Unbelievable Love

Advent 2013…Love: Psalm 89.1-4, 19-29

As I reflected on this passage, I was struck by the picture that the Bible paints of God’s amazing love…a love that truly does transcend both time and space, a love that is enduring. It is the perfect love of the Father. A love that pursues, a love that sacrifices, the Creator-of-the-Universe-enters-time-and-space-to-rescue-you kind of love.

I shared a tweet this past week, “My experience of God’s love is in direct proportion to my perception of my need for His love/mercy. He who has been forgiven much loves much.” Do you believe that God loves you? I think there are a few things that keep us from believing and/or experiencing the love that God has for us. The tweet hits on one of them. If I don’t recognize my desperate need to be rescued…to be brought from life to death, from captivity to sin to the freedom of the cross, from being an enemy of God to being His beloved child…then I’m not going to think a lot of His love. If my life is working out just fine without Him, then why do I need Him? Ask Norman.

The second thing that I think keeps us from experiencing the love that God has for us is the overwhelming circumstances that we often find ourselves in. How can you say God loves me if… you fill in the blank with your life’s tragedy. The psalmist asks the question when he sees the scepter hit the dust and the king hauled off to Egypt. Another way the question is asked is, “How can a loving God allow…” Question of evil in the world that goes all the way back to the garden when we chose to rebel against our Creator. Because the reality is, how can a loving God allow the rebellion that deeply marks our lives?

But God demonstrates His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. God fulfills the promise He made to David by sending His own Son to intersect time and space…the eternal Son of God enters the world He created as a baby in a manager. He walks among us and lives a perfect life. He dies an undeserved, bloody, horrible death, but is raised again the third day and ascended to the Father. God steps in in the Person of Jesus to do what we could not do ourselves…provide the way back to our heavenly Father.

The third thing…we don’t think that God could possibly love us.  We’ve messed up too badly, sinned too much for too long. How could God love me? is the question that echoes in our ears…lies of the enemy as old as the garden questioning God’s perfect love. But He does love you and has proved it over and over…the most poignant example is sending His own Son to provide the way back. Ask Sydney.

What’s keeping you from experiencing God’s love for you this Christmas season? Is it a low view of your sin? Is it your ignorance of your need? Is it tragedy that has struck? Is it fear that you are beyond His reach? God’s eternal enduring loyal love lasts forever. No beginning. No end. And it was proved in the most unbelievable way when He sent His only son to die so that the object of His love might be redeemed and restored to eternal fellowship. He did what He did because we matter…you matter… He is a God who pursues. He’s been pursuing us since the garden.

I’m amazed as I think about how Jesus’ existence confirms that we are loved by a God we cannot adequately love in return.  I don’t experience God’s love because I make His love about me.  But His love has everything do with Him.  God loves me.  Jesus loves me.  That is truly an unbelievable love.

This story challenges us to bask in the love of the LORD, the amazing, beautiful, undeserved love of the Father, and to delight in His Son, Jesus, who has provided the way for us to know, not just know about, but to really know the love of the Father.

My prayer for us this week is that we might more fully realize Unbelievable Love because of our Unbelievable Savior.

Until next time…stay salty.

To hear an mp3 of this sermon, visit us at: http://www.centralchristian.org. Follow us on twitter: @mattdumas1969. Read more about Sydney and Norman in Phil Vischer’s Sydney and Norman: A Tale of Two Pigs.

Something old, something new

Not again. The visions come back more vivid and haunting each time. It was hard enough seeing Nebuchadnezzar’s vision of the statue.  Now I’m starting round 4 of my own visions of the future and kingdoms to come. And each vision adds more detail and yet becomes more obscure, more opaque. I’m frightened, puzzled and perplexed. I know God’s in control of the events unfolding on the world’s stage, but these visions terrify me!

Daniel 11. This is now Daniel’s 4th pass through the prophetic events of the coming Gentile kingdoms. This time in Daniel’s prophecy there is a combination of events that are now historical for us (still future for Daniel) and events that are still yet to come. Without a scorecard or a grasp of Ancient History, it’s difficult to follow what’s going on in this chapter. The first 35 verses are historical for us. Verses 36-45 appear to be still future. The first section narrows in pretty quickly to the civil wars between the Seleucids (North – Syria) and the Ptolemies (South – Egypt) post Alexander’s death in 333 B.C. Each dynasty has approximately 5 kings, and the political intrigue surrounding their reigns is summed up by Daniel (- approximately 200-300 years before the events take place!). These two warring factions are targeted because their battleground was primarily in Palestine, directly impacting the Jews in Jerusalem. The king of most interest is the final “king of the North” listed in this section, the Seleucid sovereign Antiochus IV (Epiphanes). He was the one who wreaked havoc on the Jews, forcing Hellenization on them and setting up the abomination of desolation (altar of Zeus in the temple). He will be the prototype for the future king spoken of in 36-45, the antichrist.

