and to give up on them. So “rejoice” is an imperative full of faith and expectation that the Corinthians were on the verge of joyous unity. He was nowhere near giving up on them. They brought him that much joy!

How can you rejoice in the Lord giving you a church? How are your church members a cause for your own rejoicing?

2. Mend.

The second imperative, “Aim for restoration,” has the sense of putting back into place or mending or repairing. Living and serving with others is a group assignment and the more you are with each other the great the probability there will be friction and fraction. Paul lays the responsibility directly on the church—“Get it together”—work at restoring your unity in Christ (cf. 13:9; Ephesians 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 3:10). Paul echoes this when writing another church, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1b-3)

Are there any relationships within your church that need mending or repair?    What are the most prominent heart idols that you anticipate may get in the way of you allowing others from being intentionally intrusive into your life (i.e. fear of man, lover of pleasure, pride, wanting control, comparing yourself to others, failing to believe the best in another, etc.)? Are you working towards restoration rather than destruction? Explain.

3. Comfort.

The third imperative is to “comfort one another” or listen with tenderness (cf. 1:3-11). Paul was aware of the depth of the hurt among both those who were in the right and in the wrong. He himself needed comfort as his relationship with the Corinthian church was frayed.The situation then and now in Corinth demanded mutual tenderness and comfort. Comfort is the currency of unity and harmony. To comfort another means you spend your time and energies to reassure, relieve and repose another who is hurt or struggling.

Who is someone in your church who needs the tenderness of Christ right now? How will you comfort them?     If you were to be struggling with allowing someone to be intentionally intrusive into your life, what would be the manifestations of your struggle (i.e. not returning phone calls, short answers, no eye contact, easily irritable, blame shifting, etc.)?

4. Harmony.

The next imperative is to “agree with one another” or “be of one mind” or “live in harmony” (cf. 1:10). Every church needs this admonition, but no church needed it more than Corinth. The elitist, Corinthianized super-apostles had issues with everything Paul stood for. Harmony is sounds working together on different notes that make a pleasing sound. Paul did not ask the church to agree on everything, but they were called to agree with one another on the the main things like his role as an apostle and message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Are there secondary issues that are causing disunity among you and another church member (i.e. decision making style, not being understood, not liking what someone else is doing, etc.)? Have these secondary things become an idol in your heart? How can focusing on the main thing or the essentials help build harmony between you and others?

5. Peace.

Lastly, the imperative to “live in peace” flows out of such harmony, since being out of tune is not a peaceable sound; rather it’s discord. Peace doesn’t come passively. Nevertheless, living in peace requires intention and determination (cf. Mark 9:50; 33-37; 42-48).

How are you pursuing peace with church members? Would others describe you as a peacemaker? How can you actively live in peace?

God’s Promise

Now, if you step back and look at the whole, all five imperatives call the Corinthians to continuous action day in and day out. If the Corinthians heed them and walk in them they are given a resplendent promise: “and the God of love and peace will be with you” (v. 11b). God promises to give his children his love and peace as they actively do his work together.

What is it like to not experience the love and peace of God? How can the love and peace of God be with you when others do not seem to be at peace with you? In what ways are you being blessed by God’s love and peace with your church members?

Unity by living and serving with others in a team/church does not come easily. We must work at every facet at all times. Restoration is work, comfort is work, harmony is work, peace is work, and even rejoicing requires work. Paul called for continuous, specific focus for the church—and everything depends upon their response.

“Passion for the church involves diving into the community of the local church. It means ‘doing life’ with other Christians by pursuing relationships that extend beyond the church building and official church functions… ‘Fellowship is a uniquely Christian relational experience,’ writes pastor John Loftness. ‘Fellowship is participating together in the life and truth made possible by the Holy Spirit through our union with Christ. Fellowship is sharing something in common at the deepest possible level of human relationships – our experience of God Himself.’ Fellowship means belonging to each other” (Joshua Harris, Stop Dating the Church pg. 75).

Paul was so concerned about restoration and unity in Corinth that he became especially directive about demonstrating affection. First, he called them “brothers.” (v.11) Paul’s relationship to the church is not professional. The familial language assumes that Christians are family in meaningful spiritual relationship. Second, to “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (v. 12) was a cultural expression of affection among family members. It is difficult to embrace another person with whom you have discord. Third, Paul shares a “Hello” from his companions in Ephesus, “All the saints greet you” (v. 13). The unity he desires to renew in Corinth is universal. Christian unity is true for the whole Body of Christ. Finally, in Paul’s final benediction he says, “The [amazing] grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the [extravagant] love of God and the [intimate] fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (v.14) The example of the Trinity is also a picture of unity. The promise was for everyone—the good, the bad, and the ugly. It was Corinth’s hope. And today it is ours too!

Who is a person in your life whom you welcome to be intentionally intrusive who you know will love you in Christ, show you grace and provide intimate fellowship? How will you be more intentional involved in the fellowship of your church? How does the grace, love and fellowship of God encourage you to share the same with others?

purpose of pain


The deepest pain we experience is often inflicted by people, especially those who we care for the most. The closer we are to people the more vulnerable we are to be hurt and wounded. Not just physically (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23-27), but emotionally (11:28-29). People can disappoint, reject, abuse, slander, fail, betray, or turn on you. These type of wounds go deep and hurt. Have you ever felt pain from someone close to you? A spouse? A parent? A child? A friend? A church?

Jonathan Edward, a pastor through America’s Great Awakening, was voted out of the church where he pastored for 22-years over a disagreement about who takes communion. The pain caused by this lead him to live meekly among Native Indians, a broken man until his death. Charles Haddon Spurgeon—some would say the greatest preacher the world has ever known—was voted out of the Baptist Union for standing strongly for the Scripture. He was crushed and his health was never the same.

Paul experienced this kind of pain too. He loved the church at Corinth immensely. He spent 18-months with them. He saw many come to Christ and he nurtured them. He invested his life to the church. He thought of himself as their father and them as his daughter. And yet he also experienced his greatest pain and heart-ache from this church. False teachers came into the church and spread lies about Paul cutting down his credibility as an apostle therein cutting down the credibility of the gospel. They called into question his integrity, character, leadership, wisdom, honesty, motives, love and loyalty. Many in the church bought into the lies of false teachers. And Paul was left assaulted, crushed and hurt deeply.

Pain is universal. Every human experiences pain at some point. It’s the problem of pain. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.” Pain is part of life. It’s not a matter of if, it’s when.

Pain is never pleasant, until we understand what God is accomplishing by it. Often the greatest times of spiritual development happen in times of great pain. Paul teaches us how to see the hand of God in the midst of pain. No text unfolds this in greater detail than 2 Corinthians 12. It is set in one of the most emotionally charged portions Paul had put pen (See Chapters 10-13). Paul lays his heart wide open and we see what God endeavors to accomplish in our pain and where we find strength in the deepest pain.

“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited” (v.7)

First, Paul described the pain was like “a thorn.” Have you ever got a thorn stuck in your foot? In Chad, there are thorns everywhere. Just yesterday I was raking our yard and I literally pulled out over 10 thorns from the bottom of my flip-flops. I was immediately decommissioned from any further work until I pulled each thorn out of my foot. The word “thorn” as Paul used it can refer to a small thorn or an object as big as a stake. Imagine that. It is as if he says “a stake was driven right through my flesh.” Ouch.

We understand the word “thorn” was used metaphorically, like when we say, “He is a real thorn in my side.” So what was Paul’s thorn? What was bothering Paul? There are dozens of speculation as to what the cause of the thorn could be (ex: headaches, lust, eye problem, malaria, epilepsy, loss of hair, hysteria, gastritis, leprosy, lice, deafness, stuttering, etc.). In all, these trivial speculations miss the what the text says itself about the thorn, they miss the debilitating and humiliating depth of Paul’s pain and it misses God’s purposes for the thorn.

Second, Paul said the thorn was “given” to him. Satan inflicted it, but ultimately God allowed it for he pleads with God to take it away (v.8; cf. Mark 14:32-41). In Greek, the phrase reads “a thorn for the flesh was given me.” What we know about the word “flesh” in Scripture is that more often it doesn’t refer to the physical flesh, but the home of human impulses and sinful tendencies. The thorn poked Paul deeper than the surface of his skin. Paul goes on to tell what the thorn is. It is a “messenger or Satan to harass me (torment, punch).” It is a messenger (angel); a demon sent to inflict Paul.

Now it is interesting because a demon would not want to humble Paul, but to exalt him. A demon would not want to drive a stake through his flesh, but his spirit. The context gives light to this messenger being false teachers who are controlled by a demon as they reject Paul’s authority, ministry and integrity (cf. 11:13-15; 1 Timothy 4:1-2). Like Satan, these false teachers are so close to truth that the people buy into it and it is crushing Paul because he can see the angel of light twisting the truth against him.

There is a question some would ask here. Why would God allow Paul to be tormented? Does God really allow pain? In short, yes. God has used demons, even Satan, and pain for his purposes in the lives of believers. Job is a great example. The moment God allowed Satan to test Job all hell broke loose. Everyone in Job’s family was killed except his wife. All his crops and animals were destroyed. His own body became ravaged by a skin disease. A Middle Eastern mogul was reduced to rubble. Job was in deep pain. And it was compounded by his wife and friends giving him bad advice. Notice, in the end, God never tells Job why all this happened. God never apologizes. God never blames Satan. God simply praises Job for his persevering faith.

In Luke 22:31-32, Jesus says to Peter, “Satan demanded to have you that he might sift you, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” In other words, “Peter, you would make a good prospect for Satan. I think I will use him for my purposes in you.” You could hear Peter say, “Jesus, You said ‘no’ right?” Jesus knew this would be a defining moment for Peter. He would move from being a great denier to becoming the great defender.

While Paul’s thorn was a thing that his opposers used as a means of showing other that God was not with him. It had the opposite effect. The thorn was proof that God was with him. God was with him, keeping him humble when he could be the opposite because of all that God did through him.

Third, Paul said the thorn was to “keep [him] from becoming conceited.” Paul became a figure head. Everywhere he went two things started: a church and a riot. The work he accomplished in his lifespan is staggering. He had all the reasons in the world to be be proud: he had visions, wrote revelation, planted churches, brought the gospel to the gentile world, but this thorn was crushing him, inflicting pain to keep him humble.

