Thursday March 23, 2023 – The joy of living out this verse!

Romans 12:16  Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody. (The Message)

Have you noticed that Jesus could relate well to anyone?  Tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes, Samaritans,  – everyone that the Pharisees had an attitude about.   What an example Jesus is for us.  The Pharisees, on the other hand, appear to be a strong example for us on how not to relate to others.  They put people into categories and were consumed with pride and arrogance. Their blindness to this condition caused them to miss the miracle-working Messiah who was right in front of them.

Unfortunately, there are cultural tendencies that we live with that encourage us to look down upon people that are members of various groups.  This can lead us to be proud or arrogant about groups we might belong to.  If we have experienced such condescension or discrimination, we know first hand how refreshing it is to have relationships where this negative baggage is not present; where we are treated as people of worth.  Living out today’s verse is imperative for us, in all the circumstances of our lives: church, work, daily interactions, family and friends.

This verse triggers such wonderful memories of the Christian college where I worked in Franklin, Tennessee (Williamson Christian College).  We experienced the blessing of having an incredible mix of students from about 18 different countries.  We had home grown Americans, immigrants, refugees and foreign students.  Although the majority of the students were Christian, there were any number of other religions represented including Hindu, Islam and Buddhist.  We had the honor of serving them all – helping and enabling them to pursue their education.

Our college and curriculum were Christ-centered and the students all understood that.  What an opportunity for us to live out our faith!  It was reflected in how we as staff got along with and served one another.  It was revealed in the quality of relationships that faculty and staff and students had with each other.  Students were not required to become Christian to attend, but they knew they were going to be exposed to the Christian faith; both in terms of teaching and in the overall experience they had there.  What an opportunity for us to demonstrate the Christian faith to be the real thing!

Note:  Here is the website of this wonderful college: http://www.williamsoncc.edu

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Wednesday March 22, 2023 – “I just helped him cry.”

Romans 12:15  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

The Amplified Bible adds a bit of understanding to this verse, ”Rejoice with those who rejoice [sharing others’ joy], and weep with those who weep [sharing others’ grief].”  Author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia once talked about a contest he was asked to judge. The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child. The winner was a four-year-old child, whose next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman, who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there.  When his mother asked him what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy just said, “Nothing, I just helped him cry.”

I can sure relate to that little boy.  There are times when friends or co-workers are suffering a loss or are in a very painful situation and I just want to be near them – and ‘help them cry’.  Unfortunately, we can become paralyzed because we don’t know what to say.   This can lead to saying or doing nothing out of fear of being embarrassed or causing more hurt.  The Lord wants us to move forward, not hold back.  It’s helpful to recognize the value in quiet presence.  Often it’s not what we say, but the thoughtfulness of being there – our presence, a gentle touch, a compassionate smile.  Sometimes a simple phone call to friends who are in mourning can mean a great deal.  We briefly tell them we love them; are praying for them and just wanted them to know we cared.  If ever there was a time when, “It’s the thought that counts,” applied, it’s in times of mourning.

The other side of the coin is rejoicing with those who are rejoicing.  One of the wonderful attributes we can develop is that of having vicarious pleasure when wonderful things happen to people we care about.  This is the opposite of jealousy.  Dear friends of ours have had their home on the market and it just sold.  At the same time they found a wonderful home that they are buying.  What a time to rejoice with them!  Part of the rejoicing will mean we get to help them move.  That is part of our rejoicing with them!

Hopefully we are making a priority of building lasting relationships.  It’s so important that we are close enough to those around us so we know what is going on.  Friends – particularly Christian friends – are so wonderful to have when it comes to sharing the highs and lows of life.  That’s what friends are for – we get to be there for each other.

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Tuesday March 21, 2023 – The Old Testament is such a gift to us

1 Corinthians 10:6,11  these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.  These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.

We have been looking at Joseph who experienced one negative situation after another.  Yet he responded faithfully and God blessed him.  Those circumstances, that none of us would choose, were God’s plan for him.  A lesson to learn is that God will do the same with us.  The circumstances of our lives are our testing ground.  Will we respond faithfully when we find ourselves in unpleasant, difficult or very negative situations?  Will our focus be upon the Lord rather than upon ourselves or our ‘problems’?

The Old Testament is such a gift to us.  It provides so much more than history or prophecy.  It teaches us God’s ways.  It shows us how much God has wanted – and wants – a people to be His own and live accordingly.  He wants a people that recognize His great love for them and then love Him in return.

