Tag Archives: relationships

Finding God in our mess – Characters: Joseph, Part 3

30 Oct

Life can feel so messy. Have you ever been in one those the seasons of life where it seems like things keep going wrong? Just when you think you are getting past one hurdle, here comes another one. You jump one, then two, and you barely make it over the third, and you’re so tired, and you jump to clear the fourth hurdle, but you’re flagging strength doesn’t take you nearly high enough, and you crash into the hurdle, losing balance, crumbling to the ground. Been there?

Joseph was there. In this second installment in our series titled Characters, we’ve been following the life of Joseph, one of the patriarchs of ancient Israel, as he faces one hurdle after another. There are more to come. Will Joseph crash?

We read about Joseph’s life in the first book of the Bible, Genesis. In chapters 40 and 41 we return to the topic of dreams.  Remember how 17-year-old Joseph had dreams about his family bowing down to him? That didn’t go over well. At all. His brothers responded by selling him into slavery, and he was purchased by an Egyptian official, Potiphar. God was with Joseph and he prospered serving in Potiphar’s house, until Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph. Though he ran from her, she lied to Potiphar saying that Joseph was making passes at her. Potiphar threw Joseph in jail, and life was awful again. Yet God was with Joseph, and in prison he prospered again, earning favor with the warden. This is when the dreams start again, but it is not Joseph who is dreaming.

Two men in prison with him have dreams: the king’s chief cupbearer and chief baker.  If you want to read the story, open your Bible to Genesis 40:8.  Both men had been on the King Pharaoh’s bad side, and the king jailed them. In prison they both have mysterious dreams. The men don’t know what the dreams mean, and they tell this to Joseph. Joseph says to them, with confidence in God’s ability to provide interpretation, “Tell me your dreams.”  Again God is with Joseph, and he interprets the dreams.  The dreams are prophecies, and they come true.  Disaster for the baker, and restoration for the cupbearer.

In chapter 41 the text tells us two years go by.  Now the Pharoah, the king of Egypt, has some dreams.  Weird dreams.  My dreams can get pretty weird too.  I don’t know about you, but I have always had dreams, from childhood till now.  Sometimes they are nightmares, especially when I am sick.  That can really set off the weirdness at night.  Have you ever woke from a dream thinking, “Whew…it was just a dream…I am so glad that wasn’t real!” because it seemed real, and it was weird or awful.  Well, King Pharaoh has some strange dreams, and no one can interpret them, even the magicians and wise men of Egypt. 

Guess who is there watching the King desperately trying to understand his dreams?  The cupbearer.  Remember him?  He was one of the guys in prison with Joseph who had a dream. Joseph interpreted it, and the cupbearer was restored to favor with the king.  Now the cupbearer, watching the king struggle to interpret his dreams, remembers, “Wait…there was this guy in prison, Joseph, who interpreted dreams.”  He tells the king, and the king summons Joseph. 

What Joseph says when the king asks him to interpret the dream is awesome.  Look at Genesis, chapter 41:16. Joseph says to the king, “I cannot do it.”

That’s bold.

When the king calls, you answer.  When he says, “Jump,” you jump.  And when he says, “I heard you can interpret dreams,” you say, “Let’s do it, what is your dream?”  Not Joseph.  Joseph says, “I can’t.  But God can.”  See the humility in Joseph?  He has changed.  Even after being in prison for over two years, he isn’t angry at God.  He is devoted to God.  Joseph had gifts from God. He was dreaming dreams and was discerning them as a young boy, but it is possible in those early years he was not using his gifts in a God-honoring way.  It could be that he used his dreams to “show up” his brothers.  But when Joseph turned to God and found his identity in God, those gifts became powerful tools for good, as we have read in Genesis chapters 40-41. 

We all have gifts from God, and when we are asking God for his power to use those gifts for the mission of his Kingdom, our gifts are beautiful and powerful tools for Him.

