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Engage the Word: Genesis 37 Family Disaster

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In today’s reading the family dysfunction continues. Favoritism toward children is handed down to the next generation. Jacob favors Joseph and this does not work to Joseph’s advantage in the long run. His brothers hated him for it and they couldn’t wait to get the best of him. Joseph doesn’t help himself by appearing arrogant in the way that he shares his dream. Jealousy overtakes the brothers and they plot to destroy Joseph.
Why does this stuff happen in believing families? We should be a willing to trust that God is in control. God will take care of us. We don’t have to worry about someone else getting an advantage over us that God cannot overcome. Jacob should have learned from his own experience that favoring a child leads to so many problems that are so difficult to resolve. Nonetheless this stuff still happens on a regular basis even in Christian families today. Sometimes home is the hardest place to learn new patterns of living.
The good news is that God was creative enough to work out his plan and even bless Joseph beyond measure despite this bad beginning. Has your family experienced brokenness in relationships? Reflect on the unique role that you may have played in your family dysfunction. Ask God to show how you might be part of the solution going forward. Commit to obeying his leading. The Biblical story shows how difficult it can be to work out family relationship complications. But nothing is impossible when everyone cooperates with God. Sometimes others may refuse to cooperate and still give us a hard time. Sometimes that’s because trust is low based on past experience. We can have peace knowing that we have done all that we can. We may need to be patient with others praying for them and for opportunities to show our love to them. Given time, it’s amazing what God’s love can do. Always remember that. God can show you how to live with integrity and do your part to avoid these entanglements in the future. This allows you to make the most of your present and future despite the failings of the past. This brings peace as well. In the end, God’s love can redeem every broken place in our lives. And that is good news.
If your family has mostly been free from this kind of problem give thanks to God. Let the strength of your family be a blessing to all those around you!
Pray. Read. Reflect. Respond! Engage the Word today! And don’t forget to celebrate on Sunday at 10:30 AM at NewHope Community Church of the Nazarene!

Engage the Word: Let’s Make a Deal!

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Today’s ETW reading is from Genesis 27 & 28. In it we follow the sad developments in a dysfunctional family. Rebekah wants the best for her son and she’s willing to betray her husband and his other son to get it. The Brady Bunch this ain’t. Jacob follows his mother’s lead and deceives his brother, stealing a blessing meant for him. What a shameful act. How sad when family members begin to see each other as a means to an end.
Jacob misinterprets his apparent “success” and continues on with the pattern of selfish manipulation, even in his just beginning relationship with God. The truly amazing thing is how God chooses to work through this mess to bring about good things. God chooses to work with Jacob as the blessed son and comes to him through a dream. It is a glorious sight: a great ladder or staircase going up to the sky with angels ascending and descending on it. If this isn’t awesome enough, next the LORD is standing right next to Jacob! If you’ve studied the Bible all your life you notice a lot of theological things going on here. Jacob was no theologian. If you have developed a deep reverence for God as holy and worthy of worship for his own sake, regardless of what he might or might not do for us, then you see this as a powerful vision of God’s faithfulness, a deeply reaffirming blessing. You would be filled with awe and realize how significant it was for God to visit you in such a personal way. You would feel unworthy but thankful and mark this down as one of the great moments of life. Feelings of doubt would melt away. But if that’s you, Jacob isn’t like you. Not yet.
Jacob’s latest adventure in missing the point is to think it’s all about the place where God appeared. Truly it becomes sacred because God was there, but Jacob thinks it’s the ground itself. And instead of a deep and maturing appreciation for the holy, Jacob thinks that his obedience is up for the bidding. It’s almost like: “Well, God, I see that you’re really interested in blessing me and for the most part I think that’s really cool and all. But let’s not be too hasty here. I’ve got some really important things going on right now. The most important thing is me surviving and being comfortable. Sooooo…if you’re really interested, keep me safe on my journey. Make sure I’m well fed and clothed. And IF you manage to get me back to this place, I will make you MY God. I’ll even start putting you first financially. I’ll tithe. See there, God. I’ve made you an offer you can’t refuse!”
Do you try to cut “deals” with God in times of crisis? At the time we probably don’t realize how foolish it looks. But it’s about as selfish as it could possibly be. But our God is so gracious, so determined to work out his ultimate plan, that he sometimes works with us and our ridiculous manipulative ideas about him. Jacob’s schemes catch up with him. God doesn’t shield him from that. But he also gets an opportunity at redemption. He gets an opportunity to grow up, make things right, and truly be blessed. Jacob learned some important lessons the hard way (See Genesis 29-33 for the full story). But we can learn from him that God does not exist to make us comfortable. We exist to experience the joy of loving relationship with him. If we finally lay down our schemes and accept the grace he offers us in the way he offers it to us, we will find the peace we seek. Let God examine your heart. Come just as you are, admitting how much you need God. Confess and turn away from old manipulative ways. Receive forgiveness. Enter into holy friendship with God. Begin to live in new ways in the strength God provides. God says, “Yeah, let’s make a deal. You give me all your sin and selfishness. I’ll give you a new heart and show you a new way to live and change your world.”

