Why I Pray for Israel

Maybe it’s because I’m with them all day. But for some crazy unheard of reason my kids don’t always listen to me. Can you believe it? However if daddy declares it or says it or asks for it – there’s usually a response. And a quick one at that.

Devotional: Genesis 47:7-31
Key Verse: I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:3

“Why is that?” I asked the kids after a long morning of hearing myself give instructions to apparently no one in particular. “Maybe because daddy always means what he says.” (Emphasis on the word always please.)

“Well how very insightful my dear, sweet, precious children.” At least that’s how I think I responded. Or maybe responded or wished I responded. Anyway, once the shock wore off of hearing I only sometimes mean what I say, I realized maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing. Not that the kids don’t mind me, but that they have a dad who always follows through with what he says. Because they also have a God who does the very same thing.

Every single word God speaks comes forth exactly as He says it will, because the LORD always means what he says. Proverbs 30:5 says “Every word of God proves true.”

So when God told Abraham in Genesis 12:3, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse,” He meant it. Anyone who stood by Abraham would be blessed, but anyone who stood against him would suffer the consequences.

It’s a promise wrapped in what we like to refer to as the Abrahamic Covenant. A group of promises given to Abraham, reiterated to Isaac and Jacob, and passed to their descendants – the nation of Israel.

So when Pharaoh reached down into the pit and made Joseph governor of Egypt; when he graciously welcomed Jacob’s family into the kingdom; when he granted them rights to the best land in all the region, he was not just being nice. He was unknowingly blessing God’s people.

Therefore God blessed him in great abundance. First through the words of Jacob who was brought into Pharaoh’s throne room after his sons were escorted out. And then by the work of Joseph…

When the Egyptians ran out of money to buy food during the famine they came to Joseph for help.  “We’re out of money but we need more food!” So Joseph allowed them to sell their livestock in exchange for more. But a year later they were in trouble again. With no money and no livestock left to their name they suggested Joseph buy them and their land in exchange for more food that they might survive the famine.

So he did. He sold grain to the people in exchange for their land and they became Pharaoh’s servants. It may sound harsh to us but it was a win win as far as the Egyptians were concerned. They not only had food to eat and seed to sow but got to keep four fifths of the crop for themselves. Even in years of plenty, only twenty percent would go to Pharaoh.

And through it all, Pharaoh was immensely blessed with livestock and land and great wealth. Why? Because God was faithful to his word to bless those who bless his people. Is the promise still in effect today? Does God still bless those who bless Israel and curse those who dishonor them? Well quite honestly I don’t see why not. And have no desire to test God on the matter.

First of all the promise was restated in a blessing spoken over Israel in Numbers 24:9, “Blessed are those who bless you, and cursed are those who curse you.” Secondly, God still loves Israel.

They are the apple of his eye (Zech. 2:8). He chose them out of all the peoples of the earth to be his treasured possession because of his oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (cf. Deut. 7:6-8) And I don’t know about you but I don’t usually discard my treasured possessions.

Romans 11 says the Jews are ““beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (v. 28-29). He cannot and will not go back on his word.

Though for a time God has hardened the heart of Israel, “until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Rom. 11:25), he has not deserted them. Look with me at Revelation 21. When the holy city, the new Jerusalem, referred to as “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb” comes down from heaven it will have a great wall with twelve gates and twelve foundations. On the gates will be “the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel” (v. 12). And on the foundations will be the “names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (v. 14).

Someday, in someway, God will bring his beloved bride and his beloved people together forever. Until then we stand by their side because “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). “To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all” (Rom. 9:5).

Beloved of God, pray for Israel. And pray for the leaders of our nation. Pray with me that we will always and forever be a blessing to Israel not just for our own protection, but because they are God’s treasured possession and a vessel of blessing to all families of the earth through Jesus Christ our LORD. My friend may we never forget, our Savior bled Jewish blood.

Contemplate and Evaluate:
Since World War II America has given over 120 billion dollars in aid to Israel. We have stood by their side continually. Do you think there is a correlation between the great blessings our nation has experienced and the hand of blessing we’ve extended to Israel? Why or why not?
How has God been faithful to his promises in your life? What promise are you holding onto today?

If today’s Deeper Devo was encouraging to you or insightful you have my permission to share it! My heart’s cry is for God to use my writing to encourage, enlighten, and educate hearts of believers and nonbelievers every single week. Thanks my friend!

Go Ahead and Say It

After reuniting with his family Joseph became something of a mediator between them and Pharaoh. Not too surprising since Joseph’s life has been a Christlike example to us for ten chapters now and 1 Timothy 2:5 is quite clear that Christ is our mediator. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).

Devotional Scripture: Genesis 46:28-47:6
Key Verse: “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 10:32)

So in preparation of meeting Pharaoh for the first time Joseph says to his brothers, “When Pharaoh calls you and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers’…for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians” (46:34).

“Um excuse me, you want us to do what?” I think I would have balked at the idea. I can hear it now. “Joseph maybe you’ve spent too much time in that little tunic of yours but that makes absolutely no sense. Egyptians hate shepherds! You just said so yourself. Yet you want us to walk into the presence of the highest ranking man in the world and declare we’ve spent our entire lives herding sheep? Great plan little brother.”