Back to the story, we see Joseph using his gifts for God. Pharaoh tells the dream, and God gives Joseph the interpretation.  The dream was God’s message that a famine is coming on the land, and they need to prepare. 

Look at how Pharaoh responds to this.  Read Genesis 41:37-38, where Pharaoh sees the evidence of God in Joseph’s life, and thinks, “I want this guy on my staff.”  Pharaoh scoops Joseph up immediately, placing him in charge of all Egypt!

Let’s take a step back and notice the hurdles in Joseph’s life to this point: he went from losing his mother who died during the birth of his brother, to being the favorite son of his father, to having his coat of honor stolen from him, thrown into a pit, and sold into slavery by his jealous older brothers, to being a slave in Potiphar’s house, but achieving success, only to have Potiphar’s wife lie about him, resulting in being thrown into jail.  How about that for a life of ups and downs?

Finally things come full circle in Genesis 41:41 as Pharaoh puts him charge of Egypt, even including giving Joseph a new robe.  You can bet the robes Joseph wore now were fancier than the one his father gave him years before.  But as Joseph puts on that Egyptian robe, did he remember his father?  Did he think of his brothers?

As we continue in Genesis chapter 41, look at verse 51. Joseph marries, and has two sons.  Even though he marries an Egyptian priest’s daughter, he names his sons in honor of God’s work in his life.  God has made him forget his trouble and his father’s household.  Yet he is talking about his father’s household. So he hasn’t forgotten.  Maybe the family drama still stings a little.  Or a lot.  Yeah, he is now second in command of all Egypt.  He is at the heights of power and wealth and fame.  Yeah, he has a family now.  God is good, and has blessed him, and Joseph is faithful to God.  But that doesn’t mean the memories are wiped clean.  That doesn’t mean the past doesn’t still sting a bit.  

At the end of Genesis 41, we learn that a major famine has come upon the land, as was predicted through Pharaoh’s dreams.  Under Joseph’s leadership, then, Egypt not only prepared enough food for its own people to make it through the famine, but they had so much extra, they were able to sell food to people from other nations too. That fact will have significant ramifications for Joseph, which we’ll see as we continue the story in the next post.

For now, no matter how messy your life has been, know that God is faithful. Keep pursuing him, even in the mess.

When God is nowhere to be found – Characters: Joseph, Part 2

29 Oct
Photo by Brunel Johnson on Unsplash

Have you ever felt utterly alone and abandoned by your family, friends, and even by God? If so, you’re not alone. Maybe people hurt you. Maybe you made a bad choice. Maybe life turned out different from your hopes and dreams. There are many ways we can find ourselves in despair. Keep reading as our character for this week had a very similar situation in his life. There might be something helpful to you as you read his story.

In the previous post, we met 17 year old Joseph, and we learned that his family had a lot of drama, some of which seems to be his own doing. This is a blog series on Characters, people who lived in ancient Israel, people who were flawed and troubled, but people who God still used. At the conclusion of the previous post, Joseph had angered everyone in his family, including his father, who loved Joseph more than any of his other sons. The drama is about to get worse. Way worse.

As we continue the account in Genesis 37, verses 12-36, we read that Jacob sends Joseph to check on his brothers, and the brothers see this as an opportunity to vent their jealousy and hatred of Joseph, as he is far from home, from the watchful care of their father Jacob. They debate what to do, including killing Joseph, believe it or not, but the oldest, Reuben, intercedes, and they agree to kidnap Joseph and sell him into slavery.  In the process they take Joseph’s special coat, put blood from an animal on it, and give it back to their father Jacob, telling him Joseph had died. 

Imagine this experience from Joseph’s perspective.  17 years old.  Kidnapped by your brothers.  Sold into slavery.  That had to be horrible.  This is human trafficking, perpetrated by his own brothers. Imagine the darkness in Joseph’s soul.

