Chronological Study · Essay

New Construction

Construction
(image from Canva)

Something exciting (and slightly terrible) is happening in my neighborhood! Dun, dun, dun! It’s new construction. Maybe it’s not “terrible” per se, but it’s a little inconvenient. I remember when the house I live in now was under construction. It was not all that fun.

I think that this is a good comparison for our lives as Christians. I believe that there are so many wonderful things about our life when we are following Christ’s example. There’s a joy there that I didn’t have before—that I don’t have when I follow my own ways as a fallen human being. But, Oh my goodness! the construction project.

We see something like this throughout Exodus (and in pretty much every book of the Bible) where God is shaping His nation—His chosen people—into what He wants them to become. Think of it sort of like our building codes. They aren’t always what we want—sometimes they seem excessive or a little ridiculous and inconvenient to our plan or our time constraints—but they are intended to hold the builders accountable to a standard that produces good houses and safe houses (at least, that’s my general understanding).

When we come to believe in Christ and turn our life over to God, the Bible says that we are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Where, before, there was a sad little lean-to of a life, God essentially bulldozes it over and breaks ground for new construction. But, after we come to Christ, we still have to resist sin. Unfortunately, it doesn’t just disappear overnight and never trouble us again. We are constantly in a war against our sinful nature as we try to walk according to the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26).

So, that’s where sanctification comes in. That’s the process by which we become more like Him as we grow in our faith, become more disciplined, etc. (2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1). Now, we will never be perfect here on Earth because we’re still imperfect human beings, but we are meant to become more like Christ as we go along. It’s a process. Our faith is something that we live out and grow in throughout our life.

So, to get back to the construction analogy, we are constantly under construction as God leads us to follow His “building codes” for our life. Maybe you’ve heard the song “He’s Still Working on Me?”

Because God doesn’t want us to stay the way we were, and because He wants us to be more and more like Christ, we must change. And, again, it’s not something that happens instantaneously, although I do believe that there are some instantaneous changes that happen in our life when we do first come to Christ. But, if everything were instantaneous and we suddenly became “practically perfect in every way” in the way we live (as opposed to how we become “perfect” in God’s eyes because of Jesus’ blood and forgiveness for our sins when we’re saved), honestly, I feel like that sort of change would cause us to miss out on some of the important aspects of our relationship with God. Wouldn’t we become more “robotic” than humans who have the free will to choose a relationship with God over sin?

(just as a small disclaimer: this is somewhat of a complicated topic, and I’m not claiming to have all the answers here as much as I’m working through this part of my faith–maybe like you are, too? The issue of free will is definitely a difficult thing to puzzle together in any case)

Sometimes it’s frustrating, because we want the house to hurry up and get this thing built already (!!!). Sometimes, we don’t meet the inspection requirements and have to work things out over a longer period of time than we wanted. It’s a process, but it’s intended to bring about a better result through tests, inspections, modifications, building, etc. While it’s not always fun, I can tell you that most homeowners who have gone through the process of building a home can likely attest that it is worth the results when the builder knows what they’re doing… and, trust me, God knows what He is doing!

So, just remember that you are a vessel under construction; and when you are tempted to try to rush the project, remember that God is taking you through a process of growing, learning, and discipline to become something much better than you were before. He’s still working on all of us!

—Liz

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Chronological Study · Essay

The End of the World as We Know It

End of the World
(photo from Canva)

So, I found myself with a few minutes of free time today and I’m done with almost all my homework (insert confetti here). I thought I’d take some time to write a little about some stuff that’s been on my mind over the past couple days.

 

I’m going to discuss Exodus 7-12 in sort of a broad sense in this writing, but I won’t specifically cover everything that happens in these chapters. Mostly because it’s a lot of material, but also because what I feel like writing about lends itself to the overarching theme and not necessarily to the specific plagues and the exchanges between Moses and Pharaoh.

In any case, it seems like I’ve seen a lot of posts circulating about the end of the world. Especially after the solar eclipse. Some of these claims are religious based—in fact, I’m even taking a literature course on the Vikings and I’m learning about the way they think the world will end too (*spoiler* Ragnarok was a bad time for Norse gods). Some of them are scientifically based. Although they are not necessarily accurate in either case. Nevertheless, I find that sometimes these can sometimes seem scary or be a little distressing for several reasons.

“But how does this relate to Exodus?” you may ask. Thank you imagined audience member! I’m glad you asked!

In this part of Exodus, the Israelites might have found themselves also experiencing some fear for what probably seemed like the end of the world as they knew it. They had been praying for God to deliver them, but it turns out to happen in a way they probably hadn’t anticipated.

After all, there are a series of destructive events taking place, and, even though this isn’t something I experienced personally, I feel like it would have been easy to give in to some anxiety or stress—maybe even some of the “the end is nigh!!” kind of panic.

Plagues involving mass amounts of frogs, insects, blood, and death? I might be a little concerned.

To be totally honest, the events around the Second Coming of Christ have always been intimidating to me. The book of Revelation is an intimidating study because of all the figurative language and it’s not exactly a “feel-good” book to begin with. Except the part where everyone who has been saved is united with God in heaven, but that’s beyond “feel-good.”

The idea of all the bad things that are going to happen during this time (in whatever order things actually take place) are always scary to me. This is one area where I struggle to trust God because the “waves” just seem so huge (Matthew 14:27-33). It may not be frogs, flies, or blood, but extreme persecution and the actual end of the world are still distressing to consider.

And, sometimes, it makes me feel very insecure in my faith to see people saying/posting these “this is how the end of the world is going to happen…” synopses with claims that “I’m not afraid at all! I’m ready!”

umm… I don’t feel ready? Can you give me another run through on the safety instructions here? Do I use my seat as a floatation device in the event of a water landing?

But, considering all this, I think that there are a few ways to take these things and ease some of the worry that might pop-up:

One: Always, always, always do some fact checking. And, by “fact checking” I mean look at what scripture says about the end times, and be careful to consider who you look to for a deeper explanation/commentary on this topic.

One thing that is especially important to keep in mind regardless is that Jesus tells us that no one knows the hour when He will return except the Father (Matthew 24:36-44). So, right off the bat we can probably ignore any specific dates that people throw out. If Jesus doesn’t even know, then Mr./Ms./Mrs. Whoever (even Dr. So-and-so) does not know no matter how much evidence they throw at you.

Two: When it comes to this book of the Bible, it gets a little tricky. Revelation and other passages related to the Second Coming of Christ are a little more vague in places than other aspects of God’s Word (like on tithing, for example). We seem to only get a general idea of what’s going to take place, in some respects. And, maybe it’s just me, but sometimes not knowing can create some doubt and uncertainty.

However, like the Israelites in Egypt during the plagues, we can put our trust in God who has proved that He is faithful to His people. There is nothing that we can do to earn His love through works, because He loved us while we still had enmity between us because of our sin (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 5:6-11). All we have to do is accept the gift of salvation and allow Him to be the Lord of our life. We can trust that He will take care of us as His adopted children (1 John 3:1-3; Romans 8:16-17).

Even with some of the vagueness or details that simply don’t make sense to us right now, we can look to God’s nature (David wrote numerous verses on God’s faithfulness. Psalms 36:5; 57:10; 89:5,8,33; 92:2; 100:5; 108:4 are just a handful), and all the examples that the Bible gives us of how He cares for His children, and let go of the worries we have.

