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God shaping events

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Samuel Rutherford once stated that we should “praise God for the hammer, the file and the furnace.”  He went on to explain that the “hammer molds us, the file shapes us and the fire tempers us.”  All three experiences of course are painful, but we can praise God for them because we know and love the God who wields them.

A. W. Tozer, commenting on Rutherford’s statement, wrote, “The devil, things and people being what they are, it is necessary to use the hammer, the file and the furnace in the holy work of preparing the saint for the sainthood. It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.”

(Gene Getz, Joseph: Overcoming Obstacles Through Faithfulness.  Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1996, p. 109.)

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2017 in A. W. Tozer, Joseph, Quotes, Tim Challies

 

How football illustrates sovereignty and free will

Is God sovereignly in control? Does man have free will? Does God choose people for salvation? Do people choose God? This is the age old tension of theology, Calvinism versus Arminianism.

In his book on the life of Joseph, Detours: The Unpredictable Path to Your Destiny, pastor and author Dr. Tony Evans uses football to explain how both sovereignty and free will can be true and work together.

Since God is sovereign, nothing happens outside of His rule. But within His rule He has created freedom. Freedom means you get to choose. There is no freedom without choice. You are free to say “yes” or to say “no.” You are free to go or you are free to stay. God created freedom. But how can a sovereign God control everything while simultaneously creating freedom? Let me try to explain it through an illustration of football.

In football, there are sidelines and goal lines, which serve as sovereign boundaries. These do not move. You can’t negotiate them. You can’t make them wider or narrower. These are fixed standards with which the game of football is played. If you step over a sideline, you are out of bounds. Period. Because that is a boundary.

But within those boundaries teams are free to run their own plays. They can call a good play or a bad play. They can gain yardage or they can lose ground. They are free to play within the boundaries established by the game.

God is sovereign in the boundaries He has set for us. But He allows freedom within those boundaries that give us the choice to do good or to do bad. To be right or to be wrong. To intend evil or to intend well. While freedom doesn’t cause evil, it does allow for it. Yet He limits how free He lets us go within His providential connection of all things. Providence is God either causing or allowing things to happen for His purposes. That is not to say He endorses evil or sin, but rather He redeems it. He redeems the bad intention of someone who may have hurt you on purpose by intervening in you to twist that thing to work for your good. His merciful hand will use what was meant for harm—for good. He will even use evil to accomplish His purpose, as we have seen with Joseph. (In the book, he was referring to Genesis 50:20).

For a simple-minded person like myself, Tony’s illustration makes a lot of sense. It might not answer every question in the sovereignty—free will debate, but it helps.

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2017 in Joseph, Quotes, Theology

 

When life doesn’t follow a straight-line path

detoursBook Review: Detours: The Unpredictable Path to Your Destiny, by Tony Evans

How do you make sense of life when it takes a different path than you thought? Why does God allow delays and detours in your growth and progress? What is he trying to accomplish by introducing a detour into your life? Is it possible to shorten a detour and speed up your progression in your personal growth?

These are the questions Dr. Tony Evans seeks to answer in his latest book, Detours: The Unpredictable Path to Your Destiny. Tony uses the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50 to illustrate and explain the purpose and design of a detour and how God uses them to prepare us for the destiny he has created for us. The author combines biblical exposition, practical application, vivid illustrations, and humorous stories to help make his points.

Having preached on the life of Joseph previously, I found the book to be insightful in pointing out ideas and principles I had missed in my own study. The book is helpful, practical, and enjoyable to read.

Disclosure: I received this book free from B&H Publishing through the B&H/Lifeway Bloggers program http://www.bhbloggers.com/. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2017 in Books, Joseph, Scripture

 

This Sin Stops With Me!

A spacecraft needs to travel at 25,000 MPH to break free from the gravitational pull of the earth. It takes a tremendous amount of thrust and energy to escape the forces that pull it back to the earth. There are times when family exerts gravitational forces to prevent us from breaking free of their orbit.