Why was God allowing this mess at Corinth? Why was God allowing Paul to experience deep pain? God was teaching him and the church deep truths about Himself that they might not learn otherwise. God’s purposes for the Paul are made clear,

“But [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (vs.9-10)

Like Paul, we learn much about God through pain. First, God uses pain reveals our spiritual character (vs.5-6). We are like a sponge and pain squeezes out what is really inside. Second, God uses pain to humble us (v.7). Third, God uses pain to draw us to Himself (v.8). Going to God is the right place to go. Fourth, God uses pain to display his grace (v.9). God answers is often “no” to removing the pain, but God gives the grace. We will have trouble, God never promises to remove it, but he promises enough grace to endure it. God increases grace to those who are broken. Fifth, God uses pain to perfect his power (v.10). When there is nothing left within us—no pride, no glory, no strength, no ability to fix it—then there is room for the power of God. This is power in our weakness.(Romans 8:18).

Paul was burdened beyond strength. He was left broken, beaten, battered. He could not fix the situation. He was at the end of his rope. He hurt deeply because of what others had done. Yet it was here that the power of God was displayed in his weakness (cf. 4:7-12; 6:4-10).

Power in weakness is most vividly seen in the cross of Christ. Jesus, the man of sorrows was the strongest man to ever live because at his weakest earthly moment he did not use all the power he had to stop the pain or avoid the pain, rather he embraced his own thorns so that the plans of God could be accomplished through him. In God’s plan of redemption, there had to be weakness (crucifixion) before there was power (resurrection). Paul came to understand and embrace the fact that his thorn in the flesh was essential to his ongoing weakness and the experience of Christ’s ongoing power. Through Christ’s temporary pain we have eternal gain.

If you are doing ministry in Jesus name you need to expect stakes to be driven through your flesh. Pain is a part of life as a follower of Christ (outside and inside the church). Christ in us! That is the reward of those who serve him with their weakness. As Isaac Watts wrote,

“Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ, my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.”

walking in forgiveness

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When I was 10 years old I shared the school bus with a stoutly loud-mouthed bully. He knew just the buttons to push to make me blow: comments about the size of my nose. The other kids on the bus would snicker, mostly because they didn’t want to be his next verbal target. I thought to myself, “Isn’t anyone going to do anything about this kid?” I did not have any soap or earplugs, but I did have a plan.

I was as skinny-as-a-toothpick, but I was significantly taller than him by a mere foot, which at 10-years old says a lot. I also watch a lot of batman cartoons. I stood up and stare him down. I could beat a blind man in a staring contest. My plan did not work and I didn’t have a plan-B. I had to think quickly because I could see he was about to take a crack at me. I could turn my other cheek by sitting down in defeat or I could wipe the smirk off his cheek. I chose the later. I charged to the back of the bus and gave him a knuckle sandwich. Immediately the bus driver slammed on the breaks. I flew forward. The bus driver marched to the back, grabbed us both by our shirts and ushered us to the front of the bus. We didn’t make it to our homes that day; instead, we both pouted as we waited for our parents at the bus barn. Not only did my fists hurt, but my pride took a hit too. And it wasn’t the last time.

Have you felt the cut of a sharp word, been scalded by a heated exchange, or battered by abusive comments? The hurt from these kinds of situations should not be belittled. Nor should you exaggerate your response to these kinds of offenses. The top two responses are, first, hiding the hurt by stewing it into secret places. If you are this type of person you keep your relationships under serious surveillance cautious to not get burned again.

The second response to an offense is like a volcano spewing the hurt back in hell-fury. If you are this type person you pursue payback by inflicting more punishment fitting for the crime hoping your offender feels your pain. Have you ever played the board game Battleship? No one likes getting hit, but we like to do the hitting. This is the reason why many are glued to reality TV shows. They are built on the premise of backstabbing, one-upping, reckoning, and revenge seeking. Now, I am a fan of some reality TV shows too, however, retribution on your terms more than likely turns sinful. Only God can best play the part of God. Only God should take out vengeance.

There is another way since stewing or spewing is not helpful for the one offending or offended. What is the other way? Forgiveness is the only means to unleash an offense. To not forgive in a sense makes you like a dog on chain and your master is the one who has offended you. Forgiveness does not have leashes attached; rather it is a willingness to treat the offense as if it never happened. A mark of new life in Christ is walking in forgiveness [Ephesians 4:24] and Christ is your example [v.32]. Here are four practical truths on how to walk in forgiveness from Paul to the church at Ephesus who like most churches were having relational struggles:

1. Speak the Truth [4:25].

Unforgiving people love to latch onto lies like a leech, especially if you’ve been offended. People would rather risk covering their tracks with a well-choreographed lie, than humbly speaking the truth. Unforgiveness sucks the truth out of people. That is the way of the father of lies [Genesis 3:1-4; John 8:44].

There are three roots behind each lie: 1) to get something you want, 2) to enhance who you are, 3) or to protect yourself. And people who do not put off falsehoods will exaggerate by saying, “You always ____. You never _____. Every time I ____, you ____ everything.” Speaking in absolutes is a sign of a liar.  Now truth speakers gather the facts. They never assume anything. They always ask for what is true [cf. 1 Corinthians 2:11; Philippians 2:1-3]. They “speak the truth in love” and the Truth sets free [cf. 4:15; John 8:32].

2. Solve Today’s Situations Today [4:26-28].

When you “let the sun go down on your anger” you do not deal the situation. Not dealing with anger is not a way of dealing with it. The tendency is to hold off until a better day when it feels right or the timing is right. However, digging up the past should be left to archeologists. And adding time to anger only multiplies the problem, since sin loves to multiply itself with more sin. Unresolved anger leads to the sins of bitterness, rage, and wrath, which can continue to snowball down the mountain until an angry avalanche has left mass devastation.

Question, is all anger sinful? No. For the verse says, “be angry and do not sin.” [cf. Psalm 4:4] God created anger and has a good use for anger. Righteous anger is having a deep seeded conviction about evil [v.27]. In other words, righteous anger doesn’t add time to the situation, it seeks to solve as soon as possible after the offense before unrighteousness sets into the place anger. Those who walk in new life are timely problem solvers.

3. Slay the Problem not the Person [4:29-30].

Words can pierce people to their core. Words have caused wars and killed million [Proverbs 18:21, cf. Matthew 5:21-26]. And “corrupting talk” is the means by which we use words to disintegrate others [v.29]. Remember Goliath? He is a biblical example of corrupting talk. He had a big mouth and was all talk, but David championed over Goliath by letting God fight for him. David attacks the problem by trusting in the strength of his God, and God comes through with vengeance upon Goliath’s injustice.

Hurtful, harmful and hateful words do not only grieve you [Matthew 15:11], but also God [v.30]. Why? Each person is made in the image of God. When you murder another persons character it tarnishes the God who created them [cf. Isaiah 63]. You will have to stand before the throne of God and give an account of how you treat one another. Those who walk in new life in Christ build up, speak grace, rather than tear down what Christ, the Word, came to redeem.

In the book/movie, How to Train a Dragon, Vikings made a living slaying the dragons and the dragons lived to slay Viking villages. The key character Hiccup, a boy Viking, in the story wounds a dragon, but does not have the heart to slay it. Thereafter a friendship between the boy and the dragon begins. What they both come to learn through their friendship is that the slaying between the Vikings and dragons was a misunderstanding. This is also true in the arena of anger—the issue is not the one attacking you, but your self-controlled response to the attack. A gentle answer does turn away wrath, and an attitude of grace can keep you far away from messy misunderstandings.

4. Seek to be Proactive, not Reactive [4:31-32].

It is easy to justify your primary sin with a secondary sin [i.e. Genesis 3:8-13]. Fire does not put out fire; it just makes a bigger fire. When someone offends you firing back in anger declares the offender as the winner and leash holder. Do not hand over the leash so easily. Replace old reactions with pro-actions. In other words, act—don’t react. Have a Plan-B, C, D, X, Y, and Z.

Fifteen years after the school bus brawl I had another situation occur, but this time it was on a larger scale within my church. Someone raised false accusations against my biblical teaching and in their anger they publicly slandered my character. I was hurt. I was tempted to prove myself right and the other them wrong. No knuckle sandwich this time. Instead, I was convicted to extend forgiveness to the offender as if their offense never happened. It was something I could not do on my own power, but the kindness of the God and the forgiveness that God had given me was used as an instrument in my accusers life. Forgiveness is a mighty weapon of restoration in the hands of our powerful God [Romans 12:21].

Walking in forgiveness follows the example of Christ [v.32] by speaking the truth, solving today’s situations today, slaying the problem not the person, and staying proactive not reactive. Walking in forgiveness shines the light of the gospel to an unforgiving world [Luke 6:45], including your marriage, your children, your parents, your friends, your coworkers, your church, and your neighbors.

What is a Christian’s motivation to forgive one another? In Christ, you have the only pure motive to forgive one another and His death paves the way saying, “Forgiveness is available to all!” When Jesus was ushered to His death sentence as an innocent man He never defended Himself. It is not that He was a weenie or wimp, or that He was too cowardly to stand up to His accusers. He was, in fact, more courageous because He did not retaliate. He let God fight for Him. In the midst of unfair and unforgettable circumstances He remained kind, compassionate and forgiving [i.e. Isaiah 53:4-12]. Even Jesus’ last words were, “Father, forgive them for them know not what they are doing.” [Luke 23:34]

God has forgiven your sins as far as the East is from the West. When you don’t extend forgiveness what you are really saying with the hurt or offense done to you is far greater than the offense you have done to God. The comparison is incomparable [Isaiah 55:8-9].

Who do you need to unleash forgiveness to today? Walk in forgiveness.

for dads and granddads

Watch your average TV sitcom and you will see dumbed down dads on display. I can think of Homer Simpson, Al Bundy, Ray Ramone, and half-dozen others who fit the role. Today expectations for men are at an all tie low. The average man—including dads and husbands—are expected to be nothing less than a remote-holding-couch-glued-family-forsaking-caveman. That might be the way of some men, but certainly not all men. Our world craves and aches for real men.

Some will say the church is too girly. Sure. Whatever that means. I suppose it is because too many men run home to the lazy boy and hide behind the TV. Or they make their wife do all the spiritual heavy lifting in the house. That’s sad. It’s sad because the Bible places great responsibility upon men. In Genesis, we’ve already seen this:

The Bible calls men today to rise up and lead their families. It calls fathers and grandfathers to pass the spiritual baton to the next generation. It is their role to pass the blessing onto their children and their children’s children. Here in the closing portions of Genesis and Jacob’s life that kind of role is rolled out before our eyes. It begins with a beautiful scene between an old man and young boys.

Speak Blessings your Grandchildren [Genesis 48:1-22]

Jacob is old. He’s now a grandpa. He’s got the gnarly white hair and weathered skin to prove it. He’s got shortness of breath from chasing the grandkids around the barn. He spends most of his time sitting with his grandkids on his lap telling them long stories about the old days on the farm and how he thought he lost a son to ravenous wild animals. The grandkids listen, even though they have heard the stories hundreds of times.