Three: Ultimately, I think this can also be a place where we need to grow in our faith. It can be a place we need to work on trusting God more. There are going to be many times where we don’t have all the answers. In these instances, (and at any other point really) we need to work on turning our anxieties over to Him instead of letting them be a chink in our spiritual armor (Philippians 4:6-7).

That doesn’t mean that we never have any concern for the future, but that we come to a peace through our growing relationship with God where we learn that we can trust that—regardless of what happens and what we don’t know or understand—God will take care of His children.

And, I think it’s worth stating that peace doesn’t always mean the image of tranquility and perfect calm that I typically default to. In fact, if we look at Jesus I’m fairly certain that when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane He didn’t have a tranquil experience even though He had a peace and assurance that, despite the fact that He was about to die a horrible death, He was in the will of His Father and, ultimately, everything was in—and had never left—God’s control (Luke 22:39-46).

Likewise, this is a chance for us to work on honesty with God. This is something that I don’t always take advantage of. Sometimes I try to put on a good face like I would if I were talking to another person. “Oh yeah, I totally trust everything You’ve said. I have no doubts! Not one!”

But, that’s not true of anyone who believes in anything.

For example, if you think about sitting in a chair, you sit in it believing that it will hold you up; but, maybe there is still a small possible doubt that pops into your head from time to time that this chair could break and you’d go crashing to the floor. Now, considering the information that this is a chair with sturdy legs, it’s skillfully constructed, and you recently sat in the chair with nary an ominous creak or wiggle, it isn’t a reasonable doubt that it might fall apart. It’s just a possible doubt. (this idea is something that was mentioned in a podcast by J. Warner Wallace that I was listening to recently, although I’m not sure which one. Regardless, you should check them out!)

Instead of acting like we don’t have any possible doubts, or even some reasonable doubts in our minds that we haven’t explored evidence for, we can come to God in honesty and say “hey, I’ve got some doubts about this…” and we can pray for guidance and discernment in finding some resolution to these issues, or, with those possible doubts, that God would help us with our unbelief—that we would trust Him more.

Again, there are times we won’t have all the answers. However, in these times, I think it helps to reflect on the nature of God. Look at some examples similar to our own situations. Ask someone who is maybe a little wiser (and trustworthy!) for advice on the matter. Go talk to your pastor (if you don’t go to a church ask a local pastor you trust). Check out some resources on websites like Stand to Reason. Talk to someone more mature and knowledgeable in the faith. And, always look to scripture.

 Four: Does this change our mission as believers? Yes, and no. I don’t believe understanding all the details of the book of Revelation is necessary to fulfill what God has asked of us. While I believe that we need to read it and understand in a general sense, knowing explicitly what is going to happen in the last days would not change the fact that I need to be spreading the Good News of the salvation that God extends to us. What it does do is give me a sense of urgency and provides some degree of accountability.

If we look at the parable of the virgins with the lanterns (Matthew 25:1-13) who were waiting for the return of the groom, the fact that they didn’t know all the details of his return doesn’t change their purpose. The ones who were wise in the waiting and prepared appropriately for his return by having extra oil were ready for His return and were allowed into the wedding banquet. The ones who weren’t diligent in his absence and in their waiting? They missed out because they weren’t ready and they were locked out of the banquet. (Matthew 25 continues to give more of these parables to explain the importance of always being ready)

We as Christians are in their place. We have been given a mission, and provided with our own “lanterns” to take care of. We don’t know how everything is going to happen in crisp, detailed, high definition, but we do know that our savior is going to return and we know that it could happen at any moment. That means we should be diligent in the waiting, spreading the truth and serving God until that return.

And, I would rather be found working for Him when He does return than not, so, what’s stopping me? Where do I need to focus more on serving and less on being served? It’s not that we should try to earn God’s love, but that because of the love He has given us we are driven to serve in return.

So, maybe this helps you all who are reading, too. Hopefully this finds you on a good, productive Monday, in any case!

—Liz


(and, obviously, credit for the title of this piece goes to that R.E.M song that’s stuck in my head now… and maybe yours too… sorry)


 

Chronological Study · Essay

Making Bricks With No Straw

bricksDoes anyone else get really frustrated with life? for possibly a week at a time, occasionally? I mean, it’s difficult when people/nature/what-have-you is consistently messy and you carry around all the baggage around it. Why can’t everything be in order and less messy? And why do people not listen like they should? It seems as if the people who need to listen the most are usually the ones who are so resistant and unwilling to give any thought to what you have to say.

I think social media brings this out in me a lot. As much as it is a tool—or, at least has the potential to be used for a tool—it can be extremely destructive and it can steal our joy. Regardless of your religious background, sometimes the last thing you need is to check Facebook again.

But, really. Why are things so frustrating sometimes? I feel like I have been consistently frustrated both with myself and others recently. I think in part I can blame it on me checking social media too much, maybe I’m a little too sensitive to things, and probably the weather and school have a lot to do with it too (not to mention this cold I’m getting *sniff sniff*). There’s a lot going on in the world that we have to be frustrated about, so maybe it’s not totally unreasonable for me to feel this way.

In Exodus 5-6 there was a lot of the same frustration going on. Moses and Aaron go to approach Pharaoh with God’s message. They even say “The God of the Hebrews has met with us,” let us go do what He wants or He’s going to strike Egypt with plagues (5:3).

Pharaoh does not let them go. He’s stubborn, and, it’s much to the detriment of the nation of Egypt.

But, wait, does this chapter say the Hebrews were affected, too?! Yep. They had to make bricks without being provided straw. They suffered because of Moses and Aaron’s request. At least, that’s how I would view it if I were in their shoes.

The situation that these men—chosen by God to help deliver his people out of slavery—were in seems counter-intuitive. After Pharaoh refuses Moses and Aaron (he’s actually obstinately saying no to God Almighty which is not a smart thing to do), he increases the Israelites’ workload, intentionally making their lives harder.

Now, the million-dollar question: Why would God allow all these consequences to take place when He could make it so that they could walk out of Egypt unimpeded at that very moment?

I don’t think there is one answer, but one that stands out to me with the way I’m feeling right now is that God wanted them to grow a little in their faith. (Now, there are other reasons for what God does in Egypt that we find in scripture, but this is what I’m going to address presently)

One phrase that keeps echoing in my head is one my pastor says frequently: “the faith that can’t be tested can’t be trusted.”

Often, I think God puts roadblocks or tests in my life just to let me know where my heart is focused. Unfortunately, a lot of times, that isn’t on Him like it should be. Sometimes it’s on a wrong note, on something I messed up and won’t stop playing over in my head, something someone said that offended me, worrying about what I’m going to do in the future, you name it. It’s often an issue of lacking trust and using worldly “eyes” rather than fixing my gaze and trust on my Provider.

It can be discouraging. Especially when what I want is to follow Christ and to share the truth. It is a daunting task that we are called to do in love. I mean, how do you not get frustrated sometimes when you’re trying to do a good thing but someone won’t accept it? It’s like trying to give your friend the one thing they’ve always wanted, but they refuse to acknowledge the present.

I think the first important step is to take a break from this world by getting in God’s word. Even Jesus—who was fully God—was intentional with the time He took to get refreshed by spending time with His Father.