But Joseph wasn’t trying to shame his brothers or embarrass them. He wasn’t trying to force them into social suicide. Or cause them unnecessary harm. He was trying to protect them from assimilating into Egyptian society. He knew the temptations and false gods that would beckon for their attention. He knew the lure of Egyptian women. He knew the culture and the politics and the difficulties that lay ahead for them.

Thus he knew the very best thing for his siblings and their families were to be outcasts who lived apart in the land of Goshen. And the only way to accomplish such a thing was to be upfront about who they really were – Shepherds.

Could it be dangerous? Maybe. Life always carries with it an air of uncertainty. But they were safe in his presence. Joseph wouldn’t let anything happen to them. So he urged them to say it. To be truthful. And forthcoming about who they really were.

Today we have a similar struggle. Do we say it? Do we say we’re Christians? Jesus told us “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matt. 10:22). If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you…If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:19-20). “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

Yet we’re also told not to be ashamed of the gospel (Rom. 1:16), “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” To go and make disciples. To preach the good news. To say it loud and clear declaring “his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” (Psalm 96:3)

Hmmmm. Are you sure LORD? It feels a bit like social suicide. The world hates Christians. If I say it, I’ll be forever labeled. They’ll think me an intolerant, short sighted, judgmental, homophobe. They’ll tiptoe around me because of my beliefs and standards. I’ll be a misunderstood Jesus freak. Or better yet – an outcast.

But maybe that’s exactly the way God wants it. To keep us from assimilating into the world. To set us apart. To keep us from losing our true identity. To say I’m a Christian might label me, but it may also be the most effective way to protect me from a world filled with an immense number of false gods and temptations.

Could it be dangerous? Absolutely. But we’re safe in the arms of Jesus. No one can snatch us out of his hand (Jn. 10:28). He is always faithful and will establish and guard us against the evil one (2 Thess. 3:3).

Therefore he urges us to say it. To be truthful. To be forthcoming about who we really are.

“What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Matt. 10:27-31

“So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32). Could there be anything more wonderful than Jesus declaring our name to the Father? I don’t think so.

So say it! Say you’re a Christian. Say it with joy. Say it with dignity and respect for other believers. Say it with boldness for the nonbeliever. Say it with love so the world can know what a true follow of Jesus Christ looks like.

When the brothers stood before Pharaoh and told him they were shepherds and always had been. Pharaoh not only granted them permission to live in the best of all the land of Egypt but told Joseph to put them in charge of his flocks as well.

No matter what happens my friend, the blessings of saying it, will always and forever far outweigh the worldly benefits of staying quiet. So say it. Say you’re a Christian. And then live it every single day.

Contemplate and Evaluate
How did the shepherd label protect Joseph’s family? How could the christian label protect believers?
Are you open and honest about your Christian beliefs? Or do you hide them at times because it’s a bit too concerning?


When It’s OK to Ask for Directions

“I don’t care! We’re going!” Ever said it? Mhmm I have. With colorful determination, on more than one occasion. Like last winter when I was super excited to go with Kreg to a Monsanto Seed Conference (A.K.A. a 24 hour mommy getaway). Not that I was excited about spending hours in a conference room listening to things I really didn’t understand. No, No. I had plans and let me assure you they did not involve a conference room. Though good food, HGTV, and a new book were absolutely on the agenda.

Devotional Scripture: Genesis 46:1-27
Key Verse: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:11

But when the day arrived the roads were slicker than snot. Somehow a whole lot of fog had turned into a whole lot of ice. (I know. Ridiculous.) But we were STILL GOING. A little ice was not going to stop me from enjoying 24 hours free of children. Though you’d think I would have taken a hint when it took us fifteen minutes just to safely drive to Kreg’s parents house. A mere two miles down the road – to drop off those lovely children – who now had the day off school.

But I was determined. And utterly dismayed when the Monsanto representative called a few minutes later to inform us the whole thing was indeed cancelled. “What? But why?”

Mmmhmm. Sadly from the get go I had absolutely no intention of praying about whether or not we should go. I just wanted to go! Which is exactly the mindset I would have pictured Jacob in after finding out Joseph was still alive. “Pack it up boys. We are out of here!”

But instead of hightailing it straight to Egypt because nothing and no one was going to stop him from getting to his boy! Jacob (called Israel in this segment because of his remarkable faithfulness) heads to Beersheba to offer sacrifices and seek the LORD just as Abraham and Isaac had done at Beersheba years before.

Just let that sink in for a moment…in spite of the excitement and urgency Jacob must have felt to go and get there and be with Joseph – he stopped to worship the LORD and seek his will. (Anyone else need this today?)

He checked to make sure it was ok because many years before when Isaac had tried to go to Egypt during a famine, God had said no. And when Abraham went it caused problems we are still dealing with today (Hagar and Ishmael and the unrest among certain Arab nations).

But wouldn’t you know, this time, God said yes! “Jacob, Jacob…Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation” (v. 3). It was absolutely, without a doubt, no question God’s will for Jacob to take his family to Egypt.