By the time we come to Genesis 48, Jacob’s life is coming to an end. He is ailing. Joseph gathers his sons Manasseh and Ephraim to visit their grandfather, possibly for the last time. Jacob musters up strength, sits up in bed, and shares with his son and grandson of how God[1] appeared to him in Luz (Bethel) and blessed him with the covenant of promise spoken to his grandfather Abraham. Grandpa Jacob gives them some real spiritual steak to chew on.

What Jacob is doing is passing the spiritual baton to his son and grandsons. He is charging them to continue the faith so that the covenant family would prevail long after his death. It’s as Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”  Therefore Jacob brings in his two grandsons (Manasseh and Ephraim) to replace his first two sons who had fallen out of favor with him because of their sins.[2] In a final blessing, Grandpa Jacob purposefully reverses his hands in order to bless the younger (Ephraim) over the older (Manasseh).[3] Jacob then blessed his son Joseph and prayed over his grandsons, asking God to covenant with them, as He had been with him, his father Isaac, and his grandfather Abraham.

What we see and hear from Jacob is unique. He’s a manly man. He’s God’s kind of man. He’s not afraid to admit his dependence on God. He’s not too busy or tired to tend his children’s needs, particularly their spiritual needs. He’s not too proud to miss an opportunity to point his kids to God. He fears God first. Proverbs 14:26 says, “In the fear of the lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.”

Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in His ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD. The LORD bless you from Zion! May you see your children’s children!  [Psalm 128:1–6]

According to this song, the blessing from God is man’s highest goal. That blessing includes fearing God, walking in His ways, working hard and honestly to provide for his family, enjoying his godly wife, eating dinner around his table surrounded by his children, and living long enough to see the fruits reproduce in his grandkids.

It is important for men to spiritually lead their families and pass on words of blessing and spiritual direction. If fathers and grandfathers expect their children to live for God they are best to speak them to their children and grandchildren, and intentionally pray over them. Do it out loud, so they can hear it and see you do it.

I will never forget the day my dad spoke at my wedding ceremony. He called me to live righteously like Christ, and blessed our marriage. Equally, I will not forget when grandfather with tears in his eyes on his deathbed spoke blessings over my family and ministry. Though both are not the most spiritual men, their words still ring clearly in my ears. I long to retell them to my children and grandchildren.

Speak Future Altering Words to Your Children [Genesis 49:1–50:14]

Last words often are lasting or life altering. As Jacob nears his last breath he gathers his sons around him and they are baited upon every word. As father and grandfather he blessed them, but now he takes the role of a prophet revealing to them their futures. As with most messages from prophets, his message has both blessings and curses. It’s an unforgettable tell-it-as-it-is ceremony of sorts for the entire family.

Jacob begins by cursing Reuben for having sex with his father’s concubine [cf. Genesis 35:22], and Simeon and Levi for being violent men [cf. Genesis 34]. He blesses Joseph. He then appoints Judah as the son of the promise. Throughout Genesis Judah has transformed from godless to godly man, much like his own father. And, his father, Jacob prophesies a coming king from the line of Judah [Genesis 49:10], which included David [2 Samuel 7] and ultimately will be fulfilled by a greater King—Jesus Christ—the King of Kings.[4]

Jacob’s last request is to be buried next to his favored wife Rachel and his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham, which was the Promised Land. It’s his final act of faith trusting that one day God would allow his family to return from Egypt just as God promised. After he passed Joseph and his brothers honored their fathers requests.

If Genesis 48-49 were a TV sitcom or modern day movie it would stand out. It might be ridiculed because modern media has castrated the manliness right out of men. But these last words from Jacob are heroic. They are words that pack a punch, much like William Wallace commanding his Scotsmen or Maximus proclaiming to the spectators in the Roman arena. Jacob calls fathers and grandfathers everywhere to stand with him and pass the spiritual baton to the younger generations. And if you wont who will?

What kind of grandfather do you want to become? What will you be remembered by as a father? Proverbs 17:6 points you to the future, saying, “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers.” In order to be a godly man, good father, and unforgettable grandfather, you have to be a good Christ follower. It takes grace and guts to mimic the God-Man. True manhood will only be found inside the Body of that One New Man—Jesus Christ—the Son who joyfully obeyed the words of His Father. I charge you, men, follow Him.

Must Read Resources for Men who are or hope to be Fathers and Grandfathers:

[1] The name for God used here is El Shaddai. It is also used five times previously in Genesis.

[2] Reuben in Genesis 35:22 and Simeon in Genesis 34:25, 49:5-6.Therefore the rights of firstborn were passed onto Judah and Joseph (Genesis 49:8-12, 22-26), and Joseph’s two sons replaced them as the heads in the twelve tribes of Israel.

[3] This happened throughout Genesis. It happened to Jacob himself when his father Isaac blessed him over his brother Esau.

[4] The remainder of the Bible following Genesis points us to and gives more understanding towards who this promised coming king will be. According to Matthew 1:1-3, 2:6; Luke 3:30-33; Hebrews 7:14; and Revelation 5:5 Jesus is the promised descendant of Judah. And, according to Numbers 24:17; Hebrews 1:8; and Revelation 19:15-16 Jesus Christ is the King of Kings who is coming again to rule all nations of the earth in fulfillment of Genesis 49:10.

life hurts. God heals.

When I was in the fourth grade I came down with a strange case of osteomyelitis—a bone marrow disease that can kill if not treated quickly. I ended up in the hospital with a 106-degree fever. I missed about 3-weeks of summer vacation, which for a 9-year old is pure-torture. Not to mention, I missed a B-52’s concert. Yeah, I know. But Love Shack was the hit song in 1989! I still remember the pain from surgeries I had on my knee and chest. I have the scars to prove it.

Every 9 seconds in the US a woman is assaulted or beaten. Around the world, at least 1 in 3 women have been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused within her lifetime. Most often, the abuser is a member of her own family. 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. 55-95% of those abused do not speak up or get help. Do you know people that are hurting from an abusive relationship, a violent marriage, or rebellious child? They are in your church, office, and family. Life hurts, but God heals.

I have seen firsthand how pains inflicted by those you love leave deep scars.  Maybe you have experienced a hurtful conversation with a friend, an abusive relationship, or a violent episode. The healing of these deep wounds can take you down a rocky road of bitterness, hatred, sorrow, depression, or brokenness. Such wounds do not go away easily with time. Sometimes signs of a painful past linger for a lifetime.

Hurts can make you better rather than bitter (a summary of Joseph’s past; Genesis 37-41)

Joseph’s the guy who got thrown under the bus by his brothers. They are ticked because he is the favored son and rubs it in wearing his colorful coat and gloats about dreams of his entire family bowing down to him. Their anger leads them devise a plan to sell him as slave in Egypt. Joseph is bought by Potiphar, the captain of the Pharaoh’s guard, and soon is put in charge of his entire household. The only thing he could not control is Potiphar’s wife. She continuous lures him sexually, but he remained pure. She gets tick, so she sets him up with false assault charges and he’s thrown into prison. In the can, God uses him to interpret two of his cellmate’s dreams, which eventually gets him into King Pharaoh’s palace to interpret his dream.

Joseph faced an intense season of suffering [totaling 20-years], which all snowballed from his brother’s sinful plan. God was with him. Even though all the pain and hurt. And Joseph responds with meekness not bitterness.

Give yourself reminders of God’s character (Genesis 41:50-52)

I like to think I have a good memory, but I still forget. I have memory aids like a small UPS truck to remind me to pray for my dad or 2-dollar bill in my wallet that frequently reminds me of my great grandfather Roman. I also keep important dates like my wife’s birthday and our wedding anniversary on my computer. If it ever crashed I would be doomed!

Joseph was blessed with a wife and two sons. It’s the only family he’s got, since his brothers ditch him for some dough. In honor of his God, Joseph gives beautiful and worshipful names to his two new sons. Every time he sees them he is reminded of God’s character despite a horrendous past,

“Before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph. Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore them to him. Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” [41:50-52]

When my daughter was born, Sarah and I named her, Justus. It was inspired from a character from Acts 18:7, but her name is also tribute to God’s justice. Since we are moving our family to serve people who have not seen or heard our God of generous justice, it is our prayer that her name would reminds us of God’s character. Reminders are important, especially when you’re hurting. Do not forget the character of your God. How will you remember Him?

Forgetting the past is difficult when it unexpected comes back  (Genesis 42:1-9a)

In a dramatic plot twist, Joseph is now 2nd in command of Egypt and in charge of the food reserves in a severe famine. Joseph’s brothers come bow and ask for food. Is it déjà-vu? Or is this just like Joseph’s dream years before? Joseph’s brothers do not recognize him because of his new Egyptian hairdo, but Joseph did not forget. When he saw his brothers he knew exactly who they were. Their faces were imprinted in his head as they sold him into slavery.

Cleverly, Joseph spoke to his brothers through an interpreter though he could speak both Egyptian and Hebrew. Not thinking that the Egyptians could understand them the brothers publicly spoke in Hebrew about the past. Joseph was overwhelmed with emotion. He’s in a position where he could lynch them or enslave them. Instead, he desired to see them again. So he devises a plan to keep one brother, Simeon, in custody until they returned with their youngest brother, Benjamin, who was Joseph’s only full-blooded brother born by both Jacob and Rachel.

Upon returning home, the brothers informed their father of the situation, “We got some food. Oh, by the way, your son is held captive in Egypt. He won’t be let go until we bring Ben. Another thing, not sure how it happened, but we still have the food money in our sacks.” This troubled Jacob. He remembered what happened to Joseph, thus he held Benjamin back. Judah stepped forward and took responsibility for his brother Benjamin. Here Judah begins to own his faith and show why he is a key character in the line that paves the way to the Messiah.

Jacob did a hard thing as a dad. He prayed for God’s protection, and sent all his sons to Egypt not knowing their fate. They needed food to live and the risk was worth it. Through it all, God is at work. When the brothers returned to Egypt Joseph invited them into his home, and they came to the conclusion they were going to become slaves. It’s interesting how the brothers jump to the worst-case scenario. Instead, Joseph wanted to feed them dinner.

During table talk, Joseph learns his father is still alive. He immediately steps into another room and weeps with joy. At this point, Joseph’s has not revealed himself to his brothers, has not sought to see his father, and has not indicated whether he intends to punish or forgive his brothers. The tensions are high.[1] And we now wait to see if Joseph will show his brothers his true identity and if he intends to forgive them or seek revenge for what happened in the past.