Engage the Word: Triple-Threat

Engage the Word
MATTHEW 3:13-4:17
When Jesus walked the earth, the Bible teaches us that God was walking the earth in human form. So a lot of people think that means God wasn’t in heaven while Jesus was here. But passages like today make it clear that’s not true. In the baptism scene we see or hear Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all at once. New Testament writers never try to “explain” the Trinity (the Three-In-Oneness of God) they simply show and tell us what happened. I won’t attempt to fully explain it. But all three (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) are required to talk about God. Wouldn’t we expect God to be more complex than us?
I have a new friend who’s son was a dual-threat quarterback in high school. He could throw the ball or run effectively on any given down. Now in college, coaches are training him to be a slot receiver. So technically he’ll be a triple threat on special plays! Let’s call him Vince. There’s only one Vince, but inside of him there’s a quarterback, a running back, and a slot receiver! He can’t be all three at once like God, but we get the analogy.
And here’s the point. At all times God is a triple threat. Sin had no chance against a Father who wants to forgive, a Son who’s willing to lay down His human Life, and the Holy Spirit who could pass the Spiritual power of resurrection on to human beings. The first verse you learn is often: “God is love.” For that to be true, the trinity is helpful. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are like three centers-of-being in God. All three are actively loving each other at all times. All three have equal powers but they subordinate themselves in role and function in order to deliver humanity from our fallen condition.
Jesus had self-imposed human limitations. He had to learn and grow just like us. But when he came up out of that water he realized fully that in some mysterious way he was a powerful part of a triple threat that would overcome sin, death, and hell!
And he went to war against the devil, and ignorance, and fear, injustice, hate, hunger, violence, and sin.
He overcame temptation, put Satan on the run and began preaching the Good News. I don’t know what you’re facing today. But if you take Jesus’ message to heart: “Turn away from your sins, because the Kingdom of heaven is near!…” you’ll find the King is a triple threat to overcome all obstacles; self-inflicted or otherwise. The power to change your life and, through you, your world is nearer than you think!
So what does God want you to do today? Who can you bless? What habit can you break? How could you begin serving your church or neighbor? Have no fear. The three-in-one has got your back!