It not only fulfilled the prophecy God had spoken to Abraham (Genesis 15) and protected Jacob and his family from perishing in the famine. But allowed them to grow in a protected environment from seventy persons (v. 27) to a multitude likely numbering in the millions. (cf. Exodus 1:7)

God had a plan and it was so much bigger than Jacob and Joseph and Judah and the rest of them. It went well beyond their survival and emotional reunion. It was about a people He would form a covenant with. And dwell among. And lead and love and lavish with blessing. A people He would make into a nation. A people He would use as a vessel to bring blessing to all the families of the earth through the birth and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In reality it was not about them at all; it was about Jesus. Who is before all things and holds all things together and whom all things were created through and for (Col. 1:16-17). And who redeems and reconciles us to God by “making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:20).

And the moment we realize life’s not about us but about Jesus, is the moment we’ll really start living. Because until we recognize his sovereignty in our lives, we won’t surrender to his will.

Which is exactly what Jacob did when he made a pit stop in Beersheba to worship God. (In my opinion, one of the finest moments of his life.) I have no doubt he wanted to go to Egypt. His boy was there. The firstborn of his beloved Rachel. But I wholeheartedly believe if God had said no that day; If God had said “You can go, but I won’t go with you,” Jacob would have stayed right where he was. Smack dab in the middle of a famine stricken Canaan.

Because he now understood God’s will was better than his own. He recognized God’s sovereignty in his life and that of his family. And no matter how desperate he wanted to lay his hands on Joseph if it wasn’t God’s will, he wasn’t going.

This is the goal my friend, to surrender to God’s will with dignity and determination, no matter how badly we long for something. No matter how much we think we need it. To stop and ask God is the mark of a true follower of Christ. Because we know he won’t lead us astray. He might lead us down paths and through streams and up mountains we never thought we could go; never thought we could get through. But never astray.

Yet we struggle to seek God first. Afraid of what he might say. Afraid of what he might make us do. Certain if we surrender, by this time next year, we’ll be taking up residence in a paper box or a remote African village. (Am I right?)

But we don’t need to be afraid. God’s will is good. God’s will is best. God’s will is a life worth living. It’s where we experience His presence. Look at what the LORD says to Jacob. “I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again” (v.4). God would be with him the entire time and there’s nothing more thrilling than the continuous company of the Savior.

Secondly, God’s will is full of blessings – “Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes” (v.4). What a joy for Jacob to know he would live the remainder of his days near Joseph.  

My friend, we need not be afraid to ask Him first. We need not fear His will for our lives. He is a loving and gracious Father who absolutely knows how to give good gifts to his children (Matthew 7:11). “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matt. 6:33; NLT) So go ahead ask – for directions. 

Contemplate and Evaluate:
Do you daily surrender to God’s will or do you hesitate because you’re afraid of what He might make you do?
What decision or situation or longing do you need to lay before the Father today?

We May be Different But our Stories are Similar

Differences often blind us from seeing similarities. We get stuck on black and white, republican and democratic, conservative and liberal, christian and non-christian, CEO executive and hard working American. We chant “black lives matter.” Or “blue lives matter” Or “unborn babies matter.” And yes they do. Because life matters. ALL of life matters.

Devotional Scripture: Genesis 45:9-28
Key Verse: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who call you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9

If you have skin and bones, no matter your color or occupation or background or whether you’re unborn or 98 years old – you’ve been made in the image of God and your life matters. But we divide and take sides because it’s easier to join with people who think or look like we do. Instead of reaching across the ever widening divide and saying, “You know what, we’ve both been made by the same God.” “You know what, we all need a Savior.” “You know what, in Christ our stories are actually similar.”

It’s true. In Christ, you and I – we’ve got the same story. Though the details are different, the outline’s the same. First God reveals himself to us. (Yes He chooses us. There’s just no way around it.) Then He pardons us, provides for us, and instructs us to proclaim his excellencies.

For every single one of us that’s the outline. And it’s mirrored perfectly in Genesis 45 when Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. And then pardons, provides, and instructs them to proclaim his excellencies, in particular to their father.

If Joseph had not revealed himself, his brothers never would have known who he was. And my friend, if God didn’t make Christ known to us, we wouldn’t know either. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). The Greek word for “draw” is helkuo and it literally means to drag. Because the reality is we’d never go on our own.

But convicted of sin by a work of the Holy Spirit, we seek the Savior who pardons us as Joseph so graciously pardoned his guilty brothers. Though we deserve death, though we deserve hell, “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities…as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:10-12) A fact I’ll never understand and forever appreciate.

But he doesn’t stop there. Jesus then gives and gives and gives to us out of his great riches. (Go read Ephesians 1.) Beautifully displayed to us by Joseph’s generous blessing of his brothers at the command of Pharaoh. Lavishing them with tons of grace and food and a change of clothes (except Benjamin who got 5 sets of clothes and 300 shekels of silver), he says to them, “You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children…There I will provide for you” (v.10-11).  

He then sent carts to carry their wives and little ones but not their stuff. Pharaoh specifically instructed not to worry about their things “for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours” (45:20). (However Gen. 46:6 tells us they still took their stuff.) (I probably would have too.)

But whether they took the family favorites or not the fact remains as long as they were with Joseph they’d be abundantly provided for the rest of their lives. As are we, when we stick close to Jesus who said in John 15:4-7, “Abide in me…for apart from me you can do nothing…If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

In other words, “Stay close to me.” “That my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (15:11). “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on…But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:25, 33).

My friend, Jesus has not only pardoned us and given us eternal life but desires to provide for every one of our tomorrow’s. If we’d simply trust and obey his fairly straightforward instructions. Which are not burdensome (1 John 5:3) but there for our benefit and His glory.

