Sunday, October 27, 2013

Broadway Joe

Broadway made him famous, but the coat they chose to shine the spotlight on has very little to do with who he truly was or the impact of his life on believers who know his true story.  Faith and absolute trust in the True and Living God is the real legacy Joseph left for all of us who read his story and find understanding of how it relates to our own lives.  It is an extraordinary example of hope and assurance of Gods trustworthiness.  In the book of Genesis we discover this youngest son of Jacob -  patriarch of the Jewish people and father of each of the twelve tribes of Israel.  God gave young Joseph a dream of His plan for Joseph.  All of 17 years young and the spoiled baby of the family, in his immaturity Joseph excitedly shares the dream with his father and brothers.  

Instead of being excited with or for him, the jealousy his brothers already feel for him as their fathers favorite is intensified and in new anger they plot against Joseph.  When Jacob sends Joseph to check on the brothers who are out in the fields with the families flocks, they seize him with the intention of killing him. 

The eldest, Reuben, whether for love of his father Jacob who pampered and adored Joseph or perhaps a sense of responsibility as the first born son, convinces them not to kill Joseph, but throw him in a deep hole instead.  Reuben intends to rescue Joseph and deliver him safely home when the brothers’ anger dies down.  He never has the chance to do so, since Judah comes up with the bright idea of selling Joseph to some passing merchants, resulting in Joseph being brought to Egypt where he is sold as a slave to an Egyptian named Potiphar.  Joseph had to endure some very trying times, and overcome a multitude of temptations.  Before we start to think that disobedience was the cause, take a look at Matthew 8: 23-27.  Jesus boards a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee and a storm came up.  No surprise to the Lord and it wasn't about obedience or disobedience.  It was about FAITH and TRUST in the Lord!  Sometimes obeying God puts us right in the middle of turmoil!  Adversity can strengthen us or weaken us.  The same situation will make one man while breaking another.  The difference is in our own hearts.  If we whine and fuss we'll whither.  If we continue in faith toward God we'll grow and strengthen.  It really is that simple.

In fleeing from one of the temptations put before him, sexual sin,  Joseph ended up being thrown in prison.  It would be 13 years before Joseph was delivered by God from this pit of constant despair and eventually elevated to the position of power and authority the dream of his youth had indicated was to be Josephs lot in life.  Once having attained this position he could accomplish Gods will, save Israel during the time of great famine that was coming.  But this was not the promised land God had sent Abraham to inhabit, this was not the homeland of Gods chosen people.
Yet they stayed, and stayed far too long it seems, as they grew comfortable in the land of Goshen, until eventually the warm welcome they had once enjoyed came to an end!  Joseph seemed to know this was not where the Israelites were to stay, for he begged on his deathbed that his bones be brought with them when they finally left Egypt. (Genesis 50:25)  They didn’t leave soon enough though, and found themselves in the same position Joseph was in when he first entered Egypt – they were made slaves!  And mistreated slaves they remained until God sent them a deliverer.  Their story shadows our own story.  We, too, are born into a world where we are slaves.  Slaves to sin the Apostle Paul calls it.  And God sent a man to deliver us if we will but hear Him and believe Him.
Let’s just stop right there and not hurry through the story, which you should read in its entirety in Genesis 37-Genesis 50.  That’s what usually happens.  We read a story in the bible and we just read along to the end and get left with the impression that the passage of time was of no consequence, just a moment or two really, so of course those people in the bible could endure.  Somehow it was different for them than it is for us, right?  WRONG!  By recognizing that the people in the bible were real people with real thoughts, feelings, hopes, desires, hurts and pains and sin nature as ourselves, we can actually gain a perspective that develops greater understanding of our own struggles and how to overcome them. 

The summary of the story is this.  Joseph was sold into slavery – can you even begin to imagine his thoughts?  His prayers and pleas to God?  "Lord", he might have cried, "what happened to the dream you gave me?  Was that a lie?  Did I just think it was you?  Was I wrong?  Did I do something to make you angry at me?"  Aren’t those exactly the kinds of questions we would ask if we had a dream of being great and then found ourselves not elevated, but cast down, gone from being  free to being someone’s slave?  We might even think there was no point even trying anymore, obviously God had forsaken us.  We are quick, too quick, to allow circumstance to dictate our thoughts, feeling and actions, rather than trusting, believing and holding steadfast to the word God gives us.  