But why do we care? All this future stuff has to do with Israel and the Jews, right? So why do I, as a Gentile believer, care about what happens to the Jews? Because of Genesis 12. God promises Abraham that through him all the nations of the world would be blessed. Blessing comes through the nation of Israel. They are the root. They are the mother of Messiah from Revelation 12. We care about this stuff because our future is interwoven with theirs. We rise and fall with them in the end. If they don’t win, we don’t win. And if God is not faithful to Israel in the end, why do we think He will be faithful to us?

Until next time…stay salty.

Journey’s End

Jacob came to the end of his life and had the daunting and somewhat unenviable task of “blessing” his sons, of foretelling their futures (or better the futures of their respective clans) based in part on the forth-telling of their characters. There was Reuben, the firstborn, who sought to secure his birthright through an indiscretion with Bilhah, Rachel’s maid. Simeon and Levi slaughtered a town in retaliation for their baby sister’s rape. Dan, whose tribe would become infamous for introducing idolatry to Israel. Benjamin whose family would be all but wiped out for siding with a group in their midst who committed a heinous evil. Then there was Joseph who received the longest and most elaborate blessing…who was not only his father’s favorite, but also the one whom God used to deliver the family and all of Egypt from the famine. And Judah, the one through whom the Genesis 3:15 Messiah would come.

For Jacob it must have been a bitter-sweet time. A reminder of his own shortcomings as a father and the sins of his sons, but also the prospective future of his boys. I wonder if that’s what prompts him to say, “For Your salvation I wait, O LORD.” In effect, when I look at the future of the nation from a human perspective, all I can see is pain and disappointment, frustration and brokenness. But when I look through the LORD’s eyes, I see the hope of Genesis 3:15, deliverance from sin, salvation of the faithful and the reparation of the deep, deep fracture caused by the fall. Jacob finished his life still looking for that hope and so made Joseph swear to bury him back in the land.

Jacob’s hope is our hope. Except we know the Genesis 3:15 Deliverer is Jesus. And He is our Salvation, our Redeemer and the Restorer of all that has been broken. He is the One who takes an uncertain physical future, and infuses it with power to prepare for the radiant splendor of both a spiritual future and a present reality. And one day He will right the wrongs and crush the head of the serpent.

Until next time…stay salty.

A Backward Glance

Twenty years. Joseph had been separated from his family for twenty years. And after a masterfully played round of psychological terrorism (see prior post), he was now ready to reveal himself to his brothers. What would their reaction be? Clearly they had evidenced remorse over their prior treatment of him, but would they rejoice with him now that they were reunited? Or would they be driven to make excuses and pass the blame?

Genesis 45-46. Understandably, the brothers first response on hearing Joseph’s surprise unveiling was stunned silence, followed quickly by visible dismay. Having succumbed to Joseph’s mental attack, they were surely ready to face his retribution for their crime; but surprisingly it didn’t come. Instead Joseph received them warmly, falling on them and weeping on their necks. Joseph was truly glad to see them…but how? After all that they had put him through – murderous threats, throwing him into a pit, selling him to slave traders, which resulted in slavery, false accusations, prison, forgotten assistance…and then, ascendancy to the top spot in Pharaoh’s cabinet, marriage and two sons, deliverance for not only the Egyptians but also for the surrounding lands through the famine. Joseph’s declaration to his brothers gives us the “how”. He said, “Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God…”

Joseph was able to look back on the events of his life and interpret them in light of the dreams that God had revealed to him twenty years earlier as a teenage boy. At any point along the path, it would have been difficult if not impossible for Joseph to predict exactly how the story would end. No doubt he trusted God to work out the details, but there would have been questions along the way… It’s only in the rearview mirror, the backward glance, that Joseph was able to see God’s hand at work so clearly. The same is true for us. It is hard at times to believe that God has a plan for us…the details of everyday life and tough circumstances have a way of clouding our vision. But when we take time to look back over the landscape of our lives, the path seems less arbitrary and more defined as God has been working to get us to this point and will continue to lead us to the destiny He has for us. He only asks that we remain faithful with what he’s laid in our path today and follow where He leads.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Surprising Plot Twist

