Tag Archives: Genesis

The Snake Still Slithers

While America watched the horrors at our United States Capitol building on January 6, 2021, hurting and crying over the awful scenes unfolding on our screens, tumultuous laughter could be heard from one who some of us deny even exists. One elected representative evacuated that day even described his experience with unusual words for a politician: “it was like looking at evil.”  If you don’t believe Satan is alive and well, believe it now. He is the prince of this world, and what a chance God took when he set that snake on the loose! He has already been defeated; Jesus took care of that on the cross. He has no power now, except the power we decide to give him. When Jesus cried from the cross, “It is finished,” did you think he meant his life? But Jesus was raised from the dead and sits at the right hand of the Father.

So what did Jesus mean? What was finished? Satan’s power. Jesus meant, “He lost. We won!” But Satan failed to get the memo; he moves ruthlessly through his days, a wimp of who he used to be, trying in vain to continue his deception. As far as our lives are concerned, he is only as successful as we allow. His mission is to wreak havoc any way he can. He does not care who is embarrassed, hurt, mistreated, or slandered as he sets about to fulfill his purposes on this earth: turning every last one of us away from God’s glorious kingdom of light and pulling us into the destruction and darkness he loves.

Someone has said, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.” I bought into that when I was younger. I thought he was simply a wind of evil that floats among us all, influencing bad things to happen. A good friend of mine echoes my thoughts during those days. “I thought Satan wasn’t actually real – until I met him face to face during my divorce.”

Yes, Satan is real. He is alive and well, and if we know this, we need to get ourselves into God’s Word, where we can not only see him described, but  also recognize that he is a has-been. You and I have to stand against his spirit of self-destruction. Biblical teaching reminds us that, “Greater is He [Jesus] that is in you, than he [Satan] that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)

Satan is clearly our enemy, our adversary. He was dancing while the Capitol was being damaged, lives taken, injuries and trauma inflicted. “Be watchful. Your adversary, the Devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) Look at some of the horrific acts he has handled. You will not understand this unless you have made a decision that Satan is our real enemy. We can all point to names of those we consider to be the real problem, and we might be right, but look beyond those names and watch how Satan instigates every act of darkness. And remember that he is always a liar.

“Now the serpent was craftier that any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?”’” (Genesis 3:1)

When Eve ate the fruit and offered some to Adam, they both willfully chose to listen to the liar instead of their Creator. Before that moment, they were happy. But on taking a bite, they lost the innocence with which they were born. Quickly, they made clothes of leaves to cover up. 

As glass was shattering, doors were smashing and anger was exploding at our Capitol building, Satan was propped contentedly on a tree near the Capitol, slithering from limb to limb and laughing hysterically as one by one, scuffling people broke doors and windows, feeling they had the right to do whatever they wanted. “It’s our building,” some chanted, excusing themselves from the mayhem they caused.

And the snake slithered on.

Of course, Satan had long been after America. I am appalled at the divisions in our country. I can’t imagine how I would feel if one I loved had been mistreated or killed on our streets. In fact, for a while, the only redeemable picture from the brutalization of our Capitol was the realization that for a short period, members of both parties were on the same side, binding together, helping each other escape to safety, fearing for themselves and each other – and praying. If we could have gotten into the hearts of our elected officials, we would have heard many prayers being spoken silently. 

The night of January sixth, Inside Edition anchor Debra Norville ended the evening with, “God bless America.” The message is not a subtle one. America needs to return to the God we ask to bless us.

Had we been able to actually see a real snake crawling on a tree near the Capitol, we would have noticed one very real, very telling detail. The snake’s head is bashed in. He slithers with a wound. He circles with a crooked head, smashed at the victory over death by our strong Warrior, Jesus Christ. God’s words to Satan after the fall in the garden are telling. “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:16)

Yes, the snake still slithers. But he is defeated. When he starts attacking you, repeat the name of Jesus, for, “At the name of Jesus, Satan has to flee.” (James 4:7) God is the ruler yet! Live in these uncertain days in the clear and certain authority of your Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Featured image courtesy David Clode on Unsplash.

grapes hang from branches in a vineyard

Fruitfulness through Faithfulness

I have found Psalm 1 to be a guiding principle in my life and ministry; it speaks to my theology and character as a pastor. In Psalm 1, we learn that God wants to bless us and to make us fruitful, but it is up to us to make choices that will lead us to God’s blessings. By choosing the ways of God and by living according to God’s wisdom and teaching, we bear fruit – blessings that give us joy, peace, and fulfillment even despite bad seasons in our lives. In Psalm 1, we learn that “delighting” in God is about staying in love with God, which leads us fruitfulness. Another lesson for us is how faithfulness leads us to fruitfulness as well.

For this, there is a story in the Hebrew Scriptures about a person who went through plenty of trials, dealing with many obstacles and enemies. Yet, over time, he overcame all of them and experienced abundant fruitfulness – because of his faithfulness to God. This is the story of Joseph, one of the most known characters in the Bible. Many movies have been made about him; even if you have never read the Bible, you probably still have heard about him as “Joseph the Dreamer.”

Who was this Joseph? Joseph was the eleventh of twelve sons born from Jacob. His story is told in Genesis 37-50. Joseph’s life was immensely fruitful. He lived in Egypt where Pharaoh, “made him master of his household, ruler over all he possessed, to instruct his princes as he pleased and teach his elders wisdom” (Psalm 105:21–22). And because of his faithfulness, his people became very prosperous.