Another phrase that has stuck with me recently is that “our ministry should come from the overflow of time spent with God and not from our cups” (I’m not sure who the credit for this quote belongs to, but I cannot take any credit for that wise advice).

In other words, we come to love, to have peace in ourselves, to listen better, and, in general, just meet needs in the right way by looking to the source of perfect love, perfect peace, to the God who listens intently to His children and can meet all our needs in exactly the way they need to be met. We have to come to God first and be filled with Him, and then from that we can see people/circumstances/frustrations and setbacks in the right way and address them properly.

For example: we wouldn’t want our surgeon to be more worried about what he or she was having for dinner than on the fact that they’re trying to remove our appendix. We want them to be knowledgeable, to spend time refreshing themselves on the proper procedures, and considering our specific situation so that they can take on any complications that might occur. If they don’t take the proper steps to prepare themselves to perform a procedure they could be easily flustered by a complication and unable to meet the demands in front of them.

In any case, we as Christians need this “prep” time and we need it for our own spiritual/mental/emotional health so that we can pour into the lives of others.

I think it’s also telling that in the same section of scripture where Jesus says we will suffer in this world, He tells us how to get over this by pointing out that He has overcome the world (John 16:33).

Following Jesus will not eliminate all your earthly difficulties (not to mention the constant war we wage with our own sinful nature), but keeping the right perspective can give us peace in difficult circumstances because we can trust that God, who delivered the Israelites out of Egypt after a point in time where everything seemed to be going wrong, is going to take care of His people now, too.

Maybe, if you’re also feeling frustrated, this is a moment in our lives where God is calling us to reevaluate how we do things. How are we loving others? Communicating the truth? Do we need to kill our pride?

Go look to the source of perfect love to see how you need to change to better reflect His love and truth. And, don’t be discouraged when you encounter “stubborn Pharaoh” situations.

—Liz

Chronological Study · Essay

Decrease

Ah, the first weeks of school! Such a relief to parents, but such a downer to students who have enjoyed some amount of freedom over the past couple months. I have to say that college doesn’t really change that very much. It’s nice to have a little added freedom in having your own vehicle and being able to leave after your classes, but then you’ve got bills and assignments and it really catches up to you. So, it’s really bittersweet, I guess.

My first two weeks of class have gone pretty well. I mean, as well as I can hope for when I had been dreading them for about three weeks. So far, I like all of my professors and they seem fairly nice. We shall see how this semester turns out!

The Chapters that I’m going to deal with today are in Genesis—Psych! It’s Exodus 1-4. (I’m not very funny, I’m sorry)

In these chapters one of the things that stands out is that God is concerned for His people. It says that at least 4-5 times (2:23-25; 3:7-10, 16-17). Considering that—in the New Testament—Jesus saying things two or three times emphasizes that He’s about to lay down the Truth, this seems important.

God has compassion on the Hebrews, and this is a group of people who can be a little flaky just like the rest of us. Even though they may not “deserve it” in comparing them to the standard of perfection that God established (this is something that we all fail to meet because we are fallen, imperfect people), He still doesn’t want them to suffer in Egypt. He hears the Hebrews’ cry and remembers the covenant He established with Abraham and his descendants.

Furthermore, this is an opportunity to distinguish His chosen people from all other nations, to demonstrate His awesome power, and show that He is who He says He is—an omnipotent, righteous (but also personal/relational) God.

So, He puts a rescue plan into action. He chooses Moses to be a major player in the way He leads His people out of slavery in Egypt.

But, Moses is not quite on the same page—at least not at first. He has a small pity-party when he realizes that God means to use him.

God, the Creator of the universe, comes to Moses in a burning bush—which, weirdly enough, isn’t being burnt to a crisp—and says in some detail what He wants Moses to do and that He’s going to be with him the whole time.

(It’s not too often that I’ve read in the Bible where God seems to get this detailed. I mean, with Abraham, God told him to go to a land that He would show him, and then He told Abraham that he would have a son and the entire world would be blessed through him.

That doesn’t mean that Moses was better or anything like that, but the fact that God gives him a step by step account of what’s going to happen seems like it says a lot about both (maybe) the anxieties that Moses had and the compassion that God had for His people in spelling out this detailed plan for their rescue.)

Honestly, I find myself in the same place frequently. I don’t see a burning bush or hear an audible voice, but I do have scripture that tells me the end of the story and what I’m supposed to be doing on this earth. I also have the world around me that testifies of God’s existence—that He is who He says He is.

These things should be able to satisfy the doubts I have. I have a Creator who wants a personal relationship with me, He’s provided the means to do just that, and, on top of that, He’s given evidence outside of the Bible that I just have to investigate a little to find (although, I encourage everyone to do a serious investigation into areas that you’re interested in or that maybe you struggle with).

But, I’m just like Moses. Or Peter walking on the water (Matthew 14:22-33). Or any of the countless people who have ever found themselves in front of God with a command to go and be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16).

I look at the obstacles. I look at how I’m not good enough and how I can mess things up really badly and really quickly. I look at the obstacles in the culture around me. How people won’t want to listen to me. How they don’t want to change and the Gospel is offensive.

Why would God choose me? Why would He choose Moses?

When Moses starts to get down on himself (and essentially questions God’s plan), God has one of those “mic-drop” moments. He tells Moses: “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say” (Exodus 4:11-12).

Moses continues to protest his own abilities, though, saying: “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else” (4:13). So, God concludes (it actually says that His anger burned against Moses when He said this in 4:14-17) that his brother Aaron can speak for him.

I wonder if, later on, Moses kicked himself a little considering all God does and because of the relationship that develops between God and himself.

What I learn from Moses is that too often I am focused on those negatives. If we are focused on what we cannot do, we will miss what God can do through someone who is willing to fully submit to God’s will and follow His lead.

I totally relate to Moses, because for a long time I’ve felt like God has been calling me into some form of ministry. But, I am so scared. I am not a very “social” person. I’m not very good with words. I am hesitant to take the lead most of the time. I like to be behind the scenes and not be the person who speaks up to testify about who God is in a face-to-face conversation because I’m intimidated by that challenge. At the same time, every single mistake I’ve ever made looms so large in my mind when I start to warm up to the idea of serving somewhere full-time.

I think about the obstacles more than I think about God’s ability to overcome even death. How small are my obstacles compared to God?

Serving God requires faith and vulnerability. I mean, sometimes going where God leads can feel like jumping off a cliff and trusting that He’ll provide the parachute. I understand why Moses hesitates and tries to get God to send someone else.

But, when I look at the relationship God established when Moses finally started to really follow Him, I want to surrender to His will and jump off that cliff (okay, it’s a loose analogy).

So, I’m surrendering to the mission field. (I guess that’s kind of a big deal in a good way, but it feels like jumping off a cliff) I’m still working through all those doubts and questions, but I am trusting that God—the same God who was with Moses—will be with me as I go where He calls me.

I think it’s funny because I remember telling my mom in kindergarten that I was going to be a missionary. I remember thinking that out of every career in the world, nothing would be more important to me than ministering to people. And, that’s not to say that you have to be a missionary to do this, because as Christians we are all called to share the good news. Every area of your life is a mission field, and I’m trying to work on living that out too.

In fact, my “ministry” (and every Christian’s ministry) starts with the day I was saved and it is not something I should compartmentalize into “ministry time” and “my time.” I want all the time to be “God’s time” because I want to share the Truth to those around me. If I believe everything the Bible says, I should want to do this with urgency because people’s souls are at stake.

