How Are You Going to Get Back at Your Enemies?

This sermon can be watched or listened to at!

How are you going to get back at your enemies? I am telling you today that God wants us to get back at our enemies. Have I got your attention? Before anybody calls the police for me inciting violence, especially religiously incited violence, the seemingly worst kind in our world today, I want us to spend some time thinking deeply about how we are to treat our enemies. I especially want us to think about how to treat our enemies who have stolen from us. Maybe somebody false accused us or gossiped about us and stole our reputation? Maybe they stole our innocence? Maybe we have lost our freedom and have been in bondage to sin, depression and despair? It could be a friend, a former spouse, a parent, a co-worker or even a Christian leader. How are you going to get back at your enemies?

Try thinking about Jean Valjean! Have you heard of Jean Valjean? He is the protagonist in Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables, which has been made into a Broadway play and numerous movies. The story is so stirring that it inspired some Chinese students back in the 1990s to rise up against the Chinese government in Tien An Men Square to fight for freedom. Their inspiration came from Jean Valjean. Valjean was put in prison for 19 years because he stole a loaf of bread for his hungry widowed sister and her child. Valjean is finally paroled but cannot find a job because no one would hire an ex-con. What’s worse is that Jean Valjean cannot find relief from the bitterness of being so mistreated. Often people are overly harsh. Even in our culture, we are in a paradoxical situation. We are less willing to call sin a sin, but then when somebody sins, they are completely exposed and immediately condemned. This harshness comes from not understanding sin in the first place. In order to understand grace, one needs to understand sin because grace is greater than our sin. Jean Valjean didn’t understand sin or grace at this point in his life.  On the brink of starvation one night, he knocks on the local Bishop’s door. The Bishop welcomes Valjean inside and gives Valjean food and a night’s lodging.  In the middle of night though, Valjean wakes up and steals most of the silver that the Bishop has and runs away.  The police catch Valjean and bring him back to the Bishop.  What do you think the Bishop does?  Does he rip into Valjean for stealing after showing him such kindness?  No, instead the Bishop asks Valjean why he left so early without taking all the silver and the Bishop hands him two more pieces of silver and orders the police to set him free.  When the two men are alone, the Bishop then tells Valjean that he has bought his soul for God.  Valjean turns to God and decides to live a life doing good to others. You see, the greatest way to get back at your enemy is to make them your friend!

This is exactly what Jesus taught and more importantly, lived out. Most of us have heard the teaching of Jesus as quoted in Matthew 5:43-45, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” Wow! That last part is often left off and has really rattled me. Is Jesus saying that if I don’t love my enemies and pray for them, then I am not a child of God? YES! To be a follower of Jesus Christ is to love your enemies because we once were God’s enemies as well and yet He loved us, prayed for us and died for us. The Apostle Paul, an avowed enemy turned friend of Christ, wrote in Romans 5:10, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.” And so, how we treat our enemies is a difference maker as best demonstrated by Jesus! And as former enemies and now friends and followers of Jesus, we must pay back our enemies with such love and kindness that it overwhelms them and leads them to Christ. In doing this, it proves we really belong to Jesus. Showing love to our enemies doesn’t save us, but it shows WHO saved us and WHO we follow!

In following Jesus, we are not just heralding an ethereal or abstract teaching but real life nitty-gritty decisions. And one of the grittiest decisions is the choice we have in how we treat our enemies. We have already laid out the foundational teaching of Christ that we are to love our enemies. But does this mean we keep letting ourselves be hurt by our enemies? In other words, when is it time to get away from the pain? The verse that freezes me in my tracks every time is where Jesus responds to the Apostle Peter’s question of how many times one should forgive his brother, which Peter thought 7 times was good enough. (Incidentally, Peter would need to be forgiven 3 times on the night Jesus was arrested because Peter denied knowing Jesus 3 times. We can use up our 7 pretty quickly!) Jesus’ response to Peter in Matthew 18:22, “I do not say to you, up to seven times but up to seventy times seven.” In order to forgive that many times, you have to stick around people and trust them again.

So does this mean we are doormats and should let ourselves be abused? Well, there is a story in Genesis 42 that helps us to understand restoration and how to build trust again with those who have hurt us. Notice, I didn’t say that this story teaches how to build back trust with those we offended. This sermon is about building trust again with those who have hurt you. We may easily punt to those who have hurt us and think that it is their responsibility to build trust with us again. However, one of the amazing and revolutionary ethics Jesus taught us is that we are responsible for restoring those who have sinned against us. The greatest way to get back at your enemy is to make them your friend!  What I hope will happen today is that we will learn how to restore people with all the grace and wisdom that is needed. Let’s read Genesis 42 to find out how a man named Joseph restored his wicked brothers. They were his worst enemies, even though others had acted as an enemy toward him like his boss’ wife who falsely accused him of rape sending him to prison. It’s when family hurts us that we feel the greatest pain. Family is not meant to hurt us, but to love us. Genesis 42 teaches us how to defeat our enemies, even those related to us! Read Genesis 42!

The greatest way to get back at your enemies is to make them your friends! Then they stop hurting you and others! The question is, how do you make your enemies your friends? In other words, how do you help them build back trust with you? The principle from this story and in the Bible is that a person must first be tested before they can be trusted. TEST BEFORE TRUST – TEST SO YOU CAN TRUST! This is what we observe in Joseph’s attempt to restore his brothers. I call them the 3 tests of trust: 1) The test of humility! 2) The test of honesty! And 3) The test of repentance! The story starts with Joseph now as the prime minister of Egypt after a 13 year journey through slavery and prison. In an ironic twist, his brothers have to come down to Egypt to be rescued from their problems when they originally sold Joseph to Egypt to get rid of him as their problem. The brothers now need to buy grain! They appear before Joseph who immediately recognizes them, but they don’t recognize him (Genesis 42:8). Why would they? They thought Joseph was dead. Verse 13 tells us they thought Joseph had died. Their appearance creates an immediate visceral and verbal response in Joseph. Tracking Joseph’s journey, we can observe that a lot of forgiveness and change has occurred in Joseph’s life. He has been humbled. He is less concerned about himself. We even read in Genesis 41:51 that he names his firstborn son Manasseh giving credit to God because Manasseh means “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” Time seems to have covered over the wounds, but then his brother’s appearance acts as a trigger to bring all the pain back.  Has that ever happened to you? You thought you moved on from the pain, but then somebody shows up or says something and a flood of memories comes back. Verse 9 records Joseph’s memories and his accusations, “Joseph remembered the dreams which he had about them, and said to them, ‘You are spies; you have come back to look at the undefended parts of our land.’” Joseph actually makes the same charge of spying three times towards his brothers in this passage if you will check out verses 14 and 16. I don’t believe this was an act of vengeance on Joseph’s part. If it was, he could have easily had his guard kill his brothers immediately or he could have been more vindictive. Derek Kidner suggests, “A vindictive Joseph could have dismayed his starving brothers by putting a feast before them but not letting them eat like they did to him when they ate as he was trapped in a pit as recorded in Genesis 37:24-25. Then he would have had them languish in prison for 13 years playing mind games with them.”[1] Joseph instead wants to “determine whether his brothers have reformed.”[2]

So this brings us to the first test so you can trust others who have hurt you! The first test is humility! Our posture is usually the most telling of what is really going on in our hearts. In verse 10, we see that the brothers’ posture is one of humility. What do they call themselves in verse 10? Servants – “Then they said to him, ‘No, my lord, but your servants have come to buy food.’” The brothers actually use the term “servants” to describe themselves three times (v. 10, 11 & 13), but they backed up the term “servant” by showing humility when they bowed down to Joseph as read in verse 6, “Joseph’s brothers came and bowed down to him with their faces to the ground.” They were humble! It’s always the first test of trust – is this person now humble?

c62i6374Are they like Abbey D’Agostino? She was a runner at the recent Rio Olympic summer games. She had been preparing for her 5000 m race for years. Can you imagine waking up every morning knowing that you have one goal in mind – to compete in the Olympics! It would affect how much sleep you get, what you eat, where you go. Imagine the lonely days running through heat, cold and wet. Finally, the day comes for your race and you start out pretty until a fellow runner from New Zealand Nikki Hamblin accidentally trips you. How frustrating! You get up, but see that Nikki is hurt. If you keep going you may have a chance to still get a decent finish. Instead, you stop and help Nikki up. When you both finish, you embrace![3]  An opponent’s failure becomes the opportunity for grace. Your enemy became your friend! That’s what humility can do!

But some people can fake humility. They can make great overtures of humility and so a second test is needed – the test of honesty. Notice how the brothers respond to Joseph’s charge against them in verse 11 and claim to be honest men, a phrase they also cling to throughout this passage by describing themselves as honest in verses 11, 19, 31 & 33.  There are great ironies in this exchange between Joseph and his brothers. First, Joseph was now the one selling to his brothers when his brothers originally sold him. Second, Joseph charges them with being spies, but as John Walton reminds us, “Hadn’t Joseph’s brothers implied he was a spy for their father when they were taking care of the flocks?”[4] So Joseph employs his fact checkers! He knew the brothers were telling the truth when they disclosed in verse 13, “Your servants are twelve brothers in all, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and behold, the youngest is with our father today and one is no longer alive.” They didn’t have to disclose all those facts, but maybe they were still spies? So Joseph puts them in prison. For how long? 3 days! And how long was Joseph in prison waiting to be freed by the cupbearer? 3 days from the time he interpreted the dream until the cupbearer was restored to his position! Maybe Joseph wanted them to experience a little bit of what he had experienced in prison? We don’t know! What we do know is that Joseph’s specific testing of their honesty was for the brothers to go get his brother Benjamin and bring him back to Egypt. He wanted to see if they cared about his mother Rachel’s other son. Verses 18-20 records Joseph’s requirement starting with a recognition of God, “Do this and live, for I fear God; if you are honest men, let one of your brothers be confined in your prison, but as for the rest of you, go, carry grain for the famine in your households, and bring your youngest brother to me, so your words may be verified, and you will not die.” In order to build back trust in a relationship, humility and honesty are foundational. A renewed sense of them treating people right is required. Test so you can trust! Encourage humility and honesty!