How would this crisis have impacted Joseph?   Have you been through a crisis, a life-changing event?  It doesn’t have to be as dramatic as Joseph’s, where he was kidnapped, and sold into slavery, betrayed by his own family.  But perhaps you can think of a difficult situation that happened in your life. 

Crisis can (and should) turn us to God. 

Crisis doesn’t always turn us to God.  Crisis sometimes makes us bitter.  Angry.  Harsh. 

How has crisis affected you?

It seems important at this point to note that something is missing in chapter 37.  Scan through the chapter.  It is a glaring omission.  What, or rather who, is missing?  God.  Not a single mention of God.  Not when Joseph is dreaming.  No mention when he is with his brothers.  And nothing about God when Joseph is sold into slavery.

I find it striking that God is nowhere to be found in this part of the story.

Hold that thought, as we see how crisis affected Joseph.

We’re going to skip over chapter 38, as that is a separate story.  Go to chapter 39 where the story of Joseph picks up.

We learn right away in Chapter 39 that a significant change has occurred in Joseph’s life.  Slave traders take him to Egypt where we meet Potiphar, one of the Egyptian King Pharoah’s officials, and Potiphar buys Joseph.  So a physical change has taken place as Joseph is far from home in a new land.  But there is a spiritual change as well.  Look who is mentioned in verse 2.  God is with Joseph, and Joseph prospered.  The Lord gives Joseph success in all he does. 

Back up with me a moment.  Think about all that Joseph has gone through.  I wish I could know if something changed in Joseph while he was in the hands of the slave traders.  The text doesn’t tell us.  But the presence and blessing of God in chapter 39 is quite striking when you consider the total absence of God in chapter 37.  Could it be that Joseph went through a dark inner struggle while he was betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery?

Did he wrestle with God like his father Jacob did, as we saw last week?  The text doesn’t tell us, but to me that is a possible explanation for the absence of God in chapter 37 and the presence of God in 39.  Also, God is faithful in our trials.  He is there.  He was always there, even when it didn’t seem like it.  Even when the circumstances don’t change, he is there. 

We don’t know how long Joseph was in the caravan of slave traders.  Weeks probably.  Maybe months.  But imagine being a 17 year old boy in that circumstance. Can you imagine all the emotions he’s got going on!  He was in a home where he knows he is the favorite and he is beloved, but he also knows and feels the hatred of his brothers on a regular basis. Then he is sold into slavery! I suspect he cried his heart out to God.  I suspect a change took place in Joseph’s relationship with God.  And God changed Joseph.  His identity became about who he was to God and not who he was to his father and to his brothers.  When we realize our identity in God, he is sufficient for us, even when the trials of life continue. 

We read that Joseph rises in favor in Potiphar’s estimation, as Joseph was very capable and blessed by God in all he did, so Potiphar puts Joseph in charge of his whole estate.  Because of this, God blessed Potiphar too. 

Then more trouble comes.  It’s like Joseph is a magnet for drama.  We read that Joseph is very handsome.  And Potiphar’s wife tries to seduce him. Joseph’s response is amazing, showing the change that God has worked in him.   Look at Genesis chapter 39, verses 8-12.

Joseph refuses Potiphar’s wife’s advances saying, “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”  Here he shows his concern for purity, for following God’s ways.  Especially note verse 12 where he flees temptation.  Joseph is an amazing example for us in this.

But Potiphar’s wife is jilted and angry, and she lies to Potiphar, saying that Joseph initiated the advances on her.  Potiphar, angry, imprisons Joseph.  And yet what do we read in Genesis 39:21?  The Lord was with Joseph!  Basically the same thing happens in the prison as what happened in Potiphar’s house.  Joseph is put in charge, and God is with Joseph and blesses all he does.  But Joseph is still in jail.  So his circumstances are still difficult.  Just because Joseph is close to God and being obedient, he is still in prison.  Righteous living does not always mean that immediate results and rewards will come. When we find our identity in God, though, we find that we have all we need, even if our circumstances don’t change.