I think what sums it up best are the words of John the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). And this verse is extremely difficult to live out. There is so much temptation and opposition to living the way God has called us to. This world is so opposed to submission to God’s authority and to accepting salvation even though we crave exactly what God offers us in a relationship with Him.

This verse doesn’t mean that I’m called to decrease into nothingness in life, but that the ways that seem right to me, my own plans and my pride would become less as I follow God in everything that I do. He becomes more to me than myself, and I become more concerned with proclaiming Christ than in making a name for myself.

I’ve got to keep looking at my life, asking: “Where do my own plans and pride need to decrease in light of the life He has called me to live? Where do I need to work harder to listen and be filled by God’s Truth instead of my own anxious thoughts and cares? Where do I need to become less so that He can become more?”

Because, at the end of the day, God doesn’t want a place in my life, He wants my life. He is a God who is jealous for the people He created (Exodus 34:14). He wants to be my priority.

Hopefully, I’ve made some sense here. It’s been sort of difficult to pare down my thoughts on all this and to write recently. If you could keep me in your prayers as I’m working towards going into full-time ministry I would really appreciate it! I’ll be keeping you all in my thoughts and prayers.

—Liz


IMG_4891
Another picture from Eleuthera. Please keep everyone on the islands and in the States who are about to be affected by Hurricane Irma in the next few days in your prayers.
PS: I just wanted to say that everyone who has been affected by the hurricanes is especially in my prayers, and I encourage everyone else to be on the lookout for opportunities to serve/donate to those who have lost so much. I’ve been convicted about the need to give/serve because of what James says about faith and works (James 2:14-26). What good is our faith if we aren’t trying to serve and reach those around us who have needs to be met? The damage from these storms is probably going to take a long time to recover from, so, if you are unable to currently give to meet physical needs for these people, be praying about how you could serve in the future.

 

Chronological Study · Essay

Defies Expectations

IMG_4890
(another of my friend’s pictures from when we were in Eleuthera–from one of the construction projects)

As we close out Genesis with Chapters 48-50, we get almost a summary of all the God has done in this family. One thing is clear: God consistently defies expectations. He takes chooses people that do not make sense and goes above and beyond what they could hope for.

In chapter 48, Israel is near death and begins the process of blessing his children. An interesting thing happens when he blesses Joseph’s two sons. To start with, Israel adopts them, or, Joseph’s children are blessed as if they were Israel’s. I don’t totally understand all the intricacies of blessing one’s children in the Old Testament, so I can’t exactly comment on all the significance of this, but what happens next is also important.

When Israel places his hands on Ephraim and Manasseh, he blesses Ephraim as if he were the firstborn instead of Joseph’s actual firstborn, Manasseh (48:14-20). Is anyone else thinking “here we go again!” like I am?

But it gets more interesting in Chapter 49 where Israel blesses the rest of his sons. Despite that Reuben, his firstborn, should have received the bulk of his blessing, Israel focuses on Judah and Joseph instead.

Now, Joseph I think we can understand, but Judah? not so much. Nevertheless, Israel chooses to focus a larger portion of his spoken blessing on these two sons. Israel’s blessing on Judah even gives us some foreshadowing to Jesus’s incarnation (49:8-12). (Let’s just take a second to appreciate how crazy it is that this was something that had been prophesied from the very beginning of civilization. That’s so many years! So many!)

Finally, in the last chapter, we see Joseph assure his brothers that he is not going to seek revenge, again. I mean, parts of the reading come across like opposite day that we had in elementary school.

So, what’s the point? Does God just like to disappoint the firstborn son of every family since Abraham’s children? And, does He enjoy psyching people out? I’m going to say “no” to the firstborn question and “more no than yes” to the other question.

What I get out of these verses is something that is another main theme of the Bible: God uses the weak things, and the foolish things, to shame the strong and wise (1 Corinthians 1-26-31). In our weakness and deficiencies God reveals His perfect power and provision to us (2 Corinthians 12:5-10). He shows that there is nothing that He cannot accomplish through someone who is willing to follow Him.

And, as Paul says, He shows that He will accomplish His plan in exactly the way He intends—blessing who He desires to bless—and not any other way (Romans 9:14-33). It brings up those questions about fairness (again), but (again) I will say that no one really deserves any grace (Romans 6:23); and, God—being the author of the story (Hebrews 12:1-2; and the Potter to our clay in Romans 9:14-33)—knows exactly what needs to happen and who needs to do it. In Ephesians 1:3-6 it even says that God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world; furthermore, He knows us because He’s the one who formed us, like David says in Psalm 139.

In application to our own lives, I think this means that we quit worrying about who deserves what because of how religious they are, or who they are as a person, and focus on surrendering fully to His will and not our own understanding (I know I’ve said that a lot, too) (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Maybe you feel doubt about your own abilities to serve, or that God can’t use someone who is really messed up (just wait for what Moses is going to do in Exodus!). Those things are not what define us. Our difficulties are God’s opportunities to shine through in our life (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). That means that anything we have struggled with in our life, can be turned over to God, and, in His strength, He can make it into something that will glorify Him. Joseph says multiple times in these closing chapters that what his brothers intended for evil God used for good because Joseph followed Him wholeheartedly (Genesis 50:18-21).

He can take your broken pieces and turn them into a beautiful mosaic, He can fill the places you’ve been left empty, and He can shine His light through the cracks in a broken life. God loves every person on this planet, but I think He really loves using an underdog to reveal just who He is to the world.

Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we could ask or think according to the power that works in us—to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21

—Liz

 

Chronological Study · Essay

Famines Have a Purpose, Too!

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from Glass Window Bridge in Eleuthera looking at the Atlantic side

In the passages for today, Genesis 46-47, we get one of those great moments where God starts to connect the dots. Those are some of my favorite parts of the Bible, where everything that seemed to go wrong, or seemed chaotic is suddenly clearer and we realize that there was a plan and a purpose there. All that time spent in difficult circumstances isn’t erased and forgotten, but it becomes worth it. In these moments, we have something like the VeggieTales’ “so what we have learned” ending (minus the talking/singing vegetables).

In Chapter 46, Jacob is finally reunited with the son he mourned for so long! It’s probably an understatement when the Bible says that “[Joseph] threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time” (Genesis 46:29). Jacob thought his son was dead, and Joseph thought he would never see his father again. That had to be an awesome reunion.

One of my two favorite moments from this chapter is where God reassures Jacob. From what God tells him, it sounds like Jacob had a lot of concerns on his mind.

They were headed into Egypt and the “what ifs” were many. What if the Egyptians did not allow them to stay there? What if they came under attack for whatever reason? What if Jacob’s family became stuck there—they were supposed to inherit the promised land, not Egypt? What if Jacob died on the way before he ever saw his son? He was getting old…

But, God comes to him in a “vision in the night” (seems like this runs in the family) and puts those doubts to rest. He told him: “I am the God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there. I will go down into Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.” (Genesis 46:3-4)

This must have been such a relief to Jacob. Once again, God was meeting his needs in a personal way. I think, sometimes I get so focused on my own “what ifs” that I miss those reassurances He provides in my own life.