Engage the Word: Power Play

As Engage the Word presses on we meet John (the baptizer), son of Zechariah the priest. His dad was a priest in the temple. But that just wasn’t his style. (Think: Billy Graham’s son smuggling Bibles into Turkey). A bit more brash. Having a bit of a problem with stuffed-shirt bureaucrats and hypocrites. We learned earlier that John was Jesus’ “cousin” through his earthly mother. Quite a pair these two. Born 6 months apart. Probably not your typical play dates when they got together. It says John was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth. Everyone told the story of his father’s vision and the special joy surrounding his birth. He didn’t have a self-esteem problem. More importantly he saw God’s vision for a new kind of Kingdom. One where nobody’s good enough but everybody’s welcome on their knees. Repent! Get right with God because he’s about to show up big time! He was an outsider who wasn’t caught up in the system. This blew everyone’s mind. So they listened. What he said made sense. Lots of people came out. Lots of people repented. John still gave people a hard time and said this better not be for show! “it’s not how wet you get, it’s how straight you walk on land!” (slight paraphrase!) He had spiritual authority and people listened.
But Herod Antipas had power. And he got it the old-fashioned way. His father, Herod the “Great”, paid for it! A weasel of the highest degree, Herod the “Great” was not fully Jewish and had bribed and betrayed his way to earthly power. He completely dismantled the true 2nd Temple and replaced it with a monstrosity larger than Solomon’s, with a nice Roman seal over the entrance. (He also built pagan temples in other towns.) So the true believers who were poor saw themselves excluded more and more from what their religion was becoming: a channel of Roman power and control…
Herod Antipas (the son) took his living brother’s wife. (The two deserved each other.) He had most of the negative qualities of his father and was quite bold in his disobedience to spiritual laws.
So what happens when true spiritual authority meets corrupt earthly power? Herod Antipas couldn’t corrupt John, so he put him in prison. This just made him more heroic to the masses and a continuing embarrassment.
You see, spiritual authority comes from God. You can’t buy it. If you oppose it by running away or trying to silence it, you’re only dealing with the messenger. You can’t avoid God. God is everywhere and will not stop trying to get through to you.
When Herod Antipas had John killed he thought it was the end of his spiritual conviction. But John was just the forerunner, paving the way for the ultimate authority: Jesus. Herod the great had tried to slaughter all the Bethlehem male babies. (Missed by that much.) He eventually allowed a crowd of people to call him a god. And then he got to meet God. Just when he’d finally gotten the ultimate thing he’d been chasing his whole life: god-like power. He forgot that every breath was a gift. (From God). That all earthly power is on loan. (From God). That justice is the reason earthly power exists. (Again, from God). And that all of us one day will answer to…you guessed it, God.
Jesus then returned to his homeland, safe from the power-crazy Herod the Great. But still under the immoral and self-indulgent authority of Herod Antipas, killer of John. John’s followers sensed even more of the same authority in Jesus and quickly followed. Suddenly Herod Antipas had an even bigger problem on his hands. He thought it was John back from the dead to haunt him. But it was God showing up again.
“Herod!”
“Yes?”
“God called. He wants his power back.”
Jesus went on to be the Messiah who saved the world and ascended to heaven.
In a bitter irony, perhaps the only ruler more corrupt and perverted, Emperor Caligula, banished Herod Antipas to exile. He had to live out his days in obscurity while the Good News about Jesus simply spread to the whole world…
Are you resisting God’s will, God’s way in your life? It’s not worth it. Submit to Him and find lasting peace. Are you struggling under earthly oppression right now? Stay tuned. The last line has not yet been written. God and His true servants are the ones to watch. Commit yourself fully to God’s mission today. It’s Good News for the poor and the poor in Spirit as we shall see…

Engage the Word: Christmas in October?

The Gospel of John says in the first chapter: “And the Word became flesh and ‘dwelt’ among us.” This is a key verse for lots of reasons. But it also may be a clue about when Jesus was born. The word “dwelt” means “pitched his tent”. That’s interesting. Every Fall Jews still celebrate Sukkot, the Festival of Tabernacles or Booths (tents). “live in booths so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt.” (Leviticus 23:42-44) In Chicago, a tent has been on display to honor this tradition. The Exodus was a great event. It was the paradigm for God’s salvation, delivering his people from bondage.
Today’s Engage the Word reading was from Luke 2:1-40. The angel said Mary would miraculously become pregnant and deliver a son named Jesus, whose Kingdom will never end. Jesus means “Yahweh Saves”. Matthew tells us he would “save his people from their sins.” So we’re reading a Christmas story in October! Weird? Not really. If John is giving us a clue, Jesus may have become flesh and pitched his tent during Sukkot! Dwelling among us as a sojourner. One who shared life with us, then gave his life away. One who leads an Exodus out of the bondage of sin! One who saves us from our sins and from ourselves.
There are good reasons to celebrate his arrival at the darkest point in the year, because he was the Light of the World, overcoming the darkness. But it’s not bad to read and celebrate his arrival now, too! How amazing that he became human. Living among our tents. Leading us finally home.
So remember you’re just a sojourner here. The fullness of the Kingdom is yet to come. Let’s draw together as the community of faith. Let’s be disciples. Let’s make disciples who make disciples. He’s still full of grace and truth. Let’s keep sharing the Good News and living toward the Kingdom! Don’t get too comfortable. There’s much to do and we’re not home yet!

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