Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Seeing What God Sees

113 years ago, a wealthy British family took their children on holiday to the lake district of England. There they rode horses, played cricket, and swam in a spectacular pool. And it was in that pool that something extraordinary happened. It seems that while two of the boys were floating in the shallow end, another was sinking in the deep end. The harder he fought, the more he sank, until suddenly he was in grave danger. No one was watching, but the son of the gardener who was working nearby. In an instant, he took off his shoes, dove in, and pulled him to safety.
When they were safely on land, the parents of the young boy rushed to the gardener and said, “How can we ever repay you?” Before the gardener could manage a response, the parents continued, “We are prepared to give you and your son whatever you wish." After several moments of embarrassment the gardener said, “There’s only one thing he ever wanted in life and that’s to be a physician, and you can’t possibly make that happen.” To which the father said, “Oh yes we can. Whatever it costs, we’ll do it.” And they did. They paid for the son of the gardener to become the most recognized doctor in all of Great Britain.

And the story doesn’t end there. Fifty years later, when the rescued one returned from an international summit, he had pneumonia. Quickly, the King of England ordered that the best physician in Britain be brought to save him from certain death. And there at his bedside the doctor administered a drug that he had developed. It was called Penicillin. And after Flemming gave it to Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister said, “Rarely has one man owed his life twice to the same rescuer." Can you imagine being saved more than once by the same man?

The brothers of Joseph could. The Bible says they make their way down to Egypt to buy grain.
They have one purpose - to be saved from starvation. But when they get there, they get more than they bargained for. Not only do they get sacks full of grain, they get sacks full of money. They get all their money back, and an order to return with their prized possession - their youngest brother. Months later they’re back. This time they’re there not only to avoid starvation, they’re there to avoid any further imprisonment. And again the Bible says they get more than they bargained for. This time not only do they get grain, they get a feast, they get money, and they get a cup in their sack. And within hours they’re back in Egypt a third time. This time they need more than grain. This time they need more than a feast. This time they need to be saved from their sin.

Someone once wrote, “Let others hold forth the terrors of hell. Let others hold forth the joys of heaven. Let others drench their congregations with teachings about the sacraments and the church. Just give me the cross… The cross is the only lever that has ever turned the world upside down. The cross is the only cause for a man to forsake his sins. A man may begin preaching with a perfect knowledge of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew; but he will do no good…unless he knows something of the cross.” For in the cross we find the cosmic confluence of two magnificent treasures – divine mercy and divine grace.

Centuries ago the Scottish Bible commentator Alexander MacClaren wrote of Genesis 45: “If the writer of this inimitable scene of Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers was not simply an historian, he was one of the greatest dramatic geniuses of the world, master of a vivid minuteness like Defoe’s, and able to touch the springs of tears by a pathetic simplicity like his who painted the death of King Lear. Surely theories of legend and mosaic work fail here.”

What doesn’t fail is the Holy Spirit’s genius in revealing to us the depth of Christ’s work in transforming our brokenness with the world into complete wholeness, Shalom!

For two years Joseph has kept his identity hidden from his deceitful brothers. Decades earlier they had sold him into slavery. That decision set in motion a series of heart-wrenching betrayals and a complexity of brokenness. But now it’s the day of reckoning. Now is the time for Joseph to bring them to justice. BUT HE DOESN’T! Every value the world, ourselves, and the devil propound tells Joseph to pounce. But instead of pouncing, he perfectly portrays the principle purpose of the Prince of Peace. Instead of recriminations, he reconciles. Instead of hating them, he heals them. And in so doing Joseph mirrors what Christ alone can do for us.

Think of it. His brothers bound him and in doing so bound themselves. Here, the once “bound one” unbinds them. It’s a spectacular “unbinding.” Not only does he give them mercy, he gives them grace. How? How does Joseph do it? That’s Sunday’s study.