Just as Joseph instructed his brothers to go and tell their father of his great honor in Egypt, so are we to go and tell of Christ’s great honor in all the world.  1 Peter 2:9 says “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

We’ve been saved for a purpose. We’ve been saved to proclaim the most wonderful excellencies of a God willing to not only pardon our shameless sins but pay the penalty himself. We’ve been saved to tell them He is STILL ALIVE!

I can’t even fathom the conversation that must have ensued when the boys arrived back home with all the stuff and the carts and 20 donkeys over loaded with grain and bread and all the goods of Egypt (v. 23). I wonder how they said it. With remorse dripping from every word? Or with a breathless excitement? Either way, the important thing is they said it. “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt” (45:26).

At first Jacob didn’t believe them. But when he heard their story and the words of Joseph and saw the wagons and overflowing provisions, it was enough. Because it is enough. The person, the pardon, the provisions – it’s absolutely enough. So go and tell them. Tell them your story – tell them our story. Because actually it’s His story.

The LORD hasn’t asked us to convince the world. He’s simply asked us to walk across the room or the street or the great big divide and tell them that He is still alive! Oh and we’re not to quarrel on the way! (Gen. 45:24)

Contemplate and Evaluate:
For what purpose has God saved you?
When was the last time you told someone Jesus is still alive?
Who can you share your story, our story, and ultimately His story with today?

(Photo credit: Pixabay)

How We Move Past the Hurt and Heal

Genesis 45 is the stuff movies are made of, not real life. Though it happened. Every bit of it. Through wet tears and sobs so loud Pharaoh’s household could hear it, Joseph revealed himself to his brothers. “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” (v. 3)

Devotional Scripture: Genesis 45:1-8
Key Verse: “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” Genesis 45:5

He couldn’t take it anymore. Judah’s little speech and remarkable display of sacrificial love unraveled the last little bit of Joseph’s resolve. I bet it felt good to finally say the words. To finally be open with his grief. It was the third time he’d wept since his family first came seeking food.

But the brothers were terrified. Completely dumbfounded, they could say nothing. So Joseph said everything, quickly stepping into the huge wake of awkwardness his omission had created to ease their fears.

“And now do not be distressed 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 yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God.” (v. 5-8)

Sheesh. Talk about perspective! Could you do it? After being humiliated, dragged naked, and sold as a slave. After spending year after year in jail. After missing out on a relationship with your father and youngest brother for twenty-two years. Could you let them off the hook with no zingers or little jabs? Without a quick rundown of every little thing you’d been through?

I don’t know. There’s no doubt it would take every ounce of Spirit filled control to keep my tongue in check. To keep me from blaming and renaming and making sure they understood how badly I’d been hurt.

However with the sovereignty of God at the forefront of his mind, Joseph succeeded at it. He let his brothers off the hook because it wasn’t his job to keep them there. He trusted God for the consequences and judgment of their sin instead of making himself the judge. Something quite contrary to our nature.

But he couldn’t have walked headlong into the wake of awkwardness or embraced them with not only his arms but the full depth of his heart, if he didn’t believe in the sovereignty of God.

Because that’s what makes forgiveness possible. Only when we view hurt through the lens of God’s sovereignty can healing happen.

Think about it for a minute. If nothing happens without God’s allowing of it and His control never ceases, then even the hard stuff is not without its place. Giving credence to the ever so popular Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

All things. Even the hurtful things that leave us feeling so numb a hundred bees could sting us and we wouldn’t feel it. Or in some ways might not even care. Because the cut from someone we’d trusted, someone we’d loved, someone we’d cared for, was so deep, it would leave us scarred for a lifetime.

Unless we view it through the lens of God’s sovereignty. Unless we pull back and trust that we’re still in the palm of God’s gracious and loving hand. Unless we realize for one reason or another God permitted it to happen.

Not that he approved of it or applauded it but in his supreme power and authority he allowed it. And if for no other reason than to draw us closer to Him, to let us feel his good presence in our lives, to empower us with his strength, to let us experience the comfort only the King of kings can give, then I dare say it was maybe worth it.

Because to know Him more is the ultimate gift. And to be like Him is the ultimate goal. So if it’s the hurt that pushes me in the right direction then I can heal. I can forgive. I can move past the pain without packing on the bitterness. Because my Father is ultimately in control.

As Joseph so excellently understood. “Don’t worry about it,” he told his brothers. “For God sent me before you to preserve life.” (v. 5). Three times he affirms, “God sent me. So it’s ok. It’s God’s sovereign hand that brought me here.”

Joseph had the privilege of eventually understanding why his path had been what it was. We may or may not get that privilege. But either way a child of God can rest in the comfort of knowing you are never outside the Father’s will. “The LORD directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way.” (Prov. 20:24; NLT)

Does that mean people can sin against me and it doesn’t matter? Nope. Not at all.  It simply means we can find a way to forgive. And when there is honesty and repentance and the sweet surrender of a guilty conscience evident in the offending party, as there was with Joseph’s brothers, we can reconcile. We can weep and hug and rejoice in new beginnings. Because we know we too have been forgiven. We too have been reconciled to a Father we greatly offended by our sin.

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18). Oh how thankful I am for a Father willing to forgive me. And a King always and forever on the throne. Live today in His perfectly sovereign peace my friend.

