Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Parent's Prayer

Each year I begin at the Bible's beginning and read my way through the scriptures...it's a great exercise and discipline that is well worth the while.  After a while one can remember the context in advance and still the words come off the page and strike into the soul to console, to convict, to question, to give assurance, to smile at, to wonder and ponder...every emotion comes back over and over.

About 35 years ago, a young Dad with my first two of my children still very young, I ran across the words from the story of Joseph and his brothers in the dramatic encounter when Joseph reveals himself to his brothers.  Remember, the brothers, some 14 years before, had sold their brother Joseph into slavery.  Unknown to them, God favored Joseph in his enslavement.  Joseph arose through God's providence to become Pharaoh's second in command.  He went through the agony of years of enslavement, but God through the providence of some dreams Pharaoh had to exalt him to a place of prominence.  Then when the famine hits the land his brothers show up seeking to buy food - and now 15 years has passed - and they do not recognize that the Egyptian Lord in charge of it all is actually their brother.

It would be easy to believe that Joseph has become hardened to it all.  It would be easy to think Joseph can now rightfully get justice - show them up - even enslave them.  In fact, Joseph does "play" with them through a series of things set up to entrap them in difficult things.  The brothers traveled back to their Father - Jacob - and told the stories that left him wondering "what is going on here".  But a little word made it all too difficult.  The brothers had stood before Joseph and said there was one more brother back home who had not come along, and it was Joseph's only brother, Benjamin.

Jacob had protected Benjamin since he assumed Joseph was dead and Joseph was the only son left from his marriage to Rachel.  Rachel had died in the birth of her son Benjamin and he was the only one now remaining of that union.
But Joseph wants to know the that his brother is indeed alive, and so he insists to the brothers - hidden from them as Pharaoh's Prime Minister - that they must bring Benjamin with them if they ever want to come for food from him again.  It was a "prove it" time, and for Joseph a necessary step to see if reconciliation with his brothers could ever be possible.

Benjamin comes back with his brothers and stands before Joseph.  Along with his other brothers no one knows what is going on, except Joseph.
Joseph tries one more ploy.
Genesis 44:1-3 (ESV)
1  Then he commanded the steward of his house, “Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack,
2  and put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, with his money for the grain.” And he did as Joseph told him.

3  As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away with their donkeys.

He puts the silver cup into Benjamin's sack, along with his money.  
Genesis 44:11-14 (ESV)
11  Then each man quickly lowered his sack to the ground, and each man opened his sack.
12  And he searched, beginning with the eldest and ending with the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack.
13  Then they tore their clothes, and every man loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city.

14  When Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, he was still there. They fell before him to the ground.

Why does Joseph do this?  We don't know for certain...the text is not perfectly clear.  Perhaps it was a test, perhaps he was hoping to put them in a stress filled way, perhaps he was trying to keep his brother away from them...we don't know.
But the words that followed from Judah - the one whose tribe our Savior would come from, and the one whose tribe would become the leader's tribe among all the tribe of Israel - those words are some of the most emotionally empowered words spoken in scripture...AND
They are for me the heart of what it means to be a Parent.
Genesis 44:18-34 (ESV)
18  Then Judah went up to him and said, “Oh, my lord, please let your servant speak a word in my lord’s ears, and let not your anger burn against your servant, for you are like Pharaoh himself.
19  My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father, or a brother?’
20  And we said to my lord, ‘We have a father, an old man, and a young brother, the child of his old age. His brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother’s children, and his father loves him.’
21  Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, that I may set my eyes on him.’
22  We said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’
23  Then you said to your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall not see my face again.’

24  “When we went back to your servant my father, we told him the words of my lord.
25  And when our father said, ‘Go again, buy us a little food,’
26  we said, ‘We cannot go down. If our youngest brother goes with us, then we will go down. For we cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’
27  Then your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons.
28  One left me, and I said, “Surely he has been torn to pieces,” and I have never seen him since.
29  If you take this one also from me, and harm happens to him, you will bring down my gray hairs in evil to Sheol.’