The last test for building back trust is repentance. One can’t force humility, and honesty and especially repentance (as any parent knows), but they can look for it. In our story, Joseph looks for repentance in his brothers. Repentance is the easiest to find. Repentance is putting into action the attitude of humility and honesty. Notice the brothers’ repentance in four simple words in verse 20, “And they did so.” They did what they were asked to do. Their action was followed up by their contrition in verse 21, “Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress has come upon us.” Reuben goes onto say in verse 22, “Did I not tell you, ‘Do not sin against the boy’; and you would not listen? Now comes the reckoning for his blood.” All this being said not knowing that Joseph understood every word! No wonder Joseph ran out of the room and wept. And yet, Joseph took Simeon from them. Why Simeon? Under normal circumstances, Joseph would have taken Reuben as the firstborn, but “now he realizes that his eldest brother had not consented to his sale.”[5] In leaving one brother in prison, Bruce Waltke reminds us, “Joseph was forcing his brothers to face their past.”[6] Joseph even gives them back their money without them knowing it, while filling their bags with grain. He was using the money to draw them back to Egypt. They couldn’t leave another brother behind there. It’s brilliant! But not so much Joseph’s brilliance, but God’s brilliance. You see, God had given Joseph this wisdom. And it was God using Joseph to “bring these brothers to face reality.”[7] The reality was that they were guilty! And they recognize this quickly as verse 28 records their response to finding the money. “And their hearts sank and they turned trembling to one another saying, ‘What is this that God has done to us?’” They don’t think, we got away with another ruse. They are repentant! As John Sailhamer remarks, “God is at work in the schemes of Joseph.”[8] The schemes of Joseph turn out to be tests for his brothers to build up trust with him once again. There are more tests coming since as we all know it takes time to build up trust.

Now, some of you are questioning whether you could test your enemies to trust them and make them your friends again. May I remind you that we don’t have a choice? We not only are commanded by Jesus to love our enemies, but in order to be a follower of Jesus we should want our enemies to be our friends again. This was the motivation of Jesus to go to the Cross and get back at His enemies, including you and me, by making us His friends. That is the ultimate motivation for helping restore trust with those who have hurt you.

But what about when people still break your trust? I suggest to you that the underlying motivation for trusting others is to think about how God has now trusted you. God has entrusted you with His things, His truths and His children, so why shouldn’t we trust others? He knows full well that we are going to mess up and yet, He amazingly still entrusts us with His resources, His message and the people He loves. And now, we have been entrusted with the Faith that we need to pass onto others. This is why the Apostle Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:14, “Guard through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.” God has entrusted us with so much despite knowing that you and I mess up. You see, that is what friends do! And this is why God no longer calls us His enemies but His friends (John 15:15)! 

[1] Derek Kidner, Genesis – An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale OT Commentaries) (Downer’s Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967), 199.

[2] John H. Walton, The NIV Application Commentary on Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 678.

[4] Walton, 678.

[5] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16-50 (Word Biblical Commentary) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 409.

[6] Bruce Waltke, Genesis – A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 548.

[7] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis (Chapters 18-50)NICOT (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1995), 532.

[8] John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 217.

When Are the Times to Give Thanks?

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This weekend we celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving! Many of you probably know the origins of the American Thanksgiving, which was celebrated by the Pilgrims and First Nation people at Plymouth Rock soon after the Pilgrims landed there. Our family visited Plymouth Rock this summer! But did you know that Thanksgiving wasn’t a holiday for a long time? Robert Morgan explains, “Thanksgiving as an annual national holiday was slow in coming. Throughout early American history, some leaders issued Thanksgiving proclamations; some did not. Many were against it for various reasons, and Thanksgiving was an on-again, off-again affair until Sarah Hale got hold of it. Sarah was a young widow with five children to feed so she worked at a millinery shop, which is a shop that sells hats. However, Sarah used her spare moments for writing and in 1823 her first book appeared. She was soon hired as editor of a small magazine; then in 1837, she was named editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, the nation’s foremost women’s magazine (the Cosmo or Chatelaine of its day). Circulation mushroomed.

Godey’s wasn’t a Christian magazine, but Sarah, an Episcopalian, was a devout Christian who injected religious issues into her editorials. In 1846 she launched a crusade to establish Thanksgiving as a holiday. She wrote stirring editorials about it. November issues featured Thanksgiving poetry, stories and turkey recipes. She pelted politicians with personal letters on the subject and by 1859, thirty governors had agreed to a common day of Thanksgiving. Still, no national holiday emerged. As America lurched toward civil war, Sarah tried a new tactic. Disunion, she wrote in 1859, could be averted by Thanksgiving: ‘If every State would join in union Thanksgiving on the 24th of this month, would it not be a renewed pledge of love and loyalty to the Constitution?’

But war erupted in 1861! In 1863 she wrote President Lincoln. The beleaguered president finally agreed and on October 3, 1863 he established Thanksgiving as a national holiday for the last Thursday of November. Even in war, Lincoln said, we can count our blessings: “They are gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, has nevertheless remembered mercy.”[1]

Thanksgiving is a weekend to remember God’s mercy and kindness. Our forefathers in Canada remembered God’s mercy and kindness as well, “According to some historians, the first celebration of Thanksgiving in North America occurred during the 1578 voyage of Martin Frobisher from England, in search of the Northwest Passage. His third voyage, to the Frobisher Bay area of Baffin Island in the present Canadian Territory of Nunavut, set out with the intention of starting a small settlement. His fleet of fifteen ships was outfitted with men, materials, and provisions. However, the loss of one of his ships through contact with ice, along with many of the building materials, was to prevent him from doing so. The expedition was plagued by ice and freak storms, which at times scattered the fleet; on meeting again at their anchorage in Frobisher Bay, “… Mayster Wolfall, a learned man, appointed by her Majesties Counsel to be their minister and preacher, preached a godly sermon, exhorting them especially to be thankful to God for their strange and miraculous deliverance in those so dangerous places …”. They celebrated Communion (like we just did a few minutes ago) and ‘The celebration of divine mystery was the first sign, scale, and confirmation of Christ’s name, death and passion ever known in all these quarters.’ Nearly 400 years later in 1957, the Parliament of Canada made a proclamation stating: ‘A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed – to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October.’”[2]

In both the U.S. and Canada, did you notice that it took one person to lead the charge for people to give thanks and to acknowledge God as the source of blessing. Maybe that will be you in your sphere of influence? You can point people to thank God! Before Mayster Wolfall and before Sarah Hale existed, there was a man named Joseph who brought a whole nation to recognize God. Let’s read about his story and more importantly, how people can move from not knowing God to acknowledging Him in Genesis 41! Read Genesis 41:1-16!

This story is one of the great instances where it seems that God is not doing anything and all of a sudden He comes on the scene and turns the world upside down. God takes Joseph from prison and makes him prime minister. God takes Joseph, lonely and forgotten, and makes him loved and unforgettable. God takes a slave and makes him the savior of a nation. My goal today is to cause us to be so amazed at God that we break out in thanks to Him. That thanks begins when we recognize God. From Genesis 41, we are going to recognize that God’s rescues are perfectly timed. We are to going recognize that God provides through feast and famine. And we are going to recognize that God saves individuals and the whole world at the same time!

Let’s examine how God’s rescues are perfectly timed. Genesis 41:1 emphasizes this truth with the writer pointing back to Genesis 40:23. Genesis 41:1 records, “Now it happened at the end of two full years that Pharaoh had a dream.” What are the two full years? “It had been two years since the baker died,”[3] and two years since the cupbearer had been restored. Those two full years are two forgotten years. Genesis 40:23 ends with, “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.” To give a little background, Joseph had taken care of the cupbearer as his overseer and fellow prisoner. Then the cupbearer had a dream, but couldn’t understand the dream’s meaning. However, God gave Joseph the interpretation of the dream that the cupbearer would be restored to his influential position as Pharaoh’s cupbearer. And yet, the cupbearer forgot about Joseph, which is remarkable. You would think that the cupbearer would remember his fellow prisoner Joseph and how Joseph cared for the cupbearer. You see, in prison it’s not like people really care about how you’re feeling. You don’t wake up in the morning to breakfast an the jailer asks you, so how did you sleep last night? Are you feeling okay? No body cares about how you’re feeling. You’re in prison! You’re supposed to be miserable. But Joseph was different. His administrative diligence was coupled with his compassionate detail, which would serve him well as a future leader of Egypt. Joseph noticed the cupbearer’s and baker’s moods and asked them why they were so downcast? Tell me about it. (Genesis 40:7-9) And so Joseph’s compassion should have stood out in the cupbearer’s mind. Don’t you remember when a person is kind to you in the midst of all the others who ignore or hurt you? But the cupbearer didn’t remember Joseph’s kindness? This is hard to believe especially when this kindness included a vivid dream that befuddled the cupbearer and it was Joseph who interpreted it correctly. Joseph should have been unforgettable.

I think the only way it can be explained is that God allowed him to forget Joseph. Why? We don’t know the full reasons. Maybe God wanted Joseph to take care of other prisoners that we don’t know about? Maybe God wanted to continue to strengthen Joseph’s character by learning more humility, faithfulness and perseverance? Maybe God was preparing Pharaoh’s heart? God is often doing so much under the surface. What we do know is that at the right time, the perfect time, God would rescue all involved – Joseph, Pharaoh, Egypt and as we will read later on in Genesis, Joseph’s family – the family and nation God had chosen to save the world. Recall the original promise to Joseph’s great-grandfather Abraham in Genesis 12:3, “And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” God’s rescues are perfectly timed. Even in the midst of oppression and enslavement, God is working behind the scenes, plotting and preparing for His rescue. How do we know? We know ultimately from Jesus. Galatians 4:3-4 declares, “So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law.” Often the times when we are unduly forgotten, when we are unfairly oppressed and when we are unexplainably waiting, God’s rescues are right around the corner. His rescues are perfectly timed. He comes just in the nick of time, not too soon and not too late! For Joseph, “thirteen bitter years of slavery and imprisonment in a foreign land came to an abrupt and sudden end.”[4] I’m sure Joseph’s response was thankfulness. Our response for God’s perfectly timed rescue should be thankfulness too! Maybe you were rescued from a job loss or economic disaster or the destruction of a relationship? It was so hard but God came through at just the right time as He always does!

Well, not only should we recognize God’s perfectly timed rescues, but we need to recognize that God provides through feast and famine. When Pharaoh has his dreams, and Joseph is finally remembered by the cupbearer, Joseph is brought before Pharaoh. As soon as Joseph is introduced to Pharaoh, he gives credit to God for the interpretation in verse 16, “Joseph then answered Pharaoh saying, ‘It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.’” Joseph hears the dream and then emphasizes again in verses 25, 28 & 32 that “God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do.” Joseph wants to make clear that it is God at the centre of these dreams and their lives. “Both the dream and its interpretation are from God. Joseph is an inspired interpreter, not a magician”[5] as Bruce Waltke reminds us. Pharaoh didn’t need another magician; he needed a message from God. So Joseph explains that the cows and ears of wheat in Pharaoh’s dream represent seven abundant years followed by seven lean years. Joseph also recommends the solution for the feast followed by famine. The message is clear, God has sent the dream, God has sent the deliverer and God has provided for deliverance. The deliverer was God Himself using Joseph. God was going to provide through the feast and famine. And this is still true today. This weekend tends to be a feast time as we have our Thanksgiving meals, but there are many who don’t have either the family because they are gone or the food to celebrate. Maybe we should invite them over for dinner? The bigger question is whether we can recognize and thank God for His provision in the abundance and austerity; in feast and famine; when you have all that you want or none of what you want. When you finally recognize God’s provision, you will be amazed at God!