I love a good mystery. Something about the twists and turns in the plot and the surprise of the final “who-dun-it” gets me every time. The great mystery stories are always unpredictable, much like life. And Genesis is like that. In the Genesis story, the focus has been on Joseph now for several chapters. In fact his episode accounts for more real estate than any of the other patriarchs, and more than both his father (Jacob) and grandfather’s (Isaac) narratives combined. Joseph was given dreams that indicated he would rule over his brothers and even his entire family. His experience in Egypt had borne this out, as he was promoted to the highest possible position, number 2 behind Pharaoh. As we’ve been looking for the Genesis 3:15 Seed of the Woman, Joseph seems like the most likely candidate to carry on the line that began with Adam and went through folks like Seth, Enoch, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob…but then a sleeper candidate appeared on the scene.

In our first encounter with Judah, he appeared as the ring-leader of his siblings with a plan for making a quick shekel, while at the same time ridding both he and his other brothers of their none-too-loved younger brother, Joseph, by selling him into slavery.

Our next encounter found Judah marrying a Canaanite woman, and having three sons, two of whom are killed by the LORD for their wickedness…probably not a good decision on Judah’s part to intermarry (ala Genesis 6). The third son was seemingly spared the fate of his older brothers, but because of Judah’s unwillingness to fulfill the promise he had made to his daughter-in-law, she tricked him into fathering two more sons who ended up being both his sons and grandsons…talk about a twisted plot. But then we come to our next two encounters with Judah.

Genesis 43-44. In order to return to Egypt to buy more grain, Judah pledged before his father, Jacob, to be surety for his youngest brother, Benjamin. Surprising because Benjamin, like Joseph, was not only the son of Jacob’s favored wife, Rachel, he, along with Joseph, were clearly loved by their father more than any of their other siblings. Judah and company made the trip to Egypt, had a seemingly pleasant dinner with Joseph, and started back to Canaan. Then as Joseph’s final act of psychological terrorism reached its climax with Benjamin being falsely accused of stealing Joseph’s divining cup and facing a life sentence as a slave [Joseph creates a near perfect replica of the circumstances of his own demise at the hands of his brothers through deception, preferential treatment and false accusation. What would they do this time? Had they learned their lesson?] Judah reappears once again. This time instead of being the one to sell his brother into slavery, he begged permission to take his place, even though he might very well have believed that Benjamin was guilty. And so innocent (relatively) Judah was willing to take the place of guilty (apparently) Benjamin. Sound familiar? Genesis 3.15. So while Joseph would deliver his family (burgeoning nation of Israel) through the famine, Judah’s willingness to sacrifice his own life for the sake of another wins him the top spot. And so, as we will see later, the line of the Seed will pass through Judah (not Joseph).

The encouraging thing about this particular story is that Judah would never have been picked for his role if it were up to us…up to me. But I guess neither would Abraham, Isaac or Jacob. And if we fast forward to Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1, we see a host of characters that would not have made the list…murderers, prostitutes, adulterers, idolaters, etc., etc., etc. That gives me hope that God can use me as well. He can use you, too. And that, my friends, is the most surprising plot twist of all.

Until next time…stay salty.

Exiled in Egypt

It’s been twenty years. Over half his life spent hundreds of miles away from home. And now the folks responsible for his exile are within his grasp, standing before him, the second most powerful man in all of Egypt. What will he do? What would you do? Genesis 41-42.

Joseph had two incredible dreams that defined his destiny. One foreshadowed the then current famine in Egypt, and both pictured Joseph in a position of power within his family. Sharing the dreams with his brothers proved to be a mistake, but his dad considered what these things might mean. Thirteen years of slavery and imprisonment, and what seemed like a lifetime later, the full meaning of the dreams began to take shape when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams and was promoted to the second highest office in the land, second only to Pharaoh. It hints at the importance that the interpretation of dreams played in ancient Egypt when a prisoner and one time slave is promoted to such high standing. And not only that, his marriage to Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, priest of On would showcase his new-found status.

With Joseph’s meteoric rise to power and his seeming success at every turn, it would be easy to see him as totally content and even better off in Egypt. But when he names his two sons, we get a peek at the heretofore unpublicized anguish of Joseph. We’re told he named his firstborn Manasseh, “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” He named his second son Ephraim, “For,” he said, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” It shows his faithfulness during this time to be all the more outstanding…he never seemed to waver in unbelief or to doubt God’s hand at work directing him towards his destiny. Even in some extremely difficult circumstances.