The past is not everything, nor is the past is nothing. Your past can affect your present and future [Galatians 6:7]. How should I handle the past, especially as a follower of Christ? I have heard many respond to the past by saying, “I know ____ will do it again. I’ve been down this road many times before. As soon as I see _____ [BAM!] the old ugly emotions are back.” Dealing with the past is usually not a one-time event, but a process. Here are some truths about your past that you’re good to remember:

Your past doesn’t change, but you might need to change. The change could be changing the way you look at the past. Some say, “I would be much better off without my past. How could God allow this to happen?” God gets blamed for the bad and ugly, but God uses hardships for good. Think of characters in the Bible who went through hardship at the hands of others [i.e. Job, Jeremiah, Joseph, Jesus]. How did they handle painful situation? How did God’s glory shine through their situation? Joseph is the Romans 8:28 of the Old Testament.

Your past reminds you of present grace and future hope. Hardship often precedes glory. Just look at the cross. Pain and hurts of this world remind you that you are not yet home. God promises you a place where hardships will be no more. Dealing with the past is a process.

Forgiveness is the process of healing to get past your past (Genesis 45:1-11)

After Joseph learns that his father is still alive. He sends his brothers back home to get him. He demands Benjamin to stay and his brothers to go back and get their father, but Judah knows his father would be crushed if Benjamin did not return with them, so he offers himself as a substitute. He willingly sacrifices himself for his brother. It is a scene that moves Joseph to tears.

The time has come. Joseph cannot keep his identity hidden any longer.  In a matter of a moment he is transformed from some powerful Egyptian to their long forgotten Hebrew brother. It is a beautiful moment of reconciliation and restoration. I am sure it is a moment filled with amazement, surprise, sorrow, and many other emotions.

Joseph tenderly helps his brothers understand he is not mad at them (nor should they be mad at each other) for selling him into slavery, “God has sent me hear to preserve life.” [5,7-8]. God planned for the brothers to sell Joseph as a slave in Egypt to ultimately send him ahead of his family to preserve a remnant of his people from the famine.[2]

Healing begins with radical biblical forgiveness. What is radical biblical forgiveness? It’s choosing to treat someone as if the hurt that happened never happened.” It is like taking a chalkboard of offenses and wiping the slate clean, or throwing out the trash bag full of transgressions never to retrieve them again. Forgiveness is a willful decision to release a person from the hurt, injury or abuse.

It’s radical because it’s not customarily practiced. You can willful choose not to forgive. It is your choice, but it’s a choice that will certainly cause more hurt over a long period of time and eventual invade other areas of your life. Unforgiveness is contagious. It is like a virus that moves through your system infecting your entire body. Unforgiveness is torturous. It is also foolish. Have you heard of some of the irrational reasons for not forgiving?

“The hurt is just too big. You should have seen what they did/said to me. I can’t possibly forgive something that big.” That is foolish. You’d think that the bigger the hurt is the more you’d want to get rid of it.

“I cannot forgive until I forget.” Can you forget? Sometimes no. But you will not forget until you forgive. Forgiveness is the process of forgetting. Forgiveness says, “I’m forgiving that, I’m going to release that person. And when I remember, I will forgive it again!” Joe Coffey in his book Red Like Blood says, “Forgiveness is like garbage day in that no matter what I bring to God it is completely taken away. No matter how much or how nasty, forgiveness is absolutely complete. The cans turned upside down. Garbage day makes me feel clean.”[3]

“I’m going to let time heal the hurt.” This is a lie. Time does not heal it only prolongs the hurt. Over time the hurt just gets bigger and worse. If you had a cancerous tumor that is curable but if not removed it the tumor will grow and grow until it consumes you to death. You can bury hurt or ignore it, but when you dig it up it’s still as ugly as it ever was before. The larger you see you past, the smaller you see your future. The smaller you see you past, the larger you see your future. Let go of yesterday – hold loosely today – embrace tomorrow.

Do you see the fruits of forgiveness in Joseph’s story? His anger disappears, he accepts his brothers, he blesses them, and he welcomes them back into his life. He could have responded by saying, “You owe me! I’m going to make you pay by hating you, by slandering you, by returning the hurt, by recruiting other people to my bitterness. I’m holding this over you!” Instead it’s as if he chose the process of healing through the way of forgiveness.

God’s forgiveness demands your forgiveness. When I forgive I am most like God. Joseph’s life is a picture of Christ.  If you want to get a glimpse of God’s forgiveness look at the life of His Son Jesus. Was He despised, rejected, beaten, mocked, slandered, spit upon, abused, hated? How did He treat His enemies? He has a radical response: forgiveness.

How are you like Joe’s bro’s?  Like his 10 brothers, you have severed off your relationship with your Brother-Savior choosing sin instead of Him. If the 10 brothers were in the crowd—and you—we would have yelled, “Crucify Him!” But Jesus, like Joseph, will save you from spiritual famine. In John 8, Jesus forgives a woman who is condemned by everyone. The law required stoning for her sin, but Jesus forgives her and in essence decides to take upon Himself her stoning. Jesus’ desire is to give and forgive. He will save you not just from famine, but also from hell [Matthew 12:41-42]. He offers you a land where you will hunger no more [Revelation 7:14-17].

Second, Judah’s life is a picture of Jesus too. Judah is the first person in the Bible to willingly offer his life for another. Although he never gave his life or freedom, his self-sacrificing love for his brother for the sake of his father is picture of the atonement of Christ.[4] Jesus is the reason a remnant would remain. Through his lineage the Messiah would come as the Good Shepherd and lay down His life for the sheep [John 10:11].

Finally, like Joseph, Jesus is servant king. Sooner or later all will know He is greater. Just like Joseph’s dream and its fulfillment, so it will be with Jesus, at His name every knee will bow [Philippians 2:10]. Better to do it sooner than later.

I have seen how pain of the past has handicapped and numbed people, ravaged relationships, crumbled friendships, wrecked families, split marriages, even divided churches. Life hurts. But God heals. I have also seen how the Great Physician has healed marriages scarred by sexual abuse, and relationships reconciled from verbal and physical abuse. Its radical, biblical, and beautiful. The key to get past the past is forgiveness by the way of the cross. The past does not have to define you. Be free. Chose forgiveness rather than the path of bitterness.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (Hebrews 12:1-4)

[1] The story of Joseph and his brothers and father culminates in a way similar to the account of Joseph’s father Jacob. Jacob was likewise separated from his father Isaac for many years and upon moving toward the moment of reconciliation there was a great tension as it was uncertain whether Esau would forgive his brother Jacob or seek revenge against him.

[2]  Here the theme of a remnant resurges. It’s a theme that is promised to Israel forever [cf. 12:2,10; Jeremiah 23:3-4].

[3] Red Like Blood. Joe Coffey and Bob Bevington. Shepherds Press, Wapwallopen, PA. 2011. 132.

[4] Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from Genesis. William B. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI. 2007. 418-419.

thumb licks [thanksgiving edition]

Building relationships before sharing Christ? Impossible!

Making most of turkey day: thanksgiving on missions.

Family Tensions and the holidays.

World population grows to 7-billion. Our world has changed since the pilgrims landed on the rock.

Samaritan’s Purse Gift Catalog. This Thanksgiving commit to give outside your family.

A PLAN for giving generously.

Big News: God reconciling the world to Himself.

Are you moderately or extravagantly grateful?

37 ways to love one another.

Tears of the Saints.

secrets of success

I have only been married two-and-a-half years, but whenever Sarah and I have to spend a night apart it is a hard nights rest. I want to be with her. I do not like being alone. God has made people to need other people. People are designed for community, fellowship, and relationship with one another. I also have a God who desires to have communion, fellowship and relationship with His creation.

Joseph was the 11th of 12 brothers. He was his daddy’s favorite. A colorful coat was his award. He was hate by his brothers. They threw him into the pit until they could think of the cleaver idea of selling him into slavery like a cheap trinket. Jacob thought his son died by mauling. Instead, he was on his way to Egypt—a foreign country where he did not know the language, did not have any more clothes than the ones on his back, and at only 17 years old he had no idea how long he would be away from the family that disowned him. He was a stranger in a strange land with a strange new master that gave him commands and he has no choice but to obey. Joseph is alone. Have you ever felt alone?

YOU ARE NEVER ALONE [Genesis 39:1-6]

Joseph began working for Potiphar who was the right-hand man to Pharaoh of Egypt.[1] Once a country bumpkin is now has moved onto the block of the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Joseph’s job is a servant. Not the greatest job, but he’s a faithful guy. He doesn’t complain to the other employees, he doesn’t waste time playing computer games, he doesn’t call in sick when he’s feeling fine, and he doesn’t steal from his boss. It doesn’t take long for him to get promoted as manager of Potiphar’s entire household. As the new executive assistant he has access to Potiphar’s keys and credit cards. The only item he was not delegated was deciding what’s for dinner. Potiphar kept that one! What is the secret to Joseph’s success? Good looks? No. Brilliance? No. Good work ethic? Nope. God? You got it!

Although God is silent and never speaks to Joseph like He did to his ancestors, He is making it clear that He rules over every event of Joseph’s life even the tough parts by being “with him” [vs.2].[2] It goes back to the covenant promises given to Abraham [cf. Genesis 12:1-3]. Those in Christ God also benefit from these covenantal promises.

First, God is always with you [vs.2-3a]. The promise of God’s presence is a precious promise from God. “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you…” [James 4:8] “He will never leave you nor forsake you.” [Hebrews 13:5b] Joseph may never get married, be a father, make a good living, but God is still with him. Joseph realized it and Potiphar realized it. God’s presence is the key to his success and the theme to his life. Do you realize God is with you? Do others see that God is with you?

Second, God prospers all those who follow Him [vs.3b-6a]. What does it mean that Joseph prospered (or become successful)? How can a slave prosper? Joseph did not choose became a servant in Potiphar’s house, God choose it for Joseph. Whatever Joseph touch turned to gold. Potiphar’s bank account, business, and family flourished. The success was not Joseph, but it was Joseph’s God. In God’s eyes the greatest success story in not making millions of dollars, curing cancer, or being the most popular philanthropist. Success in God’s eyes is a man who faithfully follows Him and doesn’t worry about what others think.

Third, God is always using you. Even when you think know one is watching. Integrity leads to opportunity. Especially, when you “stand out’ rather than “fit in.” Joseph was a rose among thorns. When other servants might have been fighting for attention or the praise of man, Joseph was patiently plodding along and faithfully serving his master and Master. God was using him. Potiphar recognized it was God that was causing Joseph to succeed.

You will experience times of difficulty. Like Joseph, have you ever felt as though you’re living in a foreign country? That you don’t quite “fit in”? The question is not “Why the difficult is happening?” or “Why I don’t fit in?” but “How am I to respond to this divinely ordained difficulty?” Those who prosper in life don’t do so because they have it all together. They prosper because the Lord is with them and He who gives them strength to endure. God is preparing Joseph through difficulty because he is going to need strength to endure, which leads us his big test.