And the ultimate thing you will be amazed about God is how He can save individuals and the whole world at the same time. You see this passage isn’t about Joseph’s abilities and wisdom. “Whatever success Joseph had, Joseph insists comes from God.”[6] God is working through Joseph. Joseph has even stopped thinking about his predicament. In Genesis 40:14-15, after Joseph prophesies that the cupbearer will be restored, Joseph says, “Only keep me in mind when it goes well with you and please do me a kindness by mentioning me to Pharaoh and get me out of this house. For I was in fact kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing that they should have put me into the dungeon.” Joseph was concerned about himself, which makes sense. But notice that after two more years in prison, when Joseph finally gets his audience with Pharaoh, he doesn’t make an appeal for himself. Joseph is not even vengeful. He doesn’t seek justice against Mrs. Potiphar or the cupbearer. Joseph only talks about God and His actions! Check out God’s actions! Verse 16, “God will give…” Verse 28, “God has shown…” Verse 32, “God determined…” Verse 32, “God will bring about…” Verse 52, “God has made…” God was doing this on a national and global scale for Egypt and the whole ancient Near East, but also in Joseph’s life. We see full restoration. And the restoration starts with Pharaoh recognizing God in verse 39, “So Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Since God has informed you of all this, there is no one as discerning and as wise as you are.’” And God gave Joseph back what he seemingly lost – respect, romance, a robe and even a ride. God gave Joseph respect by elevating him to a position beyond what he had before in Potiphar’s house as verse 41 declares, “Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.’” Joseph received the romance through receiving a wife as verse 45 records when he could have settled for the cheap thrill with his employer’s wife. Joseph received the robe when Pharaoh gave Joseph garments of fine linen in verse 42. And Joseph received back a good ride. The first ride was when he was kidnapped and taken by slavetraders to Egypt. This time verse 43 tells us his ride was a chariot. Victor Hamilton gives this insight, “The first ride was a kidnapped victim; the second ride was an exalted hero.”[7] “Joseph gets a new name, a new job and a new wife.”[8] God is good!

I believe God is still good and He is still giving, showing, determining and bringing about His work of restoration in our lives today! And yet the greatest action of God is that He saves individuals and the world at the same time. It is hard to be focused on one person and also be concerned about a group of people at the same time. Try it this weekend: try having a deep conversation with one of your family members listening to them while you are preparing the turkey dinner. It is impossible for us to fully multi-task, but not for God. God was able to save Joseph and Egypt and the known world all at the same time. Joseph recognizes this truth in the naming of his sons Manasseh and Ephraim. Verse 51 explains that Joseph called his firstborn son Manasseh as recognition that “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” Contrast this with how Joseph was forgotten by the cupbearer in Genesis 40:23. God restores the forgotten. Then Joseph names his second born son Ephraim, which means “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” God doesn’t just restore the forgotten; He makes them fruitful! Joseph has been rescued, provided for during the time of his own personal famine and he has been saved in order to save others as we read in verse 57, “The people of all the earth came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe in all the earth.”

My sermon title today has been “when are the times to give thanks.” We should give thanks to God when He rescues us with perfect timing. We should give thanks when God provides for us during the feast or the famine. We should give thanks for saving us as individuals but also the world. This story produces praise and thanksgiving to God because it ultimately points us to Jesus. God restored Jesus when He lost people’s respect. God restored Jesus when He took a ride on a donkey going into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:1-11) and by the end of the week Jesus had been killed. God restored Jesus when He was stripped of His robe as described in Matthew 27:31, but now He has been clothed in a rightful kingly robe. That is what He is wearing today as read in Revelation 1:13. And God restored Jesus when He didn’t give into temptation (Matthew 4:1-17) and instead has been given His Bride the Church (Ephesians 5:25-27), which includes you and me. Jesus cared about individuals but also the whole world at the same time.

You see, God is working when it doesn’t seem to or when it seems He is against you. Are you amazed at God? How could you demonstrate that thanks to God this week?

[1] Robert J. Morgan, On This Day, “October 3 – One Woman’s Crusade” (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997).

[2] Source: Accessed October 3, 2016.

[3] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis (Chapters 18-50)NICOT (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1995), 486.

[4] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16-50 (Word Biblical Commentary) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 399.

[5] Bruce Waltke, Genesis – A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 532.

[6] Walton, 675.

[7] Hamilton, 506.

[8] Hamilton, 507.


Whom Does God Help?

This sermon can be watched or listened to at!

Turn in your Bibles to the verse, “God helps those who help themselves!” Just look in your concordances in the back of your Bibles for the word “help” and turn to the verse, “God helps those who help themselves!” Have you found it yet? It is going to take you a long time because it isn’t in there. Instead, we find that God helps the troubled as Psalm 46:1 promises, “God is our refuge and strength. A very present help in trouble.” God also helps the brokenhearted as we read in Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” God doesn’t help those who help themselves! These few verses teach us that God doesn’t help those who help themselves, but God helps those who are helpless.

In fact, we are going to find that God helps the faithful, forgetful and forgotten all under the banner that God helps those who help others. God helps those who help others. This is the way that God helps the helpless! Did you know that we will be judged on whether we help others or not? Jesus made it clear in Matthew 25:31-46 that the final judgment is determined by what we do or don’t do for others in need. Listen to what Jesus says starting in verse 34, “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ 41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 44 Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

In fact, we are going to find that God helps the faithful, forgetful and forgotten all under the banner that God helps those who help others. God helps those who help others. This is the way that God helps the helpless! Did you know that we will be judged on whether we help others or not? Jesus made it clear in Matthew 25:31-46 that the final judgment is determined by what we do or don’t do for others in need. Listen to what Jesus says starting in verse 34, “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ 41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 44 Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Now, is Jesus teaching that good works will save you? Will your social activism save you like loving the village of Hespeler? No! Will helping refugees save you? No! Will giving to the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank or serving food at the local shelter assure you a place in heaven? No! Our good works don’t cause our salvation; they just prove it! When we come to saving faith in Christ, good deeds should just naturally (or more accurately, good works should supernaturally through the Holy Spirit) flow from us. We Christians do good without even being aware of it – good is who we are because of Jesus and good is what we do with Jesus! That is why in Jesus’ story, those commended for doing good aren’t even aware that they did good!  They were surprised that King Jesus praised them for their service and they were surprised that He was right there being served! Their service was very difficult to do in helping the poor, imprisoned and sick. But they could do it because they were blessed by the King’s Father! That blessing is in reference to the mercy and grace of God in initiating salvation. Do you recall how I said that God helps the helpless and God helps those who help others? This is the Gospel message – the Good News message that rightly orders good works. We were helpless and God sent Jesus to help us receive salvation that we could not otherwise receive on our own and now it is our job to help others.

The sad part is that in our helping we can miss our own need for help. Jesus is to be our Helper. And if we miss Jesus as our Helper and don’t share that Good News, we won’t end up helping people with their ultimate needs. We will help people a little bit, but we won’t make it home to heaven. It was like what happened to me this week. I offered to take a friend to the airport in Toronto. He drove his car there and I was to drive it back. As he was being dropped off, he just hit “Home” on his GPS. When I got back to Cambridge, I noticed that the GPS told me a different way to his “Home.” I sometimes lose my direction in Hespeler, so I decided to obey the GPS. I finally arrived at St. Mary the Visitation Church. Apparently, my friend decided to put in St. Mary’s as “Home” rather than his real address just in case somebody ever stole his car and used his car’s GPS to find his home. It is a smart thing to do to outwit a thief. I’m just wondering why my friend sent the thief to St. Mary’s. The lesson is that we can help somebody like I did with my friend, but be totally lost getting home to heaven.

Pastor Tim Keller encountered a helper who herself needed help. She was lost! She believed, like many, that her good deeds would make her acceptable to God, but then she heard the radical message that God saves based on the good work of His Son on the Cross and not by our good works. This message seemed scary to her. So Keller responded, “I asked her what was so scary about unmerited free grace? She replied something like this: “If I was saved by my good works — then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with rights. I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if it is really true that I am a sinner saved by sheer grace — at God’s infinite cost — then there’s nothing He cannot ask of me.”[1] I think that woman just verbalized something that we all fear deep down inside. If I come to God knowing He did all the work and I contributed nothing to my salvation except for actually making it harder on Him because of sin, then I have no bargaining chip with God. There is nothing He cannot ask of me. That’s scary!

Which makes everything come down to trust! Do we really trust God? If we do, then we believe He is good and He can ask anything of us because it is ultimately for our good and for His glory. So are we willing to accept, even gladly, His assignments.? But what if God actually puts you in prison to help prisoners? This is the story of Joseph in Genesis 40! Let’s read this passage to not only find out what God may put you through to help others, but more importantly to find out how God helps us in the process. Read Genesis 40!

From this story we discover that God helps the faithful, the forgetful and the forgotten. Joseph had been very faithful. He was faithful to his employer. He was so faithful to his first employer Potiphar as we read in Genesis 39:4 that Potiphar promoted him, “So Joseph found favor in his sight and became his personal servant; and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he owned he put in his charge.” Joseph was faithful to Potiphar even when Potiphar was not faithful to him. You see, Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph. But Joseph was faithful to Potiphar and incidentally to his future wife. Listen up all you singles! Do you realize that you can be faithful to your future spouse by saving yourself for them? Joseph remained faithful to his future wife! But when Joseph did not give into Mrs. Potiphar’s advances, she accused him of raping her. Yet, Joseph remained faithful to God because God was faithful to him! The Lord was with Joseph!

Now, you might be thinking, “Jon, how can you say that God was faithful to Joseph because at the end of Genesis 39 and in Genesis 40, Joseph is in prison?” But recall, I said that God may ask anything of you if you are His helper including being a prison mate to those God is trying to help. Joseph’s two prison mates were a cupbearer and baker. Most likely Joseph and the cupbearer and baker had something in common besides being imprisoned – they were all foreigners. Scholar Gordon Wenham explains, “These officials were often foreigners who became in many cases confidants and favourites of the king and wielded much political influence.”[2] But in this case, they lost their favour and influence with Pharaoh much in the same way Joseph did with Potiphar. Which is a good reminder: we often have to go through the same sufferings others do in order to minister to them.