Now his brothers, who were the catalyst of the pain Joseph had endured the past twenty years when they sold him into slavery, were standing before him requesting help. He had the power to end them. And at first, it seems that he might be looking for a little revenge when he accused them of being spies and had them thrown into prison; but upon further reflection it appears that he was testing them in some way. In order for his dream to be fulfilled, Joseph not only had to be in a position of authority, he needed to be in a position of authority over his family which meant that they needed to be in Egypt. In order for Joseph to deliver/save his family, they would have to leave Canaan and come to him. And so began the process of seeing whether or not their character had changed and of bringing them down to Egypt.

This section of Joseph’s story is challenging. We get our first glimpse behind the curtain to his emotions and the incredible pain he’s suffered that we could only guess at before. His steadfastness of faith and willingness to fully engage in the “little things”, giving his all to the task at hand especially during this time is all the more impressive and encouraging. I pray that God would find us as faithful.

Until next time…stay salty.

The Long View

This was not what Joseph expected his life to be like. The favorite son of a wealthy man, things were supposed to come easy. He even dreamed that his brothers would bow down to him. He was voted most likely to succeed. And now here he sits in prison. Waiting. Let’s back up. Genesis 39-40.

Joseph is the eldest son of Jacob’s most loved wife, Rachel. And Jacob made it painfully clear that Joseph was his favorite, even giving Joseph a multi-colored tunic to distinguish his place of honor in the family. The LORD gave Joseph a series of dreams confirming that he would one day have prominence within the family, a prominence that would be recognized by all. He proves to be the faithful, obedient son going beyond Jacob’s express directions to find his brothers. His reward for obedience? Hijacked by his brothers and sold into slavery to traders on their way to Egypt. Not what he expected.

In Egypt, Joseph is sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s bodyguard. Joseph once again proves to be faithful and obedient, now as a slave. And we’re told that God blesses Potiphar on account of Joseph, and Joseph finds favor with him. He works hard for his master, and Potiphar prospers. His reward for obedience? Falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife of attempted rape…thrown into prison, awaiting punishment. Not what he expected, but God protects his life.

In prison, Joseph once again distinguishes himself as faithful and obedient, now as a prisoner. And God blesses the jailer on account of Joseph, and Joseph once again finds favor with his master. His reward for obedience? Forgotten and left for another two years in prison. Definitely not what he expected. But in every circumstance the one thing the reader can’t miss is: God’s presence, provision and protection of Joseph. He has not been left alone. And although making the right decision seems to have yielded the wrong consequence these three times, Joseph held on to his integrity. He continued to trust God. Even when life didn’t turn out the way he expected…in fact the exact opposite. Instead of ruling, he was both a prisoner and a slave seemingly forgotten. But God had not forgotten him.

That’s the lesson for us…for me. It would have been easy for Joseph to give up, to blame God, to choose a different path; but he did not waver, and suffering prepared Joseph to be the leader that God desired him to be…a deliverer who would rescue his people. It also strikes me that Joseph was not content to just sit and wait for his destiny to be fulfilled, he was faithful in the situations that God put him in. He gave himself fully to serve, and God rewarded him for it.

I believe that God has a purpose for each one of us. Some will realize it sooner than others…Abraham waited twenty-five years, Moses forty…and some will never realize it because of the choices they’ve made along the way. But what God calls us to is the long view, to be faithful in the circumstances He’s placed us in right now, so that we are ready when the moment of destiny comes. I pray that He finds us faithful my friends.

Until next time…stay salty.

I Had a Dream…

Joseph came from a long line of dreamers. Abraham had a vision of God passing through severed animals as a smoking oven and a flaming torch. Isaac was told not to go down to Egypt. Jacob saw a ladder with its top in the heavens and angels ascending and descending upon it. And now Joseph is given a dream. Well actually two dreams. Gen 37

We should probably back up a bit. Joseph is the eldest son of Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel. He’s the youngest in the clan next to his brother Benjamin (also Rachel’s son) who is born some time later. As the son of Jacob’s favorite wife, Joseph always had a special place in his dad’s heart; and Jacob was none too discreet about it. In fact, Jacob (now Israel) had an elaborate coat made for Joseph to highlight his status within the family. It appears that Israel’s intent is to give Joseph the right of the firstborn and his blessing. This does not sit well with his brothers who would all be passed over, and so they hated Joseph. And then Joseph has a dream.

In Joseph’s dream, he sees eleven sheaves of grain bowing down to his sheaf. He can’t wait to share the good news with his brothers…they are all going to one day bow down to him! Probably not a good idea given their hostile disposition toward him. Then he has a second dream: the sun, moon and eleven stars bowing down to him. Somehow Israel and Joseph’s mother are included in this sign of obeisance (although Rachel is gone). Joseph once again is compelled to share his dream, and once again the brothers are angered. This time Israel rebukes Joseph, although he keeps the matter in mind. You see Israel, too, has a had dreams in the past where God had made fantastic promises.