My second favorite moment in this passage is where Joseph tells Jacob to say that his occupation is herding sheep. It’s almost as if he’s subtly saying “we’ve really gotta break the chain of all this lying, and saying ‘no, she’s my sister!’ and bringing trouble on ourselves” (at least that’s what I imagine reading these verses).

Joseph knew that Pharaoh had considerable respect for him, but also that the Egyptians would not like that they worked with livestock and be perfectly happy to keep them in Goshen at a distance (Genesis 46:33-34). There was no reason for Jacob and his sons to lie to make themselves look better or avoid trouble. On top of that, telling the truth is always a better policy than lying to anyone, let alone Pharaoh.

Moving on to Chapter 47, it becomes even clearer how important Joseph was to surviving the famine. These are bad times for Egypt and everyone needs food. It’s so bad, that after having spent all their money and livestock on food, everyone agrees to sell their land and themselves into servitude so that they can eat, and, you know, live (Genesis 47:14-26).

All of this sets up for everything to come in Exodus and beyond. And, maybe this isn’t revolutionary, but I’m still amazed at the way God works. Everything that the Israelites go through has a purpose, and it can be applied to our own lives in some way even today.

Therefore, my “take-away” from these passages is: pay attention. Not every part of your life will be ideal (or even “good”), obviously, but every single part of it has a purpose. I don’t understand how God makes everything work out so well, but He does. Even the hardships we encounter serve a purpose, and they shape us into the person God wants us to be. So, pay attention along the journey. I think you’ll start to see moments like in these chapters where God sets things up to make way for something great, to grow us, and to shape us into the vessel He wants us to be.

—Liz

 

Chronological Study · Essay

Just Forgiveness

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(another pic from Colorado)

So, today is Genesis 43-45. What’s awesome about these chapters is that there is a lot of forgiveness that takes place. I feel like I talk about that frequently, but it’s one of the main themes of the Bible, and I don’t think you ever really get over it in your relationship with God. At least, I hope I don’t ever get over it.

In Chapter 43, Joseph’s brothers are probably feeling the pressure. They’ve run out of food and Egypt is the only place to get it. And, Joseph told them, on the last trip, that they can’t get any more food unless they bring Benjamin, who Jacob loves and won’t let leave. Plus, Joseph still has one of them locked up in prison in Egypt as collateral. They’re in a tough spot.

Finally, however, they persuade their father to let Benjamin go. When they arrive in Egypt, Joseph is still acting weird. I mean, can you imagine how scared they were that this official—second in command over all Egypt—had taken such an interest in their family? Then, there’s the fact that their silver had been returned to their sacks the last time they got food. They were probably paranoid like you wouldn’t believe.

Didn’t they deserve this, though? Why shouldn’t Joseph make them feel anxious? Didn’t they deserve exactly the kind of difficult life they sold Joseph into? He was their own brother (I know I’ve said that a lot but I think it’s important). They lied to their father—something they probably had to continue to lie about for a while. They had murder, wrath, and malice in their hearts. Let’s see some justice served up to these guys!

But, that’s not what happened. We see in Chapter 45 that Joseph forgave them. And that’s not what happens with us because of the grace offered through Jesus Christ.

I’m just as bad as those brothers. I’m just like them, and those people in the crowd calling out for Jesus’s crucifixion (Matthew 27:22). I’m capable of horrible sins. I mean, maybe I manage to make it through my whole life without murdering my own sibling or selling him into slavery or being immoral in some obvious way, but the fact remains that I am not capable of keeping God’s law because I was born with a sinful nature (Romans 3:23). I have lied, I have not honored my parents, I have coveted, I’m guilty of not loving my neighbors like I should, and there’s a lot more than those few things.

I can’t even be a “good person” and manage to come close to keeping the law. I’m essentially hopeless when I depend on myself to get to heaven (Isaiah 64:6).

When I learned what the Bible had to say about my life and sin, I was stuck standing with Joseph’s guilty, paranoid brothers knowing that I fully deserved punishment for everything I’ve done (Romans 6:23).

But, I’m also in the same place as his brothers–who, I imagine, I stood with their jaws dropped to the floor–when I realized the grace and forgiveness offered to me.

I don’t deserve it, and sometimes it’s difficult to accept. I am guilty of trying to earn it. I think “if I can just do this or that, then they will be justified in forgiving me. I’ll be worthy of forgiving!”

That’s not how it works, though (Ephesians 2:8-9). Just like Joseph doesn’t expect his brothers to do anything except accept that he had forgiven them, God just wants me to accept His offer of grace, forgiveness and salvation. I can’t do anything to earn it.

Does that mean I don’t do anything after I accept it? Um, no.

God calls us to (cue the ABC’s from Vacation Bible School! Don’t worry I won’t sing at you):

  • Admit that we have sinned against Him, and that we can’t get it right without God’s intervention. His standard is perfection and there’s no way we can do it on our own. We have all broken God’s law and need forgiveness. (Romans 3:10; Romans 3:23; Romans 10:1-13; Romans 5:6-11; Titus 3:3-8)
  • Believe that God is exactly who He says He is and that He can forgive us of our sins. Also, we have to believe in God’s Word. (I’m going to digress slightly here: This isn’t the same as believing in Santa Claus where we just blindly put our faith out there with next to no evidence. God’s Word is God telling us who He is, and all of creation cries out in agreement, testifying that God is sovereign. Go check out some of the resources that “Stand to Reason” has about this! Some of our faith involves trusting when we don’t know all the answers, but I think God wants us to seek out the evidence of His presence in the world. Seek Him out with all your heart and you will find Him Jeremiah 29:13) But, this isn’t the kind of belief that’s just a head knowledge (James talks about this in James 2:14-19), it’s a life changing belief that puts action to what you know to be the truth. For example: if you know and believe that water is necessary to life, but all you do is say “I believe that water will help me live,” what good is that head knowledge? If you believe you need water, you should be drinking it! My life should be defined by the fact that I believe God is the Lord. I should act like it’s the truth. That’s the kind of belief we need. (Romans 3:21-26; Romans 10:1-13; Acts 16:16-34)
  • Confess with your mouth, and with your life, that Jesus is Lord—not only that you believe He is the King of Kings, but that He is a personal God, who you have made the Lord over your own life. We’re called to share the Gospel (The Good News!) with everyone, not to hide it within ourselves. (Romans 10:9-13; Matthew 28:19-20; 2 Corinthians 4:1-6)
  • Finally, we must live a life that is repentant. That doesn’t mean that we go around feeling sorry all the time for our sins. It’s where we “do a 180” and walk in the opposite direction of sin. We will mess up, but when that happens we know that God is faithful to forgive us and all it takes is to surrender to Him and turn from that sin. Your sins don’t surprise God, and Jesus died for all your past and future sins (I guess that’s another thing about being omniscient and not bound by time). (Ephesians 2:1-10; Acts 2:38-41; Acts 17:22-31; 2 Corinthians 7:9-10; Titus 3:3-8; 1 John 1:9; 1 Peter 3:18).

Today, if you are saved, be thankful for the grace that has been extended to you; and, don’t try to earn it. Just accept it and let it define your life. If you’re not saved, what’s holding you back? Talk to someone about it (even if it’s just me). Don’t put it off if you feel God calling you.

Praying for you all today!