But that is the second part of Joseph’s story. The first part is a dark one.

In the early days, it did not seem like his life would amount to anything. When he was a young man, he was sold as a slave by his brothers out of jealousy, and they lied to their father, telling him a wild beast had killed him. As a slave, Joseph was taken to Egypt, where he was sold to an army officer. There, the army officer’s wife who owned him tried to seduce him, and when he refused, she accused him of attempted rape.  That led him to prison. He suffered great injustice. 

While he was in prison, he befriended the Pharaoh’s butler by interpreting a bothersome dream. In return, the butler promised to put in a good word for him with the Pharaoh. But as soon as the butler was out of prison, he forgot all about his promise. For two long years, the butler failed to keep his promise, while Joseph remained in prison. 

As you can see, Joseph went through betrayal, slavery, temptation, imprisonment, and plenty of injustice and suffering. Yet in all this, he remained faithful. He never lost his trust in God in a lifetime filled with extraordinary trials, obstacles, and enemies (Genesis 45:5–8; 50:20).

And that is why we have the second part of this story. After all these dark times, he became the second most powerful man in Egypt, only after Pharoah. In short, against all odds and many trials, Joseph’s faith, character, and wisdom promoted him to the highest place in all Egypt, where God used him to be a blessing to many.

How is that for fruitfulness?

This is an amazing, powerful, and inspiring story, and I believe we can relate to it in many ways. I am certain that each one of you has had moments when things went sideways, and you wondered where God was. I am certain that sometimes those sour seasons have lasted longer than you wanted them to. I am certain that at some point, you were also tempted not to care anymore. Yet, I am also certain that you have made it through each one of those chapters of your life.

How do I know that? Because you are still here: stronger, wiser, and more determined to do what God wants you to do. But we need to be reminded of this hope now and then – the hope that we are God’s people, that God is with us, and that God wants to bless us and help us overcome our challenges.

This is true for us as a church and as people, as individuals. I know it is true for me. I have been there, facing all kinds of challenges but also experiencing victory over them.

Do you know who also has a story like Joseph’s? Someone my church members know, Mr. Zach Batiste. I met Mr. Batiste last week and visited with him. Let me tell you, he can talk, and he is a blessing, a dear man who loves God and has endured and overcome so much. Mr. Batiste is a blessing because he is faithful. In many ways, his is a story of faithfulness like Joseph’s, because he has endured and loved God against many odds.

My friends, I have seen how faithfulness leads us to contentment, peace, and fruitfulness. I know it to be a true and tangible promise: fruitfulness comes from faithfulness to God. That is the miracle in Joseph’s story; despite all the trials, he was miraculously fruitful and successful because he remained faithful—even when no one was watching and when he had every reason and excuse not to care anymore, to give up.

Now, let me ask you: how many times have you been in that spot? “I can’t do it.” “It is too much.” “This isn’t fair.” “No one cares.” “No one wants me.” You know what I am talking about. Life has highs and lows, and sometimes we struggle to get through it.

But today, I want to encourage you to believe and not give up, to trust that you can overcome everything with God. Stories like Joseph and Mr. Batiste are here to remind us that we can. Even when everything may seem against us, we will overcome because God wants for us far beyond anything we can imagine.

With this in mind, here comes the invitation and challenge: we must remain faithful to see this through.

Consider this. In John 15, Jesus gave one of his last teachings to his disciples before being arrested, tried, and crucified. He told them, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Here, Jesus taught them (and us) that fruitfulness is directly linked to our relationship and union with him. It is out of the fruit of relational intimacy with Christ that other vital aspects of fruitfulness in discipleship flows. He explained this by using the analogy of the vine; he is the true sprouting vine, and only by abiding in him we can have life and be fruitful.

One of the keys here is the word “abiding.” To me, that word sounds a lot like faithfulness. Abiding, or being faithful, translates as our commitment to God to keep and practice the teachings and ways of Jesus, whether we have an audience or not, regardless of our situation or circumstance.

This is where it can get challenging for us: being faithful encompasses diligence, diligence in faithfully keeping and carrying out those things God has called us to do through Jesus Christ. This part is critical to everything I have said, because this fruitfulness consists of Christlike character and conduct. Your blessings more likely will not come as a result of a supernatural event but as a consequence of your actions and choices.

For example, if you are honest as Jesus is honest, you may be entrusted with more responsibilities. If you are compassionate as Jesus is compassionate, you may develop loving and lasting relationships with others. If people see the way we love and care for each other as a church, they are going to come. Being faithful is not a contemplative act but a proactive attitude: determination and discernment to do what is right, what is kind, and what is loving.

To finish, I want to tell you this: you are not done yet. No matter how old you are or what has happened in your life, you are here, there is life, there is a purpose for you, and there is still a lot of fruit to bear. You are not done yet. Joseph did not give up when he was betrayed and imprisoned unjustly. Mr. Batiste did not give up when many things did not go as he would have wanted them to. With this in mind, I invite you today once again: don’t give up, keep on doing the right thing. Don’t get tired of practicing kindness.

Be diligent in being faithful, and let God make you and our church fruitful.

Edgar Bazan ~ God’s Creativity in Crafting Goodness

I am always in awe of creation. The other day I was contemplating the majesty and beauty of a full moon, and I thought, “God is a great artist!” It takes just a moment to notice the beauty of everything around us crafted out of God’s goodness: the sky, the flowers, the vast oceans, and every living creature, whether it walks, swims, flies, or crawls. What an amazing creation we get to be a part of.