Back to the story! The baker and cupbearer start having vivid dreams. Well, Joseph knew about dreams. He had had dreams about his family bowing down to him, which he bragged about and caused his first imprisonment when they got jealous and put him in a pit. So God takes Joseph off the night shift of a dream where he received dreams and puts him on the day shift by making him the interpreter of dreams. Joseph recognizes this as God’s hand! Verse 8 is the key verse of the passage when Joseph declares, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” Joseph is in prison for doing what is right, not wrong! And notice, “Joseph does not hesitate to express his faith.”[3] And so God helps the faithful! In this case, God helps Joseph to interpret the dreams of his prison mates.

The first dream described is that of the cupbearer. The cupbearer dreams of a vine with three branches that are budding and then they produce ripe grapes. The oddity is that usually it takes time to go from blossom to fruit, but not in this dream. This probably means as Gordon Wenham explains, “The speed with which each stage is described suggests the imminence of the dream’s fulfillment.”[4] Victor Hamilton remarks, “There is no time in the dream for the grape juice to ferment.”[5] This is why Joseph tells the cupbearer that in three days Pharaoh will lift up the cupbearer’s head conveying that his “head was down and discouraged.”[6] The cupbearer will get back his old job and Pharaoh will no longer be sour towards him.

The baker on the other hand is heading for trouble – literally, his head is heading for trouble! Verse 16 describes his dream involving “three baskets of white bread on his head and in the top basket there were some of all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh and the birds were eating them out of the basket on his head.” The dream characterizes that “though he had all kind of delicacies on his head he amazingly does nothing to protect them. The baker has neither the strength nor the presence of mind to drive them away – an ominous detail.”[7] The baker’s lifework and life are coming to end; symbolized by the birds pecking them away. Joseph then tells the baker in verse 19 that “within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head from you and will hang you on a tree and the birds will eat your flesh off you.” Being an interpreter of dreams is not always fun and its worse for those who are prophesied against.

The amazing part for me in this section of the story is how God helps the forgetful. Verse 23 describes, “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.” It makes me wonder if Pharaoh and God restored the wrong person. Maybe the baker would have remembered Joseph? And yet, God helps the forgetful. Maybe you are forgetful of all the amazing things God has restored to you. Today is a day to remember those things. Maybe God used somebody to help you? Let me suggest you write or call them and thank them for how God used them in your life. It could be a former teacher, Sunday School teacher, a former coach, your first boss who helped you get promoted or a Christian leader. It could be your parents or grandparents. God doesn’t forget good works and I believe this morning, He is reminding you of His help through others. Don’t be like this cupbearer and forget those who have helped you get where you are.

God helps the helpless, those who help others, the faithful, the forgetful and also the forgotten. We already read that Joseph was forgotten. Lord willing, we will study the next part of the story this coming Sunday, but we know from Genesis 41:1 that Joseph was forgotten and languished in prison for another two years. Maybe you have been forgotten, especially by those you have helped? It could be a family member or co-worker or classmate. I want to remind you that God has not forgotten you. Sometimes we are remembered; most times we are forgotten. And if we are remembered, they usually don’t remember all the good that we have done. Think of Good King Wenceslas. He is remembered for looking out his window on the “feast of Stephen, while the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.” (Sing it everybody!) But actually, we aren’t even certain of Wenceslas did. Wenceslas was born in Bohemia in the early 900s in modern Czechoslovakia (where we just sent Christina Mayer as our missionary).  His father, the Czech ruler, Duke Ratislav, gave him a good education supervised by his grandmother Ludmilla. Ludmilla, a devout woman, did a good job. Wenceslas became a king. When his father died, Wenceslas, seeing his mother mishandle affairs of state, stepped in and seized the reins of government. But he took control on his terms. From the beginning, King Wenceslas, was a different sort of king. He sought good relations with surrounding nations, particularly with Germany. He took steps to reform the judicial system, reducing the number of death sentences and the arbitrary power of judges. He reportedly encouraged the building of churches. Most of all, he showed heartfelt concern for the poor of the realm. He cut firewood for orphans and widows often carrying the provisions on his own shoulders through the snow – thus inspiring J.M. Neale’s Christmas Carol. Wenceslas’ brief reign ended suddenly. His brother Bolelav, pagan and rebellious invited him to a banquet, then murdered him the next morning as he left for church.”[8] (I see you all made it here today at church and weren’t offed by your brother.) But historians say much of Wenceslas’ story has been forgotten.




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It is a tragic story just like Joseph and just like Jesus’ story. Wenceslas, Joseph and Jesus all were faithful. They all helped others. They all have been forgotten. But the Good News is that God helps the faithful and forgotten and He helps the forgetful like you and me. God is so amazing! You see, there was another prophecy that happened over a three day period that we need to remember. This prophecy was that Jesus would be hung on a tree like the baker, but He would be restored to the right hand of God as the King like the cupbearer. Jesus is worth trusting no matter what He asks of you. You just have to remember you are helpless and He will help you and then He will help others through you!

[1] Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God (New York: Riverhead Books, 2008), 134.

[2] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16-50 (Word Biblical Commentary) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 381.

[3] Bruce Waltke, Genesis – A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 526.

[4] Wenham, 383.

[5] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis (Chapters 18-50)NICOT (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1995), 479.

[6] Derek Kidner, Genesis – An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale OT Commentaries) (Downer’s Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967), 193.

[7] Waltke, 527.

[8] Robert J. Morgan, On This Day, “September 28 – King Wenceslas” (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997).


Lead Us Not into Temptation

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What is the percentage of the time you give into temptation? Well, you might say, “Jon that depends on what I am being tempted with.” For example, you might be tempted to smoke. I am not tempted at all to smoke. The last cigarette I had (Pause! Just making sure you are listening!) … was when I was 11 years old and went to Mac’s Milk to buy one of those Popeye’s brand candy cigarettes. But for some of you, just even talking about cigarettes or candy makes you want to run out of here for a smoke or something sugary! We all struggle with different things and we also struggle with the same things. Some struggle with alcohol. Others struggle with cursing. Others struggle with compulsive shopping. Others struggle with their sexuality identity. Some struggle with cutting and self-harm. Still others struggle with being overly critical and judgmental. All of us struggle with pride! All of us struggle to avoid gossiping.

I say all this because we wrestle with temptation and we are all in need of help. You see, our God doesn’t give out A’s, B’s, & C’s for tests when you are tempted. It is an all or nothing, pass or fail test in regards to temptation. God expects 100%. We are to be “perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect!” That feels weighty and impossible, but that is what Jesus said in Matthew 5:48! So what are we to do when we are tempted, especially if you might be tempted day after day? I believe that God wants to show us through a story in Genesis 39 how to overcome temptation, but also how to overcome the accompanying loneliness and disillusionment that many of us are facing today. There was a man named Joseph who was abandoned by his family, who faced temptation day after day and then became disillusioned when he was imprisoned for doing the right thing. Let’s read Genesis 39 to find out how to overcome temptation, but more importantly abandonment and disillusionment. Read Genesis 39!

You might think this story is just about overcoming temptation. I don’t think so. I have talked to enough people and lived long enough to know that “sin management”[1] strategies may work some of the time, but not all of the time. Besides, we aren’t just trying to manage sin! As I said before, what does God expect? 100% perfection! And before you think God is harsh, don’t you have the same standards? For those who are married or have a significant other in their life, how would you feel if your partner was 99.9% faithful? But one day after years of commitment, they cheat on you. You expect 100% perfection in faithfulness. Any betrayal, only once, is devastating. And what if a friend is kind towards you day after day and then one day they just punch you in the face? Do you say, that’s alright, you still get an A in our relationship because 97% of the time you have been kind to me? No! We, like God, expect 100% perfection from others, just not ourselves.

This story in Genesis 39 evidences this truth. Joseph was a young slave from the land of Canaan, sold by his jealous brothers to Ishmaelite traders, who also happen to be related to Joseph. And what does Joseph do when he finds himself in a foreign land unduly treated and sold by his brothers. Does he have a pity party even though he had found himself in a pit? No, he decides to serve his slavemaster, his boss! Is that what you and I would do? Check out verse 4, “So Joseph found favour in his sight and became his personal servant; and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he owned he put in his charge.” Wow! The lesson seems that if we will just make lemonade out of lemons and have an “I’ll show you” attitude then we will overcome being abandoned. But is that the lesson? Read the Bible carefully and always in context! Verses 2-3 tells us the answer, “The Lord was with Joseph, so he became a successful man. And he was in the house of his master, the Egyptian. Now his master saw that the Lord was with him and how the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hand.” This is the big lesson from Genesis 39: “God is with you when you are forsaken, tempted and disillusioned.”[2] (Dale Ralph Davis)

Let’s break that down further! God is with you when you are forsaken. Anybody forsaken this week? Joseph was! He was forsaken by his family when he arrogantly shared the dream God gave him. And yet, God was still with Joseph! We see that phrase two times in the passage in verses 3 and 23! It was because God was with Joseph that people noticed his good works, but more importantly his God. Egypt was a difficult place to serve the one and only God – not unlike here. In Canada, it is difficult to be an outspoken Christian. In fact that phrase is misleading. You can’t be a Christian unless you go public with your faith. Jesus warned in Matthew 10:32-33, “Whoever confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” According to Jesus, Secret Christians aren’t Christians! Even when the culture around us just wants us to be quiet! Author Royal Hamel reminds us, “Margaret Atwood, a Canadian literary icon, in her book Bluebeard’s Egg compares people who speak openly about their faith to a ‘flasher.’ She describes a flasher as an old man in a raincoat, with nothing else underneath, who furtively waits for his opportunity and then shocks the person he is conversing with by opening wide his raincoat. Her perception is that religious talk is supposed to be private talk. You don’t just ‘flash it’ openly in front of people you hardly know.”[3] If that is the common perception, then I’m afraid we Christians have lost the ability to be open about our faith without being obnoxious!

This will take huge humility on our part as we serve others. It would appear that despite the fact that God was with Joseph, Joseph needed humbling. God can be with you, when it feels like He is killing you – when you feel forsaken. Jon Bloom puts it this way, “Humbling ourselves often feels like death, but it is really not. It’s holy chemotherapy that kills the cancer of pride.”[4] Did you hear that? “Humbling ourselves often feels like death, but it is really not. It’s holy chemotherapy that kills the cancer of pride.” Chemotherapy kills the cancer cells but it also affects the whole body in the process. It hurts!