—Liz

Chronological Study · Essay

No Stretching Required

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Happy Day After the Eclipse Day!! I don’t know if you all were interested in it, but it was fascinating to see that cool natural phenomenon. I’m always amazed at the creativity God had when He made the heavens and the earth. He put us in an ideal spot to observe all kinds of natural wonders in space.

So, today I’m writing about Genesis 41-42. In these chapters, Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams and is reunited with his brothers who sold him into slavery.

I really admire the way that Joseph seems to keep it together with his brothers. If I had been in his place, it would have been hard for me not to say “let’s throw them all in prison for a few years and see how they like it!” But, Joseph doesn’t have this kind of malicious, or vindictive, attitude. Not to mention how patient he seems to be in all the waiting.

Recall that Joseph has been in prison based on a lie—he didn’t agree to an affair with Potiphar’s wife and he certainly did not try to force himself on her in any way. He was doing the right thing, but he still got thrown in prison.

Then, while he is in prison (and still doing the right thing as an administrator type figure over the other prisoners), he interprets two dreams for the baker and cupbearer. Even though the cupbearer says that he will remember Joseph, and tell Pharaoh about how he was falsely imprisoned, the cupbearer totally forgets Joseph. Until Pharaoh has some weird dreams two years later, Joseph remains waiting in prison. He probably felt forgotten. Most people would probably begin to feel that way, among having a host of other doubts.

Now, when it comes to his brothers, I can understand why they would give Joseph a hard time; but selling off their baby brother for some silver? That had to hurt Joseph a lot. But, surprisingly, he doesn’t reciprocate those hurtful actions.

His actions in this chapter are more like testing his brothers. There’s probably a bit of that desire for revenge in the way Joseph seems to scare them in the process; but, he clearly still cares very deeply for his brothers despite that he likely still felt the sting of their betrayal when he first encountered them in Egypt.

I admire Joseph for being faithful in all that waiting (not to mention the way he forgives his brothers!). He waited a long time for things to get better. (Not like how I think waiting a few days for a delivery from Amazon is waiting a long time) He waited for years, and I don’t think he really had much of an assurance that things would turn out how they did except those dreams he had when he was seventeen and knowing that God would be with him. (Not that I’m discounting the importance of either of those things)

To be honest, it is hard to be faithful in the waiting. During a trial or in a period where I feel stuck waiting between “what was” and “what I’m hoping to get to,” it is easy to get discouraged. It is even more difficult if you’re in a place like Joseph and you don’t have any clue what’s next except more of the present “stuck” feeling.

But God was with Joseph, and God is with us in all situations. We may not always feel Him, but He is an omnipresent God. This is one thing we talked about during D-Now (“Disciple Now,” if you’ve never heard of it or call it something different. It’s just a weekend event for youth from a few of the local churches).

Often, I put God in a box, or feel that He is only thinly, faintly, barely present in everything around me. I think that He really has to stretch to hear my prayers and needs because there’s so much going on in the universe! Hopefully, I can catch a glimpse of His presence or manage to get His attention for a fleeting second to answer a couple of my needs. How silly is that?

God is fully present and in His full power in every single molecule of creation.

His signature is on every leaf, every blade of grass, every hair on our head, every strand of DNA. His mark is on the microscopic stuff that holds everything together.

We see His power and presence displayed in large scale events like in the stars and planets, the amazing power and depth of the ocean, and in the eclipse that happened yesterday. The vast, seemingly infinite universe was fashioned by Him speaking it into existence. Who is man that he should be carefully formed by Him and given life from His very breath?

I’ve heard the phrase “write what you know” from creative writing classes and from some of those posts on social media that have “inspirational” quotes. To me, (feel free to disagree and think what you want about this advice) that means that I write what I have some knowledge about/life experience with, but also that I write about things that come specifically from my imagination. Things that I’ve been thinking about and “know” because they’ve been bouncing around in my head for weeks or even years. We all “know” things that are uniquely ours and those things are valuable because no one else looks at the world in exactly the same way. Those things that I write have me written all in them.

God has created what—and more importantly who—He knows. He knew us before we were even thought of by our parents. He knew who we would be before the foundations of the world were laid (think about an author who knows who the characters in his novel will be before it is written) (Ephesians 1:4-6).  And God has created each person on this earth in a detailed, intentional, personal way.

There is nowhere on this earth that we can go that God is not fully there. This earth is His creation and He is written all over it. Even the things that we make are marked with His presence because God has given us the ability to imagine and the life and ability to create what we have imagined.

When we find ourselves in a place of waiting, where it is hard to have faith and we are fighting discouragement, we just have to remember that there is nowhere we can go on earth that God does not see us. And no created thing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39). There is nowhere too far, too deep, too high, or too dark that He does not see us or that He isn’t already there. God is omnipresent, and God is omnipotent. There is nowhere He can’t reach us and no situation too big that He isn’t in control of.

God is in His fullness in every speck of creation.

In closing, I want to end with part of Psalms 139. David expresses this all so much more eloquently than I can:

 

“Lord, You have searched me and known me.

You know when I sit down and when I stand up;

You understand my thoughts from far away.

You observe my travels and my rest;

You are aware of all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue,

You know all about it, Lord.

You have encircled me;

You have placed Your hand on me.

This extraordinary knowledge is beyond me.

It is lofty; I am unable to reach it.

Where can I go to escape Your Spirit?

Where can I flee from Your presence?

If I go up to heaven, You are there;

if I make my bed in Sheol, You are there.

If I live at the eastern horizon

or settle at the western limits,

even there Your hand will lead me;

Your right hand will hold on to me.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me,

and the light around me will be night” —

even the darkness is not dark to You.

The night shines like the day;

darkness and light are alike to You.

For it was You who created my inward parts;

You knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I will praise You because

I have been remarkably and wonderfully made.

Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well.

My bones were not hidden from You

when I was made in secret,

when I was formed in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw me when I was formless;

all my days were written in Your book

and planned before a single one of them began.

God, how difficult Your thoughts are for me to comprehend;

how vast their sum is!

If I counted them, they would outnumber the grains of sand;

when I wake up, I am still with You.

Psalms 139:1-18 HCSB

—Liz

Chronological Study · Essay

From Awkward to Amazing

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Genesis 38-40! Maybe it’s just me, because I was raised in a very conservative environment, but these chapters feel a little awkward to write about. Nonetheless, they’re a part of the Bible, and they are profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). If you’ve heard someone say “the Bible isn’t trail mix! You can’t pick and choose what you want out of it, you have to have the whole thing!” that’s coming into play here.

So, in these chapters, things seem bad—even from a worldly point of view. However, it’s not that different from the rest of the Bible. The whole book talks about man’s sinfulness from cover to cover, sometimes we just don’t really look at it. And, maybe that’s a good idea not to go into detail if you’re teaching children; but, we can’t always read it as watered down, or fuzzied-up, because if it’s in the Bible, it’s important to our lives.

That being said, the first two chapters deal with sexual sin. In today’s culture, I think this has become more and more of a gray area where we just say “hey, it’s no big deal! Everybody is doing it. Nobody’s perfect. We just won’t make a huge deal out of it anymore.” Cue the buzzer noise from Family Feud “XXX!”

God puts two men to death for their sin in this chapter. It’s a big deal. Now, this isn’t the only place that God puts someone to death for their sinful actions, and this doesn’t mean that sexual immorality—in whatever form—is the worst sin; but, it’s a reminder that God cares about this.

