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The God Who is in Charge

Author: Rachel Kidd

Objective: To learn how God uses the circumstances of our lives to prepare us for the role He has for us.

The Story of Joseph

Unlike most biblical characters who reveal their humanity and brokenness as their story develops, Joseph remains pure of heart and soul. Along with Daniel, he is one of the purest characters in the bible, remaining faithful and constant to the end, despite the horrors he faced.

Because he was the favored first-born son of Rachel, the favorite and beloved wife of Jacob, Joseph was his father’s favorite child. As you can imagine, this created incredible resentment in his older brothers who likely saw their father’s disdain for their mother Leah. The resentment grew for their little brother as he did. They contemplated his murder, but ultimately, they sold him into slavery, to a traveling caravan that took young Joseph away from his home and off to Egypt.

Joseph found himself in a foreign land against his will, first as a slave, then as a prisoner, and then by divine providence, he found himself second in command over Egypt as prime minister, directly under the Pharaoh himself.

God’s Providence

Joseph lived an extraordinary life in Egypt, despite the mistreatment and pain, something he knew was only due to God’s hand. He was strategically placed in a position of power because God knew a famine would come that had the potential to decimate the Jewish people. Without Joseph in this powerful seat, with his careful planning and preparation and connection to his people, God’s people might not have survived.

This powerful conclusion to the incredible story of Joseph’s life, covered in fourteen chapters in the book of Genesis, is really a chronicle of God’s providence. A New Testament verse sums up the story of Joseph incredibly well.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. -Romans 8:28

God’s plans ultimately work together for good, despite how difficult things may seem at the moment. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, mistreated, and experienced some of the worst experiences life has to offer, yet his faith never wavered, and God’s purpose ultimately proved to be for good.

Joseph’s loving response to persecution was, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

Joseph’s story teaches us about the providence of God and confirms what Romans 8:28 declares, that there is no situation so bad God cannot redeem it and bring good from it.

God’s Grace

The story of Joseph also tells us of God’s grace, given freely to those who ask but do not deserve. It begins with Joseph’s father, Jacob, who was blessed in many ways.

Jacob long believed that his blessings were earned, won by his cunning, his scheming, and his own effort. He was, after all, the younger brother who conned his elder brother Esau out of his inheritance. He was also the man who wrestled with God, who worked long years for the bride he desired, and then more after marrying the wrong sister.

His blessings of children, land, and wives were not because of his own doings, they were undeserved blessings from God who was using Jacob for His divine plans.

We see Jacob’s recognition of this later in life when he reconnects with his brother Esau. He connects the grace of Esau’s welcome, after all he had done to his older brother, to the grace shown to him by God. He realizes that God gave him blessings he did not earn nor deserve and that he should in turn give freely, especially to his own brother.

“For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me. Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Thus he urged him, and he took it.” –Genesis 33:10-11

Joseph’s story illustrates this same truth in another way. He experienced the worst life has to offer, not because he deserved it or as a punishment, but because of circumstances beyond his control, for the glory of God.

By the grace of God, Joseph was called to live an incredibly hard life, one I could hardly imagine surviving. But it was because God was preparing him, training him through experiences in such a way to be strategically placed to save his people from extinction.

How does this apply to me?

Looking at the relationship Joseph has with his family, we can see an imperfect model. His father favors one son over the others, not to mention the daughters who are excluded from the narrative entirely. He allows anger and resentment to fester within his home, among his children, and his multiple wives, creating a chaotic environment that leads to losing his son Joseph for years.

Clearly, Jacob’s home and family are not one to model ours after. It’s an example of what not to do in so many ways, like a floundering family on a reality tv show where a nanny steps in to save the day.

But the truth is, we all have human, flawed, and imperfect parents. None of us were raised in perfect homes, no matter how happy our childhoods may have been. Maybe we hold hurt from childhood, resentment for the way we were parented (or not parented), and wounds that still impact us today. It can be incredibly difficult to let those hurts go and to forgive our parents, especially if we don’t think they deserve it.

The grace that Joseph shows his family is an incredible model for us today. How painful must that have been to be confronted with the brothers who sold you into slavery as a teenager? Who set an incredibly traumatic chain of events in motion that permanently altered the course of your life? And then you’re expected to use your power to help them?