The Lord wants a people that walk in His ways – who demonstrate from their lives that they belong to Him.  It has everything to do with how we live.  Do our hearts belong to Him?  Disobedience, complaining, anger, revenge, idolatry, rebellion, etc… have such negative consequences and such actions and attitudes communicate the very opposite message that should come from our faith in Christ.  Joseph is such an example of rightly responding in the good times and the bad.

Today’s verses focus our attention on His people in the Old Testament and what happened to them.  We are to look at their lives and see how they responded to God and to the situations they encountered.  Their situations repeatedly gave them opportunities to affirm that they were His.  We are seriously warned that they are examples for us to learn from.  We are not to make the same mistakes they did.

Will we recognize and reject the sinful responses that can work their way into our lives without us even being aware of them?  Will we respond like Joseph – no matter what we encounter?  We have seen Joseph time and again respond righteously to what life brought him.  Let us be inspired by his example to live our lives in faithfulness and righteousness thereby reflecting the love of our God to all.

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Monday March 20, 2023 – Jacob and Joseph together at last

Genesis 45:25, 26  So they went up out of Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan.  They told him, “Joseph is still alive!  In fact he is ruler of all Egypt.”  Jacob was stunned; he did not believe them.  But when they told him everything Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts Joseph had sent to carry him back, the spirit of their father Jacob revived.

The emotions associated with the realization that Joseph was still alive must have been overwhelming to Jacob.  On top of that, he was ruler over all Egypt.  Can you imagine the questions that went through Jacob’s mind – particularly after they loaded up and were on their journey back to Egypt – the hours of travel, thinking about seeing his son again?  Did he ask his sons, “How did Joseph wind up in Egypt?”  “What happened?”

If he did, I wonder what they said.  Would they have spoken the truth to their father?  Sometime in the coming days, Jacob likely learned the truth – whether from his older sons or from Joseph.  That would have been something for him to deal with.  But overshadowing it all would have been the intervention of God.

There were the dreams when Joseph was a teenager.  There was the reality of the dreams coming true – he was now the ruler over Egypt!  How could that happen without God?  Then there was the vision at Beersheba that Jacob – now called Israel by God – received after offering sacrifices to the God of his father, Isaac.  God reassured him about going to Egypt.

And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, “Jacob!  Jacob!” “Here I am,” he replied.  “I am God, the God of your father,” he said.  “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there.  I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again.  And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.”         (Genesis 46:2-4)

Think of the joy and excitement that Jacob and Joseph were both experiencing – knowing that they would get to see each other again!  Then the day came when Jacob arrived and Joseph saw him.  Joseph threw his arms around him and wept for a long time. They had been apart for about 22 years.

The pain, the years of separation, the difficulties, the slavery, the prison, the loneliness, the sacrifices – all were part of God’s plan.  We need to understand that if God’s plans and purposes require them, He will cause us to experience similar things.  This is why it is so critical to have our faith and trust rooted firmly in Him.  When hard times come – and they will – He is our rock, our confidence and our hope.  Our trust will be securely in Him no matter how much we don’t understand.  We too can be – and must be – like Joseph and walk faithfully through whatever trials may come.

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Sunday March 19, 2023 – Joseph revealing God’s plan

Genesis 45:3  Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.

What an amazing moment this is!  Joseph’s brothers didn’t have a clue that they were dealing with their brother – the one they had sold into slavery over 20 years earlier!  Events leading up to this moment had surely brought Joseph to mind because they were struggling with the idea that all the difficulties they had been encountering in Egypt were due to their mistreatment of Joseph.

If pressed, they probably would have thought he was dead.  But regardless what his fate had been, they were likely convinced they would never see him again.  Then, in the midst of this latest distressing turn of events with the cup found in Benjamin’s sack, they were beside themselves with grief because Benjamin would have to remain in Egypt as a slave. Their distress was so great that it finally became more than Joseph could stand.

Joseph ordered all of his attendants out of the room and revealed himself to his brothers.   All of a sudden, the brothers’ distress turned into their worst nightmare!  The one they describe as the ‘ruler of all of Egypt’ is not only the brother they sold into slavery, he is now in a position to wreck vengeance upon them.  They had no idea how God had worked in Joseph’s heart.

Consider Joseph’s next comments: (Genesis 45:5-8)

“5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. 7But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8 So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.”

Think of it!  Joseph had God’s perspective on all that had happened to him.  He recognized that his brothers were simply the tools that God had used to get him there so he could fulfill the destiny God had for him.  He bore them no ill will.  He wasn’t just keeping himself from repaying them in kind for what they had done.  God was using him to preserve for them a remnant and to save their lives.  He was overjoyed!