Why we need to wrestle with God – Characters: Jacob, Part 4

24 Oct

In this series, we’ve been looking at a character in the Hebrew Bible, a guy named Jacob. In the previous post, we left Jacob about to cross over the border of his brother, Esau’s land. He had deceived his brother 20 years before, and when Esau found out, Esau threatened to kill Jacob. Jacob fled for his life, and the twins didn’t talk again for two decades. Jacob’s life and fortunes had changed dramatically in the ensuing years. Now he has a large family and great wealth through vast herds of animals. On his way home with his family and property, he arrives at Esau’s land. Jacob gets word that Esau is on the way with 400 men, coming to confront Jacob. So Jacob prepares a huge gift of numerous animals, hoping to smooth the way with Esau. He sends the gift ahead to Esau. Before we find out what happens when Esau receives the gift, something else occurs.  Read Genesis 32:22-32 to learn about this surprising event.

Jacob wrestles God!  Or should we say it as a question: Jacob wrestles with God? What is going on here?

Look at verse 26.  Jacob has refused to give up this wrestling match, even after God wrenches his hip.  Jacob will not let go, saying to God, “unless you bless me.”  Sound familiar?  Jacob determined to get a blessing?  Where have we heard this before?  20 years earlier when he stole his father’s blessing that was supposed to go to Esau!

In verse 27 God asks him a question, “What is your name?”  That should sound familiar too!  Again, go back 20 years earlier when Jacob entered his father’s tent, and Isaac asked him, “Who is it?”  And what did Jacob say?  He lied.  He said, “It is your son Esau.” 

Back to chapter 32, what will Jacob say when God asks Jacob his name?  Now he tells the truth.  He says his name, “Jacob.”  He is a changed man.  The deceiver has become a man of truth, a man who wrestles with God.

Wrestling leads to relationship.  God is relational, not distant and uninvolved.  He wants us to wrestle with him.

The physical act of wrestling is not the focus of this passage, though.  Jacob’s determination is the focus.  Jacob was always a wrestler, even in the womb, grasping his brother’s heel.  But it is his determination that is really the important point.  Early in his life, it was a determination that was focused on his own concerns, a selfish determination.  He was quite willing to connive and deceive in order to get what he wanted. 

But God intervened, even to this selfish man, and Jacob learned to be determined for God.  When he wrestles God, he is still determined, but his determination is modified by truth.  He tells his name truthfully. 

God is so pleased.  Look at verse 28.  “You have a new name.  Israel.  You struggle with God and men and overcome.”  That is where the name of the nation of Israel comes from.  The word Israel means, “he struggles with God.”  Isn’t that interesting?  The name of the nation is about relationship with God.  Israel’s name signifies what God wants, a relationship where his people wrestle with him and don’t give up!

The next morning, Genesis 33:1 tells us, Jacob looked up and saw his brother, Esau, coming with 400 men!  What happens when the two estranged brothers face each other after 20 years?

He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother. But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.

Genesis 33:3-4 (NIV, 1984)

It is a beautiful reconciliation.  That’s what God can do!  He is in the business of redemption and reconciliation when we submit ourselves to the transforming work he wants to do in our lives. 

Throughout the rest of chapter 33, we learn that Jacob continues his journey to his home land, honoring God.  In chapter 35 he settles in land of Canaan where he honors God.  Jacob called the place Bethel, which means House of God.  God confirms the blessing, as well as Jacob’s new name, Israel, reminding us that his family will be the beginning of a nation.  Jacob sacrifices to God there. 

We’re not done with Jacob’s story. Next week we’ll learn more about him, but through the lens of his son, Joseph. Tomorrow, we’ll conclude this first Characters series by looking at what we learned through God’s work in the life of Jacob. For now, reflect on what we saw today. Jacob wrestles with God and reconciles with Esau. Can it be said of you that you are wrestling with God? It might at first sound like a bad thing, to wrestle with God. But as we saw in Jacob’s life, it was the evidence that his determination had changed focus from self to God, thus leading to reconciliation with his estranged brother Esau. How do you need to wrestle with God?

