Taunting Of The Brothers

He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us?” Genesis 37:6-8

Can you hear the brothers’ outrage? They were incredulous as they asked the question, “Are you indeed to reign over us?” Time gave them their answer with more than a touch of irony.  At the end of the book of Genesis, Pharaoh set Joseph in the chariot behind him, announcing him as 2nd in command of all of Egypt.

This prompts me to think of others who were incredulous as they posed their rhetorical questions.  Some time in the future, the Philistines laughed as they questioned Saul about the absurdity of a small unarmed boy taking on their Goliath.  Much later than that, chief priests, Pharisees, and the likes of Pilate posed similar questions to Jesus about His claim to be a King.  All these questions were answered by a God who reminds us that He is not predictable and nothing is impossible when He is behind it. He uses the foolish, the uneducated, the weak, the stuttering, the outnumbered, the shamed, the forgotten, the underdog, and the smallest…to glorify His name.

Who is laughing at you? Perhaps you’ve heard a rhetorical question already today. “Who do you think you are!” When God’s child knows that he is called, loved, blessed, and empowered by the Spirit of God, such confidence offends others even if clothed with humility.  It can even rub against the grain of those in the family of God.

For each who has been taunted today, know you are in good company. Do not let any man steal your confidence. Time will write your story and silence the voice of every accuser. Walk humbly with your God and without apology.

Do not let accusers undo me. In Jesus’ name, Amen

Favoritism. It’s Complicated.

Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. Genesis 37:2-3

Favoritism can be complicated. Take Jacob and his son, Joseph. Jacob didn’t make Joseph his favorite to spite other righteous sons. Many of the others had proven themselves to be troublemakers, bound up in foolishness. They had spurned their father’s ways and had left a trail of disappointment and hurt. Jacob didn’t spoil Joseph either by giving him a life of ease. He trained him to work hard and to do so with godly ethics.

I’m not defending the fact that Jacob showed favoritism. It wasn’t right. He acted unwisely and set things up for the other sons to hate their brother. From a sibling’s perspective, favoritism never works out well.

But from a parent’s perspective, the heart is a complicated thing. It can be difficult to have the same affection for each of your children. If one is bent toward evil, disrespects authority, and has no regard for family, isn’t it difficult to love that one as much as another whose heart clearly belongs to God? It can be hard to disguise the pleasure you feel over the one that is righteous. It’s equally hard to hide the pain the other one inflicts when they act out against members of your family.

This is where each mother and father needs Jesus desperately. Only He can daily heal the hurts caused by a wayward child. Only He can give the spiritual fuel necessary to love the renegade wisely. Only He can show parents how to bestow unconditional love to two kinds of children. How will the child who loves rebellion not see the delight in his parent’s eyes over the ‘good’ sibling? God is the only one who can write the relational roadmap for these dynamics.

In the long run, Jacob should have learned from his own troubled childhood. Favoritism didn’t work out well between he and Esau. Now, he repeats it again by failing to disguise his deep affection for Joseph. He will give him a coat, the kind of coat only a royal child would wear. This will fuel the other’s hatred for their brother. In spite of Jacob’s mistakes, God’s purpose for Joseph and the future of Israel will not be thwarted. That is comforting, isn’t it?

You are the God of grace and redemption. Bind our families together in righteousness so that we still stand in the last day. In Jesus’ name, Amen

Standing Behind A Name

 The name of Adonai is a strong tower; a righteous person runs to it and is raised high above danger. Proverbs 18:10 CJB

Adonai is the plural form of Adon ~ meaning ‘Lord, Lord, LORD, master and owner.’ His name is a strong tower. Unless I understand the ancient context, I won’t appreciate the power that is here.

In ancient times, a strong tower was part of a city’s walls; a part of its fortification. This metaphor reveals that a child of God runs into an immensely fortified tower when they run to Adonai and stand behind His name. He is elevated high above any danger coming from below and that place is inaccessible to enemies. If ever I feel overwhelmed on all sides, I remember where I can run. I rehearse, out loud, to whom I belong.

Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son’s name? Surely you know! Proverbs 30:4

Adonai. Lord, master and owner. There is no one above His position. He can never be destroyed. No force, no matter how deadly, can affect Him in the least. He is the tower, afar off in the distance, which leads me home to safety. I fix my eyes on Him when I am assailed on all sides. The tower is a fixed point of reference and I never lose sight of it.

Adonai, and every other name of God, carries the power and authority to give me whatever I may need at any given moment. God gave His Son the name Jesus and that name is equally mighty. At the name of Jesus, every knee will one day bow. There is no other name under heaven whereby we must be saved. Speaking His name sends my enemies into chaos and confusion.