It reminds me of Psalm 19:1: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his masterwork.” The Psalmist is saying that creation is a masterpiece that speaks to us about God and reminds us of his power, goodness, and goodwill towards the whole of it. God is not just the greatest artist, but God perfectly loves everything he has created. And creation shows this: no sloppiness here.

But God’s greatest work is not the moon or the flowers, nor anything else. God’s greatest achievement is you; it is me. All people everywhere, whatever their race, skin color, or language were all created with the same power, love, and care. In other words, we all measure the same amount of the glory of God in our lives.

The apostle Paul also writes of this in Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (NLT) Here again, we see the same word, “masterwork” or “masterpiece,” which could be translated, “we are his work of art.” If God were a musician, we would be his best song; if God were a painter, we would be his best painting. No one bears the glory of God as much as we do, not the sun, not the sum of all the stars. We were created to be God’s perfect expression of love, power, and goodness.

Now honestly, when I look at my life, I have a hard time seeing all of this greatness. Does this happen to you? Have you ever felt like a piece of work instead of a masterpiece? Maybe you have a very negative view of yourself. To you, you are just average. Or worse, you think you are something to hide way back in the closet. You may look at what you have done, what you have said, and think: I am not enough; I am not even good.

And you are right, that is true for everyone else too. Although God created us to be his supreme masterpiece, we lost it. But here is the thing, none of us were made to become broken and marred, we were originally crafted for perfect goodness. All of us were crafted to show God’s creative talent in everything we do and say.

So if God truly created us for perfect goodness, what happened? The explanation is actually found at the beginning of the first book in the Bible, Genesis. In Genesis, we find the story of how God created everything, including us. The story of the creation of humanity tells us that God created us good and complete, but shortly after being given life and power to look after the rest of the creation alongside God, we decided we knew better and went along our own way (Gen. 3). As we did, we stopped listening to God, and we also stopped acting as God does. Then we just completely forgot our true value and purpose and could no longer see the goodness of God in ourselves and in others. As we forgot whom we were created to be, we began to act in ways that tarnished the image and glory of God in us, and we started to act in hostile, detrimental, and abusive ways against each other.

For example, the first act of violence, as recorded in the Bible, was between two brothers, Cain and Abel. Cain killed his brother out of jealousy (Gen. 4). These two were the children of Adam and Eve, and look how far gone they were already after their parents went away from God. Cain became insecure and acted in an evil way because he no longer knew that he was precious to God. His way of feeling valuable was by trying to be more and have more than his brother. You see, Abel was meant to be Abel; Cain was meant to be Cain. But Cain wanted what Abel had and because of that, he ended up missing completely his own giftedness.

The bad news is that after that, the story repeated itself in many other ways through the history of humanity. James describes this perfectly when he says, “For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.” (James 4:16)

The great news is that God did not abandon us but has provided us with the perfect remedy to heal our sin and restore back his glory in us. Paul explains this in Ephesians 2:10 when he writes that God, “has created us anew in Christ Jesus” and also in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (NLT)

In other words, through faith in Jesus Christ, we are given the opportunity to be saved from sin, evil, and death, from all the things that have disfigured the image of God in us just as it happened in Cain. And as we are saved, we are also recreated as God’s masterpiece, once again as a perfect or complete expression of God’s love and power.

This gift of new life in and through Jesus Christ is offered by grace through faith to every person regardless of how he or she may have lived their lives. This is because the desire of God is to give us a future and not for anyone to waste away. Now we may think this is it, that is, to be saved and made new, but this is just the beginning. A masterpiece is meant to communicate the creativity, giftedness, and message of its creator, and that can’t happen if it is hidden away.

The question for us then is, as God’s masterpiece, how do we communicate God’s glory and goodness?

Revisit Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s masterpiece (we’ve got that). He has created us anew in Christ Jesus (we got that too), so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (NLT) There it is: “so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” A new life in Jesus Christ does not only provide salvation but also receives the power to live out what God crafts in our lives.

Paul’s message is straightforward: as we are saved, we are also empowered to do the good works that God planned for us since the beginning. Good works are not to bring us salvation but to witness to our salvation in the world. Hence, we are not only recreated for eternity but for everything we do and say today.

I know many of us have been conditioned to believe we are not good enough, that we can’t do good, or that we are too far gone. I understand that we can look at ourselves and say, “I don’t get it. This doesn’t look like a perfect person that can do the works of God today or tomorrow, or ever.”

But I want to invite you today to have confidence knowing that you can do all the good work God has planned for you. I mean, it is God’s plan; it is his idea. It is not up to us to make it happen but to trust that we will grow into all of that one day at the time.

So don’t let disappointments, hurts from the past, or your current brokenness to diminish you and tempt you to go away from God or act in ways that are hurtful to others. You are not meant to feel, to be, and to act like that. Don’t let anyone or anything make you believe that you are nothing: you are everything for God. There is nothing insignificant about you, and there is nothing insignificant about what God has given you to do today. You are God’s greatest creation.

Therefore, the million dollar question for each one of us is: how are we going to reflect God’s glory today? What’s the next act of kindness, the next good work that we can do for someone? Because that’s all it takes, one act of goodness at a time.

Today, God is inviting each one of us to embrace our new life and worth in Jesus Christ and to embrace our appointment to do good, for we have been crafted for perfect goodness.

I leave you with this well-loved quote that used to be attributed to John Wesley:

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.

Shaun Marshall ~ Learning How to Tell Your Story

This powerful sermon by Rev. Shaun Marshall comes from Genesis.