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Saturday March 18, 2023 – Joseph recognizes his brothers

Genesis 42:21-24a  21 They said to one another, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come on us.”  22 Reuben replied, “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood.” 23 They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter. 24 He turned away from them and began to weep,…

Today’s verses describe one of the most poignant scenes in the whole story of Joseph.  His brothers have come to Egypt to purchase grain.  They encounter Joseph; he recognizes them but they do not recognize him.  He then remembered his dreams about them and accuses them of being spies.  In challenging them they reveal that there is another brother – the youngest – and he is with their father back in the land of Canaan.  He then asserts again that they are spies and holds them in custody for 3 days.

After 3 days, he informed them what they must do to live.  One of them will be held hostage and the others will return to Canaan with grain and then bring back the youngest brother to confirm they are telling the truth.  It was at this point that the above exchange takes place.  Here it is over 20 years later and they express their belief that they are being punished (by God) because of what they did to Joseph.  Because Joseph was using a translator, the brothers had no idea he could understand what they were saying.

For the first time, Joseph heard them acknowledge that they know what they did was wrong.   He also learned that Reuben, the oldest brother, was opposed to mistreating Joseph and had spoken in his behalf but they wouldn’t listen to him.  His father and younger brother were still alive.  The dreams that he had so long ago had come true!  Here he was the 2nd most powerful man in Egypt and his brothers who had wronged him were before him – under his control and at his mercy.  What would he do?

Can you imagine all that Joseph was experiencing as he listened and participated in this exchange?  His remembrance of the dreams had to be of major significance to him as he dealt with them.  I wonder if it really hit home then that he was able to be there in Egypt – where God wanted him to be, in the position God wanted him to be in – only because God used his brothers to get him there.  I am so grateful that Joseph is such a wonderful example of walking righteously with God in the most difficult and trying circumstances.  His life has so many wonderful lessons for us to learn.

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Friday March 17, 2023 – A stellar example of rightly responding to offense!

Genesis 42:6  Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the one who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground.  Proverbs 18:19a  An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city…

If anyone in scripture had occasion to be offended and respond in kind it was Joseph.  His brothers’ actions resulted in him being in slavery and prison for 13 years.  When he recognized his brothers when they came for wheat, he could have exercised extreme vengeance upon them.  He could have made them pay for what they did to him.  But he didn’t.

Upon recognizing them and seeing them bow in front of him, Joseph remembered his dreams.  Fortunately for his brothers, Joseph had responded righteously to their actions and was not a man to take revenge.  He did cause them a bit of grief – but nothing like he could have done.   He was not ready to reveal himself to them but his actions enabled him to sustain the encounter with them.  He wanted to see Benjamin and Jacob.  Imagine all the thoughts that must have been running through his mind.

His example of his Godly response to their actions is so important.  Taking offense and then allowing that condition to fester are to be avoided like the plague!  They are a hotbed for unrighteousness.  As Proverbs 18:a describes, allowing ourselves to become offended, and not dealing with it, will result in us becoming as unyielding as a fortified city.  We become unresponsive to reasonable overtures from others.  Unfortunately that isn’t the worst of it. We become unresponsive to the Spirit of God working in us to promote righteousness.  We will tend to stonewall Him just like we do everyone else.

Yes offenses can hurt and deeply wound, but we have a Savior who has made a way for us to respond with grace and forgiveness.  We must be on our guard to recognize when offense happens and respond in Christlike fashion – versus yielding to the temptation to sin that it is.  We begin with forgiveness and then look to Him to help us deal with all the attendant feelings we typically have.  It might take some time, but it’s a pathway of righteousness leading to life.

It’s difficult to imagine anything happening to us to compare with what happened to Joseph.  Yet he dealt with it righteously – and he did not have the new nature, freed from the power of sin that we Christians have.  His focus was upon God.  He is a stellar example of God’s way to respond to the negative actions of others.  Today, ask the Lord to show us if there is anywhere in our lives where we need to deal with this.

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Thursday March 16, 2023 – Why not Benjamin?

Genesis 42:3, 4  Then ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt. 4 But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with the others, because he was afraid that harm might come to him

It has been about 8 years since Joseph entered the service of Pharaoh to prepare for the famine that has now arrived.  It is about 21 years since he was sold into slavery by his brothers.  The famine is everywhere, not just Egypt, and word has spread that there is grain available in Egypt for purchase.  So Jacob instructed his sons to go to Egypt and purchase grain to save their lives.  But he did not send Benjamin.

