30 January 2010

An Excellent Spirit

As the amazing story of the life of Joseph draws toward a close in Genesis chapter 50, we come to learn what made him such a remarkable man. It was the ATTITUDE with which he faced the many trials and testings of his life caused him to rise above it all to the glory of God.

Genesis 50:19 And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God?

Here’s the situation. The whole clan has returned to Egypt from Jacob’s funeral in Canaan. Joseph’s brethren are worried that since Jacob is dead, Joseph will go ahead and get them back for all the rotten things they’ve done to him. So they send a messenger to tell him that before their father died, he had given commandment that Joseph forgive them.

In response, Joseph wept, and he asked this powerful question, “AM I IN THE PLACE OF GOD?”

That’s a question worthy of meditation. What Joseph realized and what he clung to all his days was the fact that there is a God in heaven who knows all and sees all and is just; a God who IN THE END will render “to every man according to his deeds” (Romans 2:6). This attitude of humility and trust enabled Joseph to (1) reject bitterness, (2) resist temptation, and (3) refuse revenge.

Let’s consider the first of these – REJECTING BITTERNESS

In Genesis 37, Joseph was thrown in a pit, then sold by his brethren to a group of passing merchants (this the alternative to killing him), who took him to Egypt and sold him to Potiphar, captain of Pharaoh’s guard. The next we read of Joseph, in Genesis 39, it was so evident the Lord was with him that Potiphar made him overseer of all his house. Which was swell until Potiphar’s wife got mad when he wouldn’t give her the attention she wanted and concocted a lie to get him thrown in jail. Still we read that the Lord was with Joseph and prospered everything he did, so much so that the keeper of the prison figured things would be best in the prison house with Joseph in charge.

Now, I personally have no idea how I’d react to all the things that happened in this man’s life. Sold into slavery by my brothers? Lied about by my master’s wife? Going from the house of my father in Canaan to Pharaoh’s prison in Egypt? What had he done to deserve all of it? NOTHING but tell his brothers about a dream God gave him. Talk about a test of faith. Talk about a reason to at the least get bitter and give up on God. Talk about a reason to just end it all.

But what did Joseph do? He didn’t have all the answers. He didn’t understand why all this was happening. He certainly didn’t deserve any of it. But he didn’t give up. He didn’t get bitter. He trusted God, did what was right, and left it all in His hands.

Joseph didn’t have a Bible, but he lived the truth of Proverbs 3:1-6. My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments…Let not mercy and truth forsake thee…So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

You and I will face things in this life that we don’t understand, that don’t seem fair, that we don’t deserve, that will seem like all the reason we could have to give up, get bitter, and quit on God. May God give us the grace of Joseph to remember that His ways are much higher than our own (Isaiah 55:8-9; 2 Samuel 22:31) and that He makes everything right in the end (Genesis 18:25).

23 January 2010

I'm Offended

There was once a day in America when integrity and character were of the utmost importance; when people had strong opinions and convictions and beliefs, and could tell you why – and would without a moment’s hesitation. Today, the majority of people in this nation won’t even discuss politics or religion (1) because they’re too lazy and materialistic to form well-thought-out opinions about such matters, and (2) because they’ve been conditioned to believe that “tolerance” is the ultimate virtue and are afraid that their opinions might offend somebody that doesn’t share them.

As Christians, we have been called to preach the gospel to every creature. We have been given a duty, a responsibility, an obligation, a privilege – basically, to warn the lost of God’s judgment and to offer them the only way of escape. The same people who say we’re too judgmental condemn us for “pushing our religion on people” or “shoving it down their throats.” Honestly, we couldn’t force Jesus on anybody even if we tried, but over and over again, our presentation of the gospel message “offends” people, and some are sure to let us know.

So I’ve given some thought to what a lot of people actually mean when they say, “I’m offended!” What they are basically saying is that what we preach has made them feel bad. And I believe that’s a good thing. Now, I’m sure that statement is a shocker to many a modern American “Christian,” but that’s because many of them have spent more time with the TV than they have with the Bible. God DOESN’T want you to feel good about yourself (1) because you’re not good; (2) because you’ll never repent if you do; and (3) because you’ll never know the blessings of His salvation and a relationship with Him if you don’t repent.

It seems that what a number of people really mean when they say, “I’m offended,” is that they’re under conviction – because somewhere down deep in their heart, they know we’re telling the truth. They despise our message, but their conscience agrees with it.

Think about it, if I walked downtown this afternoon and a group of Muslims were praying and chanting and trying to get me to join them, I might be annoyed because I think it’s stupid (we get a lot of that, too), but I wouldn’t be “offended” in the way that many are offended by our preaching – because I know what I have is the truth and it’s so much better than whatever it is they’re offering me.

Our purpose in preaching is not to offend people. It’s to preach the gospel so they can be saved. We are to do so with zeal and with compassion; with fervor and with tact; with boldness and with respect. If we offend people because we’re jerks, that’s not good. But if we offend people because we tell the truth, that’s great (regardless of what Oprah says).

It means the message is being heard. It means the conscience is alive. It means the Holy Spirit can continue that work. It means a sinner might be one step closer to falling at the feet of the Savior in humble repentance.