Michelle Bauer ~ The Famine and the Lie

Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to reside there as an alien, for the famine was severe in the land. When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know well that you are a woman beautiful in appearance; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account.” When Abram entered Egypt the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. When the officials of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female slaves, female donkeys, and camels.

But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. So Pharaoh called Abram, and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her, and be gone.” And Pharaoh gave his men orders concerning him; and they set him on the way, with his wife and all that he had. – Genesis 12: 10-20

This morning we are going to spend some time talking about faith and fear.  As we look at Abraham’s life, we see him respond with great faith when God called him to leave his home.  Hebrews 11 says that Abraham, “obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.”  That would be a hard one to swallow wouldn’t it, “Pack the U-haul and then I’ll tell you where your first stop is.” But Abraham accepts God’s invitation and sets off towards Canaan.

Following God doesn’t keep us from hard times.  It’s one thing to be obedient when life is great and the adventure is fun. But how do we do when things get hard and uncertain? As we study Abraham’s life, we see him make some good decisions and some really bad decisions. But before we judge too harshly let’s remember that Abraham is pretty new at this following God thing. He is learning what it means to follow God in all circumstances.  Just like we are.

When summer was underway at my house I became our children’s cruise director. Our seven year old son began most days by asking, “What’s the plan mom?”  What he really means is, “What are you going to do today to make sure I have fun?”

That’s how we ended up at the library watching a demonstration hosted by a group of people who train therapy dogs. The kids had fun seeing the dogs and watching them do tricks like jump over things and go through tunnels. I expected just to sit in the back, zone out and be grateful that someone else was entertaining my children for a few minutes. But then the presenter started to talk about how they train the dogs and something she said caught my attention.

She explained that the first step in training a dog to do unusual things is to get them to trust you.  This is the example she gave: If you want to train a hunting dog to go through a hollow log in search of prey, you don’t start out by commanding the dog to go through the log. You start in a familiar place and coach them through a fabric tunnel. This builds trust in the dog towards its trainer.  Then one day the dog will respond obediently to the command to go into the log – knowing that the owner can be trusted to be looking out for their welfare.

This provides a great picture of the journey God is leading Abraham on. If you are familiar with Abraham’s story you know that God is going to ask Abraham to do a BIG thing in a few chapters. A thing that will require amazing amounts of obedience that only comes through trust. But God doesn’t start there. He begins by leading Abraham through a series of exercises or situations intended to build Abraham’s trust in Him as a God who is looking out for the welfare of his child.

Abraham has responded to God’s call and left his homeland, all that was familiar, all that meant stability and moved his family to Canaan or what will someday be referred to as the Promised Land.  We get the impression that he hadn’t been there very long when an opportunity to exercise his new faith comes along.

Fear and Faith

At this point in the story, don’t you want to shake your head and say, something like “Bless your heart…” to poor Abraham.  How can he show such faith and then just 10 verses later be scrambling in fear?!  But let’s remember that we have the benefit of seeing Abraham’s life in its entirety – summarized down into a few chapters. We aren’t walking with him through famine and years of waiting and disappointment.  It’s a lot harder to live a life than to read about one.

We are all a mixture of fear and faith. We all have great moments of obedience when we sense that we are in the middle of God’s will and are sure what the next thing is.  And we all have moments of extreme doubt when we are sure God has abandoned us and we default to, “every man for themselves”.

We love and serve a mysterious God who refuses to be predictable or obvious. That is why we must allow him to build our trust. And trust is built as we walk with him through the stuff of life. It is not built in a class or by reading a book. Our faith is strengthened the same way our muscles are – by using them.

faith-and-fearI would encourage you to pay attention to the moments where you are quick to show faith and the places where fear tends to creep in. Present me with a situation where my children are sick or hurting and I really have to fight back fear. I think for a lot of us, faith and fear come in patterns.  When fear shows up it is a sign that God has work to do in that place.  Celebrate where you are being faithful but don’t hide or minimize the places where fear is still leading.

The Promised Land is Dependent on God’s Presence and Provision

With great faith, Abraham has walked with God into the Promised Land but that faith is about to be tested because the Promised Land is fragile. It depends on God’s presence and provision in a way that is unique from the nations that surround it. The Promised Land or Canaan relies on two rainy seasons each year to provide enough water to maintain crops. If just one of those rainy seasons failed to come they were in immediate danger of famine.

Compare that to Egypt which was located on the Nile River. The Egyptians had a whole river as a constant water supply.  That set-up provided better protection from famine. The river may go up or down but it takes a lot to make a whole river dry up.

Isn’t it interesting that it is God’s plan to settle his people in a place that is dependent on fresh, continuous supplies of water? It reminds me of God’s provision of manna in the dessert. He could have parked them next to a Bi-Lo. But instead he builds their faith by putting them in a situation where they have to rely on Him. The Israelites had to trust God to provide food daily.

In the same way, God has promised to provide us with all the things we need for life and godliness but God doesn’t back the truck up and deliver a whole life-time supply at once. We have to trust that he will provide and keep on providing as we face each day’s challenges. It’s a risky way to live.  We live in a Costco world where we can buy 30 rolls of toilet paper at a time. But He whispers, “Stay close and I will provide what you need, when you need it.”