In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1) How many times before Genesis 45 does Joseph demonstrate mercy to his brothers?
2) How many times does Joseph demonstrate the depth of his brokenness at the sight of his brothers?
3) What correlation can you draw between Genesis 45:1-2 and Luke 19:41-42?
4) Why does Joseph choose to reveal himself? Why not keep the secret and let his family resettle in Egypt?
5) What three human needs are revealed by Joseph’s words and actions? (Hint: They all begin with the letter “R”.)
6) What does Joseph reveal about his knowledge of the nature of brokenness in verse 5?
7) What do you make of the contrast Joseph offers between the deeds of his brothers and the deeds of God?
8) What is the foundation of Joseph’s act of reconciliation?
9) What does it take for their father to believe in verses 26 & 27?

See you Sunday.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Selling Out

Our continuing series on Brokenness and Transformation leads us now to the world around us. Sin has certainly caused the brokenness of corruption, pollution, violence, disease and hunger we see in our world. Then there is our personal “world” where dreams, plans, relationships, health and finances can be broken.
One of the most righteous individuals in the Bible is Joseph of the Old Testament. Yet he experienced a broken personal world first hand. He knew the pain of a broken heart through repeated betrayal.
We will look this Sunday at his broken world and how it connects with us. Thankfully, Joseph stayed committed to God through the brokenness and God transformed his world in an amazing way!
See you Sunday.
1. What are hints of the problems between Joseph and his older brothers? Genesis 37:2-5
2. Who wanted to kill Joseph? Genesis 37:17-19.
3. Who first killed his own brother in the Bible? Genesis 4:8
4. Take a moment to consider how Joseph’s “world” came crashing down. Genesis 37:23, 24
5. Go back to Genesis 3:13-19 and see the brokenness that came to the perfect world of Adam and Eve.
6. The Apostle Paul was a true champion for Jesus Christ and yet his personal world was filled with brokenness. How does he describe that brokenness in II Corinthians 6:4-10?
7. What is the similar brokenness that Jesus and Joseph experienced? John 1:11
8. What benefit is there for us in the brokenness Jesus experienced? Hebrews 4:15
“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Nobody knows but Jesus…”

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Finding Christ in Esau

On New Year’s Eve in London, British dramatist Frederick Lansdale was asked by Seymour Hicks to reconcile with a fellow member of the club. The two had quarreled in the past and never restored their friendship. “You must,” said Hicks. “It’s very unkind at a time like this to be unfriendly. Go over now and wish him a happy new year.” Soon Lansdale crossed the room and spoke to his enemy - “I wish you a happy new year, but only one!”

For years I’ve watched that spectacle play out. Thankfully, the rabid lack of forgiveness, and bitterness are the exception rather than the rule around Hebron; but we’re all acquainted with the devastation brokenness with others causes, especially in the lives of those most bitter.

Last week we turned to a famous example of brokenness with others – the story of two brothers, Jacob and Esau. As we noted, the brokenness we see in the relationship is a progression from Jacob’s brokenness with God and himself. His name comes from the Hebrew akob, meaning “heel,” and he certainly lives up to his name. From the time of his birth his life is marked by grasping rather than giving. His record of conniving and self-interest begins with his brother, but it doesn’t stop there. He cheats his brother, his father, even his uncle, until God performs radical surgery on his hardened heart. For seven chapters we see the old Jacob. We see him through a bartered birthright, a stolen blessing, a dream of angels, and a divine pronouncement remarkably similar to the one his grandfather received in Genesis 12. We see him through the accumulation of wealth and power. We see him through a covenant of mutually assured destruction with his uncle, Laban. And through it all we see the old Jacob – a heel from infancy to middle age.

But in chapter 32 it all begins to change for Jacob and amazingly for Esau too. The chapter begins with Jacob’s departure from his maternal uncle, Laban. He’s served him for fourteen years. For his years of service Jacob has gained two wives, a flock of kids, a wealth of animals and servants, and yet, just as he did on the eve of his father’s death, Jacob has to once again flee. He takes all of his stuff and flees from Paddan-aram.

He’s already certain of his desired destination. He intends to return to the land of his fathers, the place of promise, Canaan; but he faces a challenge. He knows that to get there he has to go through the territory his brother controls. It’s Esau’s area. It’s a region controlled by the same brother he bamboozled twenty years earlier. So what does Jacob do? He prays! He prays that the God who has promised him a future will protect him (Genesis 32:9-12). Imagine the chutzpah!! Imagine asking God to intervene when for decades you’ve acted on your own, under your own power. Imagine asking God to baptize your bull----. You say, “That’s a bit strong, isn’t it?” Not at all!! Look at what he does as soon as he’s finished praying. He concocts a scheme to assuage Esau’s anger. He intends to send out some of his animals and servants, then his family, before he goes to encounter his brother. What a heel!

