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Archive for July, 2014

The Last Shall Become First

July 31st, 2014

But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger, and crossing his arms, he put his left hand on Manasseh’s head, even though Manasseh was the first born.

Genesis 48:14

In his life with its twists and turns, Jacob finally came to the moment where he would bless Joseph’s children, Manasseh and Ephraim. According to their traditions, Manasseh, the elder, should receive the main blessing, and Ephraim, the younger, should receive the lesser. But instead Jacob puts Ephraim ahead of Manasseh, and we must presume that God’s Spirit led him to do so.

Yet in so doing a principle was laid down for us, that God’s grace means that He chooses the weak, the fallen, the least, and by His power of redemption turns them into the greatest. Christ said that the first shall become last and the last shall become first (Matt. 20:16). Grace sets aside the normal order of human society, and redeems and lifts and gives privilege and power to those unfit by human standards to hold these positions.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29,

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not man of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.

With God it does not matter where we have come from. It matters only where He is calling us to go. As we began the journey of faith in weakness, standing only in His grace, so we continue the journey in His strength, and not in our own.

At Jacob’s own birth a similar prophecy was given (Gen. 25:23), but in passing along the blessing to Joseph’s sons, Jacob proclaimed the truth that redemptive grace is the primary principle by which God operates in the world. The choosing of the younger at the birth of Esau and Jacob, was not an exception, rather it illustrated the rule of grace - that the one who stands must stand in the power and grace of God, not in his own attainments, privileges, or strength.

Each day we may choose to stand in our accomplishments or we may choose to stand in the grace of God. Those who learn to stand by grace are empowered to do more, because their potential comes not from themselves but from God. Their failures are not fatal. Their flaws are not the limitation of how God can use them. The worldly expectations of their potential is not the determining factor of what God can do with them - even if these come from their own parents who love them. God always knows better than even the most loving and wisest parents.

Our potential in life depends on the will and power of God and upon our walking humbly by faith in His grace, love, and power. That and that alone is all that truly matters.

Gleanings from Genesis ,

Being Merciful

July 30th, 2014

Those who hate me without reason … May their place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in their tents. For they persecute those you wound and talk about the pain of those you have hurt.

Psalm 69:4, 25-26

We cannot examine the life of Joseph, or of any biblical leader, without noticing the blindness and merciless of hatred. Anyone who takes up the mantel of service for Christ will experience mindless, pointless, groundless rejection. He will be hated without reason, just as Joseph, Moses, David, and Christ was. In a way, it is a badge of honor to be despised without reason because this is how they treated our Lord as well. Christ said, “But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this was to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason’” (John 15:25).

The prayers against these haters is not to express hatred for hatred, for we are clearly commanded not to return “insult for insult” (1 Peter 3:9), to forgive, love, and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:43-47), and to “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). Rather these strict condemnations are against this attitude that hates without reason. We may take comfort in the assurance that in heaven mindless hatred against spiritual leadership will not be present. As the words of Christ above reveal, when people hate us without reason this all some how reveals hatred toward God, and this is an aspect of the sin problem of the world that goes deep. People hate God even while God loves and reaches out to them. The Christian obligation for all believers is to love those who hate them, just as Christ prayed on the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

The phrase above intrigues me, “For they persecute those you wound.” It is the idea revealed also in Psalm 71:11, “Surely God had forsaken him; pursue him and seize him, for no one will rescue him.” This was how they treated David, and how they treated Christ. Once the person seemed injured and judged, rather than considering the hand of God’s fatherly discipline on His beloved child, they saw the matter as though the person was cast-away, and turned mercilessly to finish what they perceived God had begun. But there is great danger in doing so, and we should respect and learn from the discipline God gives to those He loves, “For what son is not disciplined by his father?” (Heb. 12:8).

God deals with some of His children privately, out of public view. He deals with others of His children more publicly, but His method is still the same - to chasten in love, to discipline in compassion, to teach obedience, to bring us to repentance and ultimately to restoration. The punishment and discipline does not pay for our sins - only Christ’s death has done that - rather the discipline has the potential to bring a change of heart. When we see another believer go through the trials of discipline, we should hold our tongues, lift them up in prayers, and realize that God’s discipline means His love, not His rejection. We should be very slow to add to their pain, for God treats all of His children, even you and me, in the same way. It would be a foolish thing in a family for siblings to tease one of their own who experiences their parent’s discipline, for surely they too will experience it as well. Wise children let the matter rest between the parent and the child. It is our business to lift one another up, not to play the role of God our Heavenly Father and increase the pain of those He has wounded.

In Joseph’s story, his brothers had been given time to consider their sins against him - twenty years - and their good upbringing created a sense of sorrow and repentance. But human nature is prideful to a fault and God did not put them in a position to deal with Joseph on equal footing. Had that been the situation of their encounter with Joseph all those years later, we could imagine them still defending their actions, accusing him of being unbearable as a youth. No, they came to repentance in some degree not only due to the time they spent considering what they had done, but also due to the fact that he was now in authority over them.

In Genesis 44 we see how Joseph tested his brothers, especially Judah whose idea it was to sell him in slavery, and saw the evidence of genuine change. He likewise did not add to the judgment of God over his brothers. They had carried the shame and guilt of their crime against him for twenty years, and indeed it seemed to have been as heavy a burden to them as Joseph’s enslavement and imprisonment had been to him. In Genesis 45, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and forgives them. It is interesting, and all together believable, at least to me, that neither Joseph or his brothers ever tell their father Jacob what really happened. There is no tattling going on, and Jacob seemed to have respected that, and probably suspected that there was more to the story than he would ever learn on this earth. There are many revelations about earthly events that we are not prepared to learn about on earth - only in heaven will we be prepared to see and be seen in complete openness. So we should be glad when we do not know all of the facts about another person’s sins, just as they do not know all the facts about ours. We must leave these matters to heaven when we stand in the presence of perfect love and the fullness of grace, otherwise they will burden us too much to know them here. “Then I will know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).

Is there a brother or sister in Christ you know who is experiencing the discipline of God? We should be careful not to assume that the hardship of another is always the result of their own sin - perhaps it is or perhaps it is not - we cannot always know. But we can be sure of what our role is in the matter. God calls us to come alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ and to encourage them. Do not speak more painful words to them, or God may take note and discipline you as well, rather respect the process and the fatherly discipline of God. He is treating them like His beloved children. Discipline means sonship, not rejection.

Gleanings from Genesis ,