How to welcome those who are difficult for you – Philemon 8-25, Part 5

30 Aug
Photo by Taylor Simpson on Unsplash

Who is difficult for you? Think about it. Who are the people you really struggle with? Does it seem like it would be awful to welcome them into your life? How should you treat them?

If Paul’s message to Philemon is our guide, then what we do will be self-sacrificial, it will be radical, it will cross the societal lines, and it will overturn conventional ideas.  It will be white people, giving up their power, privilege and position for people of color who have been marginalized.  It will be a purposeful embrace of the other who is no longer an outsider, but now in Christ a brother or a sister. 

As we conclude our series on Philemon, consider, then, what Jesus did.  Paul clearly describes how Jesus is an example for us of the very thing Paul is asking Philemon to do:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:3-8

Other translations say that Jesus “emptied himself”.  He gave up his rights, privilege, position and power so that he could reach us.  That meant he had to become one of us.  Think about that.  The one in the position of power and privilege “emptied himself,” as the hymn says, “of all but love, and bled for us.”  To save us, he became one us and died for us. 

In another place, Paul said that this concept was his modus operandi as well:

“Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.” And just a few verses later he says, “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”

1 Corinthians 9:19-20, 22

Jesus, therefore, is asking you and me the exact same thing that Paul was asking Philemon. 

What will you and I do about this?  We are the Philemons of our day.  The time has come for us to welcome the Onesimuses around us as dear brothers.  It might not mean they come to our church. Maybe it will.  But what will it mean?  Ask God to show you.  Ask God to give you his eyes, to see people and situations as he sees them, to act in love to all, because in his eyes all are equal. 

So we would do well to ask ourselves, who do we struggle with?  Who do we look down on?  Who do we think we are better than?  There are so many ways Paul’s letter to Philemon can apply. 

It could be people of a different ethnicity.  And it could be people of a different gender.  Perhaps you struggle with people who are of a different generation.  How about those of a different socioeconomic status?  Maybe people who speak a different language.  What about the immigrants, the asylum seekers, the refugees?  It could be those struggling with homelessness, divorce, bad choices, or a financial struggle.

Who will you stand beside and welcome?  Who will you embrace as a dear brother or sister?

Let’s conclude hearing Paul’s words again, starting:

“[Treat Onesimus] no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.”

Philemon 16-20

How to transform your life from useless to useful – Philemon 8-25, Part 2

27 Aug
Photo by Linh Nguyen on Unsplash

Have you ever felt useless in life? Maybe you watch others around you, friends and family, and it seems they are successful, advancing, making a difference in the world, enjoying life. Then you think about your life, and maybe you see a past littered with failure, broken relationships, and poor choices. Even if that describes you a little bit, know that you are not alone. Today we meet a man with a broken past. In fact, he was described as useless. At the outset, though, let me give you a hint: there is hope!

So far in our study of Paul’s letter to Philemon, in verses 1-7 we’ve seen Paul profusely encourage Philemon to see himself as a lover of Jesus who also loves all of Jesus’ followers. Then in verses 8-9, Paul begins to make an appeal to Philemon, because there is a specific situation in which Paul wants Philemon to practice that love for Jesus and all his followers. Paul knows that Philemon has a broken relationship in his life, and in verses 10-21, Paul makes his appeal to Philemon to fix that relationship.

What relationship? Paul is writing Philemon on behalf of Onesimus who used to be Philemon’s slave.  But something happened.  We don’t know all the details, but in verse 18 Paul gives some clues.  It seems that Onesimus not only ran away from Philemon, but may have even stolen from him.  Onesimus then made his way to Rome where he met up with Paul.  My guess is that one of three things led Onesimus to Paul. 