In the third episode of season three of the BBC television show, Sherlock, it is evident that Sherlock has not escaped from the gravitational pull of home. When Sherlock and his brother, Mycroft, are together, Mycroft still sees his younger brother as a stupid little boy. Both Mycroft and Sherlock hide their smoking when confronted by their mother. Neither has become independent from their mother’s values.

While the gravitational pull of family is difficult to break, the gravitational pull of the old sin nature can feel even stronger.

Several months ago, I was teaching a series on the Patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. I became aware of a pattern of sin that was passed down from one generation to the next. It fits in with a statement in Exodus 20:5 that a father’s sin will impact succeeding generations.

You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,

Break the cycle of generational sin 2

Maybe you can see a similar pattern in your family tree. Your grandfather was an alcoholic. So was your father. Now, you struggle with the bottle as well. Perhaps your family includes five generations of women who were pregnant before they turned 16 years old. Maybe the men in your family have been angry and abusive for several generations.

We knew one family whose favorite meal on Sunday afternoon was “Roast Pastor.” Over their Sunday afternoon meal, they would routinely criticize the sermon, the music, the Sunday School teacher’s tie, the weeds in the parking lot, the coffee, the visitor who sat in their pew, and everything else about church that morning. The parents did it, their adult children did it, and their grandchildren were picking up the habit as well.

“How do we break the cycle of generational sins?” How can we be like Joseph and say, “This sin stops with me!” After pondering that question and researching what others have said, I put together my own list of ideas.

The starting point is to take an honest look at our family in order to Identify our family’s sin pattern(s). Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, sons graphically demonstrate a pattern of lies and deception. David and his son, Solomon, gave in to the temptations of women and sex. The generations of David, Solomon, and Rehoboam reveal pride, power, and pleasing self and others. I had to confess that my father was very passive and I have the same tendency. My mother was a worrier and I catastrophize and imagine the worst possible outcomes as well. Take an honest look at your family background, but remember that generational sins sometimes remain hidden through self-deception.

Once we identify the pattern, we then need to Confess our family’s sins and accept forgiveness for them. Nehemiah 1:6–7 and Daniel 9:5–6 provide an excellent example of men who confessed the sins of their ancestors before seeking God’s forgiveness and blessing. Confession alone is not enough, however. We also need to believe God’s promise that he will forgive us and our family (1 John 1:9).

The next step is to Forgive our father/mother for his/her shortcomings and any wounds he/she has given us. We need to grant our father/mother unconditional forgiveness.

Remember that the power of sin is broken through the cross (Romans 6:6-11). Because Christ has set us free, we can soar to new heights.

We also need to Practice true repentance. We need to change how we live. As Colossians 3:8-10 explains, we must replace our bad habits with holy ones.

Recognize that it takes hard work, patience, and sacrifice to break an addiction or pattern of sin. 2 Corinthians 10:4–6 explains that we are engaged in spiritual warfare. We need to change how we think and tear down strongholds of resistance. Not an easy task, to say the least.

If we attempt these changes by ourselves, we are doomed to failure. We must Involve others in our efforts to change. There is strength in numbers (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). We must find others who can encourage, support, and hold us accountable.

Even though our parents or grandparents may not have done this for us, we can still Proactively sow and seek blessings in our family’s life. Follow the pattern of Jacob (Genesis 49) in offering a blessing to your children and grandchildren.

If we break these sin patterns, God promises to bless our family for generations to come (Exodus 20:6).

break free of sin - posterize crosshatchThe “Ice bucket challenge” has become a trendy fad. Someone challenges you to dump a bucket of ice water on your head as a way of raising awareness for the disease of ALS. You have 24 hours to comply or donate money to ALS research.

I’d like to propose a new challenge. With God’s help, we could be the generation like Joseph to say, “This sin stops with me!” Rather than a trendy fad, I believe “the quitting sin challenge” is timeless. I challenge you to make that commitment today.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on August 31, 2014. It is the final message in a series on the life of Joseph. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Sometimes, the Detour is the ONLY Way to the Destination

Peanuts - Why me - life philosophy

Calvin and Hobbes

If anyone had the right to play the victim card, it was Joseph. When we are first introduced to him, we notice that he is loved by his father (Genesis 37:3). He is Jacob’s favorite of all of his sons and receives a special coat that announces that fact to the world. Not only is he loved, but Joseph is also gifted. He can dream dreams and interpret them (37:5-11).