This then is the very first thing that this story of Joseph has to teach us.  God is faithful,  and can be trusted.  Rather than trust what our eyes see or what our circumstances may try to dictate to us, we ought to believe and hold fast to the truth that God has revealed in His word to us.  According to IIPeter 1:19, we have a 'more sure word of prophesy'.  We will have trials and tribulations in this world, but take heart, Jesus told us, for He has overcome the world and thank you Paul the Apostle for these words of encouragement.  I CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS ME!  During those very long and miserable 13 years that Joseph was in prison for a crime he never committed, contemplate how he must have felt.  Abandoned by God?  Surely!  And he could have given in to feelings like that.  BUT HE DIDN’T.  

The reason he didn't is that he had heard all the stories about God from his father Jacob. He  believed that God was faithful, truthful and able. So his actions were based on that faith and not on his circumstances or his surroundings.  They most definitely were not based on the actions or words of others, either.  Joseph behaved the same way in prison, in the very midst of trial and tribulation, as he had behaved when he was free in his fathers household.  As he behaved when sold into slavery and he began to serve Potiphar.  He continued to act in faith.  That doesn't mean he didn't have feelings.  He did!  He prayed and cried out to God for help and relief and asked God to deliver him.  He did not, however, let feelings of despair dictate his actions toward others.  Those actions are what led to Potiphar trusting him with his household, that led to the jailer trusting him in the prison and eventually led to Pharoah - supreme ruler of all Egypt, to trust Joseph with his whole kingdom.

Jesus rebuked his disciples on that boat in the Sea of Galilee.  "Why are you fearful.  O ye of little faith?"  Over and over, He lovingly tells us "fear not, for I am with you.  I will never leave you nor forsake you."  Every adverse situation is nothing less than a wonderful opportunity to exercise our faith and see it strengthened!  Understanding this truth and with trust and faith toward God inspired Apostle James to encourage others 
James 1:2-4  My brethren, count it all JOY when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.  But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be prefect and complete, lacking nothing!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Of Rituals, Routines, Ruts and Revival

Like the leaves change
from season to season...
We human beings certainly love our comfortable habits, don’t we?  Once we've established the way we want to do things we cling to it and are resistant to change.  Our days are ordered a certain way, we've developed methods for accomplishing the tasks we need to complete that works for us, and we do not like to deviate from them.  

From setting up bedtime rituals to holiday traditions we re-enact year after year, we like our routines and find them safe and comforting and mayhem seems to ensue if we deviate.  So we don’t.  Deviate, I mean.  We don’t deviate if we can help it.  

Most times, we won’t even notice that our routines have become ruts we run ‘round and ‘round in like rats running a maze, head down and full steam ahead!  I am willing to go a little out on a limb here and say that we have probably all heard these discouraging words at some point, when we’ve tried to introduce something new to a committee or group.  “But this is the way we’ve always done it!”  I find it hard to believe I am the only one who finds those words maddening beyond endurance.

We have set up our morning routines, our daily routines and our religious rituals and heaven help the one who tries to mess with that!  What about, though, if the one who wants to mess with that is the very One who created Heaven?  Uh-oh!  Now we’ve got a dilemma, don’t we?  

God Who created the heavens and the earth is fixed and unchanging (Malachi 3:6), however, since He has determined we are in need of change He is unwilling to leave us in the state in which He finds us!  

Take a closer look at John 17: 11: Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as we are.

This was Jesus’ prayer for believers, for all those who confess Him as Lord and Savior.  That we would be “one” with God just as He is.  Jesus had a lively, intimate, full relationship with His Father that consumed Him and which directly affected His every thought, feeling and action.  Jesus went on to say that He always did what the Father instructed Him to do.  Can we say that about our relationship with God?  The only way we can even begin to make such a claim is if we have a willing heart to let Him change us, change our hearts desires and our actions by the leading of the Holy Spirit on a daily basis.