The holy chemotherapy that God gave Joseph hurt him, almost killing him. It also seemed to kill the dream of being successful and at the top of his family. You see, God allowed the brother’s jealousy to become unrestrained so that the dream of Joseph’s brothers bowing to Joseph seemed impossible. When Joseph’s brothers had him alone, away from his father, they grabbed him and brought him low. No bowing that day! Instead, they put him into a pit. Maybe some of you are in a pit right now? Maybe it is because you have been betrayed and forsaken. Instead of killing Joseph, the brothers sold Joseph into slavery. Betrayal only works because you have let people close. It’s only the people that you let close enough to you that can blindside you with a punch or to attack your jugular. Have you been betrayed? Maybe from the people who were to believe in you, not betray you? Joseph was betrayed by his brothers. Psalm 105:17-18 captures the image of how Joseph’s brothers went after his neck, God sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. They afflicted his feet with fetters, he himself was laid in irons.” The NIV version says, “His neck was put in irons” and captures the word play. This is really important! Joseph was actually strengthened by carrying the yoke of slavery. He learned that “the way down is up and to be low is to be high.”[5] That’s the way it is in God’s economy. The Puritans called this act of humbling The Valley of Vision.

Joseph’s traverse through his own valley of vision had another pit stop. This time in prison! He landed in prison because he did the right thing, not the wrong thing. God actually was with Joseph when he was tempted! When he was sexually harassed to use our modern-day term. God helped Joseph overcome the obstacle of lust unlike his older brother Judah, which we read about in Genesis 38. Joseph was a really good employee. He was trustworthy and thus trusted by his master Potiphar. Potiphar’s wife on the other hand could not be trusted. “She was enslaved to her lust for her husband’s slave.”[6] She wanted a younger model. What would we call her in our day? A cougar! She was on the prowl for Joseph and waited day after day for Joseph to be alone. She even tries to just get him to lie beside her. But a little bit of compromise will lead to a great fall. You see, “adultery is an offense against both spouse and God.”[7] Let me give you some practical advice for both the young and old: never be alone with a person of the opposite sex to whom you are not related. This is a preemptive safeguard that we all should have in place. Potiphar’s wife made a pass at Joseph and he fled just as we find what is commanded to us later on in the Bible in 2 Timothy 2:22, “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” Fleeing lust is the only course of action when tempted. Brothers and sisters, flee temptation! God is with you!

Joseph fled, but he just wasn’t quite fast enough. Cougars are fast aren’t they? She caught his robe. Robes kept getting Joseph in trouble, going back to the day when his father gave him the multi-colored one that incited jealousy in Joseph’s brothers. Potiphar’s wife used Joseph’s left-behind garment to accuse him of raping her. A false charge!

I think Potiphar knew the character of his wife, but he still had to side with his wife even though “she implies in verse 17 that Potiphar is the problem for bringing Joseph into their house.”[8] You see, “Potiphar is in a difficult position here – he cannot discount his wife’s accusation without publicly humiliating her even if he was certain she was lying.”[9] Maybe you men have been in a predicament when you have had to choose between your wife and what is right? It is a terrible choice. Potiphar chose his wife and sent Joseph to prison. Prison was an act of mercy toward Joseph because normally a slave accused of raping an Egyptian official’s wife would have lost his head. Joseph lost his freedom, but kept his integrity. Why? Because God was with him!

Keeping your integrity might cause you to find yourself alone and disillusioned. Joseph finds himself alone in prison. He doesn’t have a pity party even though he is in another pit. God is with him, which enabled Joseph to serve the authorities over him and because of Joseph’s outstanding work, he is given more responsibility like in Potiphar’s house. Joseph even finds himself interacting with dreams once again, though this time he is not receiving the dreams, but interpreting them for others. He correctly predicts the dreams of Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker. The cupbearer was restored to his position and the baker went the way of all bad chefs – hell’s kitchen! J Now at this point, you would think that the cupbearer would be grateful for his old job back and give Joseph a little credit, but Genesis 40:23 records, “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.” I’m sure Joseph must have been a little disillusioned and wondered why he was in prison when he did the right thing. He was even forgotten by those he helped! You will be forgotten, maybe by people whom you have helped. Are you going to still trust God when others forget you? Will you put yourself back into a place of community where you might get burned and forgotten? Is God with you?

The hard part about this story is the core issue of life – is God with us when we are forsaken, tempted and disillusioned, when it seems like He has been guiding our lives to put us in predicaments of forsakenness, temptation and disillusionment? The last verse of the chapter gives us the answer – “The Lord was with Joseph and whatever he did, the Lord made to prosper.” What if you were in some type of prison and yet God is with you and prospering others through you? Maybe that prison is a difficult marriage? Or maybe you feel stuck in the loneliness of being single? Maybe that prison is a dead end job? Maybe that prison is being at school in classes you hate? Maybe you feel like you are in prison because the place you live has crime and violence surrounding your home? God is with you and He wants to prosper people through you. What if you stopped fighting the “imprisonment” and saw it as an opportunity to prosper others? (PAUSE!)

Dmitri did! “He lived in Communist Russia and was imprisoned for the crime of being a Christian and was the only Christian in a prison of 1500 hardened criminals. For 17 years, every morning at daybreak, Dmitri would stand at attention by his bed. As was his custom, he would face to the east, raise his arms in praise to God, and then he would sing a song from his heart to Jesus. His fellow prisoners hearing the song would laugh, curse and jeer him. Some would try to drown him out with banging their metal cups against the iron bars in angry protest. They threw food and sometimes human waste to try to shut him up.

His guards tried for many years to get him to denounce his faith with a signed confession. Finally, Dmitri said, ‘Bring me the confession tomorrow morning and I will sign it. However, his family, who he thought was dead, sensed through the Holy Spirit that they needed to call a special prayer meeting for Dmitri. It emboldened him that night so that when he woke up, he was resolved not to sign anything. This infuriated his guards and they dragged him from his cell. Before they reached the door leading to the courtyard – before stepping into the place of execution – 1500 hardened criminals stood by their beds. They faced the east and they began to sing a song to Jesus. This caused Dmitri’s jailers instantly to release their hold on his arms and step away from him in terror. One of them demanded to know, ‘Who are you?’ Dmitri straightened his back and stood as tall and as proud as he could. He responded: ‘I am a son of the living God, and Jesus is His name!’ Later on, Dmitri was released and reunited with his family.”[10]

Dmitri in praising God prospered that prison. You see, God is with you when you are forsaken, tempted, and disillusioned and though it may take many years, He will prosper others through your life! Run from temptation and cling to God!

[1] Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998), 35.

[2] Dale Ralph Davis, The Word Became Fresh (Geanies House, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2012).

[3] Royal Hamel, Unmuzzle Your Inner Sheep (Winnipeg: Word Alive Press, 2013), 20-21.

[4] Jon Bloom, “Don’t Let Pride Steal Your Joy” Revive (Volume 46, Number 2, 2015), 16.

[5] Arthur Bennett (ed.), The Valley of Vision (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975), xxiv.

[6] N. Sarna, GenesisJPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 273.

[7] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis (Chapters 18-50)NICOT (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1995), 463.

[8] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16-50 (Word Biblical Commentary) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 376.

[9] John H. Walton, The NIV Application Commentary on Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 673.

[10] Nik Ripken, The Insanity of God (Nashville: B & H Group, 2013), 155-158.


What Should You Do with Your Dreams?

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What should we do with the dreams God gives us? I bet God has given you a dream. You may have dismissed it. You may have forgotten about it. Maybe you didn’t even like it because you had your own dream – a competing dream with God’s dream, but I am guessing God gave you a dream. God gave you a dream. I am not talking about getting a dream from other people. Others, such as parents or your boss, will give you their dreams to chase but what I want you to focus on is the dream God has given you. You need to chase it because in chasing it you will find the Dreamgiver and that is the ultimate reason why God gives you a dream. It isn’t just for self-fulfillment. It is for spiritual fulfillment – to know God and His character; to know that He can be trusted. Bruce Wilkinson says it this way in a prayer, “I am surrendering my dream to you, Dream Giver. I’ve decided that it’s you that I can’t go on without.”[1] This is the whole purpose of dreams.

Now I am not saying that every dream you have is a direct message from God. God-given dreams are rare. Most dreams are caused by what you ate or watched before you went to bed. That slice of sausage, pepperoni, bacon and mushroom pizza can start talking back to you in the middle of the night. That murder mystery on TV planted a seed in your mind for a full-blown nightmare in the middle of your sleep. But on occasion God may give you a dream and you need to be very careful how you interpret it. You see the writer of Hebrews explains how God speaks to us, In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe.” (Hebrews 1:1-2 NIV) God speaks to us through Jesus and Jesus speaks to us through the written Word of God, the Bible, which is why if you have a vision or dream, it must align with what the Bible teaches is God’s way and character.

Today we are going to learn from Genesis 37 about a man who God gave a dream; actually two dreams with the same message. His name is Joseph. He has been popularized in our culture by the 1970s Broadway musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, but our modernized version doesn’t capture the full intent of what God wants to teach us from the original version. Most times, the original version is best. For example, the best Star Wars movie was the first one that came out. For the story of Joseph, it is most impactful in its original form. That original form is found in the book of Genesis. Genesis is the book of beginnings. Maybe you find yourself beginning a new journey? School just started with new teachers, new classmates and new things to learn. You might have a new job or maybe you just retired and you are starting the second half of your life. Maybe you are starting to explore what it means to follow Jesus? Genesis is a good book for all of us. It reminds us that we came from God and still need Him. Genesis starts out by clearly demonstrating that you are no accident. God created you with intention and purpose. He wanted a relationship with us human beings. As demonstrated in how He would walk in the cool of the day with the first human beings Adam and Eve. But then we human beings chose to rebel against God by disobeying the only rule God had – don’t eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This one sin has affected us all to this very day and explains evil, especially 9/11 – a day marked with infamy.

Yet, God kept pursuing humans despite their rejection of Him. We see this in how He pursued Noah and then Abraham followed by Abraham’s son Isaac and grandson Jacob. Now in our story Jacob’s sons take center stage, particularly Jacob’s favourite son Joseph. Joseph was actually the son of Jacob’s favourite wife Rachel. His name means “He will add!” Rachel had died and as Gordon Wenham teaches, “Jacob’s old love for Rachel is now transferred to Joseph, Rachel’s son.”[2] Jacob thought of Joseph as adding, maybe even, making up for his loss of his beloved wife. That often happens when we lose a spouse through death or divorce! We may overcompensate and let our children become the source of all our affection. It is dangerous because our love needs to be first directed toward God, otherwise we will not love them properly. We will expect too much of them!

Now let me go back. Did you catch that I said that Rachel was Jacob’s favourite wife? You see, Jacob actually had four wives! The Bible doesn’t advocate polygamy and instead shows the problem with polygamy and having multiple spouses. It has application for our lives today because many have multiple partners in their lifetime and know first hand the heartache that brings. The Bible is relevant for your life! Let’s just see how much as we read Genesis 37 and find out what we should do with the dreams God has given us. Read Genesis 37!