So, what are these two dreams? The first dream looks to be the first hint at the famine that will come upon Egypt and the circumstances under which the brothers will come and bow down to Joseph. The second dream is a little trickier. It’s not clear who the woman is who represents the moon. Could be Rachel, but she has already died. Maybe Leah or one of the maids? It’s interesting that John picks up the same imagery in Revelation 12 when he writes, “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and she *cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. And his tail *swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.  And she gave birth to a son, a male child…” Could it be that Joseph is given a vision of the ultimate Seed of the Woman who will rule over Israel, making Joseph in this instance a type of Christ? It is interesting to consider that not only is there a promise of near-term deliverance through Joseph, but also far-term, final deliverance, not only for Jacob and his family, but for all Israel (and for all who would believe) through Jesus. Something to ponder.

And so God continues to carry out His plan of redemption. Although the road seems a bit winding and treacherous, and the end is not all too clear, God will be faithful to His promise and will deliver His people from bondage to sin and death through the Seed of the Woman, the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world, the Conquering Warrior King of Revelation 19, Jesus of Nazareth.

Until next time…stay salty.

Decisions, Decisions

Several years ago, just before my son Jack was born, I worked for a multi-billion dollar company headquartered in downtown Houston. At the time, we lived in The Woodlands area about 40 miles north. The commute everyday was a killer, and I just wanted to get closer to home so that I could have more time with my growing family. My job offered incredible benefits and a flexible work environment. I enjoyed the folks I worked with and really had no complaints…except that it was too far away. So I began to talk to recruiters, my primary criteria being that it was closer to home. A few months later, a job came along that would cut my commute in half. Benefits were lousy compared to what I had. The pay was not that much better. And it was not a good fit for my skill set. But it was closer to home. It was a bad move. I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back it should have been obvious. It ended up being the only job I’ve ever been fired from. It led to a series of four different jobs in a two year span of time. My resume took a serious hit.

Have you ever been there? A bad decision that turns into a string of bad decisions that lead down a divergent path to the one you were on. Abram can relate.

There is a famine in the land of Canaan that results in an unplanned trip to Egypt. A seemingly innocent lie about Sarai his wife, finds Abram in a precarious situation. Pharaoh takes notice of Sarai, and she becomes his wife. Not what Abram had planned at all. But God rescues him and curses Pharaoh and his people. Abram leaves a richer man, but not unscathed by the experience. He allowed his wife to be taken by another man, and that has consequences.

Fast forward. God has promised Abram some fantastic things – real estate, lots of descendants, a great name, and the unique position of being a blessor of the the nations. The Genesis 3:15 Seed of the woman will come through his line.

Abram has a foothold in the land. He has experienced a taste of the blessing. But he still doesn’t have a son. So it’s time to make things happen. Plan A, adopt a servant to become his heir. God says, “No, but you will have a son from your own body.” OK. Plan B, (several years later and still no son), how about Hagar as a surrogate mother for their son. Hagar would bear Abram’s son, then Sarai would adopt him. Screaming red lights. This is not a good decision. But Abram ignores the warning signs and goes along with the plan. It leads to great strife within the household and the expulsion of Hagar. Abram abdicates his responsibility to lead. And the original bad decision to go to Egypt is revisited as an Egyptian maid becomes his concubine.

Finally God offers Plan C. He becomes more explicit with His instructions to Abram. He and Sarai will have a son. It should have been understood. Genesis 2. Adam says of the woman whom God has created, “This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called woman because she was taken out of man.” Moses adds the commentary, “For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife. And the two shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” The original promise that God made to Abram was meant for the two of them. Adding Hagar to the mix confused the two becoming one. And it caused a great deal of problems for the couple.

Although Abram takes a circuitous route to get there, he finally arrives at the place of promise. Choosing to do things his own way resulted in a great deal of pain and heartache. It would have been much easier trusting God all along…easier to say than do. So many times in my own life I’ve looked back thinking, “If I’d only waited here, or done that there…” but God still uses the detours to mold and shape us (if we will let Him) and to make us who He wants us to be. It’s interesting that in the midst of Abram’s wilderness experience, God uses Hagar to remind him of His character…Hagar’s son is to be named Ishmael because the LORD had heard her affliction. Hagar called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees me”. God hears. God sees. God cares.

Until next time…stay salty.