I honestly would have a difficult time showing them grace. But Joseph models for us grace and forgiveness, welcoming his family and sharing the stores of food with them, despite all they had done to harm him. And that is the root of the story of Joseph; divine grace to those who do not deserve it.

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Christian History Spiritual Development

The Father of Faith

Author: Jon Slenker

God’s Plan

Jude must have heard echoes of Abraham when he petitioned the Church to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the Saints” (Jude 1:1-3). Abraham, also known as the Father of Faith, is a great portrayal of a life that contends for and by his faith in God. Abraham was blessed by God to be a blessing to others (Gen. 12:3).

From creation, God’s command to be fruitful and multiply is first given to the animals (Genesis 1:22), then to Adam and Eve, his vice regents (Genesis 1:28). After the flood, God restates His original purpose for creation to the animals (Genesis 8:17), as well as to Noah and his sons, twice (Genesis 9:1 and 9:7). This command and promise is repeated to Abraham (Genesis 12:7; 13:15; 15:18; 17:8, 20), Isaac (Genesis 28:3), Jacob (Genesis 35:11; 48:4), as well as to all of Israel through Jacob and the prophets (Habakkuk 2:14). The faith of our Jewish fathers rested in God as their authority and is precisely what fueled their courage to accomplish what He called and commanded them to be and do. While they did not have the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide them, their faith was in their King who called and covenanted with them, so they might partner with Him in His global plan of redemption.

After the earth dried from the flood, the building of the tower of babble and the subsequent dispersion and confusion of tongues, Abraham grew up as Abram, with two brothers to a man named Terah. One of his brothers passed away, and Abram went on to marry Sarai. The years passed and the man named, “father of many sons,” had not borne a single one. Sarai was barren and laughed at God’s promise to bless her with a son in her old age. Throughout their lives they would be blessed with a great inheritance, build four altars to God, have a promised son in old age and fulfill their part of the creation mandate; to worship God and fill the earth with worshipers. They would be buried in the same final resting place in a cave in Hebron.

Not everything turned out perfect for this patriarch of our faith. The bible is quick to malign the character of every character in it except one, Jesus. Yes, Abraham accomplished many incredible things by faith and following God’s way, but it was God who ultimately pursued, directed, protected, and provided. The account of Abraham’s life is a prime example of how God relates to man, and how man relates to God, by faith. The bible doesn’t hold back from revealing the missteps and mistakes Abraham made. This is a real account of a real man, in all its glory and honor and wisdom and failure with positive and painful consequences. God’s relationship with Abram begins with a call and a promise.

God’s Covenant to Abraham

God pursued Abram and even gave him and his Wife Sarai new names. To Abram, he called Abraham, and Sarai, he named Sarah. He also told them to name their promised son Isaach, which means laughter. None of this would be revealed before God covenanted with Abram.

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.”
Hebrews 11:8-10

The Author of Hebrews highlights the faith it required for Abraham to trust God to lead him to a land he has never been before, protect him from famine and Pharoah, to give him a son, and an inheritance and land to pass down. Beyond all this, Abraham had to trust that God would provide, even if God asked for his son to be sacrificed. Throughout this entire biography, God’s promises would be fulfilled despite Abraham’s woes.

Genesis 12 introduces the reader to a preview of things to come in chapter 15, known as the Abrahamic Covenant. This first chapter zooms in on the main character Abram, but it is God who is doing the acting by pursuing Abram and calling him to follow Him to a land that He will show him.

God speaks to Abraham 8 times, repeating His promises and clearly stating Abraham’s responsibility. Abraham erects four altars in direct response to God’s promises, provision, and protection. God pursues Abram. God always initiates the relationship. Abram responds by faith and follows God into the unknown. Here, Abram signifies God’s relationship with him after God promised, “I will give this land to your descendants”, by building his first altar (Gen. 12:7). This is a sacred place of praise and worship in response to God. Abraham builds four altars to worship and to signify his relationship with God.

A covenant is a promised agreement between two parties. It is a partnership where each guarantor works alongside one another to accomplish a goal together. God created the earth and a special creature, Humans. He called us to partner but we didn’t want to partner with Him, we wanted to make ourselves God. So, God made a promise, or covenant with certain people, Abraham being one. His purpose was to use special covenant relationships to reconcile and renew his relationship with others.