The beginning of the trouble in this chapter is probably that Judah took a Canaanite wife, something that, from previous chapters, we know is not okay. But Judah has three sons with Shua, his wife, and by verse 5 nothing too bad has happened. Until we get all up in this business with the wife Judah gets for his firstborn son.

God is displeased with the actions of Er, Judah’s firstborn son (now married to Tamar), so he is put to death (38:7). Then, when Judah’s second son is supposed to take Tamar as his wife and father his brother’s children, Onan disobeys (38:9-10). So, what happens? He also gets put to death (38:10). I sort of wonder what Tamar was thinking at this point.

Then, Judah gets himself into trouble. He tells Tamar to live as a widow until his youngest son is old enough to take her as his wife, but then he never follows through (38:11, 26). Tamar takes matters into her own hands. She tricks Judah into sleeping with her by disguising herself as a prostitute (38:13-25).

Tamar ends up getting pregnant. (But, wait there’s more!) When Judah is ready to have her burned to death because someone tells him that she’s been found guilty of prostitution, she casually says “I’m pregnant by the man who owns these…see if you recognize them” (38:24-25). And what does she send him? His seal, cord, and staff that he gave her as collateral until he sent her the goat that was supposed to be her payment (38:25; 16-18). Ouch. That’s embarrassing. Needless to say, he doesn’t burn her.

Then, in chapter 39, Joseph is faced with his own awkward situation. Although, I must say, he handles it much better than Judah does. Joseph was put in charge of Potiphar’s estate. God was with him, and the Egyptians recognized this and gave him a great deal of responsibility (39:1-6).

But, Potiphar’s wife (insert disappointed head shaking here). She saw that he was handsome and she lusted after him (39:6b-7). Not only that, but she spoke to him “day after day” trying to get him to sleep with her (39:10). Joseph would not have it. He knew that it would be a sin before God, and that it would also be a sin against his master who had placed a lot of trust in him (39:8-10). He tells her no repeatedly (and probably emphatically).

One day, she confronts him when no one is around and he runs from her (39:11-12). He literally flees from sexual immorality (2 Timothy 2:22; 1 Corinthians 10:8; 1 Corinthians 6:18-20). However, Potiphar’s wife lies about Joseph, saying that he tried to rape her (39:13-19). Potiphar believes her and throws him in prison (39:20).

From these two chapters, it looks like whether you do or you don’t commit this kind of sin you lose. Why even bother if you can’t win either way? Well, this isn’t exactly a no-win scenario when you keep reading.

First of all, the Bible says that this kind of sin is a sin against your own body (1 Corinthians 6:18-20). It may not be the worst sin you can commit, but it is different from other kinds of sins. This kind of relationship is intended to be in the context of marriage. It’s supposed to be symbolic of the way husband and wife become one, it’s supposed to bring them closer together, and it’s intended for procreation (Mark 10:6-9; 1 Corinthians 6:13-16). It’s not just for “funsies” and it’s not meant for anything outside of marriage.

When you take it out of this specific intended context you set yourself up for a bad situation. It’s like setting a fire on your kitchen table instead of the fireplace. A fireplace is meant to shelter the fire, be a place that can sustain it, and, when it is where it’s intended, it is beneficial to those around it. If you start setting fires in other places you’re going to damage whatever it’s around. Even if it seems like a good thing at the time, it’s probably not going to be something that can be sustained, it can do damage to heart, can affect your health, or possibly even affect your children later on.

Don’t get me wrong, sex is intended to be a good thing—God created it with a good purpose—but because so often it is in the wrong place, it becomes something that can be very detrimental (see above fire metaphor). It’s supposed to be uniting two souls. It’s not supposed to be divided and whittled down into merely a pleasurable experience that you can have with just anyone. When you take it out of its context it’s like gluing two ceramic pots together one minute, and, the next, smashing them apart (or if you’ve seen the movie Fireproof think of the salt and pepper shakers).

Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs), the book that is pretty much dedicated to expressing the satisfaction found in the right kind of sexual relationship, repeatedly says “do not stir up love until the proper time” (Song of Songs 2:7; 3:5; 8:4,6). This is one reason why our culture is so distressing. We are constantly bombarded with sex. It’s in our face 24/7. TV shows, commercials, radio, music, billboards, social media, anywhere and everywhere.

Whoever realized that “sex sells” took it and ran with it. Sexual immorality was a problem way back at the beginning of civilization, but it seems like it’s been magnified by this idea. It’s now blown up into a culture that is drenched in lust. We have issues with pornography, with teen pregnancies, with rape and human trafficking (and by extent abortion), and, in a less drastic example, a culture that tries to use sex as a measure of love, acceptance, success, and value/worthiness.

So what do we do? First, it is so important to know that your value does not come from sex or your sex appeal. You are made in the image of your Creator and that is the only place that your real value comes from.

Second, there is forgiveness for this kind of sin just like there is for every other sin. Even if you’ve really missed the mark. If we confess our sins God is faithful to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). But, that involves repentance and that’s not easy (Acts 2:37-39).

The good news is that there is grace for all our sins, and God understands the temptations that we endure (Romans 6; Romans 8; 1 Corinthians 10:13; Hebrews 4:14-15). He is fully aware that we are not perfect.

If you find yourself in this situation, where you are struggling with repentance, I encourage you to find someone you trust who can keep you accountable. You may feel the Holy Spirit prompting you to flee certain situations, but sometimes you just need an audible/tangible voice/person to help you. That’s okay! One of the reasons that we have the Church is because God knows that the Christian life is one that needs to be lived in a community (Hebrews 10:24-25). Our relationship with God has to be our own personal relationship with Him, but we need community and connection to other believers as support. We need each other.

I will also say that Jesus tells us that if our right eye causes us to sin, we should gouge it out, because it is better for us to enter heaven a little maimed than for us to go to hell fully intact (Matthew 5:29-30). If there is a relationship/person/hobby/what-have-you that cause you to stumble, you need to flee it. It may hurt as much as gouging out your eye, but it is not worth it to keep that thing and continue to live in sin. Sin is what separates us from God and we are called to lay aside everything that ensnares us and to be different from this world (Hebrews 12:1-2; Romans 12:1-2). Don’t let these things drag you down when you know God is calling you. He is so much better than anything this world has to offer.

Lastly, I want to say that God doesn’t stop using us even if we mess up. Take a look at Luke 3:33. Now, this is one of those places in scripture that we usually skip over because it’s just a bunch of names. (“I don’t know these people. Why is this important?” etc.)

Do you see that Judah is in this family line? Judah, and Judah’s son Perez (one of Tamar’s sons), and Perez’s son Hezron (Luke 3:33). Even though this looked like a horrible situation, these people are a part of Jesus’s ancestry! God includes imperfect, really messed up humans as a part of His divine, perfect plan.

Not only that, but when Joseph was thrown in prison over Potiphar’s wife’s sin, it opened the door for Joseph to interpret the cupbearer and baker’s dreams, which eventually allowed him to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. Then, because of that, he became second in command over all Egypt and saved countless lives by storing up food for the years of famine.

God was with him when things looked bleak and when most of us would probably think about giving up. I’m getting a little ahead, but in Genesis 45:5-7 and 50:19-21 Joseph even tells his brothers that God used their hateful actions—a bad situation—to bring about so much good. Even though they had murder in their hearts, God had a plan for saving lives.