First option: Paul had previously become friends with Philemon.  It is possible that Paul would have also met his slave at the same time.  As time goes by, Paul ends up in Rome on house arrest, and Onesimus runs away from Philemon, hoping upon hope that Paul will help him.  If you’ve just committed a crime, and you don’t know where to go, you often seek a person you think will be understanding.  In Onesimus’ mind, Paul fits the bill.

Second option: It could be that Onesimus and Paul hadn’t previously met, but Onesimus still seeks out Paul for help, simply because of Paul’s reputation.

Third option: Onesimus just so happens to end up in Rome and comes across Paul.  Seems unlikely, but as we all know, unlikely things happen all time. 

The rest of the story, Paul tells us.  There in Rome, as he says in verse 10, Onesimus becomes his son.  That is strong family language, right?  Paul writes like this often, calling people his “son” in the faith.  What he means is that he shared Christ with Onesimus, and Onesimus chose to place his faith in Christ, giving Jesus both his assent and allegiance.  In other words, through Paul’s ministry on house arrest, Onesimus becomes a Christian. 

In verse 11 you see Paul’s literary flourish as he uses a wordplay, and most of your Bibles will point to this in a text note.  Almost certainly Onesimus was a difficult case for Philemon, and Paul knew this. If he hadn’t previously heard the story of Onesimus’ running away, he now heard it from Onesimus. Maybe Onesimus was a bad worker, maybe he was insubordinate, a back-talker, a slacker, we don’t know. As a result, maybe Philemon was hard on Onesimus, and that led to his running away. Or maybe Onesimus just wanted to be free. When Paul describes Onesimus as “formerly useless,” it could be all of the above. But here’s wordplay: Onesimus’ name means “useful,” and what does Paul say in verse 11?  Onesimus has gone through a transformation from uselessness to usefulness.  Through the work of Jesus in Onesimus’ life, a great change has happened. Onesimus is now as his name suggests, useful!  And not just to Philemon, Onesimus, Paul says, is useful to Paul too.  Apparently Onesimus was on fire for Jesus, serving, helping Paul. 

So Paul has a tough decision to make.  Do you send a runaway slave back to their master, knowing that it might not go well for that slave?  Or do you keep him with you, especially considering the amazing change that has taken place in his life?  There’s a lot riding on this.  If Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon, how will Philemon handle it?  Philemon really seems to be a good man, but Onesimus had betrayed Philemon, and Philemon could have a bad reaction. Also consider this from Onesimus’ point of view.  How much convincing did Paul have to do to get Onesimus to agree to this, after having wronged Philemon and run away?  How scared was he to go back there?  We can imagine Paul having a talk with Onesimus: “Now that you are follower of Jesus, there’s something we need to discuss. Philemon. Your master. How you treated him. Your broken relationship. Jesus is in the business of making things right. We’re going to need to deal with this.”

Now are you seeing why Paul gushes so much over Philemon in verses 1-7?  All that talk about loving all Christians?  Yeah.  It’s because Paul is dropping a bomb right in Philemon’s lap.  And that bomb is Onesimus.  Paul chooses to send Onesimus back, as we read in verse 12, which is the right thing to do. In fact, under Roman law, it was the legal thing to do. Philemon owns Onesimus, and Paul chooses to submit Onesimus to that relationship, as he says in verse 14.

At this juncture we need to pause and talk about slavery in the Roman Empire.  Even just saying “Philemon owns Onesimus” feels wrong.  But that is what was going on.  He was legally seen as property. 

Doesn’t it seem really odd that Philemon, a Christian, owns slaves, and that Paul would send a runaway slave back to his master!  Shouldn’t Philemon set his slaves free?  And shouldn’t Paul say, “Onesimus, you are not going back there into slavery”?  Yes, it seems like that should be happening, but none of it did.  As we’ll see, Paul has a whole lot more to say, but for now I want to point out that slavery in the Roman Empire, while it was awful, as slavery always is, was not like slavery in our American past.  Frankly, American slavery was worse.  A horrible, racial, terrible evil.  It was evil in the Roman Empire too, but it was not racial, and slaves actually had some measure of opportunity for freedom and advancement.  What I do not want you to hear me saying, though, is that slavery was okay in the Roman Empire.  It was different than American slavery, but it still was not okay.  It was evil and wrong back then and went against God’s desires.  I, too, wish Paul would have said more to denounce it.