30  “Now therefore, as soon as I come to your servant my father, and the boy is not with us, then, as his life is bound up in the boy’s life,
31  as soon as he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die, and your servants will bring down the gray hairs of your servant our father with sorrow to Sheol.
32  For your servant became a pledge of safety for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father all my life.’
33  Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers.
34  For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would find my father.”

Joseph's plea is for mercy...  He says, we have a father who will be destroyed by Benjamin's arrest.  Judah says "Our Father's life is bound up in the boy's life...."
Then he makes the plea..."Keep me instead, let the boy go...."  He offers to trade his own life willing to be enslaved and imprisoned in his place...

AND, he says the words that I read 35+ years ago and have stayed with me all of these years.
"...how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? 

Those 35+ years ago I read those words and quietly felt in my spirit the weight, and ultimate desire, of being a Parent.  "How can I go to the Father and not have my children with me...?"

That is the heart of a parent who loves God... and that is the prayer every Parent prays.

Monday, January 7, 2013


Jan 6, which was yesterday, is generally celebrated in the universal church as Epiphany.  What is Epiphany?
Epiphany means "appearing", "to show", "to shine forth"...which all means it was a time of "revealing"...a "revelation" of who Jesus as a baby was.

The text is from Matthew 2.

Matthew 2:1-12 (ESV)
1  Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem,
2  saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
3  When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;
4  and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
5  They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

6  “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

7  Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared.
8  And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”
9  After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.
10  When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.
11  And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
12  And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.  

These "wise men", were "Magi"...a priestly group from Persia who closely monitored the stars and the night sky for signs.  More importantly, these group (there's nothing in the text that indicates there were 3) of people are "Gentiles"...non-Jews who came to worship Jesus as King.

Corresponding to this was the account of Jesus being taken to the Temple for his circumcision, 8 days after his birth.  His Mother, Mary and Father, Joseph, were fulfilling the requirement of the law for circumcision of all male children.  But here, an old man named Simeon came  upon them and made a startling statement.

Luke 2:22-35 (ESV)
22  And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord
23  (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”)
24  and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”
25  Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
26  And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
27  And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law,
28  he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29  “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word;

30  for my eyes have seen your salvation

31  that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

32  a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

33  And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him.
34  And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed
35  (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” 

Epiphany is a time to say Jesus Christ came into the world to save all people - Jew and Gentile - from their sins.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Beginnings

HAPPY NEW YEAR...2013 is officially here.  Now, how many times will you write 2012 before our habits change.
It's difficult sometimes to step from old habits into new ones.
That's why New Year's resolutions are often made.  Each of us wish to make New Beginnings.
If you think about it, it's somewhat redundant to say the words:  NEW BEGINNINGS.
Beginnings by nature are new already.  But of course, we're talking about making some new beginnings in the sense of starting all over with some things - hoping to do them better.  So, let's think about how to make a start all over again.

Genesis 1:1 (ESV)
1  In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 

Beginning...something New by God.

Genesis 1:31 (ESV)
31  And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. 

God's pleasure lies in making things "good".  It is his delight to have us experience "good" in all that we do.
Think about this, for all that has happened in our lives - whether we enjoyed it, or are enduring it - God says that what he desires of us can be for good.

One of my closest friend's mother passed away yesterday.
Two of our fellowship's men are battling cancer.
A friend's daughter is struggling with an uncertain future with disease.

The creation isn't working the way God intended it to, but that does not mean that God is not good...it simply means that his redemption is at work in ways that truly redeems what he loves - us - from all that is evil.  Job's story is the story of God's redemption of that which is evil.  At the end of it all...

Job 42:12 (ESV)
12  And the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning..."

and think about this:

Ecclesiastes 3:11 (ESV)
11  He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 

So how do we see God in new beginnings?
Here's a basic idea...in His Word.

John 1:1-2 (ESV)
1  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2  He was in the beginning with God.

Today I began another year of reading through the scripture.  It's a habit that has been going on for 25+ years...I've lost track, and frankly it doesn't matter.

It's not how many times I go through the word of God that matters;  It's how many times the word of God goes through me!

Want to join me in reading through the scripture this year?  Try this web site and check out the plans.  The one I'm doing this year is under "Whole Bible" and it's the "Chronological Reading Plan" in the ESV Bible.