Contemplate and Evaluate:
Why is God’s sovereignty so important in relation to hurt and healing?
Are there roots of bitterness growing in your heart because of an offense long past? Through the lens of God’s sovereignty how might you be able to offer forgiveness?

(Photo credit: Pixabay)

The First Step to Reconciliation

Compassion is not my natural bent. Nine times out of ten I’d rather just tell you – or I mean everyone besides you – to get over it. I know, heartless. Ironically I have a psychology degree. Maybe there’s good reason God interrupted my plan to become a marriage and family counselor. (And a flight attendant. That was my other idea. “I’m sorry sir but we cannot land this plane if your seat is back those two inches. So just get over it.”)

Devotional Scripture: Genesis 43:1 – 44:34
Key Verse: “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13

But over the years I’ve definitely seen my heart soften. As I’ve cried alongside desperately hurting friends, felt the weight of my own bad choices, and stood at the graveside of caskets far too small. To the point in which just this morning while eating my eggs I had to hide the tears that threatened as I read the broken words of a woman who lost her mother at just eighteen.

Her pain echoed through me in a way that made me so very thankful to be watering the flowers on my front porch, meeting the incessant demands of my children, and wading through a sink full of dirty dishes.

It gave me a good dose of perspective – as did over twenty years of unending guilt for Joseph’s brothers. Locked in a jail cell the betrayal of Joseph was the first thing that came to their minds (42:21). It had not left them. It had shaped them. But Joseph needed to know how. Did they feel remorse for what they’d done? Had they changed for the better? So he put them through a series of tests.

First he kept one brother back. Would they come back for him? And would they bring Benjamin? They did. But did they hate Benjamin as they hated him? Would they abandon Benjamin as they did him?

When they returned Joseph invited them into his home. He seated them by birth order. Then heaped five times as much food on Benjamin’s plate. Did they care? Nope. Apparently they didn’t. But the true test was yet to come.

Joseph had his cup, his silver cup, placed in the mouth of Benjamin’s sack. Then sent his steward after them. “What have you done? Why did you take my lord’s special cup?” But they were indignant. “What are you talking about? We didn’t take his special cup!” (obviously my paraphrase)

So certain of their innocence they put their lives on the line. “Whichever of your servants is found with it shall die, and we also will be my lord’s servants” (44:9). And lone behold there it was in Benjamin’s sack.

They tore their clothes. What on earth? But how? Why? Then together returned to the city. Every last one of them. And offered themselves as Joseph’s servants. But Joseph refused, “No no no, I’ll just take the little one. He’s the one who had the cup.” (more of my paraphrase)

How Joseph held it together as his brothers groveled before him, I have not the slightest idea. But he had done it. He had created an opportunity for his brothers to betray Benjamin, just as they had him. Only this time the stakes were higher. In exchange for Benjamin he offered each of them their freedom. Tempting, very very tempting.

But they wouldn’t do it again. Not now. Not ever. It would kill their father. I think it’s safe to say God their hearts had been softened. Besides, Judah had made a promise to return Benjamin and he intended to keep it. So he offered his own life in exchange for Isaac’s favorite boy. The kind of quality one might expect from the tribe of our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ.

There was no jealousy. No strife. No teetering back and forth as to what to do. Just selfless determination that allowed them to gather on the highly coveted edge of reconciliation.

Something you may long for or hope for or dream of in this vast world of broken relationships. But how did it happen for them? How did they get to the point wherein love and honesty and grace and mercy were about to burst forth with no restraint?

They let go. All of them. Joseph of any and all bitterness, anger, hate, or revenge. The brothers of all jealousy and envy, and deception. They let go of hurt feelings and grudges. They let go of pride and selfish ambition. And they let go of control. A big one for Jacob.

With little option remaining, Jacob surrendered. “So be it,” he said. And “May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man” But as for me…“If I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved” (43:14). He let go. And he let God.

When God calls us to let go of something – be it a loved one, a dream, a plan, a life of guilt or anxiety or favoritism, a seed of bitterness or an all encompassing envy, a feeling of control, a long standing lie, or an ever-present wish – it might be the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do. But if it’s the right thing; if it’s God asking you to do it; if it means deliverance or blessing or freedom or reconciliation, then it’s absolutely worth it. And possible through Him who gives us strength (Phil. 4:13).

Little did Jacob realize his boy, his long lost boy, was that dreaded man. And that letting go would bring the most beautiful of blessings into his life. And little did his sons realize the breaking would bring about the best kind of remaking. And the admitting the most brilliant forgiving.

My friend is there something you need to let go of today? Something you’ve long held onto because it’s too scary or too hard or too shameful to admit? Today I pray you find the courage to surrender. To be real. To be honest. Because on the other side just might be the most beautiful of blessings, a reconciliation you didn’t think possible, a remaking you never saw coming, or a forgiving you never thought you’d get to experience.  

Contemplate and Evaluate:
When have you let go and saw God’s gracious hand work things out for the better?
What do you need to let go of today? A wish, a dream, a thought of envy or seed of bitterness? Ask the LORD to give you the strength (Phil. 4:13). And remember His mercies are new every morning.