So what did he say?  Next if Part 3 we continue observing his flow of thought, which will have significant implications for not only Philemon and Onesimus, but so much more, including the practice of slavery.

Why I am not a fan of eulogies (but why they are surprising important for church families)

30 Jul

Photo by Rhodi Alers de Lopez on Unsplash

I am not a fan of eulogies.  I’ve told you before that one of the aspects of being a pastor that I was definitely not prepared for was death.  It affects me.  Some pastors tell me they love funerals, and can’t stand weddings.  I’m the exact opposite. I love weddings.  Funerals, though?  No.  I’m just not a fan.  Of course I officiate funerals, and I hope I do well.  I believe they are a very important event for the family and friends of the deceased.  Grieving is important.  Thinking about matters of life after death is important. And almost always a funeral includes a eulogy.  You know that speech that tells the history of the person who died, praising that person?

I have given numerous eulogies over the years, and many times I don’t like them.  It’s not just the fact that we are talking about dead person, which can be depressing.  It is that so often in eulogies we straight up tell lies.  Most often the family wants you to tell a totally positive story about the deceased, even if everyone knows the deceased had numerous, even glaring faults.

This week as we continue our study through1st Peter, I was shocked to learn something brand new about eulogies.  We’ll be looking at 1 Peter 3:8-12 all week.  Read it for yourself.

One phrase I want you to listen for is: if people insult you, eulogize them!  What could Peter mean by that?  Oh, you don’t see that phrase in there?  I promise, it’s there!  I’ll show you this week!  What’s even more important than finding that phrase is what it means and how we can apply it to our relationships in the church family.

Peter says in Verse 8 “Finally” and by that he means “here is the end of the matter”, or “let me sum up what I am talking about.”  For a few weeks now Peter has been talking about many different relationships that Christians experienced in his day.  If you want, you can review the posts and you’ll see that Peter talked about the following:

  • How Christians should relate to governing authorities.
  • How Christian slaves should relate to their masters…even mean ones.
  • How husbands and wives should relate to one another.

Peter taught a common principle that Christians should apply to all these relationships: submission.  That’s not a very popular idea in our era, but as we saw, Peter was teaching Christians to submit first and foremost to God and the mission of his Kingdom.  If you want to learn the specifics of what Peter said about each of those other relationships, feel free to scan back through previous posts.

What we see today in verse 8 is that he is now bringing his thoughts to a close.  This week Peter is going to talk about how people in a church family should treat one another.  As I said above, he is going to say, “If someone insults you, eulogize ’em.”  Next week, Peter changes the focus to how Christians should relate to people outside their church family.

So his “finally”, his concluding remarks will cover the next few weeks.  As he goes on in verse 8, notice that he says, “all of you” and begins listing adjectives.  He is saying “Church…Christians…every single one of you, let me describe what you should be.  Then he lists five adjectives that should define Christian relationships in a church family.  What adjectives do you think should define a church family?  Tomorrow we’ll look at the first one.  And I promise…the surprising thing I learned about eulogy is coming later this week!

 

Who is responsible for restoration and revival? God? Us? Both?

13 Dec

Image result for restoration in progressRestoration and revival might take a lot of work.  I just did a Google image search on the phrase “the hard work of restoration”, and almost all of the pictures are about car restorations.  Some furniture.  Some homes.  There is restoration from natural disaster that can take years.  I suspect only a few of us will get involved in that kind of restoration.  Maybe most of us work on our homes, but rarely do we do full restorations.

But just about all of us work on a different kind of restoration.  Relationship restoration.