Sure enough, just as Abraham is getting settled a famine hits – and it was severe. It must be pretty scary to not be able to grow or buy food. Abraham has people depending on him to provide for them.  Faith or fear?  Abraham’s first response shows signs of a developing faith. He doesn’t turn around and go home.  He could have packed up his family, rolled up the tents and headed back to Haran – back to what had to have seemed like security and safety in a crisis moment.  Instead, Abraham heads to Egypt “to live there for a while” to wait for the famine to pass.

Egypt plays such an interesting role in the Bible. It is the place where God’s people go and keep returning to for safety:

  • Abraham is headed there for refuge from a famine
  • Joseph ends up there after his brother’s try to kill him
  • His whole family immigrates there during another famine
  • While in Egypt they grow from being a large family to being a nation
  • Mary and Joseph flee to Egypt when Herod is on the hunt to kill Jesus

Now I know what you are thinking…. But wasn’t it the Egyptians that made slaves out of the Israelites and kept them hostage?  How could Egypt be a safe place and enslave people?

Here’s what I wonder. Did the Israelites come to Egypt to avoid a famine and then get too comfortable? Did they stay long past when they should have returned to the land they knew God had given to them? Abraham’s plan is to live in Egypt “for a while” and then go back to the place where God had led him when the danger has passed.

When I was in Guatemala last summer, we met a pastor named “Shorty”. He’s a former gang member who has returned to his old neighborhood to tell people still trapped in gangs about Jesus.  At one point a few years ago, he made a gang leader mad and his church got word that his life was in danger. So, he agreed to move out of the neighborhood temporarily and stay in a secure apartment in a safer part of town.  Shorty shared with us that he began to really enjoy his new living situation. It was nicer than where he’d been living, in a new apartment building in a better part of town, and it was comfortable to feel safe all the time.  So, when the threat on his life passed he continued to live in the apartment. And his church encouraged him to live there indefinitely.  But he began to sense that being away from his people was not good.  He felt like it was time to leave safety and return to where God had called him to live and minister.

There is a time for seeking refuge and a time to return to where God has called us. Following Jesus will be a little bit scary. He takes us to the point where we are uncomfortable. Because that is where we start to rely on him. And as we rely on him we begin to trust him more and more.

The “I’s” Have It

Abraham’s plan is to stay until the famine passed and then head back to Canaan. For a guy who’s not planning to stay long-term in Egypt, he didn’t make a very good exit plan, though did he?

Here’s where we start to see the fear at work.

Abraham is nervous because he has a pretty wife and the Pharaoh has a reputation for noticing pretty women and insisting on marrying them.  Abraham also knew that the Egyptians felt more strongly about not committing adultery than they did about not committing murder. So, while the Pharaoh would not take Sarah to be his wife while she was married to Abraham, he wouldn’t hesitate to kill Abraham and then take her to be his wife.

At this point in their journey, Sarah was 65 years old, which for her was sort of middle-age because she lived to be 127. She apparently was a great beauty.   One commentator remarked that “She had had no children or other hardships to bring on premature decay.”  As anyone with children is able to attest, raising kids does take years off your life – not the bad ones at the end but the good ones in the middle – as my brother once said.

Abraham is afraid for his life and he begins to make some really bad decisions.

Did you notice all the “I’s” “me’s” and “my’s”?

I know what a beautiful woman you are…”

“I’m afraid they will kill me…”

“Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well…”

He has forgotten hasn’t he? He has forgotten what God said when he called him. Someone wrote that, “He acts as though God’s promise had not taken place.”

Remember the promise God made to Abraham in Genesis 12: 2-3:

I will make you into a great nation

And I will bless you;

I will make your name great,

And you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,

And whoever curses you I will curse;

And all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Do you see the pattern? God does the action and Abraham reaps the benefits.  God will make him into a great nation, God will make his name great, God will do the blessing and cursing as protection.

I’m not saying that Abraham was to sit by and passively watch the action. He was supposed to be obeying and following.  But God is the one who was controlling the circumstances and outcomes not him.

God is fine with us making a plan when we find ourselves in a crisis. What he is not fine with is when we begin to scramble. We’ve all done it right?! We’ve all had moments when we forget the promises and who is in control and we begin to think things and do things that attempt to put us in control.  We begin to manipulate situations and people and sometimes even the truth because fear is whispering in our ear that we are the only ones looking out for us.

Abraham has forgotten the promise and all of a sudden we begin to hear a lot of “I” talk. It’s exactly what happens when I forget and begin to scramble.

I start thinking things like:

“I have to figure this out…”

“I have to decide what’s next”

“I need to get on top of this situation. What I need is a really good list.”

“I better stay up all night Googling for answers.”

It was God’s responsibility to keep Abraham safe so that he could become a great nation, not Abraham’s. And what happens when Abraham takes over God’s job? It’s not pretty.

Abraham hatches a plan. “I’ll tell Pharaoh that Sarah is my sister – which by the way is half true. Sarah was Abraham’s half-sister. They shared a father.  But whole lie or half lie doesn’t matter here. What matters is that Abraham was not able to trust God’s promise to protect him.

So, Abraham marches into Egypt, turns his wife over to the Pharaoh and waits to see what will happen.  Wouldn’t you have liked to see Sarah’s face when he unveils his big plan?! I’m sure she especially loved the part about how her being “loaned” to Pharaoh would keep Abraham safe.  He should have been more afraid of Sarah than Pharaoh at that point!

Poor Abraham had given his life to follow a God who he didn’t think was even capable of protecting him.  In the grand scheme of history, protecting Sarah from the Pharaoh would have been one of the easier things God had done.  But Abraham doesn’t know that yet. He hasn’t had the experience with God to know that he was capable of acting and would act to keep the promise he had made.  Abraham was still in training.