Can you just imagine for a moment how the Israelites might have felt when their prophet Isaiah brought them a word from God Himself declaring that the rituals and routines they had finally gotten down to the point they could do them without even thinking about them,  were to be completely changed? 

Isaiah 43:19 Behold I will do a new thing. Now it shall spring forth.

God noticed, as He notices everything, that the Israelites no longer had their hearts truly engaged with the rituals He had originally given them to remind them of Him.  The rituals had become routine, done by rote,  and they had begun to sink deep into unthinking ruts where performance had become everything.  Why they did what they did no longer mattered for the most part.

God decided it was time for REVIVAL!  God decided it was time to shake things up, do away with the comfortable and familiar, and give cause for people to once again actively engage with Him.  God still wants that today.  Look around at the behavior of the world in general, our news headlines, the activity in our own homes.  When was the last time you turned off the television, the iPods, the laptops and the cell phone and LISTENED for the voice of God? 

Can you hear the Lord calling out to His people?  “Engage with Me, I am the Lord your God.  Put your heart in My Hands and let Me do the leading.  Let Me show you the marvelous things I have planned for you.  The wonders and miracles you truly desire are yours if you will just turn to Me and say ‘yes’ to My ways for you.”

The last thing the Lord desires is that we follow a mindless routine – even if that routine includes all the things that would be considered the “right things” to do.  Reading the Bible every morning becomes part of our routine if we never really meditate on what the Lord is trying to tell us personally.  Prayer that has become a mindless repeating of the same phrases  or the same requests, over and over until they have no heartfelt meaning left at all. 

Getting up on Sunday mornings and dragging yourself to a building where you will engage in exactly the same rituals as the previous Sunday, and all the previous Sundays with no room, no hope, no chance of being surprised by an actual visitation of the Lord God Himself and the refreshing of His Holy Spirit.  We sing a few songs, hear a nice sermon all within our pre-determined time frame and according to our agenda, then we go home, untouched, unchanged, unmoved from where we were before we went to those church services.  

Our hearts are far from God, hardened by our rituals and routines and we most certainly are not reaching out and touching anyone else’s life in any meaningful way either!

God is not a God of dull ritual and boring routine.  He is anything but that!  He is dynamic and thriving and wondrous and alive and surprising and miraculous, but He is NOT BORING!  If invited by humble hearts of honest expectation, He would show up and there most surely would not be snoring from the pews and sleepy heads nodding. 

“If invited”, did you catch that?  Do you have to participate in a no holds barred loss of control behavior to experience a meeting  with God?  No.  But a meeting with God would most surely be out of the ordinary, outside of our “normal” activity.  For neither do we need to participate in dull ritual Sunday after Sunday.  Not if our hearts are expectant.  Not if our faith is in the God who is creative and vibrant and energetic and vital.  

Abram expected God to visit, and He did!  It changed Abram, his name, his life and his whole world!  Moses was startled out of his “exile” by a visitation in the form of a burning bush and it wrought change to the entire known world of his time.  Saul was blinded by his meeting with the Lord and was given true spiritual sight that changed not only his entire way of thinking, but his actions till they shook the world to its very core!

Would we, could we with the Psalmist say Examine me O Lord and prove me; try my mind and my heart? Psalm 26:2

What would the Lord find if we gave Him free access to our hearts and minds?  He already knows who and what we are, we are no surprise to Him.  But He – Oh He could be such a delightful surprise to us if we would but open our hearts to fully engage with Him.  

King David of Israel had anything but a dull life.  Sure, sometimes the excitement was caused by those jealous of him, uncomfortable with his relationship with God, but his life was never routine and lived in a rut.  King David was constantly revived and refreshed by a vital, passionate, total engagement with the God he loved. 

We are not all King David's, or Moses' or Sauls.  That isn't what God wants.  He created each of us specifically, to interact with Him, engage with Him and live the life He designed for us to live with its own excitement.  That’s how I want to live my life – with passion and excitement.  What about you?  Today, God is speaking to your heart.  “Come walk with Me,” He says “and see the new things I will show you!”