My guess is that nearly everyone, at some point in their lives, must work towards restoring a relationship that has become broken.  In this week’s posts we’ve talked about the experience of seeing a new spark of life in a relationship that seemed to have been dead. That new hope is a wonderful thing.  But it carries with it the reality of the mountain of work yet to occur.

As we continue our study of Psalms of Lament this Advent, we have started looking into the four sections of Psalm 85.  You can review the previous sections here (one), God’s blessing in the past, and here (two), a lament for restoration to continue.

In this post, we look at section three, verses 8-9, and what do we see? The promise of present blessing for God’s people is connected to their obedience.  Three times in these two verses the psalmist mentions obedience.  Isn’t that interesting? He is lamenting to God, asking for God to keep the restoration going, to bring revival, but he also knows that he and the people have a part to play.

Do you see the three times he mentions obedience?

In verse 8, he says I will listen to God.  God will be his source of wisdom and truth and knowledge.  He will learn from God how to live.  No more living based on what he thinks is right and good.  Look where that got him and the nation.  Now he places his focus on listening to God.

Second, still in verse 8, he says that God promises peace to his people, but let them not turn to folly.  They wanted the peace.  They wanted peace badly.  After living in captivity for 70 years, and finally being allowed to return to their own land, they want peace.  They don’t want enemies and fighting.  We all want peace.  Enemies and fighting wear us down, gives us stress and generally ruin life. We want peace.  God promises peace, but they must obey.  They must not turn to folly.  Folly is foolish choices.  Behaving badly.  They must follow God.

Third, in verse 9 he says salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in the land.  That’s what they want.  They want God to be with them in the Promised Land, because he is stronger than their enemies.  He can protect and save them.  But again, there is a condition.  They must fear him.  Go back a few weeks and review the sermon Emerald gave on the fear of God from Deuteronomy 6.  Fearing God was vital to the people of Israel being restored and revived.

Put these three statements about obedience together, and what conclusion do we have?  Restoration has begun, and restoration and revival will continue, as long as the people are faithful to God.  There is much work to be done. 

I get that.  I was once one who needed restoration.  When I was 17, I was a very reckless irresponsible driver, and as a result I got into a bad accident.  I unintentionally hit an Amish buggy, and a lady inside died.  If you want to read the whole story, you can do so here.  A couple Sundays ago, my parents and I, and my two youngest kids, visited the Amish family.  It was our annual visit.  For 26 years, every year around the time of the accident, we go visit them for the afternoon.

They had already forgiven me long ago.  In fact, they forgave me the day after the accident.  My fortunes were restored, but there was much work to do for the restoration to continue.  And so every year we go over to their house.  I’ll reveal to you a bit of my feelings about this.  Every year I have anxiety about going.  There is part of me that doesn’t want to go, and I contemplate saying, “My family can’t make it.”  And every year when we pull up to their house, I feel a heaviness, a bit of shame returns, and I have to steel myself, take a deep breath, and say “Let’s do this.”  It’s not overwhelming.  It’s just awkward.

The Amish family do not make it awkward.  It’s all within me.

The Amish family are wonderful actually, and they always have been.  And usually all it takes is a few minutes, after greeting and hugging and shaking hands, and the conversation starts to fly.  This time one of their sons was there too.  He has a tree-trimming business, and was doing a job over at the Three Mile Island nuclear power station. He remarked to us about how huge and impressive the cooling towers are.  Then he looked at my dad and asked, “What is nuclear power anyway?  Is it like a gas?”  And so for the next five minutes we sat there as my dad tried to explain nuclear power to an Amish man!

We were there two hours, and as we left, I thought how important is the ongoing work of restoration.  So important that it is well worth a visit once every year, even if it is for the rest of my life.

Restoration and revival are God’s work, no doubt.  But God invites us to work them out with him.  And lament calls out to God to do just that.

When we participate with God in the work in restoration and revival, a beautiful thing happens, and that is what the psalmist so gorgeously depicts in the final section of his poem, which we look closely at in our next post!