In the end Abraham sees that God is quite capable of protecting him and his family.  All of a sudden Pharaoh’s whole household is sick. It’s bad when someone in your house is sick but isn’t it worse when your whole family is sick at once? Well, Pharaoh had lots of wives and lots of kids and lots of servants – all sick at once – so it got his attention fast.

Somehow he links the sickness to Abraham and he says “Go get him!”

Abraham appears in front of him and Pharaoh asks him,

“What have you done to me?”

Now no one is happy with Abraham. He has let fear rule and he has made a mess. He has endangered people’s lives, caused lots of people to become sick, almost lost his wife and made an enemy of a neighboring country.

Here’s my favorite part of the story though. God has been at work the whole time. While Abraham is scrambling and scheming, God is quietly working his plan.

  • God is prompting the Pharaoh to hand over his riches to Abraham in the form of sheep, cattle, donkeys, servants and camels
  • God is orchestrating an escape plan for Sarah
  • And God is clearing the way for them to return to the Promised Land

Why don’t we let God do what he says he will do?  Why do we try to be our own bodyguards?

  • Are you letting fear lead? Are you scrambling for control?
  • Have you remembered God’s promises? The ones that tell us that God is always working on our behalf? Or his promise that he is always with us?
  • Are you acting and making choices as if his promises are true?

I invite you to talk with God about the situations in your life. Where are you choosing faithfulness and where are you letting fear lead? Ask God to show you. Confess those places where fear has been allowed to call the shots and ask him to strengthen your faith.

Michael Smith ~ The Noah in Your Circle

Jesus had a circle. We call them the disciples. Jesus chose a circle to influence the world.

In the Gospels (the stories of Jesus in the New Testament), we see Jesus talking to all sorts of people: crowds, religious leaders, and even “sinners and tax collectors.” But some of the most powerful exchanges and teaching moments came with his circle of 12. Instead of giving his time to the masses of people in the crowd, the most impacting and lasting ministry of Jesus endures through the witness of the small group that he led and shared life with. Jesus changed the world with 12 people.

When an elevator opens up you see a group of people in it. You always have to decide if you are going to squeeze in…or wait. There are only so many people who can fit in an elevator. Right?

You have a circle. Your circle changes throughout your life. People come and go, and hopefully, you have enjoyed the journey.

The influence of the few, rather than the crowds in your life, have made a lasting difference.

So who is the Noah in your circle? Noah’s radical faith and vision for the activity of God prevented the destruction of all mankind. We have outer circles and inner circles: acquaintances and dear friends. I want to invite you to expand your circle and invite someone in that you’ve heard of; he gets mentioned every once in a while, and he mostly “floats around” in the Sunday school curriculum. This guy, we all need someone like him. His name is Noah—and he’s strange.

In Genesis 6:13-17, we read, “So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish.’”

The author of Hebrews wrote in 11:7, “By faith Noah responded with godly fear when he was warned about events he hadn’t seen yet. He built an ark to deliver his household.” With his faith, he criticized the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes from faith.

There are at least three reasons why you need a “Noah” in your circle.

  1. We need someone who is talking to and hearing from God in a way that you find hard to believe. Finding and listening to a “Noah” is a reminder that there is a part of our faith that needs to be challenged to understand the profound personal nature of life in the Spirit. The presence of a radically irrational believer fertilizes and energizes our own personal walk. Noah’s personal faith was mesmerizing. He took 120 years to build a boat on the premise that God was going to flood the world. That’s weird. That should push us to listen differently to things. How do you respond when you meet other believers who might talk or act differently than you? Who is a modern day Noah you can think of? No – not the people building replica arks – but people in your life who are so trusting it makes you feel uncomfortable?
  2. We need to have someone in our life who is doing a great thing for the kingdom. Do you know and relate with anyone who has turned their back on the things of this world? What would it look like to get that person across the table from you? (This is not to say that you’re not doing things, but rather that you might be inspired to get into the deep end yourself.) Noah’s life work was dedicated to saving the world.
  3. You need someone in your life who is routinely ridiculed for his or her faith. Noah was derided for his plan. You may not know a lot of these people, but they’re important. Why? A lot of what we do is important but relatively “safe.” The world isn’t giving us a hard time for feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, or taking care of the poor. Where we get laughed at and ridiculed is when we talk about supernatural relationships—about God and resurrection and things that seem ridiculous to unbelievers.

Where in your faith journey do you play it safe? How might your life look different if you exhibited Noah’s radical faith?

Make room for Noah at the table. Listen to him pray. Ask him how the building of the boat is going. Ask him how he copes with the ones who laugh in his face. Let his life, his passion, and his courage shape you. Then, this week, take one step in moving from your comfort zone to exhibiting radical faith. You are called to do great things for the kingdom.

Gracious God, give us a courageous faith that would challenge us for the sake of your kingdom. We thank you for the Noah’s in our lives, that while they might make us uncomfortable, they inspire us to go beyond ourselves. Give us such faith, in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Maxie Dunnam ~ Leave Your Stuff Behind

The scriptural context for today’s article can be found in Genesis 45:1-28, which you are invited to read here.

Loren Eiseley is one of my favorite writers.  He is a distinguished anthropologist and essayist.  What makes his writing so gripping to me is that he has the eye of an artist and the soul of a poet.  He sees beyond the surface and has that rare double gift which enables him to enter deeply into an experience and then share that experience with us in a way that enables us to vicariously experience what he himself has experienced.