You know, when someone decides to protest and takes to the streets, they hold a sign or a banner. On it, they’ve condensed what it is they stand for. The slogan is not wordy but descriptive enough to understand the cause. One of the names of God is ~ GOD IS MY BANNER. This is what it means to stand behind a name. His name, and His name only, is worn as a banner over my life. For me to live is Christ.

I know that I don’t begin to understand – even yet – the power of your name. Show me. Amen

 

He Knew How His Words Affected Others

Brothers and sisters, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation.  Hebrews 13:22

It’s the end of Hebrews ~  and it bears the author’s last words.  This book is far from being lightweight in content.  The hard times for Jewish believers called for weightiness but with strong encouragement comes the risk of offense.

Though we’re not told who the author is of the book of Hebrews, he calls his writing ‘an exhortation.’  In just this last chapter, there are many ‘exhortations’ that could easily offend.

  • Submit to your leaders.
  • Continually offer up praises to God.
  • Take the time to do good to others.
  • Imitate the life of your leaders.
  • Don’t be carried away by strange teachings.

With each, it’s easy to bristle.

  • Have you seen who my leader is? I should submit to the likes of him?
  • You haven’t seen my life lately. You are asking me to praise now?
  • Like I haven’t already done good to others?!
  • What’s wrong with the way I am living?
  • I’m far more stable than that!  How little do you respect me?!

An exhorter often has a tough time in the family of God.  Their Spirit-empowered gift enables them to perceive spiritual immaturity.  This person is driven to point out opportunities for spiritual growth.  Trials are met with encouragements rather than words of compassion.  Exhorters see conversations as opportunities to give spiritual help, to offer biblical perspectives on things, but with such compulsions, there can be a lot of resistance.  Rejection is continually a threat for this servant of God.

The whole book is a mouthful.  While it is beautiful in its exposition of Christ as the supreme One, it is not a book we encourage a new believer to read.  I recall New Year’s Eve – 1 year ago – when I felt God was leading me to teach this book through these daily writings.  I trembled with the responsibility.  I am no seminarian.  Yet here we are.

Thank you, God, for leading me.  Thank you, Jesus, for invading history as my perfect High Priest.  Thank you, Holy Spirit, for faithfully unveiling these scriptures so that my pen could engage with the paper.  To You be all glory.  Amen

And thank you, my dear devotional friends, for the privilege of sharing this last year’s journey with you.  May His Word always tremble with wonder in our hands.

Christine

The Yoke of Slavery

I am the Lord your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves; and I have broken the bands of your yoke, and made you to upright. Leviticus 26:13

When ‘yoke’ is used, especially in the O.T., it speaks of slavery or bondage to an oppressor. This passage from Leviticus is one example. The Israelites were not freed from the Egyptians through a revolt, an underground movement, or a rebel who rose up to lead the people. They were powerless against a formidable oppressor. Only God could break the bands of their yoke. Bondage was all they had ever known. It was in their DNA.  Four hundred years of it had characterized the existence of the many generations before them.

I may not know this kind of slavery but I can be enslaved nonetheless to a bully, a spouse, a sibling, even an aging parent. Someone got the upper hand when I was once in a compromised position.  The relational pattern was set in stone and perhaps I don’t presently have the personal strength to shake up the dynamics. Oh, but God does. He is in me and I need not be a bully in return in order to be freed from their control. There is holy strength in quietness and resolve. There is holy strength in the man or woman who know that they answer to God first. There is holy strength in the person who is confident before a bully because the Lord is on their side.

A yoke of slavery also plagues me when I fail to leave the unholy ways of my family.  At conversion, my allegiance is to be re-defined.  How difficult though to overcome generational yokes. We are shown very early in life that there is the ‘family way of doing things’ and if you want to enjoy its community, you have to stay in step. These unholy legacies don’t just include things like infidelity, anger, alcoholism, addictive behaviors, depression or a pre-disposition to a certain disease.  There are more insidious culprits such as a hatred of men, or women, a despising of the church, and even a racial bigotry between the north and the south, the blacks and the whites, and Christians against non-Christians.

Isaiah said, Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord; Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Isaiah 51:1  The message is clear. I have been shaped by those who raised me. It is imperative that every child of God look closely at their daily choices to see if there is still a yoke to those who put pressure on us to be like them. I am to be more like my Heavenly Father than my earthly one.  My new birth trumps my initial birth.

How do I take off this yoke of slavery?  First, I ask God to expose my ungodly connections and make me willing to align with Jesus.  He will start turning on the light.  Each time I cave and cower, I repent for doing what Jesus would not do. I take new paths of righteousness armed with scripture and the power of the Spirit.  It may result in being out of step with my family of origin.  Am I willing to be the child of God that Jesus would be if He lived my life?  Only grace will enable it.  Only faith will propel it into the future.