And that’s what we’re after. Because Jesus Christ is THE way, THE truth, and THE life. Life is vanity, and eternity is hell – without HIM.

Romans 9:33 As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.

1 Peter 2:7-8 Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.

19 January 2010

Failures of Abraham - Part 4

In considering some of the lesser-known, more infrequently discussed mistakes in the life of Abraham, I hope you don’t think I’ve been too critical of this great man of faith. He was, after all, called the Friend of God (James 2:23). He was, after all, elected by God to be the Father of the Hebrew nation. He was, after all, a man who believed God (Romans 4).

But he was, after all, a man. And all have sinned. We can stand to learn some great lessons from his successes. And there are some very important lessons we can take from his shortcomings.

Before we wrap up this brief study, I’d like to step back and discuss a couple of broader thoughts we ought to consider in relation to Abraham’s failures, in a more general sense.


It’s easy to be critical of the man and to point out his many sins. But the Bible says that love covers a multitude of sins (Proverbs 10:12; 1 Peter 4:8).

When discussing Abraham’s journey in response to the call of Genesis 12, the Holy Spirit seems to leave out the part about taking Lot. Hebrews 11:8 By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.

Genesis 18 says that Sarah laughed when she heard she was to have to a son at the ripe old age of 90. But the NT puts a more positive spin on the story. Hebrews 11:11 Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.

When James 2 discusses how Abraham’s works made his faith perfect (complete; profitable; see v. 14), it conveniently leaves out the lie he told to Pharaoh (Genesis 12) and repeated to Abimelech (Genesis 20), as well as the whole fiasco with Hagar (Genesis 16).

Aren’t you glad?! I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a lot of shortcomings. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes. Too often I’ve staggered at God’s promise and been unfaithful to Him. But it hasn’t kept Him from loving me. It hasn’t kept Him from blessing me. It hasn’t kept Him from seeing me as righteous. Praise the Lord! It’s no excuse to go mess up some more since God’s grace is enough to cover it, but it sure is reason for us to love Him more!


I can see how our wicked and deceitful hearts would be tempted to leave a study of Abraham’s failures thinking, “Wow, everybody makes Abraham out to be such a great guy, but he was really a creep. Maybe I’m not so bad after all.” Obviously, that’s an improper point of view.

What these lessons ought to remind us of is the fact that if Abraham was such a godly man and yet had all these problems, how much more do we need the grace and help of God in order to keep from making a complete and total mess of our lives!

Let’s learn from Abraham’s example, and may it spur us on to follow hard after God, ever pressing toward that mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

15 January 2010

Failures of Abraham - Part 3

From Abraham’s example (1 Corinthians 10:11) in Genesis 17, we learned that we ought to be careful what we ask the Lord for. That lesson is tempered in Genesis 18 by this piece of instruction:


You know the story. Abraham gets a visit from 3 “men” in Genesis 18 (we believe these to be an incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ and the 2 angels that were sent to escort Lot out of Sodom). Abraham prepares (well, he has Sarah prepare) a meal for his guests. The Lord repeats the promise of a son through Sarah. Sarah laughs. Then the Lord decides He will not hide from Abraham what He had planned to do to Sodom and Gomorrah. Knowing that Lot and his family reside in the city that is slated for destruction, Abraham barters with the Lord on this premise:

Genesis 18:25 That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?

He starts with 50. Then goes to 45. Then 40. Then 30. Then 20. And finally 10. All the while, the Lord agrees to spare the city for the sake of the righteous. I believe there are two factors that led Abraham to stop the bargaining at 10.

1. He figured there had to be at least 10 (Lot, his wife, at least 4 daughters and 2 sons-in-law, and if there were no other children then at least 2 converts). He was obviously wrong on this point.

2. But it also seems that he was afraid to go any further in his request to the Lord. Twice during the negotiations (the 30 request and the 10 request; vv. 30, 32), Abraham says, Oh let not the Lord be angry.

I’m not faulting Abraham for any of this. He’s to be commended for many things, including his care, his concern, and his intercession for his nephew. I’m not saying I would have done any different in his situation. I’m not saying it would have been a good thing for God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah. But I am saying that there is a spiritual lesson we can learn from this example.

The Bible says in James 4:2 …ye have not, because ye ask not. It seems that God would have granted Abraham’s request all the way down to 1 righteous person. But he didn’t ask.

Brethren, you and I have a promise from God in Matthew 7:7-8 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

We have an invitation to Hebrews 4:16 …come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

We have a Heavenly Father who has instructed us to Philippians 4:6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

Yes, we should ask in the name of Jesus Christ and for the glory of God (John 14:13). Yes, we should ask in accordance with the will of God (1 John 5:14). No, we shouldn’t ask amiss. No, we shouldn’t ask for God’s help in fulfilling our consuming lusts (James 4:3). But we SHOULD ask. We should take our right desires in prayer and supplication to the Lord, trusting the Holy Spirit to do His work of intercession (Romans 8:27), and for the Lord to work in our lives that which is best.

In some cases, we ought to be careful what we ask for…because the Lord might give it to us. But in others we ought not be afraid to take our requests to the Lord…because He might just give us what we ask for. Glory to His name!