(Photo credit: Pixabay)

The Best Decision You’ll Ever Make

Sometimes I have the best ideas. Like a few months ago when I told the kids it was National Cleaning Day so we had no choice but to wash windows and baseboards and bedding and every toy they own. Brilliant I tell you! Until they asked my mom if she too had participated in National Cleaning Day. (I’m sorry, what did you say?)

Devotional Scripture: Genesis 41:37- 42:38
Key Verse: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12

Then there’s the bad ideas. The really really bad ideas. Like the time I decided to dye my hair black (with permanent hair dye mind you). And then wept uncontrollably the next morning because what on earth had I just done! Clearly there was a reason God did not give me black hair!

Or the time I had shin splints in college and decided I would be responsible and get ice packs and ice them with absolutely no protection WHATSOEVER on my skin. I pushed through the burning sensation for um well much longer than I care to admit. But long enough to give myself burn marks that looked like a map of the Galapagos Islands, on both legs, and didn’t go away for several years. Yes, years. Go ahead and google “map of Galapagos Islands”. I know you want to.

But Joseph didn’t have bad ideas (at least not that we know of). Just really good ones. Seven years of famine – no worries Pharaoh. Just hire a man to gather and store up grain during the seven abundant years so Egypt can still thrive during the seven bad years. Brilliant! “Joseph, you’re hired!”

Can you even imagine? One minute he was serving up mash to his fellow prison mates (at least that’s what I imagine him doing) and the next he’s being served an endless array of any and every delicacy the eye had ever seen as second in command of Egypt. (Up from the grave he arose right?)

Clothed in fine linen, with a gold chain about his neck, and Pharaoh’s signet ring on his finger, they put Joseph in a chariot and took him for a ride. “Bow the knee!” They called out before him. I wonder if there was confusion. “Hey, anyone know who the new guy is?”

“Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (v. 46) to begin the ministry God had set before him. And not so ironically Jesus was also thirty when he began his. Then Pharaoh gave Joseph a gentile wife. Another not so ironic coincidence considering Joseph is a picture of Jesus and we the church, Christ’s bride, are gentiles.

As head honcho or governor Joseph got right to work storing “up grain in great abundance…until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured” (v.49). It was vast and abundant! As are the “immeasurable riches” of God’s grace (Eph. 2:7) and the “unsearchable riches of Christ (Eph 3:8).

A good thing since “all the earth” sought grain from Joseph. Or at least the world well beyond Egypt’s borders. Hence he was a savior to the whole world because he alone could give them life. I think you know what’s coming. Acts 4:12 says of Jesus “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Only Jesus can give us life. And he gives it to “all who call on him” (Rom. 10:12). Just as Joseph gave food to anyone who came to him.

As the famine spread and people far and wide showed up, Joseph must have anticipated his family’s arrival. Pretty sure I would have been wholesaling tums had I been in his shoes. What will it be like to see them again? Will they recognize me? How will they react? Have they changed? Will they still hate me?

Then one day they showed up. Well ten of them anyway because Jacob would not dare part with Benjamin. Did they ask around as to what to do? Or did they know it was the governor they had to seek? Had to approach. Had to ask for food to feed their families.

No matter, they went. Best decision they ever made and “bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground.” The very fulfillment of Joseph’s dream.

Yet they didn’t recognize him, though Joseph knew exactly who they were (I think we could easily draw another Jesus parallel here.) Joseph tested his brothers by speaking harshly to them and putting them in jail for three days. Then he told them they could all go home except for one. Didn’t matter who but someone needed to stay until they returned with Benjamin to prove they weren’t really spies (another brilliant idea).

Somehow Simeon was chosen. When the boys got home and told Jacob all that had occurred, he was adamant Benjamin would be going nowhere! “Bad idea boys! Not gonna happen.” But their enthusiasm to return was hindered when they discovered “every man’s bundle of money was in his sack” (42:35). Obviously the governor would assume they stole it!

But there was absolutely no way Joseph was going to let his brothers pay. He just couldn’t. It was a gift. Because salvation cannot be bought. Nor can it be earned. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

We can’t buy it my friend. He won’t let us. Salvation is God’s gift to any and all willing to receive it. Willing to come to him. Willing to take and eat of the bread of life. It’s the best decision you’ll ever make – to go to Jesus. To seek him and the bread he offers. Because only He can save you. Only He can give you life.

Contemplate and Evaluate
Have you gone to Jesus to receive the bread of life? Or have you tried to buy it? Tried to earn it? Tried to gain it from somewhere else?
What evidence of His presence do you see in your life? 
What new insights have you gained regarding the similarities between Joseph and Jesus? How has it encouraged your faith?

(Photo credit: Pixabay)

How to Navigate the Best Life even Amidst the Worst of Circumstances

How does a man keep from growing bitter after being sold by his brothers into slavery, falsely accused of raping another man’s wife, and thrown in jail for a crime he didn’t commit? Humanly speaking, I have no idea. I have a hard enough time not being bitter when someone takes my parking spot. Or when one of my kids throws up the night before Thanksgiving and my entire strawberry pretzel salad, homemade yeast roll, and apple pie universe shrivels into nothingness and I want to scream at them for getting sick. (Just keepin’ it real.)

Devotional Scripture: Genesis 41:1-36
Key Verse: “Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.” Psalm 119:165

But I can’t even fathom my family turning on me. Selling me. Utterly rejecting me. How do you not let bitterness weave it’s tangled web? In reality, there’s really only one way. And it’s going to sound so cliche. So 9am Sunday schoolish you’re gonna fight the need to give me a pep talk. (Come on Stacey you can do better than that.)