In one of his poignant vignettes from boyhood, he shared a moment of time that bears timeless truth.  He was 16, and one day he leaned out the second story window of his high school and saw an old junk dealer riding in a cart filled with castoff clothing, discarded furniture, and an assortment of broken-down metal objects. A broken-down horse was pulling the cart.  As the decrepit figures passed below him, Eiseley had a sudden sense of what time means in its passing. He wrote, “‘It’s all going,’ I thought with a desperation of the young confronting history.  No one can hold it… we’re riding into the dark.  When my eye fell upon that junk dealer passing by, I thought instantly, ‘save him, immortalize this unseizeable moment, for the junk man is the symbol of all that is going or gone.'”

Forever after that, Eiseley said he could never regard time without having a deep sense of wonder and he sought to receive every moment as a kind of gift that was only his.  It’s an image to consider as we begin this year.  And to help us appropriate it, let’s look at our scripture lesson.

Tucked away in this story of Joseph’s sojourn into Egypt is a verse that is packed with far more meaning than appears on the surface. It is a word that carries a whole wagonload of goods for reflection and teaches us an eternal truth that we do well to consider as we move into the New Year.

Rehearse the story.  Sold into slavery by his brothers, Joseph found favor with the Pharaoh and became one of the trusted officials in Pharaoh’s court.  A strange irony of fate (the providence of God, of coarse) brought Joseph and his brothers who had betrayed him together again.  A famine had ravaged the land of Canaan, the people were without food and they came to Egypt seeking to buy food from the Pharaoh.  It was soon revealed that the person with whom they had to deal was the brother they had sold into slavery, so the tables were turned.  Here they were asking food from the person they had cast away.  And when it came to Pharaoh’s attention that Joseph’s brothers had come, it pleased him.  He instructed Joseph to bring the whole family away from Canaan, promising to give them the goods of all the land of Egypt. It is at this point that the power-packed verse is found.  Do this, said Pharaoh: “take some carts from Egypt for your children and your wives, and get your father and come.  Never mind about your belongings, because the best of all of Egypt will be yours.”  I like the way the King James’ version translates that. “Regard not your stuff, for the best of all the land of Egypt will be yours.”

Regard not your stuff.  There’s all sorts of meaning in that.  One translation renders it, “leave your stuff behind.”  Now some of us who have moved a good bit, like Methodist preachers, know what that means.  I remember when we moved from Mississippi to California, years ago.  Moving across the continent made it even more difficult to decide what stuff we were going to take and what stuff we were going to leave behind.  Moving is expensive.  My wife, Jerry, collects rocks, and she had bushels of them.  She knew better than to get into a discussion with me about taking those rocks from Mississippi to California.  Do you know how heavy rocks are?  So Jerry did a very cunning thing.  She packed her choice rocks into kitchen canisters and cake tins and brought them along without my knowing it.  The movers were mystified, I’m sure, as they handled those cake tins and canisters, and I learned of it long after I had paid the bill.

“Regard not your stuff,” said Pharaoh, “leave your stuff behind…for the good of all the land of Egypt is yours.”

By the time most of us get to be adults, we have accumulated a great deal of stuff.  We’ve learned so many wrong things, stored up so much misinformation, learned to respond in so many destructive ways, adopted all the biting, snarling, snippy styles of relating, become secretive and cynical.  We carry a lot of stuff around, and it burdens us down.  We get all glued up in our limited world of habit.  So this word of Pharaoh to Joseph’s brothers is a good word for us, particularly as we begin this new year: leave your stuff behind. What is some of the stuff we need to leave behind as we begin the new year?  What can we drop off our weary, bending backs to make our trek into the New Year a bit easier and far more meaningful?

Leave behind self-pity. Self-pity is a burden most of us are unwilling to drop off.  Someone hurts our feelings and we carry our hurt with us forever.  We’re treated unfairly and we never forget it.  Something happens in our family and it seems to us that we’re being put down: someone else is receiving special treatment, so we get a kind of stepchild complex.  We suffer physically and we get the idea that the whole universe is out to persecute us – such an easy snare to fall into! As long as we carry this burden of self-pity, we can blame our failures on someone or something else.

To go through life with the burden of self-pity is to go through life crippled.  It is to stumble along at an uneasy and faltering pace, so we need to leave the bundle of self-pity behind us.  We need to stride into the future, not with self-pity, but with self-affirmation.  And when we rehearse the gospel, we know that we can do that because the whole of Scripture, especially the Gospels, is an affirming, not a destructive word.

Jesus said that not even a sparrow fell to the ground without the Father taking note, and then he added, “you are of more value than sparrows.” And how extravagant is this? “The very hairs on your head are numbered.” Each of us is a unique, unrepeatable miracle of God, and there is a place in God’s heart that only I can fill…that only you can fill.

“For thee were we made, oh God,” said Augustine, “and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”  No wonder he said that; the psalmist himself had captured it long before – You have made us a little lower than the angels, a little less than God, and crowned us with glory and honor.  We don’t need to go into the New Year with self-pity because God is on our side.  God has created us. God has affirmed us.  And God is going to be with us.

Leave behind illegitimate responsibility.

The second bundle of stuff we need to leave behind is what I call illegitimate responsibility.  I’m talking about the responsibilities which we rigidly claim for ourselves, but which don’t legitimately belong to us.