Why was Jacob afraid that harm might come to Benjamin if he sent him with his brothers?  He didn’t just have a suspicion – he was afraid.  Twenty-one years earlier, Joseph had disappeared leaving a bloody robe – apparently killed by a wild animal.  That had a devastating impact on Jacob.  He mourned for Joseph many days and refused to be comforted.

One suspects that the idea of foul play by Joseph’s brothers had occurred to Jacob.  The brother’s hatred of Joseph was as visible as was Jacob’s love for him.  It had been apparent to the entire family that Jacob loved Joseph and Rachel, his mother, so much more than any of the rest of them including his other wife Leah.  All these years Jacob lived with the horrible suspicion that his sons had killed Joseph.

One of the sobering things in all this is that Jacob experienced 21 years of pain as part of God’s plan.  He not only lived with the thought that Joseph had met a cruel death, but he was also deprived of all those years of having Joseph with him.  Would God do such a thing?  Yes he would!

We need to come to grips with the fact that God will allow or cause all manner of things to happen that will accomplish His will. Many of which are things that we would view as highly negative – yet they are part of God’s plan.  Often our viewpoints are far more influenced by our culture than by our understanding of God.  We must learn and understand His ways and come to know Him more intimately.  If we do, we can better respond with faith no matter what happens to us.

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Wednesday March 15, 2023 – Being ready to walk through the door of opportunity

Genesis 41:38  So Pharaoh asked them, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?”

Joseph has just interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams.  But he’s done more than that.  He has given instructions on what needs to be done to prepare for this famine that God is sending upon Egypt.  Key to this will be Pharaoh finding a wise and discerning man to put in charge of the land of Egypt.  Pharaoh chooses Joseph.

This moment in Joseph’s life speaks to me of a number of wonderful principles in scripture.  I think of Matthew 5:16 first of all: “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  Joseph didn’t know what was coming.  He was simply called to appear and given an opportunity.  He didn’t try to negotiate for himself his release from prison.  He spoke the truth.  Pharaoh recognized that the divine was present – that there was more going on here than simply a man giving an answer.

I think of Luke 12:11, 12 “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”  Although the context of this verse deals with the defense of believers, the principle of the Holy Spirit being with us, giving us the words to say is something we are to rely on.  It is no excuse for lack of preparation, but it instructs us where our faith and trust are to be.  It’s not us, it’s Him.  Joseph’s confidence was in God.  His faith assured him that God would give him what was needed.

Another powerful element of our faith is expressed in Psalm 57:2  “I cry out to God Most High, to God, who fulfills {his purpose} for me.”   Joseph walked faithfully where God had put him.  I’m sure he cried out to God trying to understand what had happened to him.  But in the end, God’s purpose was fulfilled.  Joseph was prepared and ready to walk through the door of opportunity that God opened.  Let us renew our commitment to our Lord and His dealings in our lives so that the same will be true of us.

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Tuesday March 14, 2023 – Called from a dungeon

Genesis 41:14   So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh.

It’s clear from scripture that Joseph had favor and responsibility while in prison, but I find the word dungeon to be noteworthy.  Prison is bad enough, but dungeon sounds even worse.  It had been two years since he interpreted the cupbearer’s dream.  It had been thirteen years since he was sold into slavery by his brothers.  Had Joseph resigned himself to being a prisoner for the rest of his life?

I wonder what Joseph was doing when word came that he was to be ‘quickly’ brought before Pharaoh.  Think of the impact in our lives if the Secret Service showed up at our door and told us to quickly change because they were taking us immediately to see the President!  Had Joseph given up any hope of the cupbearer remembering to speak to Pharaoh about him?  Had word spread about Pharaoh’s dreams?  What was going through Joseph’s mind as he was brought to Pharaoh?

The important thing is that Joseph had lived righteously during all these years.  The Lord was with him and he prospered.  He wasn’t a complainer.  He didn’t allow his circumstances to negatively alter his attitudes and how he behaved.  In spite of such negative and undeserved surroundings, Joseph honored the Lord in how he lived.  I think of Job and how he didn’t sin by charging God with wrongdoing (Job 1:22).

When Pharaoh told Joseph that he had heard it said of him that he could hear a dream and interpret it, Joseph responded in humility and confidence.  “I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.” (Gen 41:16)  What a wonderful combination!  I picture a strong, young man, with a good spirit about him, acknowledging that while he cannot do it, God can and would do it.  He wasn’t fearful.  Joseph behaved the same whether he was in the dungeon or in the throne room of Pharaoh.  What an example for us.

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