There are two types of covenants, the first being ones that we make throughout life with other people in personal or professional dealings. You promise to provide a service, I promise to pay you. This first kind of covenant is a promise between equals. The second type of covenant is between a lord, king or ruler that graciously enters into agreement with their subjects. Genesis 15 records God’s conversation and gracious covenant with Abraham.

“So the LORD made a covenant with Abram that day and said, “I have given this land to your descendants, all the way from the border of Egypt to the great Euphrates River…””
Genesis 15:18-21

God reminds Abraham in Genesis 17:9-14 of his responsibility to uphold the covenant by obeying the terms. The promise is for all of Abraham’s descendants; therefore the responsibility will be theirs to uphold as well. This circumcision would be a mark of the faith Abraham’s family, God’s chosen people, would bear. God would undoubtedly keep His covenant even when his ‘subjects’ were imperfect. He desired faith, not works, lest anyone should boast that their mark of the covenant would save them, even if their faith were absent.

Abraham’s Altars to God

The Altars of Abraham, Genesis 12-22, reveal a lot about how God relates to man and how we can relate to God. Abraham is a great example of what to do and what not to do. When you read these passages, think about how God first pursued Abraham, and why Abraham, at that time and in that circumstance, would respond by building an altar.

Altar 1 (Gen. 12:1-7) …God pursues and calls man to follow Him.
Altar 2 (Gen. 12:8-13)…God forgives, restores, directs, and gives blessings and wisdom.
Altar 3 (Gen. 13:18)…God wants to be known, loved and related to.
Altar 4 (Gen. 22:9)…God provides, reigns and is to be trusted

What has God called you out of? What has He called you into? God has called you out of a life of darkness and into the light. He has called you into right relationship with Him and those around you. More specifically, God may be calling you out of an unhealthy situation, relationship, or behavior. To be in a right relationship with God means we pursue Him and not the world. You have been set free from sin and death and are a new creation if you respond to God’s loving pursuit (Rom. 8:1-2; 1 Cor. 5:19-20; Rom. 10:9-10). What provision do you need from God? Call out to Him and let your faith be counted as righteousness like Abraham, in all his failures and in all his faith (Gen. 15:6). God’s mandate and covenant stands, he has filled the earth with worshippers and continues to expand Abraham’s descendants. God is faithful. 

Categories
Church Development Spiritual Development

Where is Your Brother? The Story of Cain & Abel

Author: Jon Slenker

As God’s image bearers, we are called to be perfect and holy as God is. He has the highest of standards for his creation and children. This is why hearing from God, “Where is your brother?” could be argued as the most terrifying statement of Genesis chapter 4. Along with the obvious verse 10, “What have you done…your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground…”. Genesis 4 is not the feel-good comeback from Genesis 3 one might have hoped for. But just as the darkness is overshadowed by the ray of light in chapter 3, there is hope in the bleak story of these two brothers.

The Sacrifice v.3-5

Cain is the first born of Adam and Eve, and brother to Abel. He is a worker of the ground, a farmer, while Abel is a shepherd. Adam and Eve were fulfilling their creation mandate to be fruitful and multiply and Cain and Abel were fulfilling theirs as worshippers and stewards of God’s creation. God gave them purpose through their identity, authority and responsibility. In addition, they had a relationship with God. A relationship where they sacrificed portions of their harvest and flock as an offering.

The Bible does not say what Cain did wrong, it simply indicates that Abel’s offering was from a heart that wanted to give back the finest of what he had been given. Verse five details Abel’s offering was from the first born of his flock, including fat portions, and he was regarded by God. In contrast, verse four simply says Cain gave, “an offering” and that God had no regard for Cain and his offering. Where the Bible is clear, we should be clear. Where it is vague, we should remain vague. We are not completely sure why God had no regard for Cain. Was it his attitude? A lack of sufficient sacrifice? Was it not done with the right heart or intent? We are not told of a command that he disobeyed. Did he bring a lazy or rotten gift? God knows, and perhaps the rest of Cain’s actions and reactions in the rest of the chapter will clue us in.