What should we do with the dreams God has given us? In order to rightly steward these dreams we need to properly order our ambitions, our attitudes and our actions. In other words, what we do with the dreams God has given us will affect our whole being – our minds, our hearts and our bodies. Let’s break it down further! In regard to our ambitions, we need to understand that God-given dreams are to meet needs bigger than ours. That is the first response when God gives us a dream: we need to understand God-given dreams are to meet needs bigger than our own needs. There is a great danger in pursuing a dream, even God-given ones! We can make them all about getting what we want. The goal of the dream can become focused on our own personal fulfillment. It is no different that an NFL wide receiver today catching a pass with three-fingers. It is a spectacular play that makes highlight after highlight reel tonight on all the sports shows. The trouble is that his team still loses. It was a personal triumph, not a team triumph. Joseph just went for the highlight reel, not for the team win; not his family’s win. Notice verses 6-7 where Joseph said to his brothers, “Please listen to this dream which I have had; for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf rose up and also stood erect, and behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.” Joseph focused on the last part of the dream. We see this emphasis through the words “and behold.” Why didn’t Joseph focus on the fact that he and his brothers were harvesting? Wouldn’t that have encouraged them that in the future they would be provided for? It would have encouraged faith and trust in God. You see, this dream was a prophecy that was less about Joseph ruling over his brothers, and more about his rescuing his brothers and family from starvation as we will find later on in Genesis. Joseph missed out on the bigger dream by settling for a smaller one. Are you taking just a portion of God’s dream for you and making it about fulfilling your personal ambitions?

Joseph did! I think this is why he didn’t focus on the fact that his sheaf rose up and also stood erect. What would have happened if Joseph had taken a posture of humility and sought out their opinion as to what they thought it meant rather than adding the part that his brother’s sheaves would bow to him? He had to know that it wouldn’t be received well. His brothers already had issues with him. He was their daddy’s favourite kid. Who here was or is the favourite child in your family? We don’t like you! Quit wearing your favourite kid badge! Joseph wore his favourite kid badge on his coat of many colours. He would gloat and he would then tattle on his brothers. He looked for his siblings’ failings so that he could prop himself up on his brothers’ mountain of mistakes trying to be king of the hill. Verse 2 records, “And Joseph brought back a bad report about his brothers to their father.” Nobody likes a tattler. I have always taught my kids not to tattle on each other because tattling is when you tell others about a wrong to get somebody in trouble. Instead, we should only report a wrong to get somebody out of trouble; to protect them. Joseph, he was a tattler. His words didn’t go down smooth but stuck in their craws. It was like the woman my son Josiah and I met at the hospital a week ago in the fracture clinic. She seemed fine, but told us that she had accidentally swallowed a piece of metal from a BBQ grill brush when having a homemade burger the night before. The metal fibre was scratching her throat and she needed an x-ray. Joseph’s words were like metal fibres in his brother’s throats. And this caused, as verse 4 describes, such a rife that they couldn’t even talk to each other on friendly terms.

But Joseph doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut. He shares a second dream, this time his family as the constellations in the sky bowing down to him in verse 9. This leads us to the second response to God when He gives us a dream. And this response is all about attitude. We need to be humble when God gives us a dream. God-given dreams will be met with opposition so it is best not to share your dreams – keep them between you and God until He wants you to reveal them. You don’t need to show off your prophetic prowess. Let it just be a personal and intimate affirmation from the Lord. That is totally opposite of the advice you get in the world. They want to hear a political candidate’s dreams. In job interviews, potential employers will ask you about your dreams for the future. Students, you may have even been given an assignment to tell what you want to be when you grow up. I think it is wiser to keep dreams secret. As someone has said, “A dream is like a baby, it needs a gestation period. Otherwise we deliver just half-baked dreams.” Here is a key question, “Will you give God time to do His work – for as long as He wants, to change you as deeply as He wants – to prepare you for your big dream?” (Bruce Wilkinson) This will require giving the dream back to God so that is shaped different from what you first thought. Kind of like when you see somebody take a balloon then make animal balloons out of it. I never see the whole animal until the very end. God makes His dreams for you happen in surprising ways. John Walton puts it this way about the story of Joseph, “God is determined to fulfill His covenant blessings despite the character flaws of His chosen family and despite obstacles that occur along the way. He is even able to bring good out of evil.”[3] God is always working to fulfill His dreams for us!

And this leads us to the third response when God gives us a dream. It is about our actions. God-given dreams always require sacrifice to become reality. This is probably more of a reminder than the other two. We know that nobody becomes an Olympic athlete by starting training one week before the Olympics, but we forget when the hard times come, when we fall down and are hurt from the opposition, and when there are delays that God-given dreams always require sacrifice to become reality. Some of those sacrifices are self-inflicted. In Joseph’s case, his pride led to his brothers capturing him and putting him into a dungy pit. “In callous indifference to their brother’s cries in the bare dungeon, they actually enjoy a meal”[4] verse 25 records. Then after eating, they sell him to a caravan of Ishmaelites. The Ishmaelites would have been Joseph’s relatives. His grandfather and their grandfather would have been step-brothers. Yet, the Ishmaelites didn’t rescue Joseph. It is a reminder that sometimes the sacrifice comes in the form of family opposition and obstacles to God’s dreams for you. In fact, it is Judah who wants to sell Joseph, a foreshadowing of when Judah’s descendants, the Jews, would sell Jesus for pieces of silver.

Joseph is taken away into slavery for years. He must have thought as he laboured and even as he spent time in prison falsely accused of rape that the dreams God had once given him were big mistakes. And yet, God was actually fulfilling His dreams for Joseph. Joseph had to go through a trial to get to the throne. Sometimes prison is the only road to becoming a prince. But the throne wasn’t the goal or the ultimate fulfillment of the dream. Recall that the needs were bigger than Joseph’s. You see, as we will discover, Joseph becomes the Prime Minister and through amazing God-given wisdom, he is able to rescue Egypt, and the known world at the time, including his own brothers from a severe famine. They unknowingly bow down to him, fulfilling the dream on the surface but more importantly, fulfilling the covenant promise God had made so long ago in Genesis 15:13 to make Abraham’s family large despite being enslaved for 400 years in Egypt. And even more so, that Abraham’s family would be the family that the whole world would be blessed through. And blessed we are indeed because of Abraham’s family and particularly one son. Not Joseph, as great as he was, but Jesus!

You see all dreams are ultimately fulfilled in Christ. He is the greatest gift to us – God’s dream for us! He lived and died to meet needs bigger than Himself. He faced opposition but remained silent when falsely accused of wrong-doing. And He made the ultimate sacrifice of dying on a cross. He even redeems supper. Remember, when I said that Joseph’s brothers ate while he wasted away in that pit. Well, there is another supper that we now get to eat as Jesus’ brothers and sisters because He was ransomed for us. If you believe in Jesus and recognize that He died for you, then you are welcome to eat with us. We will pray, pass around the bread and then wait for me to read the instructions of Jesus as we want to eat the bread together. We will then pray again, pass around the cup and then after reading Jesus’ words eat the bread altogether. This table is a reminder of God’s dream for us ultimately fulfilled. Because of Jesus, we can now be reconciled to God. We are able to have true fellowship and we can walk and talk with Him again.

[1] Bruce Wilkinson, The Dream Giver (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2003), 47.

[2] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16-50 (Word Biblical Commentary) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 350.

[3] John H. Walton, The NIV Application Commentary on Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 662.

[4] Bruce Waltke, Genesis – A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 498.

How to Get a Fresh Start?

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How do you get a fresh start? Anybody need a fresh start today? Maybe you have been having trouble at work, at school or at home? Maybe people out in the community have been giving you all sorts of grief? Maybe you don’t need to look out the window at the troublemakers but in the mirror? I am always my biggest problem!

Raymond Lull also recognized his need for a fresh start. “He grew up self-indulged on the island of Majorca off the Spanish coast in the Mediterranean. His father was wealthy and powerful, a friend of the king. Lull, sexually indulgent, slept with many women, even following his marriage and the birth of two children. But one day at age 32, while writing some erotic poetry, he was stricken with guilt. He envisioned Christ suffering on the cross. He was converted.”[1] He received a fresh start. “Majorca was controlled by Muslims and gradually the young man felt a desire to reach the Islamic world. After providing for his wife and children, Lull gave away the rest of his possessions. He studied extensively for several years, learning the Arabic language and all he could about both Christianity and Islam. With the king’s help, he established a school on Majorca for the training of missionaries. He met repeatedly with popes and cardinals, trying to persuade them to establish similar schools across Europe for missionary training and language study. He lectured, wrote and preached extensively. Then he began his actual missionary work at age 55, targeting North Africa.”[2] I thought that is a good reminder for Christina Mayer who we are sending to the Czech Republic today as our missionary. Christina, I know you have wanted to be sent out earlier, but it is never too late for a fresh start. Tell others that you meet that God wants them to have a fresh start in life.

Let me finish the story of Raymond Lull. “His work began unsteadily. Having announced his departure for Tunis, Lull was joined by well-wishers at the port at Genoa. But he was suddenly overwhelmed by the terror of possible martyrdom. His belongings were unloaded and the ship sailed without him. He quickly recovered and caught the next ship for Tunis. His fears were valid. He found himself in constant danger, living a fugitive’s life. He was eventually arrested, deported, and stoned. But he couldn’t stay away, and he made repeated forays into North Africa, always at risk of life and limb. Throughout his 70s and into his 80s, Lull was preaching to Muslims. Finally, Lull was seized, dragged out of town, and stoned again. He died shortly afterward. But he advanced Christian missions like no one else in his age and paved the way for everyone since with a burden for the Muslims.”[3] Can you see the impact for God’s kingdom when God gave an adulterer and porn addict a fresh start?

Another person who recognized his need for a fresh start was Jacob in Genesis 35. Jacob at the time was well into his later years. To use a golf analogy, maybe you find yourself on the back nine of life and knee deep in a water hazard? Today, God wants to give you a fresh start. Jacob found out that it wasn’t too late to experience a fresh start. He needed one. He was estranged from his in-laws. His father-in-law was after his money. Jacob had reconciled with his brother, which was a miracle after how Jacob had lied and cheated his brother Esau. Jacob’s two wives were constantly at each other in a game of who could be the top sister. Jacob’s daughter had been sexually assaulted and her brothers took justice into their own hands killing the whole hometown of the perpetrator. And what does Jacob do? He is only concerned about his reputation as Genesis 34:30 records, “Then Jacob said to his sons Simeon and Levi, ‘You have brought trouble on me by making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites, and my men being few in number, they will gather together against me and attack me and I will be destroyed, I and my household.”