Joseph was handsome hunk. Like his mother Rachel [cf. 29:17], he was easy on the eyes. Potiphar’s wife was infatuated with him. So much so that she sought to seduce him. She was an Egyptian desperate housewife who was hot for the lawn boy [cf. Proverbs 7]. But, unlike his brother Judah, father Jacob, or great grandfather Abraham, Joseph remained a pure one-woman-man like his grandfather Isaac. With no one around, no accountability, no friends, no parents, Joseph rejected the woman’s relentless advances. He was so bold as to say to her that he would never sin against his master or his God with such an evil and dirty act. He rebuked her, as to say, “How dare you?”

How would you respond if you were in similar situation? What if know one found out? Imagine for a moment. What would be the consequences of Joseph’s future if he gave into the onslaught of sexual temptation? She could have become pregnant that would have been hard to hide. To cover-up he might have been as wickedly creative as David when he had an affair with Bathsheba. They could have been caught in the act and lose his life. Joseph is in a pickle. He cannot call his boss and claim sexual harassment on the owner’s wife. He cannot quit his job, as slave. He has no choice but to stay and stand strong.

How do I stand strong under pressures, in the heat of the moment? First, determine to trust God. God does not tempt, but He does allow you to be tempted. Know that you do not face temptations alone. God is with you always. Second, determine to remain pure [v.8a “…he refused”]. He didn’t negotiate or flirt with the edge. Joseph decided what to do in the heat of the moment. He realized that to give in would not only be sin against his boss, but an offense to God. Joseph protects his boss’s wife [“You are his wife”] and protects his purity and loyalty to God [“How could I do this great evil and sin against God?”]. May the story of Joseph come to our mind and be heeded it in the heat of the moment.

I remember being in high school art class with a beautiful girl. There were times when she sat at my table over a class period. She would ask me tempting questions about my faith and sexuality. I stood strong through the tests. It became so much an issue that I asked to have my class switched so that I would not have to face the temptation.

You see, the pressure to compromise never occurs quickly; it takes its jolly time to sway you to lower your standard. It is wise to have a proactive plan before the opportunity to compromise arises or you are bound to fail and fall into sin sooner than later.


Keeping guard of your heart is especially difficult when you see more than 3000 images each day. Our society glamorizes sex, but the consequences are often ignored. We are over exposure to sexual and immoral content. Most of us have a virtual Potiphar’s wife in our living rooms, laptops, and smart phones hounding our attentions and affects each day.

How much do you pay attention to the Viewer Discretion is Advised blurb before TV shows? Today’s teenager’s watch over 28 hours of TV per week (4hrs/day), and the main TV set in the home is turned on over 50 hours per week (7 hrs/day). The TV gets more focus than the family pet. By the time you are 70 years old you will have watched 10 uninterrupted years of TV. AND THAT’S JUST TV, it does not include your movies, iPod, Internet, phone, magazines, and other forms of communication you pour yourself into each day.

Joseph’s temptations wouldn’t leave; Potiphar’s wife hunted him down “day after day.” One particular day when Joseph was alone in the house Potiphar’s wife again tried to seduce him. Joseph made a profound decision that would have implication on the rest of his life, he RAN LIKE CRAZY out of there. However, the woman had is tunic in her hands while he ran off butt-naked. Obviously offended he turned her down, out of revenge she set him up for ruin.

She crafts a detailed story, has the evidence in her hands, and convicts Joseph of a crime he did not commit. I can only imagine Potiphar’s blood pressure rising, looking for the gun to kill the man he entrusted everything. It doesn’t matter if he’s only heard one side of the story and coming from his wife it is enough. Proverbs says, “The first to present his case seems right until the other evidence is weighed.” That’s why some who are guilty talk first trying to get their story out first to define the case before the truth can be made known. Potiphar should have questioned his wife more diligently. Potiphar plan is reactive, but Joseph plan was proactive.

What does a proactive plan look life for Joseph? First, never be alone [v.11 “none of the men of the house was there inside”] Why is it never good to be alone with someone of the opposite sex? No one knows what’s really happening, and even if nothing is happening the appearance of evil is evident. When you are with someone with the opposite sex whether married or single it is wise to be visible to other people. Go out in groups. Be accountable to someone of the same sex like a parent, pastor, or friend. No matter how old, how strong, or how committed you are to your spouse it is wise to never be alone with another person of the opposite sex unless you have a good plan to protect yourself.

Second, run like hell [v.12 “he left his garments…FLED…and went outside”]. Maintaining integrity may require you to “run away naked”. Run like hell, means you boogie so fast out of there because you know the devil has his trap set and you don’t dare take the bait. It is a good battle plan to rehearse Scripture, pray, look away, seek accountability, think about glorifying God, and buy computer software. However, these can often happen in the moment and be reactive. Plan on being proactive.

WAIT ON THE LORD [Genesis 39:13-23]

Joseph is put into jail on false rape charges. This is the second time he is thrown into the pit unfairly. Where’s the justice? Where’s the idea that if I love God everything will go my way? At times, to be a Christian is to get treated like Christ—injustice, false accusation, betrayal, and hardship. Joseph’s faith doesn’t skip a beat. He remains pure, full of integrity, and waits upon God to prove his innocence. God is still with him.

As a follower of Christ, others will try to bring you down [vs.13-14]. Joseph’s brother hated him, Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him but didn’t succeed. When you live unapologetically for God others will try to take revenge out on you, try to falsely accuse, try to get you to compromise your faith.

Also, what may seem like a curse can actually turn outs to be a blessing [vs.15-20]. God is merciful. Joseph could have been killed by Potiphar, but was spared. Although everyone had abused and abandoned Joseph, God remained with him, blessed him, and caused him to prosper according to His covenant promises. Joseph served the prison warden with humble godliness and was promoted to key-keeper. Don’t be weakened by your situation. Don’t be deceived by the false accusations. Don’t be persuaded by your fears. Believe that the God who is with you will use this for your good and His glory.

Wait for God to move, but keep active [vs.21-23]. Are you willing to endure the accusation to wait for Gods guidance in your life?  You’ll always have occasions for waiting.[3] Your attitude matters while waiting.[4] And your activities matter while waiting.[5] Waiting is confident expectation on God’s promises. It is not twiddling thumbs for time to pass and hope things will work out themselves.

This episode in the life of Joseph is an interesting turn of perspective in the book of Genesis. Until this point in the book each generation from Adam to the flood, from Noah to Babel, and from Abraham to Judah has seemingly become increasingly more godless. The faithfulness of God has triumphed, but man’s faithfulness has depleted. In Joseph we see the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob finally passed on to the fourth generation. God says, “You’re mine. I’m with you. I’m not ignoring or rejecting you. You will be better because of this accusation against you. I am at work within you. I am not through preparing you yet.” [Is.55:8-9] If God is with us, even when we lose, we win.

Joseph is a great pre-incarnate picture of Jesus Christ.

Like Joseph, Jesus was sold out by His brothers and unjustly afflicted for the sake of His people.

Like Joseph, Jesus was successful in His mission because God was with Him.

Like Joseph, Jesus’ good deeds called attention to God.

Like Joseph, Jesus was given authority over everything because of His character.

Like Joseph, Jesus’ mere presence brings blessing wherever He goes.

Like Joseph, Jesus was tempted repeatedly to sin, but passed the test every time.

Like Joseph, Jesus was falsely accused and wrongly imprisoned but because of the steadfast love of the Lord, He was ultimately vindicated.

And Just like God was with Joseph, Jesus promises to be with His followers until the end of time.[6] The whole paradox of your faith is that no one is really alive until you’ve mastered the art of dying. Die to all your ambitions. Die to all your selfish perversions. Die to all your provisions of the flesh. And just ask the question: What would honor Christ? Faithfulness. Faithfulness is rewarded with God’s favor. Jesus himself illustrated this in the parable of the talents [Matthew 25]. Those who are faithful in little things are blessed with greater responsibilities.

On this side of earth, He does not promise riches, happiness, success, but if you treasure God more than anything or anyone else, you will be satisfied because you have the one thing that you could not get on your own. And He will never leave you. And He will never forsake you. He is with you always.

[1] Pharaoh is ruler of Egypt. He is the most powerful man in the world at his time. He is a guy who thinks he is god. Ever worked for a boss like that?

[2] The news that God was with Joseph is repeated eight times in chapter 39 [2, 3, 21, 23].

[3] Cf. Psalm 25:5, 21; 33:20; 145:14-16

[4] Cf. Psalm 25:3; 37:7; 39:7; 52:9

[5] Cf. Psalm 37:34; 69:3; 130:5; Lamentations 3:25

[6] Matthew 28:20, cf. Numbers 6:24-26; Genesis 28:13-15; 26:3

faithful deception: Judah & Tamar

It is easy to be confused by the events in this world. You can wonder until you are dizzy-in-the-head if there really is a God who controls this mixed-up world where natural disasters, broken and battered families, rape and child molestation, and murder are common chaos’ that make the news. It can be difficult to see how God is still in control. If only God would spell out the meaning to the mixed-up events of our lives and add clarity to the confusion when He seems absent. Can you fully trust God among the chaos? Has He forgotten His plan and purpose to save? Can you prove to me that He is really at work in this wicked world?

Just as the story of Joseph gets under way [cf. Genesis 37] it is stopped by a short story of his brother Judah. At first it appears to be an unnecessary and untactful interruption. However when you take into account the remaining chapters of Genesis are about the sons of Jacob [mostly Joseph] it fits. The redneck soap opera of Jacob’s family takes a Jerry Springer Show twist in Genesis 38 with the sinfulness of Judah following in his father’s footsteps. In God’s grace He will transform Judah as He did his father Jacob from a godless goober to a godly man fit to be a patriarch carrying the covenant promises of God to future generations.

You would think Jacob would learn from his father and grandfather, Abraham and Isaac, who dreaded the thought of their sons intermarrying with Canaanite women because they knew it would cause them to wander from God [24:3, 28:1; cf. Proverbs 1:10-19, 5:1-23]. Judah did not heed the advice. He fathered three sons [Er, Onan, and Shelah] with a Canaanite woman and then he arranged his eldest son Er to marry Tamar, who was also a Canaanite woman. We do not know much about Er other than he was a wicked man that God simply killed. This left Tamar a widow.

According to the customs of the day a widow would normally marry her husbands brother. He would care for her, protect her, and give her sons to keep the family inheritance alive. Since the ancients did not have elderly living facilities their children would naturally care for their aging parents [Deuteronomy 25:5-6]. Onan happened to be the lucky guy to get Tamar as a wife. He was happy to have sex with her, but misused her and refused to care for her much less see that she bore children. He disobeyed God by not fulfilling his obligation to care or provide for Tamar. Like his brother Er, God killed Onan too. Again Tamar was left a widow.