But before he can proceed with his pathetic plan, night falls, and God shows up. O what a gracious God He is. Instead of kicking his butt, instead of giving Jacob what he deserves, He breaks his hip. The Bible says he touches the socket of Jacob’s hip and dislocates it. He gives him a permanent limp. Now many people pass over this, but we shouldn’t. I would suggest that what happens to Jacob at Peniel is the most important thing that happens to him in his entire life.

It is here at Peniel, which means “face of God,” that there’s total healing of Jacob’s brokenness. In fact, after this encounter we immediately see the full extent of the healing. All of his relationships – with God, himself, and his brother are radically transformed in exactly the same way Jesus Christ heals such brokenness today. I’ve preached this text before – but NEVER like this.

Here are some questions you may wish to investigate in preparation for Sunday:

1. When does this encounter take place? (Genesis 32:22) Is there any future
significance to this place?
2. What is the significance of telling us that Esau is accompanied by 400 men?
3. How do you reconcile verse 3 and the plan in Genesis 32:13-20?
4. What biblical parallels do you find with Esau’s greeting of Jacob?
5. Why would Esau be so positively disposed to his brother?
6. What’s behind Jacob’s seven-fold bow?
7. Is there any significance to who speaks first in this encounter?
8. What does Jacob mean in his answer to Esau in verse 8?
9. Why does he insist on blessing Esau? Is it a requirement?
10. Is there any significance to the word Jacob uses in verse 10 (present or
blessing) and Esau’s use of it in Genesis 27:36?
11. What does Jacob/Israel mean when he says in verse 10 that seeing Esau is
like seeing the face of God? (See Genesis 32:30)

See you Sunday – It’s a great text for broken lives that wish to know how Jesus sets us free!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Grabbing a Heel

This week, in one of those random, unplanned meetings, a man opened up to me about a serious struggle he was having with a woman. The breech was so great that things appeared to him to be hopeless. He spent nearly 20 minutes laying out the details and his case for hopelessness in the relationship. When he finished I said to him, “This is a God appointed time. Go, speak to her from your heart and tell her what you’ve just told me.” He said, “What have I told you?” I said, “I’m sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me.”

This Sunday is the ninth week in our series on Living Beyond – The Transformed Life. It’s the week we turn to the third kind of brokenness that only God can heal, and that’s the brokenness we have with others. Who among us is not thoroughly acquainted with the disharmony and dysfunction that we can have with others? Attributing motive. Judging. Shunning. Getting one up on another. Feeling hurt. Feeling lonely. These are but a sample of the symptoms of a broken relationship with another person.

As we’ve seen in each of the two other areas of brokenness – brokenness with God and brokenness with ourselves – brokenness with others is a universal condition that every one of us experiences. Indeed, the Bible is overflowing with examples of such brokenness. We encounter it in the third chapter of the Bible with Adam and Eve. We see it in Cain and Abel. But among all of the biblical examples none offers a richer, fuller description of brokenness with others than the brokenness between the sons of Isaac and Rebekah. In fact, chapters 25 and 34 of Genesis are perfect “bookends” that reveal the depth of the division and God’s remedy of it. As we get into chapter 25 this week try to find the parallels between Jacob and you.

In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1. How is Jacob a perfect portrait of the typical Christian when it comes to giving?
2. Is your life marked more by giving or grasping?
3. What does the name Jacob mean?
4. What points of contrast can you find between Jacob and his father?
5. How does Jacob’s plotting square with Paul’s words in Romans 7 and Galatians 6:7-10?
6. What does Jacob miss in trying to buy the birthright?
7. How do Jacob’s actions in this chapter square with his actions in chapter 34?
8. Why does Esau get more print in the New Testament than Jacob?
9. Who is Milton Scott and why did he have such a powerful effect on Andy Stanley?
10. How much Jacob is in you?

It’s Stewardship Sunday – a perfect time to talk about all of this. See you Sunday.