“So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup. For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself.”
1 Corinthians 11:27-29

Sacrifices are to the Old Covenant as taking the Lord’s Supper and Baptism are to the New Covenant. Sacrifice and the sacraments are all signs pointing to the One True God and reminding the participant of the hope that comes from Him, who is the ultimate sacrifice. Be one who’s heart, not just actions, is worthy of God’s regard.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
Proverbs 4:23

The Grace and Truth v.5-7

Cain was angry that God had no regard for him, or his offering and he had every right to be angry, at himself, not God or his brother. Anger is a signal, an alarm going off in our bodies that screams, “somethings not right!” We are to be stewards of ourselves first and foremost, something Cain was struggling to do regarding his emotions. It is in the midst of Cain’s confusion and anger where we see God’s perfect balance of grace and truth, or support and challenge, to Cain. He isn’t babying Cain, nor is he manipulating or dominating him. God engages Cain with questions like “why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?” (Gen. 4:6-7). There is no favoritism. This is grace filled with hope. We are not received or judged by comparison to others. We are judged by our own hearts and actions.

Not only is God gracious to speak life and hope into Cain, he gives him a warning of truth. A healthy challenge, that sin is crouching at the door if he does not turn his heart toward God. It is as if James wrote his New Testament letter with Cain in mind. Or perhaps the local churches he was writing to were just dealing with the same natural born tendencies that Cain struggled with so many generations ago. “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

The Harsh Reality v.8-14

The harsh reality is difficult to face up to at times, especially when it is difficult to make sense of all the emotions swirling around. Cain goes to speak to his brother, and when they were in the field, he rose up and killed him. James offers a look into how sin crouches at the door and how to respond to anger, jealousy, selfishness, pride, quarrels, boasting, lying and calls their practice earthly, unspiritual and demonic (James 1:19-21; 3:13-19).

Cain is mad and jealous of Abel and possibly even God when he should be frustrated with himself. Instead of doing the tough personal work of looking in the mirror and self-correcting, Cain allows his anger to lead him, not the Spirit. This is what happens when we are accidental, not intentional, and shirk responsibility. We cease to lead ourselves, instead we follow our childlike emotions.

“You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.”
James 1:19-21

“If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.”
 James 3:13-18

The Hope v.15-26

There are very real consequences that Cain must live with. Ones that changed the trajectory of not only his life, but his family and generations to come that would bear forth the promised, perfect sacrifice. Cain became a fugitive of the Garden and God’s presence and wandered the earth. He was crushed and thought it unbearable to go on fearing for his life. Yet again, God ‘parents’ Cain perfectly and gives him his word and a mark to protect him. God is the hope of mankind immediately following the fall, and he is the hope for Cain immediately after his grievous sin. The very lineage of the Spotless Lamb passes through Cain as well as every other imperfect human, arriving at the perfect God-man.

“My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.”
James 5:19-20

Who do you know that is struggling with anger, jealousy, selfishness, bitterness? Pray for them, care for them. Reflect on how God went to Cain and offered a great balance of grace and truth. Pursue your brother and sister or child in love and all humility. Pray for wisdom and God will give it to you.

 

Categories
All Spiritual Development

How to Live For God: The Four Spiritual Secrets

Author: Patrick Krentz Th.M., Managing Editor for Foundations by ICM

 

God will demonstrate His faithfulness by showing you how you can be in Him, and He can be in you…” Pastor Dick Woodward

For over 40 years, Pastor Dick Woodward centered his ministry around four profound truths he called the “spiritual secrets”. These are not secrets in the sense that only a select few special individuals get to know about them. Quite the contrary. They are a distillation of Pastor Woodward’s study of scripture. In a way, they are a core message decoded by a serious student of the Bible walking closely with the Holy Spirit. These four truths, or secrets, can change your life and with them, you can learn how to live for God.

 

The First Spiritual Secret:

“I am not, but He is”

When you truly encounter the One, Holy Creator of everything, you realize what Pastor Woodward calls “the absolute difference between me and the God who calls Himself ‘I AM.’” Like Moses standing before the burning bush, we must understand that, in God’s presence, we are nobody. We bring nothing to the table, even if we are wealthy, powerful, or wise according to the world’s standards. God wants to show us what He will do with somebody who recognizes that he is nobody.