So Tamar moved into her father-in-law, Judah’s house [cf. Exodus 21:7-11]. He promised to take care of her and give her his youngest son, Shelah. He was too young to marry and he asked her to wait until he grew up. He was afraid to lose yet another son. However, years later when Shelah had grown up, Judah did not keep his promise to give Tamar to him as a wife. So, like Eve who ruled over Adam [3:16], Sarah who gave Abraham her maidservant Hagar to sleep with [16:1-16], and Rachel who gave Jacob her maidservant Bilhah to sleep with [30:1-8], Tamar also took matters into her own hands rather than trusting God by faith.

Timid Tamar transitioned into bold Tamar. While Judah was weak after the death of his wife, Tamar dressed up like a prostitute [cf. Deuteronomy 22:23-24] and stood on the street corner where she knew Judah would pass by and see her winking eyes. Judah took the bait not knowing it was his daughter-in-law because she veiled her face. Judah had sex with her, but did not have the cash on hand to pay for the trick so as collateral he gave her the equivalent of his credit card and drivers’ license. She accepted. After the deal was done Tamar snuck into her widow clothes as if nothing ever happened, but she couldn’t hide for long. God was growing a baby in her belly and conviction in her soul.

As soon as Judah round up some cash to pay for his one-night-stand he sent a servant to find her but she could not be found. In fact, when he asked the other men in town they did not know of any prostitutes in the area. Judah seemed to think he’d been swindled. As time passed, it was revealed that Tamar was being immoral. So Judah [mister morality himself]] following customs of the day sent for her to be burned. To save her life she confessed to being pregnant and had the proof that the daddy was Judah. No DNA results were needed, she had his property in her hands.

Judah was caught red handed. While blushing he also confessed, “ She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” [38:26] And he stayed pure from her the rest of his life. Tamar later gave birth to twin boys [cf.25:19-28, Psalm 127:3] naming them Perez and Zerah. The two boys possibly replace the two sons Judah lost. Ironically Jacob—the trickster—had been tricked into believing his son Joseph was dead [instead sold into slavery] by his son Judah who was also trickster like his father who was then tricked by Tamar into becoming the father of his daughter-in-law’s children.

What is the point of Judah and Tamar’s immoral interruption included within the story of Joseph? Like a chaotic commercial break at the beginning of Joseph’s story, it is there to teach you many things about God and man [as is the point of all Scripture]. What do you learn about man and God from the story of Judah and Tamar?

First, you cannot escape the sight of God. God sees everything. He even sees what you think you can keep secret. “The eyes of the Lord are in every place.” [Proverbs 15:3] You might be able to keep your life tucked away and tidy from those around you, but there is nothing you can keep covered from the eyes of God.

Second, what you cover God uncovers, but what you uncover God covers in His mercy [Proverbs 28:13]. God has His ways of uncovering your dirt and exposing your sin—as He did with Judah and Tamar. This can lead to serious embarrassment, shame, and guilt. There are no secret sins. God sees them all and He will bring them out into the open, if necessary, to call you to repent. “Be sure your sin will find you out” [Numbers 32:23].It is better to shed light on your sin before He does. If you do, He will cover you with His mammoth mercy. In the midst of misery God’s mercy is marvelous.

Third, God can even use your sinful messes for your good and His glory. Like father like son, both Jacob and Judah are sinners. And Tamar who takes matters into her own hands like other leading ladies before her is a sinner. God has to intervene for this story to be straightened out and make sense. And God in His grace and glory will prepare Judah to become a covenant patriarch as He did with his father, Jacob. Sin does have consequences—sometimes immediate, other times eternal—but God works them out for His good and yours too [Romans 8:28-29].

In God’s providence, faithfully uses the deception of Judah and Tamar to keep Jacob’s family line alive through their scarlet threaded twin Perez. And Perez paves the way to the lineage of king David [Ruth 4:18-22; 1 Chronicles 2:5, 9-15] and ultimately the King of King—Jesus Christ [Matthew 1:1-6]. The Messiah was to be “the Lion…from the tribe of Judah” [Revelation 5:5]. It was God’s plan that the Savior of the world would come through the family line of sinful Judah and his Canaanite daughter-in-law. And as part of God’s plan He would also be deceived before His death by a close companion [Matthew 26:4, 57-66; 27:24-26]. As Kurt Strassner says in his commentary on Genesis 38,

“Do you see? God is in control; and Jesus is the goal of all human history! God was determined that his Son should be glorified as king! And God was determined that we should have a Savior. Nothing and no one was going to thwart his plan! Not Judah’s sin; not anyone’s sin against us; not even our own sin. God will work all things for the good of his people and the glory of his Son!”[1]

[1] Kurt Strassner, Opening Up Genesis (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2009), 146.

thumb licks [9.25.11]

Baptizing Heathen Words. What words have Christians redefined?

How to Get the Most Out of Your Pastor’s Preaching.

50 Rules for Dads of Daughters. As a new father for a daughter these perked my attention.

Acts and Baptism: Implications for Parents. Before baptizing your children consider this.

Four Steps to Kill Sin. Sinclair Ferguson tackles the mortification of sin.

Homeschooling Blindspots. Some interesting insights as we consider homeschooling overseas.

Love Tap. Encouragement for the timid [watch video below].

Jacob’s Journey—from recluse to reconciliation [part 3]

What does it mean to reconcile a relationship? What are some of the greatest stories of reconciliation you have ever seen or heard? Elizabeth Barrett was involved in a childhood accident that caused her to be an invalid. She also had a tyrannical father that treated her with disrespect. When she became older she met Robert Browning. Elizabeth’s father disapproved of the relationship and request for marriage. So in 1846 they married in secret and sailed to Italy where they lived for the rest of their lives. Her parents disowned her, but she did not give up on trying to communicate and reconcile with her parents. Almost weekly she wrote her parents letters. Not once did they reply.

After 10 years of writing her parents Elizabeth received a large box in the mail. Inside the box she found all her letter; not one had been opened. Today Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s letters are among the most beautiful in classic literature. Had her parents only read a few of the forgiveness packed poems their relationship with Elizabeth might have been reconciled.

Jacob Steps Up Like a Man [Genesis 33:1-3]

Jacob is now a new man with a new name and new future of God’s blessings and faith. After wrestling with God he is now empowered to meet his brother. While he sees his brother coming with a posy of 400 men, Jacob puts his people in ranks. He put his servants on the frontline, Leah and her children in the middle, and Rachel and her children in the back of the pack. Rachel gets the safe spot because he loved her and Joseph.

Jacob does hide out in the rear to take cover; rather he steps up to the front line. He doesn’t know if he will be killed, but it is a rick he’s willing to take believing in the promises of God. He has faith in God’s protection enough to put himself in harm’s way for the first time in his life. As a sign of humility and apology he bows his body before his brother. What we see is a complete change in character for Jacob.

Jacob Reunites with his Brother Face-to-Face [33:4-11]

In one of the most forgiving moments in Scripture the prodigal brother comes home. Esau responds like a mature older brother, “But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.” [Genesis 33:4] The reunion between Jacob and Esau comes after twenty long years of separation. It is a beautiful portrait of forgiveness. Esau runs to Jacob and lovingly embraces him in forgiveness and welcomes him home.

Jacob blessed his brother with generous gifts that he attributed to God’s provision. Esau did not need them because he too had become a wealthy man. Also, he releases any and all claims on his birthright. Jacob compares seeing Esau like seeing God [cf. Genesis 32:30] because both now and when he wrestled God Jacob is graciously spared. It is obvious that God had been working on the hearts of both men.

Esau offers his Protection [33:12-20]

Because of his many animals and young children Jacob was not able to go jump fast in making the journey all the way home. Esau offered to leave some men to protect Jacob’s household, but by faith he declined stating that God would indeed protect him. Jacob then worshiped God by building an altar at Shechem, which was the first place where his grandfather Abraham had been visited by God and built his own altar [cf. Genesis 12:6-7; 28:20-22; 31:5]. What a wonderful portrait of a transformed man now worshiping the God of Abraham and Isaac, but also now the God of Jacob.

Put yourself in Esau’s shoes for a moment. It is not often that we think about the situation from his perspective. What would you have done? Would you have been hesitant to reconcile your relationship with your brother? What should you do if you are hesitant to reconcile? Look to the example of Jesus Christ. He reconciles man to God and is our means and motivation to reconcile with one another [2 Corinthians 5:11-21]. Jesus is the Reconciler. And you might also consider:

1. Be honest about your motives. Make sure your desire is to please God and not get revenge [cf. Joseph and his brothers].

2. Be prayerful about the situation. Jesus said that you must pray for those who mistreat you [Luke 6:28; cf. Hebrews 4:16].

3. Be willing to admit how you have added to the problem [cf. Matthew 7:1-6].

4. Be mindful that God is sovereign over the situation [1 Corinthians 10:13].

why I love my church

This is the first day I step off the pastoral staff of Battle Ground Bible Church, but it is also the first day I step onto your mission outreach team. Although the role of my family will change within BGBC, we will still be an outreach arm linked to this church in North Africa.

For the last 6-months I have been thinking about this day. I am reminded of Paul the Apostle’s third missionary journey when he gave his farewell message to the elders at Ephesus [Acts 20:17-38]. I can feel what he feels. I can understand his heart for the church. If I could I would make this my farewell address to my church too.

Paul had little time left to talk to the elders of the church in Ephesus [vs.16-17].

                  I only have one hour left with you.

Paul spent 3 years in Ephesus, which is longer than he spent in anyone place [vs.18,31].

I have spent almost 8 year with you [began September 21, 2003].

Paul wears his emotions on his sleeve. He cares for this church as a shepherd who suffers with his sheep [vs.19,31].

                  I wouldn’t consider myself a stiff board.

Paul was bold in his preaching. He did not hold back [vs.20-21].

                  I did not shrink back either.

Paul leaves Ephesus under the conviction of the Holy Spirit [v.22].

                  I take my family to North Africa by the call of God. Our family is gripped by the glory of God.

Paul anticipates the journey ahead to be difficult and full of trials, but worth the risk [vs.22-23].

                  I know it will not be easy in the desert among the unreached peoples.

Paul views himself as nothing and Christ as everything. Even his ministry is of Christ and for Christ [v.24].

                  I am humbled by the ministry of Christ and ministering for His namesake.

Paul encourages the church to preach the gospel with boldness [vs.25-31].

                  I have sought to protect this church and uphold the doctrine on which it stands.

Paul has worked hard, earned his keep, and challenged the church to give to the mission of Christ [vs.32-35].

                  I have labored hard for you because Christ is my boss.

Paul, not knowing if he would see them again, was sorrowful because he loved their faces [vs.36-38].

                  I know I might not see you soon, but we will see each other again if we are eternal friends!