Selfish Jacob needed a fresh start. Genesis 35 records that fresh start with steps in a new direction. Those steps became spiritual and physical markers. Picture them like a stairway that has landings. You usually take a few steps and then you get to a landing before taking the next set of steps. Let’s read Genesis 35 to find out how Jacob, the deceiver, received a fresh start. We’ll discover the steps God took Jacob on and will take us on if we want a fresh start in life with Him! Read Genesis 35!

How do you get a fresh start? 1) Go to God! 2) Get rid of distractions! 3) Trust God when the hard times come! The first step is always to go to God! You will not be able to get rid of distraction without God. You won’t survive the hard without God. Go to God now! In our story, God invites Jacob to come to Him. God wanted Jacob away from the town of Shechem, which was so full of sin and disgrace. Verse 1 records, “Then God said to Jacob, ‘Arise, go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” Notice what God says! He is asking Jacob to do three things. These are often the smaller steps that take us to that next landing as we go to God! The first smaller step is that we need to go to the house of God, for that is literally what Bethel means. Bethel was the place where Jacob first met God in Genesis 28. Jacob had a dream where he saw angels ascending and descending to earth. Now, God calls Jacob back up to Bethel – God’s house! And Jacob literally went up to God’s house. “Bethel is 1000 feet above Shechem and this means that Jacob is ascending to God. Bethel was the place where Jacob should have been all along.”[4] Maybe you find yourself in a state of shame? You have your own personal Shechem – the low places of life! Go up to the house of God!

And what are you to do in the house of God? The second smaller step is to worship God! Jacob did this by making an altar to God! He sacrificed to God. What do you need to offer up as a living sacrifice to God? I’ll let you think about that, but let me first of all answer some of you who are resistant to making that sacrifice. You might wonder why you should sacrifice to God? The motivation for sacrifice is grace! This is evident in that third smaller step that God says to Jacob. It was just a reminder. Did you catch the last phrase of verse 1? “God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” God wasn’t just trying to put Jacob’s past sins back in his face when God recalls how Jacob cheated and then fled from his brother Esau. No, He is reminding Jacob who took care of him when Jacob was at his worst. He rescued Jacob when he was on the run with nothing! The really cool part is not that Jacob comes back with wealth, two wives and two girls on the side along with 12 sons and a daughter. The cool part is that Jacob recognized God had answered him “in the day of his distress and had been with him wherever he went.” Gordon Wenham calls this day of his distress as “my time of crisis.”[5] God is with you in your time of crisis! He will carry you through. This is why Jacob recognizes that God had been with him his whole life. He uses the term “El-Bethel.” El-Bethel is significant. That almost seems redundant because it literally means “God – House of God”, but this is radically different. You see, it is more about God than the place for Jacob now! Bruce Waltke explains, “Jacob names the site for God who appeared to Him rather than the place where God appeared to Him.”[6] And this is why the “who” is always more important than the “where” in worship. Our church building is just a centre of worship, but you can worship God wherever and whenever.

So let me summarize the first steps in getting a fresh start. You might be in a big mess and far from God. It isn’t too late! Go to God in His house worshipping Him for His grace.

The next set of steps in getting a fresh start is that we need to get rid of distractions. After going to God, Jacob says in verse 2 to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods which are among you and purify yourself and change your garments.” It was time to get purified and get rid of all distractions. Jacob did this without God even telling Him to! That is one of the key indicators that you have a genuine encounter with God! You feel conviction. You want to stop lying! You stop sleeping with people who are not your spouse! You want to stop looking at porn, cheating on your taxes, and overeating. You even slow down and start obeying the speed limits. Last week, I climbed Mt. Marcy, the highest point in New York State. The last two miles of the hike were brutal for me. I was struggling all alone and I just prayed for God to help me simply put one foot in front of the other. God got me through and impressed upon me that I needed to get in shape and to stop eating like I did when I was young person. I also realized that its not fun being left behind by those who move faster than you! I thought about my family, who I tend to drive to match my own pace. I need to slow down and not rush ahead of my family. That is not good shepherding at home because if you drive sheep too fast, you can kill them. So what distractions do you need to get rid of?

You need to do something similar to what Jacob’s family did. In verse 4 we learn, “So Jacob’s family gave to Jacob all the foreign gods which they had and the rings which were in their ears and Jacob hid them under the oak, which was near Shechem.” We need to get rid of the distractions like Jacob did, but we need to go further. Jacob’s family buried their gods. I say we need to destroy them so they don’t cause others to stumble or leave us a temptation to return to. So this second set of steps could be summarized as getting rid of distractions by burying past pursuits. They need to be out of sight and out of mind. And as we know the only way to overcome a stubborn bad habit is by replacing it with a good habit. It means not getting entangled with people and things that have caused you pain and strife in the past.

We see the benefit of going to God and getting rid of distractions in what happens next with Jacob and his family. Verse 5 records, “As they journeyed, there was a great terror upon the cities which were around them, and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob.” Recall Genesis 34:30 where Jacob’s greatest fear was his reputation rather than whether his children followed God or not. Bruce Waltke explains, “Jacob’s family had been known as peaceful shepherds, but now they are known for violent acts.”[7] And yet, literally the terror of God fell upon their enemies. When you go to God and get rid of distractions, it will terrify your Enemy, the kingdom of darkness. Let’s get Satan quaking in his boots by going to God!

The last set of steps in getting a fresh start is to trust God when the hard times come. Notice I used the word “when” not “if.” Hard times are guaranteed to come. Jesus even promised this in John 16:33, “In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” So in a sense, every trial and difficulty is a series of opportunities for fresh starts and encounters with God. In Jacob’s case, the difficulties are all laced with death. First, the death of Rebekah’s nurse Deborah, as mentioned in verse 8. This nurse probably took care of Jacob. We should remember that “Jacob not only did not get to see his mother, but he is forced to become undertaker for his late mother’s nurse. Thus, one of Jacob’s first experiences after coming back home is confronting death.”[8] Maybe you have come home only to face death? Deborah’s impact in Jacob’s life was significant. We know she made an impact because the family created a ceremony of her death by making another marker under the oak and called it in Hebrew Allon-bacuth, which means the “oak of weeping.”

Nevertheless, God can turn our weeping into dancing. After this time of mourning, God shows up in verse 9. He gives Jacob a new name. He was no longer to be called deceiver, but one who struggles with God. And then God reinforces the great creation mandate of being fruitful and multiplying in verse 10, promising that nations and kings would be his descendants and the land of Canaan would belong to those descendants. Jacob repeats the first step of his fresh start with God by going to God in His house and worshipping Him for His grace. Verse 14 records the drink offering Jacob gives to God with another spiritual marker by setting up a stone. In verse 15, Jacob calls the place Bethel.

And then something surprising happens. Jacob in his old age, obeys God, is fruitful and multiplies by having a twelfth son. But tragedy strikes! Rachel, Jacob’s favourite wife, dies in childbirth. Huge questions arise! What if after going to God in His house and worshipping Him for His grace, God takes away the one whom you love? Is God still loving? It feels like He is bringing you to a dead stop rather than a fresh start! What if after receiving God’s blessing your family falls apart? For we will see after this in verse 22, Reuben sleeps with Jacob’s quasi-wife Bilhah. Then there is great jealousy in the family over Rachel’s other son Joseph. And to top it off, Jacob has to join his brother Esau in burying their father Isaac as verse 29 records.

It is all tragic! Some of you might be saying, why would I even begin a fresh start with God when in the end I might lose all that is dear to me? And yet, that is not how Jacob responded. When his last son was born, Rachel lay dying and wanting to call him “son of my sorrow,”[9] Jacob instead says that he is “the son of my right hand.” The son of my strength!

Does this not remind us of another son? Some called him “the man of sorrows” but in that sorrow, God showed Himself to be strong. You see, this points us to Jesus! On the backside of losing everything is gaining everything. Fresh starts are no guarantees of easy times. Fresh starts can be the starter’s gun for more suffering, but at the end of the gruelling marathon one gains a new insight into our God and Saviour. We must trust God when the hard times come and we lose what has been most important to us! God Himself experienced this when He gave us the ultimate fresh start of sending His Son Jesus and losing Him to death. But there is resurrection. The ultimate proof of how He loves us! And oh, how He loves us! God wants to give you a fresh start today!

[1] Robert J. Morgan, On This Day, “June 30 – Eroticism to Evangelism” (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Bruce Waltke, Genesis – A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 471-472.

[5] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16-50 (Word Biblical Commentary) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 324.

[6] Waltke, 470.

[7] Waltke, 472.

[8] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis (Chapters 18-50)NICOT (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1995), 378.

[9] Derek Kidner, Genesis – An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale OT Commentaries) (Downer’s Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967), 167.

How Do You Leave Your Family Well?

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How do you leave your family well? When I was a youth pastor, I recall not a few parents coming to me when it was about time to send their kid off to college or university and telling me how they were having a lot of trouble with their teenager. They seemed to be extra-mean and difficult to live with – the teens that is. I told them that I didn’t think it was just their child fighting for independence, but the fact that fighting with your parents makes the parting a little less difficult. You business people might experience this also just before a trip. You have a few fights with your spouse and or kids. There’s usually some sort of tension before we part from those we live and work with. Teachers know this as kids get often dust-ups with each other and misbehave the last week of school. It happens at home too. We often don’t leave our family well whether we’re going off to work or school or for a longer time. I believe this message should help you parents as you send your kids off to school soon. It might also help you students heading off to school to recognize how you are feeling and to talk about it. More importantly, all of you should ask the Holy Spirit to fill you so you don’t burn any bridges before leaving your family for a day or a decade.

Now, some of you might be thinking that you don’t want to leave your family. That’s probably good! In fact, maybe you won’t even have to leave them geographically, but there will be a day when you are parted by death and what you do now will avoid regret when you are separated from your loved ones. Or maybe God will call you to an assignment that requires you moving away. So my question is, how do you leave your family well?

But there’s another side to this, maybe your home is so oppressive. Maybe you have been abused or at least taken advantage of? Now if you are being physically abused, you need to tell the authorities and get away from the situation. But if you have been hurt by your family members, I encourage you to forgive them and love them when they are unlovable. We see this is what Jacob did with his father-in-law Laban. Jacob stayed with Laban until God told Jacob to go home. Let’s read the whole story in Genesis 31! Read Genesis 31!

Tonight we are going to learn how we can leave our family well! I want to start by identifying the three obstacles that usually block us from leaving our family and then talk about how to overcome these obstacles. In fact, these obstacles can become stumbling blocks to us. The first obstacle to leaving your family is their provisions. Think about their home and the nice bed and good food that is yours for the taking. That is hard to leave! The first obstacle that many have a hard time leaving is their family’s provisions. In fact, some after leaving home are like the younger son in Luke 15:17 who after realizing how hard it was to make a go of it on his own said, “How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger.” Many twenty-somethings have come to their senses and said that living at home with mom and dad sure was good and their Boomer parents have gladly welcomed their now bearded babies home.