Moses certainly understood this when he stood in God’s presence. He had been somebody, the son of Pharaoh, in line to rule a powerful nation. Instead, God took Moses into the desert to become a nobody; a wandering shepherd. There, through 40 years of losing himself, Moses learned humility. Then, when Moses was, as Number 12:3 tells us, the most humble man on the face of the earth, God was able to use him. As a nobody, Moses did great things because God was powerful through him.

“It’s not about us and our identity, our self-esteem, our success or any feelings of adequacy, inadequacy or anything in between.” Pastor Woodward says. “It’s about God and His identity.”

 

The Second Spiritual Secret:

“I can’t, but He can.”

If you have ever had the experience of coming to the end of yourself, you will be familiar with the words “I can’t.” When you’ve exhausted your own resources, your own power, there comes a point when there’s nothing else you can do. Sometimes you might experience this in response to something God is calling you to do, but something for which you feel entirely inadequate. “I can’t” is not something anybody enjoys saying – it hurts our pride too much. But it can also be quite liberating, letting go of expectations and weights that we put on ourselves. 

Moses came to such a moment when God called him to stand before Pharaoh. God called him to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt. Moses’ first reaction was to say “I can’t” (Exodus 4:10). Moses wasn’t wrong. He had tried to stand up for his people his way and only ended up killing a man and running for his life. No, Moses couldn’t, but God could. Once Moses realized he was nobody, God used him to do amazing things. 

 

The Third Spiritual Secret:

“I don’t want to, but He wants to.”

God’s love is strange – mind-blowing might be the better word. He loves people who we don’t want to love. He loves you and me, and we all know how unloveable we are. When we stand before God and utter the famous words of Isaiah 6:8, “Here I am, send me!” we are not always prepared for what comes next. Sometimes our neighbor is unlovely. Sometimes the journey is difficult or dangerous. The truth is, when it comes to God’s mission to love people, we don’t want to do it. But he does.

Jonah found himself in exactly such a position when God called him to preach repentance to the Ninevites (Jonah 1:2). These were awful people; the worst of the worst, and God loved them. As the story goes, Jonah refused and ran in the opposite direction, but God followed him and got his attention (to put it mildly). Jonah did not want to do it, but God did.

We find ourselves in a similar situation whenever God asks us to do something, whether it is loving our enemy or repenting of sin – or even something as simple as spending time in the Word. When we follow our own desires, we run from God. Instead, we need to make His desires our own, realizing that our hearts are corrupt. God won’t make us do anything, but he will send a storm to get our attention, and a great fish to bring us to repentance. Far better that we lay down our desire at the start.

 

The Fourth Spiritual Secret:

“I didn’t, but He did.”

At the end of the day, when we have finally understood and applied the first three spiritual secrets, we are tempted to sit back and say, ‘well now I’ve done a great thing.’ But here is a great danger and we risk losing everything. If ‘I am not’, and ‘I can’t’, and ‘I don’t want to’, then how is it that I so often come to the conclusion that ‘I did’? How is it that we take credit for something that is so clearly not our doing?

After Jonah preached to the Ninevites, an amazing thing happened: they actually repented! (Jonah 3:6)  Nobody, especially Jonah, would have expected it. Jonah could never have caused that to happen, and he certainly didn’t want it to happen. (Jonah 4:1) Though he was angry, he rightly credited God with accomplishing such a miracle. How silly would it have been for Jonah to sit back and take credit for Nineveh’s sudden change of heart?

 

How to Live for God

When we finally obey God, after we have become nobody, we become vessels of His love and mercy. It isn’t our love that we show to our neighbor; it’s His. It’s not our Word that changes lives; it’s His. We are like the donkey that Jesus rode into Jerusalem. (Matthew 21:7) We merely carry Jesus with us, but He does the work.

These four spiritual secrets are meant to show you how to live for God. I’m not, I can’t, I don’t want to, and I didn’t – this is the necessary starting point for obeying and following Him. When you become nothing, God shows up. When you are nobody, God becomes somebody in your life. Put these four spiritual secrets into practice and you will see God do amazing things through you.

 

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