Unfortunately for Joseph, his favored status and dreams of the future create jealously among his brothers. They hate him and cannot stand to be near him (37:4, 8, 11). Rather than live in peace, his brothers want to kill Joseph. Coming to their senses, they sell him to a passing caravan of traders who take Joseph to Egypt (37:28). He becomes a stranger in a strange land.

As you read the story of Joseph’s life, you find yourself asking the question, “Could things get worse?” Sure enough, they do. Joseph is purchased by Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard and he becomes a slave in his house (37:36; 39:1-19). Joseph’s life goes from bad to worse when Mrs. Potiphar frames him for rape and Joseph lands in prison (39:20-40:22). There, he interprets dreams for the royal butler and baker. His circumstances go from worse to worser when the butler doesn’t keep his promise and forgets Joseph for two years (40:23).

Joseph was 17 years old when his brothers sold him into slavery (37:2). He is 30 years old when he interprets the dreams of Pharaoh and becomes the Prime Minister of Egypt (41:46). It will be nine years later when his brothers come to Egypt during the famine and Joseph’s earlier dreams are fulfilled (45:6).

During the dark nights of the soul that Joseph experienced, one phrase is repeated over and over. “The Lord was with Joseph” (39:2-3, 21, 23). While he may have been alone, he was never abandoned.

Summary of Josephs life

As you read the account of his life and see that Joseph’s dreams are delayed, you ask yourself the question, “Had God changed his mind about Joseph? Had God changed his plans for Joseph?” The answer to both questions appears to be, “No.” The only remaining question is, “Then what was God changing?” God was changing Joseph.

As a have shared elsewhere, I was fired from my first church and entered into my own dark night of the soul. I was distraught, discouraged, and dejected. I was ready to quit and change careers. During that season, I met with Dr. Howard Hendricks at a conference. He later sent me a letter expressing great insights I still treasure to this day. Prof wrote, “Often the disappointments of life are a part of the Lord’s curriculum to prepare you for an even more determinative ministry. Nothing is ever wasted in the will of God. … Your future is as bright as the promises of God.”

Joseph’s life started out so promising. And yet, his story is seemingly filled with one detour after another. If you look closely, however, you discover that each detour is part of God’s sovereign plan to prepare Joseph for an even greater assignment.

God’s curriculum was designed to prepare Joseph in four areas—pride, perseverance, performance, and perspective.

Joseph was a prime candidate for pride. He had a special place in the family (37:3), even though he had brothers ten years old then himself. His two dreams verified his place in the family and God’s plan (37:5-11). He was well-built and handsome (39:6). His performance at home and in Egypt indicated intelligence.

While he had great potential, Joseph needed to be refined, like gold in fire (Job 23:10; 1 Peter 1:7).

Samuel Rutherford once stated that we should “praise God for the hammer, the file and the furnace.”  He went on to explain that the “hammer molds us, the file shapes us and the fire tempers us.”  All three experiences of course are painful, but we can praise God for them because we know and love the God who wields them.

A. W. Tozer, commenting on Rutherford’s statement, wrote, “The devil, things and people being what they are, it is necessary to use the hammer, the file and the furnace in the holy work of preparing the saint for the sainthood. It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.”

(Gene Getz, Joseph: Overcoming Obstacles Through Faithfulness.  Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1996, p. 109.)

In the end, Joseph had no bitterness, a forgiving spirit, a servant’s heart, self-confidence balanced with God-confidence, and a strong memory of the grace of God sustaining him through the trying years.

High-level leadership brings with it people who are jealous, rumors, false accusations, misunderstandings, breakdowns in communication, responsibility for the mistakes of others, and unsolved problems. Unless prepared for these pressures, no man or woman will persevere. As much as we desire easy lives, we have to recognize that trials help develop perseverance (James 1:2-4). Joseph’s years of slavery and prison helped prepare him to endure a famine.