So, maybe not a win-win scenario (because I’m not sure we can count Judah as having ‘won’ in this instance), but just another point to say that God doesn’t need “perfect.” He just needs people who are willing to follow Him with all they have, and who will resist temptation to the best of their ability, like Joseph. And, when we succumb to temptation? People who will repent and turn back to Him.

–Liz

Chronological Study · Essay

The Real Deal

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My friend’s milkshake from K&J’s Elegant Pastries in Alabaster, AL

Today’s chapters, Genesis 35-37, start to conclude Jacob’s story and move on to Joseph.

This portion of scripture starts off on a good note in chapter 35. God speaks to Jacob and tells him to return to Bethel to settle and build an altar to Him (Genesis 35:1-14). Jacob appears to respond promptly with obedience—possibly because God reminds him that He was with him when he was fleeing Esau and that was kind of a big deal (Genesis 35:1).

Not only does he move to Bethel to settle there, but he gets rid of the presence of any idols from his family and their servants and makes offerings to God (35:2-5, 14-15). Once again, God blesses him and tells him that his name is no longer Jacob, but Israel (35:9-10). God also reminds him of the covenant that he is a part of (35:11-13). So, overall, the first part of 35 is positive. Jacob honors God and God blesses him. But with the death of Rachel, and Reuben sinning against his father, it seems to go slightly downhill in the latter part of the chapter (35:16-22). It concludes with a list of Jacob’s sons and the death of his father Isaac (35:23-29).

Chapter 36 is devoted to Esau’s descendants. Clearly God meant what He said when He told Rebekah that there were two nations in her womb while she was pregnant with Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:23). Both Jacob and Esau have large families, who have large families, who have large families, and so on.

Finally, in Chapter 37, we get to Joseph. When I think of Joseph, sometimes I focus on the fact that he was seriously wronged and how his brothers were absolutely awful to him. On the other hand, I wonder just how frustrating seventeen-year-old Joseph was. I have a brother who’s a couple years younger than me, and he can be extremely frustrating at times, but I’ve never wanted to throw him in a cistern and then sell him to a caravan of Ishmaelites headed to Egypt (37:25-28). Considering that he was his father’s favorite, he had dreams (which he boasted about) that his family would bow down to him, he even had an “ornate robe,” and he was also a teenager—most people this age seem especially not great about controlling their tongue—he had several things working against him (Genesis 37:3-10).

Regardless, what his brothers did was not right. Only Reuben stands up for him and prevents his brothers from killing Joseph (37:21-22). However, Reuben still goes along with lying to his father about what actually happened to Joseph (37:29-35).

I think one thing these passages show is that mankind has a tendency towards evil and hate. Throughout Genesis, story after story, there is so much evil. At one point, it gets so bad that God floods the entire earth except for eight people (Genesis 6-9)! We live in a fallen world, and every person on the earth stands in need of God’s grace and mercy. (These are some passages that talk about this: Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:12-21; Isaiah 53:61; Romans 3:10-26).

From my ‘Intro to astronomy’ class my freshman year of college, we talked about how the universe is “lazy” and (I think…?) has a tendency towards “chaos.” This can also apply to our lives. We want to exert the least amount of energy possible, often in every category. We want to “work smarter not harder,” we try to develop new technology that will make our lives more comfortable and easy, to some degree I feel that the issue of obesity is related to the fact that it requires more energy to get up and work out or make changes to our diet; and, honestly, it is easier to hate than it is to love.

Because of all the things that are happening in our country right now (and across the world), there are a lot of people talking about ‘love.’ I feel bombarded with all the articles in the media that talk about ‘love.’ I’ve recently read some headlines about how people have a ‘natural ability to love’ and that hate is a ‘learned behavior,’ etc. But, I respectfully disagree.

While I acknowledge the fact that people have the emotional capacity to love and feel attachment, which seems to be an inborn quality (probably even beginning with our time in the womb), I don’t think that hate is necessarily a ‘learned behavior.’ Now, who we hate can certainly be influenced by upbringing and the culture around us, but the ability to hate seems just as natural as the ability to love (maybe that’s just stating the obvious). Similarly, I believe that our ability to love is so far from where it needs to be. We cannot love if we don’t know real Love (1 John 3:16; 1 John 4:7-19).

Does anyone remember when they first told a lie? I don’t really remember, but I’m sure my parents could give me some idea. The weird thing? No one has to tell us how to lie, but we do have to be taught/held accountable to tell the truth. No one has to tell us how to love people who are nice to us, or do things for us that we like, but we do have to be taught to love when it’s not convenient. It’s easier to love people who are nice to us, to hate people who are mean to us, to lie when it can get us out of trouble or make us look better. It’s hard when loving someone costs us something or when telling the truth can get us into trouble (Matthew 5:43-48). Truth and Love are things that cost us dearly.

And, the kind of love that everyone is after, the kind we really need? We can only find it in Jesus. Sure, we can find love for a while in other people apart from God. We can maybe find it in a romantic relationship where someone loves us for “who we are,” but we will never know perfect, unfailing love anywhere else but in God.

God’s love surpasses all understanding and it never changes with the way we act—whether we mess up or we do what is right.

Perfect love is patient, it is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud, it does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs, it does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth, it always protects, always trusts, always hopes always perseveres. It never fails. (1 Corinthians 13; Romans 8; Psalms 136; Psalm 100; Psalm 57:10; Ephesians 2:4; Romans 8:38-39; and so many more).

It is impossible for people to have that kind of love on their own because we are imperfect. If we do not surrender our hearts to God and experience His love, we cannot possibly give that kind of love to others.

It can be kind of difficult to explain, but imagine this:

Let’s say everyone is created with a craving for ice cream. The good sugar filled, super fattening, amazing kind of ice cream. But, all we are able to get from ‘Food World’ (or, what we can get on Earth by human means) is sugar free. Now, ‘Food World’ has some pretty good sugar substitutes—they even have good sugar free frozen yogurt—and it all still tastes good; but, it’s still missing the sugar. And we crave sugar!

So, a divine Heavenly Ice Cream Man says, “I’ve got the only means to real sugar ice cream that people need, so I have to make a way for them to get it.” Thus, He sends His Son to bring the real deal ice cream to Earth. He gives us perfect ice cream, and once you’ve tasted it you cannot go back to the ‘Food World’ imitation stuff. The people who have tasted it? They cannot shut up about it. It’s amazing ice cream, and it’s what everyone is craving, right? Everyone probably wants to hear about it, yeah?

Maybe not. Some people don’t believe it. For whatever reason, they continue to try to make ‘Food World’ ice cream fill the craving only Heavenly ice cream can fill. Some people reject it outright. “There’s no way there can be perfect ice cream with sugar. It’s just a fairy tale.” Some people fear how the ice cream will change their lives. Some don’t realize, or haven’t been told, that it’s possible to do better, and they settle for the sugar free stuff. These people have never experienced the real thing and all they can do is advertise the imperfect kind.

 

That’s sort of the way it is with love in this world. I realize that ice cream is probably a poor analogy, but I think this makes my point.

If you’ve tasted the real thing, don’t shut up about it. There is a world full of people who crave the real thing, but all they know is the imperfect kind of love. They need­ the real thing. Share the real thing because that’s exactly what God has called us to as Christians!

–Liz