In summary, Paul is saying to the church in Acts 20, FAITHFULNESS IS WAY BETTER THAN LIFE [vs. 24-25]. As missionary Bill Bentley to Mexico said, “I don’t want make a living, I want to make a [faithful] life.” Faithfulness to my call is far more important than whether I live—whether I live at all or live comfortably. Faithfulness is better than life because the rewards are literally out of this world and God is gracious.

I am grateful that I am not leaving BGBC because of disgruntlement, conflict, joylessness, tiredness, or unfaithfulness. I am leaving BGBC with joyful sorrow because I will severely miss the immediateness fellowship, worship and mutual ministry of this Body of Christ. I have not viewed being a pastor at BGBC as being a job, but a joy. I love my church.

Why I love the church?

1. Jesus sacrificially loves it. [Ephesians 5:25] He built it, established it, died for it, and is still the Head over it.

2. God is glorified through it. [1 Timothy 3:15] He is working out His eternal plan through it.

3. I am a member called to it. [Hebrews 10:24-25] It is the most precious reality on earth [and a glimpse of heaven].

When I first arrived at Battle Ground Bible Church I was 23 years old. I was green. I had just graduated from Bible College. I spent the year before serving in South Africa as a church planting apprenticeship and then served at Montrose Bible Conference for a summer leading evangelism workshops. While at Montrose I had a conversation over lunch with a missionary from Bangladesh named Sam Smoker. We were exchanging funny names churches we had attended. In the course of that conversation he mentioned the name Battle Ground Bible Church. That week I found BGBC’s name on a pastoral search placement list and the rest is history.

Why I love my church?

1. I love the way you have stirred my growth in Christ.

I have grown exponentially since coming to BGBC. Not only have I grown facial hair and a little belly, but also more importantly I have grown up in my faith. That didn’t just happen. Growth doesn’t happen in isolation. It happens in a community of likeminded Jesus followers. God designed growth to happen in togetherness. As a church you have stirred me, shaken me, encouraged me, matured me, prepared me, and helped me to want to be more like Jesus Christ.

You have prayed for me. Bore patiently with me. You have prodded me to continue to dig deep into the Word. You have sent me to pastor conferences for spiritual encouragement. You sent me to seminary to continue my education. And now, you are ready to send me oversees as a light for Christ. Thank you for not holding back in stirring my growth. “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” [Hebrews 10:24-25]

Your pastors need to be stirred. Thank you for stirring this one!

2. I love your fellowship and deep friendships.

God has used many of you to stir me to love and good works. Like Paul, you have helped guard my heart from carelessness [v.31], shallowness [v.32], covetousness [v.33], laziness [v.34], and selfishness [v.35].

I have been spiritually and physically refreshed from bike rides with Steve “Z”. I have enjoyed friend chicken and birthday cakes with Edith. I look forward to Sunday hugs from motherly Karen O’Leary. Every Tuesday I hunger lunchtime talks with Brent Childs. I will miss slugging bats with Rollie and praying with the sweaty men on my softball team. I will miss random calls and quirky questions from Sheila Norton. I will miss having a secretary like Joyce [aka: boss]. I will miss the ministry of music played by the fingers of Greg and Alana.

I have cherished prayerful cards from Linda Wheat, Arnetta Berenda, and the Turpin’s. I am grateful for the roof top talks with Steve Fry while hammering shingles onto my home. I will miss praying with Granny Dee Marion [and watching how she did not waste her illness]. I have learned how to suffer graciously by watching Charlie Haines. I am blessed by the visual expression of the Zinn’s and Miller’s when the Word of God is preached. And I could go on and on listing VIP’s [Very Important Partners] in this church.

Fellowship is partnership. Partnership is more than just a liking of a sports team, talking about the weather, or ranting about the warts of our church. Fellowship is having a common partnership is what matters the most—the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul said, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” [Philippians 1:3-6]

3. I love the great teaching and godly leadership of Pastor Kenny Loehe.

Those who know Kenny know he proclaims the Word of God with boldness. He is not an ear tickler. He does not hold back out of fear of man or a desire to please people. He faithfully and meticulously exegetes the Word of God, and delivers meat that I am forced to gnaw on. Steak is hard to swallow sometimes, but I’d rather chew on steak than suck blended spiritual food out of a straw of baby bottle.

You have expanded my vocabulary. In my Bible I have a list of words that I still need to go to the dictionary for a definition. I have learned how to use the word flagellation and ghastly without sounding boyish. I suppose I will now need to subscribe to Readers Digest and enrich myself with Word Power.

You have also expanded my love for the church, the Word of God, and living a real faith. I have had the privilege of seeing you work from behind closed doors. I have seen you wrestle through sermon preparation trying to apply the truth to your life, your family, and your church family. I have watched you suffer with your people, weep for them, pray over them, losing sleep because of them, and unconditionally loving them [even the difficult ones].

Kenny, I will miss you. You are my pastor. You have been just the pastor I’ve needed. You have shepherded my heart.

4. I love your gracious generosity.

As a pastor, it is humbling to know that the money I have to buy groceries comes from the generosity of faithful givers. You have given above and beyond.

When I first arrived at BGBC, as a single guy, I had nothing to my name other than a few books, a folding chair, and an extra pair of glasses. The church had a pantry party and afterwards I literally had enough boxes of Mac & Cheese to last me through a famine. A few Christmas’ ago an unknown group of people bought me a new wardrobe, a suit coat, neckties, and really sweet Super Man PJ’s. The gifts were individually wrapped with encouraging verses and letters. Each day in December I was able to open a new gift. When Sarah and went to North Africa earlier this year we got news that Emma Lawson was having a bake sale to support our vision trip. We were so blessed that the kids of our church get ministry and Christ’s mission.

The first Sunday Sarah came to visit our church you lovingly encouraged our blossoming relationship. When I asked for her hand in marriage you came alongside us with generous support. When you learned that we were having our first child you showered us with baby clothing, diapers, wet wipes, and other baby goodies. I think we are still working through all the diapers and we have only bought Justus one original outfit.

Your generosity over the years has been overwhelming, but an incredible blessing. I challenge you to continue to be a blessing to the next assistant pastor and his family. As you have blessed me, I would hope you would also bless him. I have bragged about you to Pastor Jeremy and Jen. I am excited to see how you will come alongside them in the days ahead. A generous church is a Jesus-centered church.

5. I love the young people of this church.

Young people keep you real. You cannot hide or fake your spiritual walk around them. I have enjoyed ministering to and being ministered by the teens of our church. Though sometimes they make me want to pull out my hair I have enjoyed praying with many of them through difficult times, discipling them through a critical life stage, and learning the great privilege of partnering with their parents to serve the whole family. It truly takes a church to raise a child!

The student leaders have been a source a spiritual growth for me. Hannah Starrett, Betsy Goodale, Amy Stratton, Brittany Ristau [Scheiner], Debbie Hill [Fights], Greg O’Leary, Andrew Ristau, Emily Ristau, Levi Starrett, Kyle Miller, and Wonho Rhee are just a handful of student leaders that have challenged me to live more like Jesus, love Jesus, and model servant leadership like Jesus. Many of these youth have been a source of spiritual conviction to many adults because of their love for Christ and willingness to serve Him.

The youth leadership team is a family to me. Many of you have served together with me for years. Some since the day I started [i.e. Starrett’s and Norton’s]. You have struggled and suffered alongside the youth teaching, modeling, and discipling them in the truth of the Bible and reaching out to them the gospel. I am incredibly proud of our young people and I know the students and youth leaders will be a blessing to our new assistant pastor.

I love how the church supports and spiritually invests in the youth. I am grateful for the slew of older ladies who faithfully pray over the youth. We never have a shortage of scholarships for retreats or camps. We never have a shortage of homes will to host events or fellowships. We never have a shortage of volunteers willing to pour themselves into the lives of the young people of this church. We never have a shortage of opportunities for our young people to serve in the church [1 Timothy 4:12]. Thank you for loving the youth who are the younger generation of this church. Keep it up and our church will live long into the future.

6. I love your mission-mindedness.

Missions and gospel outreach is in the DNA of BGBC. You love what God is doing globally and are willing to invest locally. You have encouraged and supported the youth of the church to consider short-term missions, which has spurred some to go out or be sent out. Bethany has gone to Dominican Republic and Costa Rica. Hannah has a heart to do linguistics work where people have no Word of God. And you have fueled my passion for global gospel outreach. Continue to go, sent, pray to the Lord of the harvest!

7. I love my small group.

The people in our small group are so different, but yet we so much the same. We are all a work in progress that is willing to work hard to help each other be more like Christ. Anand David has blessed me through his passion for Christ and longing to live for him. He asks me hard questions that keep me sharp and vulnerable. I have learned a lot about perseverance from him as he has waited for a godly bride.

It has been a joy to see Brad Kerns and Pete and Brittany Ristau own their faith and explode spiritually as young adults. Both Pete and Brad have move from being boys to being men! Austin & Hannah Mattern have become great new friends. Even though I know little about farming and country living their passion for Jesus has brought life to our group.

Janel Haines has been a rock to both Sarah and me. There is not one person in this church that does more behind the scenes in this church than her. She has her hands in almost every ministry it [i.e. youth ministry, children’s ministry, Children’s church, gardening, VBS, writing cards, prayer support, counseling, and more] and she obviously loves it. Her growth in Christ has been nuclear and the radiation from her spiritual walk has leaked into the lives of many in our church including the Hutts!

8. I love our spiritual leaders [deacons].

I remember the first time I met the leaders of Battle Ground Bible Church. I was sitting across the dinner table with them at The Hour Time. Immediately I had a respect for these men who dedicated themselves to the church. These men absolutely love this church, and they sincerely care about one another. These men have been used by God to trim my young, rough, and thorny branches.

These men have held me accountable through some spiritually challenging days. They have held the frontlines with me—a man who sometimes lacks confidence—helping me gain a backbone. I have appreciated it when they have confronted sin, rebuking at times, and challenging my vision to make sure it meshes with the Word of God and the spiritual direction of the church. These men have certainly stirred me to godliness.

I love meeting with Mike Fights over a tasty breakfast. He is my David and I am his Jonathan. His wear-it-on-your-sleeve kind of love for the Word and God is contagious. Cort Starrett is a software engineer for a living, but he has been used of God to do some hardware engineering on my heart. Cort intimidated me for a long time, until realized he is wired as one who likes to get to the point of matters. Now I want to be like him. I enjoy Phil Kerkoff’s generosity and knack for the practical. Dave Criswell is simply a rock and prayer champion. Gary Elliott and Todd Rice are full of wise insights and keep our long meetings sane. Deacons meetings—though long—have never been a drudge but a delight.