Our journey will be more meaningful if we can determine that there are certain responsibilities that are ours; these we will accept and give our resources to.  There are other responsibilities which we simply have to leave with others and with God.  Parents, there is a limitation to the responsibility we can take for our children.  We must do all we can to nurture our children to live productive, helpful, meaningful, Christian lives.  But beyond a certain time and place of nurturing, certainly when they have gone out from us, we must commit them wholly to God, and leave with them and with God the responsibility for guiding themselves.

This is conditioned by a special word to young parents, and I introduce it with a story.  A Chicago suburbanite put on a last spurt of speed to catch his train but missed it.  A bystander remarked, “if you’d run a little faster you would have made it.”   “No,” the suburbanite replied, “it wasn’t a case of running faster, but of starting sooner.”  Young parents, you can’t begin too soon to relate a child to God – to demonstrate clearly to your children your own Christian commitment and values.  We can’t depend wholly upon the church or Sunday school to teach our children scripture and to instill within our children a love of God’s Word.  That won’t do it;  it never has and it never will. Of course the church has a responsibility, but parents are primarily responsible. When we have been faithful in our parenting, we can leave the stuff of inordinate feelings of responsibility for our children behind.

Am I making it clear?  There are responsibilities that we can and must assume – but many of us are weighed down by responsibilities that don’t belong to us, and we must leave them behind.

Leave behind cancelled sin. There’s a lot of stuff we ought to leave behind, along with self-pity and illegitimate responsibility. We can’t name them all, but let me mention one other bundle that needs to be cast off as we stride into this New Year.

I call it the bundle of cancelled sin.  The phrase comes from Charles Wesley’s hymn, “Oh For A Thousand Tongues To Sing.”  He claims that this is the work of Christ.

He breaks the power of canceled sin,

He sets the prisoner free;

his blood can make the foulest clean;

His blood availed for me.

Scores of people who beat a steady stream to my study door for counseling are burdened down by cancelled sin.  Somewhere in the past, they have done those things, been involved in those situations, and had relationships about which they feel morbid guilt.  They carry this around as an inside burden which no one knows about.  But like a malignancy, it grows and spreads until it poisons the person and brings a sickness unto death.

The heart of the gospel is that God through Christ forgives our sins, and our sins are, in fact, cancelled by God’s grace.  But obviously, this fact and experience are not enough.  Cancelled sin still has power – destructive power in our lives.

How then is the power of cancelled sin actually broken?  How do we cast this burden aside?  There is one key: confession and inner healing.  I believe that under most circumstances, not only confession to God but confession to another is essential for healing and release from the power of cancelled sin.  This is the reason James admonishes us to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another.  Once we have confessed to a minister or to an intimate friend or a sharing group, we don’t have to carry the burden alone.  The poisonous guilt that has been bottled up inside is now released.  The cleansing and freedom that comes is wing-giving.  Forgiveness and acceptance are confirmed in our lives and the fear of others knowing who and what we are is taken away.

A medical analogy is apropos here. When an infectious boil appears somewhere on the body, antibiotics are given.  If these do not destroy the infection, usually the infection is localized and has to be lanced.  The surgeon uses the scalpel and opens the boil in order that all the poison might be drained.  Confession is something like the surgeon’s scalpel.  When we honestly open our lives in confession, all the poisonous guilt that we have bottled up within has a chance to flow out.  Confession becomes the cleansing process by which the self is freed from the power of cancelled sin.

Now there are two requisites for redemptive confession – one, you must trust the person, the person or the group, to whom you confess; and two, your confession must not be destructive to another person.  We dare not disregard the health and wholeness of another in order to seek our own release.

The big point is that the burden of cancelled sin is too great for us to carry into the New Year.  You can leave that stuff behind, because God forgives.  He loves you and accepts you.  And if you’ve not experienced the release from cancelled sin, if the burden of it is still with you, you may need to find a person whom you love and trust with which you can share.  Open your life to them, and allow the poison to flow out in your honest confession, and remember the promise of John’s gospel, if we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness.

I want to invite you now to use your imagination.   Picture yourself with a big trash bag. Move through every room of your life; select the stuff you need to leave behind. I’m talking about self-pity and illegitimate responsibility.  Put it into the trash bag.

What cancelled sin still has power over you, what hidden hatred, what frustrating fear, what devastating doubt, what powerful prejudice? Put it in the trash bag.  Do it.  Act it out in your imagination.  Put it into the trash bag.

Is there an unresolved relationship with a husband or wife, a parent or a child, a neighbor?  Is there a jealousy you’ve never brought out into the open?  Put it into the bag.  It could be any number of things.  You know what weighs you down, and what stuff you don’t need to take into the New Year.  Put it into the bag.  Be specific in identifying and visualizing all the stuff in your mind to put into that bag.

Now stay with me in your imagination.  Get in your mind the picture with which we began  – the junk man with his cart filled with cast off clothing, discarded furniture, all sorts of abandoned useless things.  Do you see it in your mind?  He’s passing by.  In your imagination now, throw your trash bag onto the junk wagon and let it be taken away.  Have you done it?  In your imagination, just cast it onto the junk wagon to be taken away.  Be silent now and enjoy the relief and release of getting rid of that burden.

Keep the image of the trash man in your mind for a moment, taking all your trash away.  Now substitute for the image of the junk man, Christ himself.

Do you see him?  Jesus. Listen.  Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Leave your stuff behind – all your junk.  Leave it.

You are forgiven.  Your failure and weakness are accepted.  Your past is buried in the sea of God’s loving forgetfulness.

Go into the New Year with Christ, and go joyfully.