With advancement comes greater responsibility, pressure, and the need for greater skills. With greater pressure comes greater personal growth and more meaningful and lasting fruit. Joseph starts out taking care of his father’s sheep. He then is charged with running a house. Later, he is placed in charge of a prison. He eventually oversees the agricultural program of a nation. Taking a big picture look at Joseph’s life experience, you discover that God took him through a 13-year MBA program with graduated responsibility to prepare him for greater effectiveness. His performance increased at every level.

Rather than see himself as a victim, Joseph recognized that God was sovereignly in control of the details of his life (45:7-8; 50:20). Joseph gained the perspective that God was with him every step of the way and he orchestrated all of the events to accomplish his plan and purpose.

Just like Joseph, we can see God’s fingerprints on the detours of our lives. We can have the confidence that God can be trusted even when it appears we are off course.

When you find yourself on one of life’s detours, remember that God is with you, and let him transform your character while you wait for him,

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church on August 24, 2014. It is part of a series on the life of Joseph. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

A Good Day to Get Even

Baby Blues - good day to get even 2

When Joseph’s brothers arrive in Egypt asking for food (Genesis 42:5), Joseph is presented with the perfect opportunity to get even with them for selling him into slavery.

Genesis 42-45 contains several themes that are interwoven. One deals with the sovereignty of God. He creates the circumstances to reunite Jacob’s family. God is at work fulfilling his promise to Abraham (15:13-14) and the dreams of Joseph (37:5-9). A second theme deals with the grace of guilt. Guilt prevents us from enjoying God’s blessings and moves us to repentance. A third theme shows the process of restoration. Before someone can be restored to fellowship, they must acknowledge their sin, deal with their guilt, and receive forgiveness.

Through the widespread famine (41:57), God began to humble Jacob’s sons (42:1-7). Unable to provide food for their families, they head for Egypt to ask for assistance.

Unbeknownst to them, Jacob’s sons ask for help from their long-lost brother, Joseph. He begins to test them to see if they have changed over the past 20+ years. Having forgiven his brothers long ago, Joseph is motivated by his dreams, not by revenge (42:8-17).

The first test Joseph puts his brothers through is the test of affliction (42:18-24). While he generously gives them food for their families, he puts Simeon in prison (42:24). He wants to see if they will accept responsibility for their actions and tell the truth. As 42:21 reveals, the brothers are laboring under the enormous weight of guilt. They feel as if they are reaping a painful harvest for their sins against Joseph (42:22).

The second test is one of prosperity (42:25-43:25). Joseph not only gives them food for their families, but he returns their money to them. Would they acknowledge their guilt and confess their wrongs? Unable to enjoy the blessings, they see it as a punishment from God (42:25).

When the brothers return later along with their youngest brother, Benjamin, Joseph demonstrated concern for his brother’s welfare (43:26-34). He showed them honor and respect, and was especially generous to Benjamin. His kindness made them even more uncomfortable.

The third test Joseph puts his brothers through is one of responsibility (44:1-34). He concocts an elaborate plan which will snare Benjamin and sentence him to prison. Joseph wants to see if his brothers will be concerned for others, or only think of themselves. Will they abandon Benjamin like they abandoned him 22 years previously?

The climactic scene is where Joseph reveals himself to his brothers (44:1-28). “I am Joseph!” leaves the brothers dumbfounded and guilt ridden. Joseph reveals his confidence in the plan of God when he tells his brothers three times, “God sent me” (44:5-8).

Rather than receive Joseph’s forgiveness and be restored to full fellowship, the brothers continue to labor under the burden of guilt. After the death of their father, Jacob, the brothers beg Joseph to forgive them (50:15-18). Joseph not only assures them of his forgiveness, but he again shares his confidence in the sovereign plan of God (50:19-20).

I take away several life principles from this section of Genesis.