But it’s the truth. How does one keep from losing it in this crazy upside down so incredibly unfair world? By meditating on the one true God and His word day and night. That’s it. That’s the simple answer to every unfair circumstance, every plight, every struggle, every difficulty we will ever face. God and His Word ever in the forefront of our minds.

“Oh, the joys of those who…delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night” (Ps. 1:1-2, NLT) Even when others malign or seek to bring us down. “Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble” (Ps. 119:165).

Counseling is good, but God’s counsel is better. Listen to what it did for the writer of Psalm 119. “Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors” (v. 24). “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life” (v. 92-93).

The author of Psalm 119 goes on to say, “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words. My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise” (v. 147-148). I wonder if Joseph did just that the morning Pharaoh summoned him. His heart wrapped in God’s perfect peace he began his day with not a clue the cupbearer had just mentioned his name. Until the commotion. The kind that happens when there’s a rush. A rush to accomplish the king’s orders.

Verse 14 says, “They quickly brought him out of the pit.” Did they tell him why? Did they give him a rundown of Pharaoh’s dreams ahead of time or what might be at stake if he couldn’t offer an interpretation? After shaving and changing his clothes, “he came in before Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it” (41:14-15). But Joseph was quick to respond, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”

Joseph was not about to take the credit. A true servant of God never does. Because they know apart from Christ they can do nothing (Jn. 15:5). But what’s even more incredible is Joseph’s quick willingness to speak of God to a man who believed himself to be a god. Not a wise thing by worldly standards. This was Joseph’s chance. His one opportunity at freedom. Yet he risked it all by speaking the name of Elohim not just once, but five times to the highest ranking man in the world.

Why? Why would he do such a thing? Because when you meditate on God and his word you cannot help but speak his name. “For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). Joseph listened to Pharaoh explain his dreams and then explained that God was revealing to Pharaoh what he was about to do. Seven abundant years would be followed by seven years of terrible famine. So he best get prepared.

No one but Joseph was able to give Pharaoh understanding. Not even Pharaoh’s wise men. No doubt it was God who gave Joseph understanding but based on Psalm 119:98-99 something else may have been involved. “Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies…I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.” God’s word isn’t just a lamp unto our feet but our eyes and ears and minds and hearts.

In fact, it’s our very life (Deut. 32:47). “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). It’s a powerful weapon my friend. It keeps me calm when I don’t want to be. It points me in the right direction and gives me hope and confidence and instills me with patience.

Do we know for sure that’s how Joseph made it through those long unbearable years? No, but I just don’t see any other way. You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” (Is. 26:3, NLT)

So let’s fix our eyes on Jesus. If we love him with our whole hearts and seek His word as though there is no greater treasure in this life, I truly believe we could live the kind of life that Joseph did, even amidst the toughest of circumstances. “Trouble and anguish have found me out, but your commandments are my delight” (Ps. 119:143).

Soak it in sweet friend. Soak in every bit of God’s word. It’s more than just a road map to eternal life, it’s a road map to the most abundant life. Even amidst the most dire of circumstances.

Contemplate and Evaluate:
What level of importance do you place on God’s word? How is that reflected in the time you spend meditating on the Scriptures?
When has God’s word been a refuge for you? How has it given you hope in hard times?
What changes do you need to make to give God’s word higher priority?

When You Feel Disappointed with God

Have you ever been charged with a crime you didn’t do? Or handed a punishment you didn’t deserve? I have a dear friend whose husband was minding his own business one day (on his way to workout actually) when he got pulled over. And the next thing he knew he was being cuffed and thrown in the back of a sheriff’s van. Little did he know his identity had been stolen and used to buy (let’s just say a few too many) prescription drugs.

Devotional Scripture: Genesis 40
Key Verse: “Love the LORD, all you his saints! The LORD preserves the faithful…Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD!” Psalm 31:23-24

Completely helpless and obviously a weeeee bit concerned, Andy sat in jail the entire day charged with a class D felony; while Cari called everyone she could think of who might possibly be able to pull some strings on behalf of her falsely accused husband. And then she waited. Come evening she was able to post bond for him at Easy Ed’s Bail Bond Service. (Honestly that was the name.) But it was far from over. It took almost a year to clear things up.

Joseph however, had no one to speak his defense. No one to post bond for him or pull a few strings or clear things up, so he remained in jail. “Numbered with the transgressors” just as Jesus was (Is. 53:12), and appointed caregiver of the king’s chief cupbearer and baker, who had apparently done something to offend the king, he waited and waited for God to get him out. But it didn’t happen.

After some time (we don’t know how long) the cupbearer and baker both had dreams on the same night but with no access to Pharaoh’s wise men for understanding, they were noticeably troubled. Joseph on the other hand was not, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me” (v. 8).

An absolutely astounding statement considering Joseph’s own dreams had occurred more than a decade prior and had yet to come true. If it were me, I probably would have responded with something like “Sorry guys wish I could help but I stink at interpretations. I once had these crazy dreams my family would bow down to me but obviously I was way off.”