Together, us leaders have walked through some difficult minefields casting vision for the church, while upholding the doctrinal and theological integrity of the church. We have made some decisions that have met opposition. Yet these men would rather stand before God and give an account to him than please man.

I will miss praying over and pouring over Christ’s church with them men. I will miss caring for and coaching our church to be more like Christ with these men. I will miss the bond of brotherhood with these men. By the way these men lead this church they have reminded me that FAITHFULNESS IS BETTER THAN LIFE.

“And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem [North Africa], bound in the Spirit, not knowing what shall befall me there; except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that all you among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom will see my face no more.” [Acts 20:22-25]

Jacob’s Journey—from recluse to reconciliation [part 1]

Jacob is not the poster child for godly examples to emulate. He is 70 years old, single, jobless, a total momma’s boy, and is now homeless on the run from his brother because he ripped off his birthright and father’s deathbed blessing. Jacob is literally between a rock and a hard place, but mostly from his own trickster tactics. The only glimmer of hope is a dream he is given from God on his first night alone away from the comforts of home. In the dream, God passes the torch of covenant promises given to Abraham and Isaac to Jacob and also promises to be with him until he comes back to the Promised Land.

Today we are going to walk in Jacob’s sandals and see how he moves from being a recluse to reconciling with his brother. Jacob’s journey is Hollywood script or screenplay material. His story is full of adventure, romance, drama, and with twists and turns has sort of a happy ending. We begin immediately following Jacob’s dream as he enters the land of Laban, his uncle [Rebekah’s brother].

Sowing and Reaping: Jacob—the trickster—gets tricked into marrying two sisters [Genesis 29:1-20]

As Jacob arrives at Laban’s sheep farm, he gets a glimpse of the beautiful bombshell, named Rachel [which just so happens to be Jacob’s first cousin]. Immediate Jacob gets to work to impress this gal. Since, Jacob comes to Laban empty handed he is asked to work. In exchange, Jacob bargains for a bride—the beautiful Rachel [meaning lamb/ewe].

Now Rachel had an older sister, named Leah [meaning wild-cow]. She had a crazy lazy eye. Both girls were unmarried probably because Leah was not much of a looker. And Jacob, like all the other guys in town, wanted to marry red-hot Rachel. Laban made Jacob work for seven years to earn the right to marry Rachel. And in one of the most romantic verses of Scripture, “Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.” Isn’t that so sweet and sappy?

Ironically, Jacob reaps what he sows [cf. Galatians 6:7-8]. After tricking his brother Esau he seems to think his life is prospering: he has escaped the hand of his brother, God promises to bless him, and he is about to marry the woman of his dreams. The big day arrives and Laban throws a wedding feast. Obviously, Jacob has a few too many glasses of wine at the wedding to notice that Laban pulled a switcheroo and gives away Leah rather than Rachel. The next morning when Jacob rolls over in bed he stares into the wandering eyes of his new wife Leah. I can only imagine Leah smiling at Jacob with a crooked buck-toothed grin.

Jacob confronts Laban deceptive plan, but Laban gives a lame yet legitimate reason, “It is customary for the oldest child to be provided for before the younger.” Though true, it is still a low blow. Jacob, the persevering romantic, loved Rachel so much that he was will to work seven more years for Laban. God is using Laban to chisel at Jacob’s character. When Jacob finally works fourteen years to marry Rachel he expresses his love for her over Leah. This begins another sad story of favoritism that will rip apart this family.

A Family Fiasco: 12-Tribes of Israel are Born [Genesis 29:31-30:24]

Jacob gets what he wants—Rachel, but as soon as he marries her God closes her womb. Like Jacob’s mother and grandmother, Rachel is barren. Since, Rachel is barren, Leah sees this as her gateway to Jacob heart. Leah gets pregnant, all the while hoping, Jacob would finally love her because she would make her hubby a daddy. It did not quite work out as she planned. Three baby boys later she was sure Jacob would fall for her. Yet Jacob had no love for Leah. She has four-and-no-more until she gives praise to God. It took four pregnancies for God to finally get a hold of Leah’s heart.

Rachel, like any sibling wants babies too. She sees her sister and becomes jealous. So in an overdramatic outburst she demands Jacob, “Give me children or I shall die.”[1] Jacob responds in anger that it is God whom controls her womb. Could Jacob be growing in his faith? I think not! For immediately, like Sarah giving her servant Hagar to bear child, Rachel gives her servant Bilhah to Jacob. It does not look like Jacob is trusting God as his father Isaac did by turning to God in prayer. Rachel also takes matters into her own hands and Jacob did nothing about it. In fact, he went along with the adulterous sin. Rachel’s servant Bilhah gives birth to two boys, Dan [meaning judge] and Naphtali [meaning wrestle]. Their names are fit to Rachel’s sibling jealousy and lack of trust in God.

Not to be outwitted, outplayed or outsinned Leah in turn gives Jacob her servant Zilpah to sleep with. Leah brags about it when Zilbah who gives birth two boys and names them Gad [meaning luck] and Asher [meaning happy]. Leah, like Rachel, forgets to see that the blessing of children is from God. Doesn’t this family seem a little redneck? They would more accurately be dubbed, rebellious. The story gets stranger as Jacob’s firstborn son Reuben finds some mandrakes [an herbal aphrodisiac]. He gives them to his mother Leah. Rachel is a freak for mandrakes and she trades bedtime with Jacob to Leah—paying her as like a prostitute. Jacob-the-pimp doesn’t question the ethics of his wives and sleeps with Leah. She gives birth to two more sons, Issachar [meaning hire/wages] and Zebulun [meaning honor].

Somehow Leah resorts back to having babies out of jealousy—always a bad idea. And somewhere Rachel prays to God, He graciously answers, opens her dead womb, and gives her a son. They name him Joseph [meaning may he add]. Joseph was the youngest boy until Rachel later had Benjamin [cf. 35:18]. Add up all the boys from four momma’s and Jacob is the proud papa to a bakers dozen—12 boys + 1 girl, Dinah.

Through this dysfunctional, jealousy-ridden, polygamist family, God would safeguard His covenant in Jacob’s sons. This family would become the initial branches of the twelve tribes of Israel through whom Jesus would be born and heal the human sin problem, which was so evident in Jacob’s family. By God’s grace alone He saves this family from themselves. Revelation 21:1-14 reveals how these twelve sons who came from the four conniving women in Genesis will mark the gates of heaven where Jesus is awaiting those He has also saved by His grace.

It Never Fails: God keeps His promises [Genesis 30:25-31:55]

According to Jacob, it was about time to move out on his own. He is 90 years old, has two wives, and twelve children from four different women. What his mother thought might be a few day flee from Esau ended up being twenty years working for free for Laban [his father-in-law]. He built for Laban a sizeable ranch that pulled in some fat-cash.

Through demonic divination Laban learns that he has been blessed with wealth and power because Jacob has the covenant blessing of God upon him. Jacob desires to return home to the Promised Land to his father Isaac, however, Laban like a crooked used car salesman seeks to keep Jacob around the ranch by offering to finally pay him a reasonable salary. Jacob, like his father [Isaac] and grandfather [Abraham] rejects the gift and entrusts himself to God in faith. God honors Jacob’s faith and makes him a very wealthy man. Though it may seem like Jacob is taking advantage of Laban the truth is God is making right a wrong by giving Jacob what he earned during twenty years of faithful and fruitful labor for Laban.

God is big on keeping His promises. He has promised to be with Jacob and get him back to the Promised Land. God calls, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.” [31:3; cf. 12:1] Jacob responds immediately in faith. His wives also respond in faith [note: Rachel steals the household idol]. Jacob loads up the kids in the camel caravan and leave Laban’s home in secret while he is out giving the sheep a haircut. They leave undercover possibly out of fear that Laban would come up with a sly way to keep Jacob working around the ranch.

When Laban finally found out that his daughters and grandchildren were gone he and his relatives pursued Jacob for seven days until they caught up with him. Ironically, the same Laban who tricked Jacob into marrying both of his daughters became rich because of God’s blessing upon Jacob. He cheated Jacob by changing his wages ten times and complained that Jacob had been deceptive with him. However, God protected Jacob by appearing to Laban in a dream and commanding him not to harm Jacob in any way. Laban only accuses Jacob of stealing his household idol, but he was unaware that his wife Rachel stole them and was sitting on them.

Jacob honors God by praising Him for all blessing he and Laban have received [31:42]. Then Jacob and Laban shake hands and agree Jacob will take no more wives. They built a monument to remember the covenant. Laban kisses his daughters and grandchildren goodbye and the men part—Laban went back home and Jacob to his old home in the Promised Land. This set the stage for a story for Jacob to meet his brother Esau for the first time in twenty years [come back next week to find out what happens].

[1] These words would later proved to be prophetic and tragic; Genesis 35:16-19.

thumb licks [6.23.11]

My Problem with Love

Recently, I read a Christian commentator, who had fallen heads and heels in love, trying to draw a connection between romantic love and divine love. The parallels are tempting to make, but are fundamentally erroneous. The main reason is that the modern/post-modern notion of romantic love as manifested in contemporary western culture is a far cry from the love that Christ taught about and that God has for humanity. Here are a few of the important distinctions.

6 difficulties atheists encounter

Atheists often like to give the impression that they hold the rights to rational living because they reject the existence of God. Don’t be fooled by this. Atheism is an irrational conclusion on many levels. Consider 6 difficulties atheists encounter.

Gospel-Driven Effort

Growing in godliness is a fight of faith–a fight to believe the truth about our justification, our adoption, a fight to believe all that God says about us by virtue of our union with Christ. But growing in godliness is more than trusting; it is also trusting enough to obey. The New Testament gives us commands, and these commands involve more than remembering, revisiting, and rediscovering the reality of our justification. We must also put on, put off, put to death, strive, and make every effort.

Reminders Are More Effective Than Rebukes

Are you tired of being told that if you’re really serious about God, you must be in an “accountability group?” You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones where you and a small group of “friends” arrange for a time each week to get together and pick each other apart–uncovering layer after layer after layer of sin? The ones where all parties involved believe that the guiltier we feel the more holy we are? The ones where you confess your sin to your friends but it’s never enough? No matter what you unveil, they’re always looking for you to uncover something deeper, darker, and more embarrassing than what you’ve fessed up to. It’s usually done with such persistent invasion that you get the feeling they’re desperately looking for something in you that will make them feel better about themselves.

Great Questions for Married Couples

What are some questions a wife can ask her husband to know how to encourage him?

What questions can a husband ask his wife to encourage needed discussions?

My Favorite Sesame Street Classic!

free books for dudes [dads]

We all love free books. Happy fathers day, dudes! Enjoy these free books compliments of some great ministries. Just click on the pictures to download your free books:

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