  1. Like Joseph, we should see God’s providence at work, even in the most difficult of circumstances.
  2. Rather than seek revenge, we are to leave the righting of wrongs to God.
  3. Rather than retaliate, we are to repay evil with forgiveness and affection.
  4. We are to forgive those who hurt us, even if they don’t admit their guilt or ask for forgiveness.
  5. We are to learn to accept and receive forgiveness.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on August 10, 2014. It is part of a series on the life of Joseph. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

From the Pit to the Penthouse

What kind of god do you believe in? Is your god strong enough to accomplish things you don’t believe are possible? Is your god wise enough to make plans you may not understand? Is your god good enough to use trials and difficulties to accomplish his plans? Is your god caring enough to include pain and waiting if it will bring his purpose to completion? What kind of god do you believe in?

From the pit to the penthouseGenesis 41 tells the story of how God sovereignly controls the destiny of nations to protect and provide for his people. Contrary to popular belief, the chapter is not about Joseph and his abilities. Rather, it is the story of God’s faithfulness to his promises. The chapter speaks of God’s sovereignty. He has a plan and can use dreams, prison, feasts, and famines to accomplish his purpose.

God’s timing is perfect in Joseph’s release from prison and his appointment to a position from which he can be reunited with his brothers. God raises up kings and puts them down. He controls the destinies of empires to accomplish his plan. God sovereignly controls the destiny of nations to protect and provide for his people.

Verses 1-8 tell of Pharaoh’s dreams. Two of Egypt’s greatest assets, cattle and grain, are being threatened by an unknown danger. Pharaoh knows enough to be disturbed, but not enough to know the meaning or what to do about it. Like the parables Jesus used to teach the multitudes, the simplicity of the dream concealed the truth.

From the pit to the penthouseAt just the right moment, the chief butler remembers how Joseph interpreted his dreams in prison (9-13). Joseph is summoned and soon stands before Pharaoh (14). As he recounts his dreams, Pharaoh’s anxiety seems to be growing (15-24). In contrast, Joseph’s confidence in God has been deepening. Joseph reminded Pharaoh four times that God is the source of all insight and his will cannot be resisted (16, 25, 28, 32).

Not only did Joseph interpret Pharaoh’s dreams (25-32), but he offered some unsolicited advice (33-36). Joseph saw God at work. Joseph demonstrates great wisdom in his thoughts about planning and administration. Pharaoh realizes that someone wise enough to interpret his dreams and offer suggestions what to do is the right man for the job (37-43). Appointed to the position of “Secretary of Agriculture” for the Egyptian empire, Joseph tackles his new job with energy and resolve (46-49, 53-57).

Joseph’s rise to power did not dull his senses as to God’s sovereignty and care. In naming his two sons, Joseph recognizes God’s handiwork and providence in his life. God turned Joseph’s buffeting into blessing.

Robert Dick Wilson was one of the great professors at Princeton Theological Seminary. One of his students had been invited to preach in Miller Chapel twelve years after his graduation. Old Dr. Wilson came in and sat down near the front. At the close of the meeting, the old professor came up to his former student, cocked his head to one side in his characteristic way, extended his hand, and said:

“If you come back again, I will not come to hear you preach. I only come once. I am glad that you are a big-godder. When my boys come back, I come to see if they are big-godders or little-godders, and then I know what their ministry will be.” His former student asked him to explain, and he replied, “Well, some men have a little god, and they are always in trouble with him. He can’t do any miracles. He can’t take care of the inspiration and transmission of the Scripture to us. He doesn’t intervene on behalf of his people. They have a little god and I call them little-godders. Then, there are those who have a great God. He speaks and it is done. He commands and it stands fast. He knows how to show himself strong on behalf of them that fear him. You have a great God; and he will bless your ministry.” He paused a moment, said, “God bless you,” and turned and walked out.

From the pit to the penthouseAre you a “little-godder” or a “big-godder”? So much rides on your answer, because those who embrace the God of the Scriptures embrace the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph and Moses and David and Daniel and Paul and Peter—and that makes all the difference!

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on August 3, 2014. It is part of a series on the life of Joseph. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.