In a sense, what we do when we have children live at home well into their adult years is that we impoverish them. We make them dependent upon us! I believe this is what Laban did to his daughters Leah and Rachel and their husband Jacob. And it caused resentment on all parties, which it normally does. Genesis 31:2 summarizes, “Jacob saw the attitude of Laban, and behold, it was not friendly toward him as formerly.” Laban’s sons, Jacob’s brother-in-laws, felt like Jacob was succeeding at their expense and this threatened their present and future financial well-being. Notice that Laban’s sons were jealous of Jacob, when they should have aimed their complaint at their father Laban. Laban wouldn’t let Jacob go! He was benefiting too much from Jacob staying. Yet, “Laban treated Jacob more like a slave than a nephew or son-in-law or even a valued employee.”[1] We call that co-dependency! Co-dependency is a psychological term. It is seen often today when a parent continues to treat their grown-up child like a child in order to exhibit control and the child assumes that role to get the benefits of living under their parents’ roof. This is opposed to the child chasing after what their Heavenly Father wants them to do, rather than what their earthly parents want them to do. Such pursuits create a prolonged and unnecessary poverty in the next generation. Yes, you heard me right – it creates poverty! This is a new thought to me as well that I learned recently from Bryant Myers in his book Walking with the Poor. He reminds us that there is rich and poor even in our immediate families, “In the household unit, there is usually a dominant man who is not poor in comparison to the rest of the household.”[2]

My family is poor compared to me. If you were to look at my children’s bank accounts or piggy banks, they wouldn’t last long out on their own. Sometimes in my proud moments I remind them of what I own. For example, at Dairy Queen this past Tuesday, I just scooped up a spoonful of marshmallow sundae from my son Josiah without asking. He said, “That’s mine!” I responded, “Who paid for it?” which silenced him immediately. I used my possession and power to dominate my son. Now, stealing a bite (and stealing is what I did because after I had given him the sundae it was no longer mine) might not be a big deal, but if I were to do that frequently and on a larger scale I would have abused my position as his father. You see, a father is given the strength and ability by God to provide for his family. He is to be generous and give good gifts to his children, not hoard them or make his children beholden to him. If you think about it, families are an amazing design of our Creator God! The nurture and provision they afford us is amazing.

And this is what makes Laban’s actions so appalling. His daughters lost all respect for him! Check out Genesis 31:14-16, “Rachel and Leah said to Jacob, ‘Do we still have any portion or inheritance in our father’s house? Are we now reckoned by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and has also entirely consumed our purchase price. Surely all the wealth which God has taken away from our father belongs to us and our children; now then do whatever God has said to you.” Rachel and Leah, sisters who treated each other more like enemies, found a common enemy in their father! Laban made his daughters hate him! That is hard to do! I know my daughter Jessie loves me despite me making the most mistakes with her as our firstborn child. Laban started off by giving both of his daughters to Jacob through deception and deception became the family’s moniker. This initial deception caused Leah never to be loved by Jacob and Rachel to be jealous of the children that Jacob and Leah had together. And Laban continued this deception by taking the bride’s price, which by custom was to be held in trust for his daughters in case of widowhood or abandonment. In our story, all the money that Jacob was making working for his father-in-law to pay off the bride’s price should not have gone into Laban’s coffers but essentially a savings account. Laban exploited his daughters.

Sadly there are many daughters around the world impoverished by their parents. I still have a hard time grasping what I saw when I visited Kolkata, India! How men would pimp their wives and daughters as prostitutes – some 12 years old for 50 cents an act. The exploitation of women is a huge problem in the world. “Women perform two-thirds of the world’s work though make up nearly two-thirds of those in poverty. Women earn one-tenth of the world’s income, are two-thirds of the world’s illiterate and own less than one-hundredth of the world’s property.”[3] It is not the feminist who will save these women. Feminism is Satan taking the church’s effort to elevate women and cutting Christ out of the equation. For it was in Christ that this revolutionary statement was made in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Notice that people’s station in life, their ethnicity and their gender do not change, but their status and identity in Christ do – they are equal in Christ! Do not believe the lie that the church suppresses women. The leaders of the suffrage movement to give women the right to vote were mostly Christians. It has been the church that has helped and empowered women more than any other group in the history of the world. And properly taught from the Bible that empowerment allows a woman to use her unique gifts without undermining the leadership and gifts of men!

This may seem like a tangent but the dependency upon your family’s provisions is often holding us back from doing what God wants! So how do you overcome the obstacle of your family’s provisions and leave well? You take only what belongs to you! Even though Laban had changed Jacob’s wages 10 times, which shows a lot of patience on Jacob’s part (with no Labour Board to come to his rescue), Jacob takes only what belongs to him. Genesis 31:17-18 records, “Then Jacob arose and put his children and his wives upon camels; and he drove away all his livestock which he had gathered in Paddan-aram, to go to the land of Canaan to his father Isaac.” Jacob took only what belonged to him. Often it is better to leave money that is owed you by your family and just consider it a gift. Children, when you go off on your own, especially when you get married, cut the financial strings. Parents you cut them off as well and do not co-sign loans as Proverbs 17:18 warns, “A man lacking in sense pledges and becomes guarantor in the presence of his neighbor.”

Sadly, though Jacob overcomes the obstacle of being dependent upon his family’s provisions, his wife Rachel does not. She takes what doesn’t belong to her – her fathers’ household idols as we read in verse 19. This is the second obstacle that we must overcome to leave our family well. We must leave our family’s idols. Those idols take various forms. They could be literal idols if our family is from another religion or they could be an idol of money, leisure, sports, pleasure or entertainment. Remember, an idol is anything we try to use to replace God’s comfort, security and satisfaction. Rachel might have clinged to her father’s gods for various reasons. One scholar remarks, “Rachel is probably not yet completely free of her polytheistic background and beliefs.”[4] However, I tend to think Rachel used the gods as economic leverage against her father. Possession of the family idols meant either a right to the inheritance or possibly a ransom or even vindication. We don’t know for sure, but we can join with the ancient Israelite readers in answering this question, “Can one steal gods? The ancient reader would not miss the sarcasm in this story of ‘godnapping.’[5] Any god that you can steal isn’t worth following or chasing after! Obviously, Rachel didn’t think much of them as when her father questioned her later on, she uses “the gods as the equivalent to a sanitary napkin.”[6]

So how do you overcome your family’s gods? Believe in something better! Trust in God’s promises! This is what Jacob did! Genesis 31:3 records God’s promises, “Then the LORD said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives and I will be with you.’” Did you catch that last part? “I WILL BE WITH YOU!” SAYS THE LORD! The Lord will be with you. When I left my family at age 19 to live in the big and dark city of Chicago, I took this promise seriously and God has always come through. He has been with me! Jacob believed this promise too! He tells his wives in verse 5, “the God of my father has been with me” and then in verse 7, “God did not allow him (Laban) to hurt me,” as well as in verse 9, “God has taken away your father’s livestock.” Jacob has gained perspective. He discovers as David Nicolas says, “God’s promises are like the stars; the darker the night, the brighter they shine.” Jacob sees the deception of his uncle and realizes it won’t ultimately hurt him because God has had a purpose in it. He reminds his wives in verse 13 that God appeared to him at Bethel and has been taking care of Jacob ever since. Incidentally, God reminds Jacob of the vow Jacob made to Him. God remembers our promises even when we don’t remember His! And it seems that Rachel and Leah have now adopted Jacob’s God as their own as verse 16 reveals. There is a tremendous ripple effect when we overcome our family’s idols and trust in God’s promises. You can start a whole new family history by trusting in God’s promises today.

So how do we leave our family well? We overcome the obstacle of their possessions by taking only what belongs to us. And we overcome the obstacle of their idols by trusting in God’s promises. And there is a third obstacle to leaving our family well – their blessing. This might be the toughest obstacle. We desperately want to hear our parent’s approval and vision of a great future. Some of us have never overcome this obstacle. You may have moved out of the house, but you are still wanting your parents to put their arms around you, tell you how proud they are of you and that they believe you will continue to bless this world with your gifts and efforts. Jacob and his wives overcame that obstacle by leaving in peace. We leave our family well and overcome the obstacle of a withheld blessing by leaving in peace. Jacob had learned that hard way after stealing his older brother’s blessing and not leaving in peace.

Now many years later, we see Jacob leaving his father-in-law in peace. Nevertheless, the “150 year old Laban”[7] wanted more. He caught up with Jacob’s family caravan and couldn’t find his idols, so he continues to try to hold onto his daughters and grandchildren. He doesn’t release them or give his blessing. Check out verse 43, “Then Laban replied to Jacob, ‘The daughters are my daughters, and the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day to these my daughters or to their children whom they have borne?” Notice that Laban still considers them his! He ironically warns Jacob later on to not mistreat his daughters when Laban has been mistreating them for years! And yet, it is Jacob that makes the first move as verse 44 describes, “So now come, let us make a covenant, you and I, and let it be a witness between you and me.” Verses 51-52 go on to explain that this was an armistice treaty. There would no harm or war between them! Jacob pursued peace!

And here is the really cool part. It is Laban, not Jacob, who invokes God’s name. Verse 53 records Laban’s words, “’The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.’ So Jacob swore by the fear of his father Isaac.” Essentially, “Laban invokes God’s name and calls Him to be a sentry and watchman of this covenant.”[8] Now I am not saying that Laban was ready to be a deacon in First Baptist Church of Paddan-aram, but God was changing his heart. In fact, it started before that. “Even Laban’s change of attitude toward Jacob and the jealousy of his sons are seen as part of the plan of God.”[9] And so an encouragement to some of you might be that even the dust-ups with your family when you leave them to follow God can be used by God to bring your family to God.

Leaving your family may be the push for them to become part of God’s forever family! We Christians are different than other religions. We stick with our family when we come to Christ. 1 Corinthians 7:24 makes that especially clear when it comes to marriage, “Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called.” Other religions reject people when they turn to Christ. However, there may come a time when you have to leave your family geographically to obey God. Please continue to keep those bridges open to them emotionally and relationally. Love them with the peace of Christ and watch and pray when they find the peace of Christ for themselves!         Q & A

[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16-50 (Word Biblical Commentary) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 283.

[2] Bryant Myers, Walking with the Poor (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2015), 112.

[3] Source: Accessed August 2, 2016.

[4] Bruce Waltke, Genesis – A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 427.

[5] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis (Chapters 18-50)NICOT (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1995), 292.

[6] Waltke, 430.

[7] John Walton, The NIV Application Commentary on Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 591.

[8] Hamilton, 315.

[9] John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 196.