Lord, this is the hard and steep path but oh, how blessed I will be to keep in step with You, to walk in Your footprints. Amen

The Yoke of Shame

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin. Romans 4:7-8

Every person is born with a sense of shame because of Adam and Eve’s sin. We know we are flawed and are therefore shy before a holy God. The more we add sin to our resume, the more shame grows and the heavier the yoke becomes.

I have fought my own internal battle over the years. I have asked myself repeatedly, “How can I get over what I’ve done? Has Jesus totally forgiven me?” The yoke had me by the throat.

Worshipers in the ancient world knew shame well. They would bring their sacrifices; animals, even newborn babies, to kill at the altar; all because they had a sense that they needed to calm angry gods. Their faith was in the wrong god but their conscience was keen in sensing that there was One higher than them who was just and holy.

Are you living out a life sentence of depression as you rehearse your failures? Does your track record haunt you like a ghost? If you have confessed your sin but still feel guilty, realize that when God forgives, he separates your sin from you. One of the words for ‘forgive’ is to ‘send away’. God took that ‘thing’ for which you repented, took it off of you and put it on Jesus. When you can’t hold your head up, you must remember that you are not your sin.

Satan accuses. People name call. But Jesus calls His forgiven children ‘righteous’. The beautiful names He confers on us form an umbrella under which we live and enjoy peace with God. The names are numerous, each one meaning something beautiful, and it is each one of these that I must rehearse when I am weighed down by shame. Whether people-inflicted or Satan-inflicted, shame need not be my yoke. It was Jesus’ yoke when He died in my place. I am to live like Abraham. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Romans 4:20-21

How do I take off this yoke? Believe God. See yourself standing in the flow of God’s forgiveness and then walk by faith.  Be sure to have a plan. Satan is the perpetual accuser of the brethren. He will come at you again with old tapes. Be ready with scripture. You will have to quote it out loud and be assured that he will flee. Remember, you are forgiven whether you feel like you are or not. Feelings are unreliable but the Word of God is true and abides forever.

For every one who is deciding to walk in forgiveness, by faith, remove the yoke of shame from their shoulders, Jesus. Amen

A Religious Yoke

They tie up heavy, burdensome loads and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them. Mattthew 23:4

Jesus came down hard on the Pharisees when He told them that they were placing a heavy burden of rules upon the people, adding more and more laws that ‘The Law’ did not include. The people labored under it. Jesus called that burden ‘heavy’ and referred to His own burden as ‘light’.

As a young monk, Martin Luther confessed that he didn’t love God, he hated Him. He felt that he just couldn’t please Him. Luther beat himself, fasted for days, slept outside in the cold, and all because He felt the guilt of his own sin. He couldn’t sleep at night because he thought, “Can I possibly do everything that God requires of me?” His mentor told him that confession is to bring relief to those burdened with guilt, not add more. But Luther was so bound up by a religious yoke that, though he confessed constantly, he found little relief. While some around him made their complete confession in just a few minutes, Luther would go on and on for hours. Nagging guilt caused him to be an overachiever; so much so that he advanced in the ranks of the monastery very quickly. It’s a reminder to me that perceived holiness is often driven by forces other than a love for Christ.

How do I know if I suffer under a religious yoke?   I have a nagging feeling that I’m not good enough. I have no peace. I don’t feel forgiven. I don’t believe I’ve paid enough yet for my sins. I feel I have a long way to go to prove to God that I’m sincere. I keep myself insanely busy to dull the ache of unworthiness. I become an overachiever with a need to eclipse the successes of those around me. I need to be God’s ‘teacher’s pet’. At that point, I am the older brother in the prodigal son story who kept all the rules but was probably only looking out for his own inheritance. He felt his father owed him; which is easy to feel if I’ve been a rule keeper. Under a religious yoke, let hard times come and my underlying attitude can be, “God, how could you? After how good I’ve been?”

If I labor under the yoke of religion, I believe that my good behavior proves to God that I’m really a good child. I am bound to the law and ignore the fact that Jesus already fulfilled it. He did it because I couldn’t. Jesus took my sin, annihilated every reason I’d have to perform, and gave me His righteousness. I’m invited to rest in my salvation.

If you suffer under the torment of a religious yoke, how do you escape it? Repent of self-exaltation and minimizing the power of the cross. Affirm again that you have been saved by faith alone – which is where Martin Luther ended up. He began to see that the scriptures were really the language of a loving Father to little children. He was free to worship and celebrate such a great God who provided such a great Salvation from self.

Break the chains of the yoke of religion where we are yet bound. Amen