But Joseph didn’t even blink. The only explanation for his confidence – an unwavering faith in the dreams God had given. He had not lost hope. He had not given up. He firmly believed it would happen. (Anyone else put to shame by this kid’s relentless faith or is it just me?)

After listening to the cupbearer describe his dream of a vine with three branches that budded and blossomed, and shot forth grapes quicker than my three year old can devour a pack of oreos, Joseph gave the happy interpretation. “In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office.”

Great news thought the baker. So he shared his as well.  Only the outcome wasn’t so favorable for him. “In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head – from you! – and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat the flesh from you” (v. 19). Talk about bearer of bad news! Way to not beat around the bush there Joseph. 

Then they waited a never ending three days to see if Joseph was right. The cupbearer anxious for the day to arrive while the baker hoped it’d never come. And Joseph? Well I imagine him a bit anxious as well. And hopeful. This was his chance! His God given opportunity. He’d asked the baker to remember him and speak to Pharaoh on his behalf. Surely he would. The whole thing was obviously God’s doing.

But when the third day dawned and everything happened just as Joseph said it would, there was no summons from the king to see the boy who’d predicted it all. No orders to bring up the man falsely accused. In fact there was no request at all. None. Because the cupbearer forgot about Joseph for two whole years.

Two whole years! Think Joseph was disappointed with God? I do. “LORD why? Why did you not do anything? I just don’t understand.” (Ever been there?) But here’s the thing. God was doing something. He was. It just wasn’t evident. Had the cupbearer mentioned Joseph to Pharaoh right away, it likely would have meant nothing to him. He had more important matters to tend to than a Hebrew slave. But when the time was right, it would mean everything.

A reminder to me to trust God because only he knows the why behind the when.

Allowing Joseph the opportunity to interpret the cupbearer and baker’s dreams, not only set the stage for Joseph’s rising but probably reignited the hope of his own dreams. And solidified a confidence within him that would come in handy when it was time to interpret Pharaoh’s.

He just needed to wait a little longer. The story was bigger than just him. And more often than we realize the same is true in our lives. It’s not just about us. It’s about God and his plan and his people and his purpose. Which sometimes requires us to wait a little longer (You have no idea how much I didn’t want to type that sentence.)

Giving us opportunity to bring glory to God through an unbending, unrelenting, undeniable faith. Wanna be someone great? Be a person of faith in a season of wait. Joseph didn’t do anything miraculous. He simply had faith in a long and difficult season of wait. When things looked bleak. When it looked as though it would never work out. When he was disappointed…he trusted God. My friend, “The LORD preserves the faithful…Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD!” (Ps. 31:23-24) And you too will be someone great.

Contemplate and Evaluate:
When have you been disappointed with God? Perhaps right now you’re in the middle of “two whole years”, how can you showcase a relentless faith? What Scriptures can you hold on to?
What lessons have you learned in seasons of wait?

(Photo credit: Pixabay)

Truths to Remember When the Unthinkable Happens

I don’t know what’s happened in your life the past week but I know God is still the same God he was a week ago, a year ago, ten years ago, two thousand years ago, and beyond. He is still “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6). And He always will be.

Even when the hard things happen. The things that leave us with more questions than we have answers. More doubt than we have certainty. More fear than we have faith.

This world is not what He hoped to give us, though he knew it would happen. He knew sin would leave its scar on us all. He knew death would overshadow us. He knew life would not be easy. But he also knew his love could overcome it all. “In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Jesus has overcome my friend! And I don’t know about you, but I sometimes need that reminder. Along with a few others:

  1. God is forever faithful. It’s who He is. “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations” (Deut. 7:9). It’s who He’s always been. And who He will always be. His faithfulness endures to all generations. (Psalm 119:90) “For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness” (Psalm 33:4).
  1. God’s mercy is new every morning. “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:23). Even when the morning brings heartbreaking news. Even when the day doesn’t end as it should, He is still merciful.
  1. He is close to the brokenhearted. “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). This is one of my all time favorite verses. I have it highlighted, underlined, and circled in every Bible I own. He cares my friend. He is near the brokenhearted. Waiting to comfort. Waiting to instill hope and peace. If we would simply turn to Him.  
  1. God is good (Ps. 25:8). And does good (Ps. 119:68). Even when I don’t see it. Even when I don’t understand or can’t explain it. He is still good. “Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God” (3 John 11).  
  1. God is sovereign. He’s in complete and total control. “The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations” (Psalm 33:11). Though it may not seem like it. Though it may feel as though God has turned his back. He has not. He works all things according to his purpose. Which is for “all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4.)
  1. He has gone to prepare a place for us. (John 14:3). This life is not the end. It’s only a beginning for those who confess Jesus as LORD and believe in their hearts that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9). These “momentary afflictions” will be far outweighed by an eternal glory we now cannot even begin to comprehend! (2 Cor. 4:17) There is so much waiting for us. Heaven is not a figment of our imaginations, it’s simply more than we could ever imagine. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).
  1. Jesus is coming back. He really is. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3).

These are truths we can stand on every single day my friend. Truths that are constant and unchanging. Truths we can share no matter one’s nationality or personality or upbringing or lack thereof. Truths the entire world needs to hear. Truths we can live by and wrap ourselves in when uncertainty is the path before us. Truths we can sometimes forget. But not today. Today we remember, even in the hard things. Even in the unthinkable things. 

(Photo credit: Pixabay)