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Monday, August 31, 2020

Things Fall Apart, Episode 3 - A New Generation


Introduction

A long time ago, in a land far away…

Two years passed with Joseph rotting in Pharaoh's dungeon.

Pharaoh had a strange and disturbing  dream.

No one could tell its meaning.

Then, Pharaoh's chief cup-bearer remembered Joseph:

the young man he met in prison with the God-inspired power to interpret dreams.

Pharaoh summoned Joseph from the dungeon and told him the dream.

Joseph explained the meaning.

Egypt would have seven years of great bounty followed by seven years of severe famine.

God, through Joseph, shared a plan to save everyone from the famine.

Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of the nation’s famine relief program.

Joseph stored up Egypt’s extra food during the seven good years 

so they had enough to survive the seven bad years..

God’s provision, through Joseph, rescued Egypt.

It also saved the people from surrounding middle eastern lands throughout the region 

who came to buy food from Egypt during the famine.  

Among those to come were Joseph’s own Hebrew brothers who once sold him into slavery.

Amazingly, Joseph forgave his treacherous brothers, 

because Joseph’s God is a God of grace and forgiveness.

Joseph’s father, Jacob, and all his brothers and their families moved to Egypt.

In Joseph’s day, his Hebrews people were welcomed by Pharoah

 and highly regarded by the empire.

They survived the Great Seven Years Famine

and multiplied and flourished and filled the land.

But soon Joseph and Pharaoh grew old and their lives came to an end.

A new Pharaoh came to power.  

The political landscape changed.

The Egyptian respect and gratitude for Joseph and his God were overshadowed

by Egypt’s own nationalistic dreams of glory.

And then,

Things Fall Apart...



Exodus 1:8-22

8 Eventually, a new king came to power in Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph or what he had done. 9 He said to his people, “Look, the people of Israel now outnumber us and are stronger than we are. 10 We must make a plan to keep them from growing even more. If we don’t, and if war breaks out, they will join our enemies and fight against us. Then they will escape from the country.”


11 So the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. They appointed brutal slave drivers over them, hoping to wear them down with crushing labor. They forced them to build the cities of Pithom and Rameses as supply centers for the king. 12 But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more the Israelites multiplied and spread, and the more alarmed the Egyptians became. 13 So the Egyptians worked the people of Israel without mercy. 14 They made their lives bitter, forcing them to mix mortar and make bricks and do all the work in the fields. They were ruthless in all their demands.


15 Then Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, gave this order to the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah: 16 “When you help the Hebrew women as they give birth, watch as they deliver. If the baby is a boy, kill him; if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 But because the midwives feared God, they refused to obey the king’s orders. They allowed the boys to live, too.


18 So the king of Egypt called for the midwives. “Why have you done this?” he demanded. “Why have you allowed the boys to live?”


19 “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women,” the midwives replied. “They are more vigorous and have their babies so quickly that we cannot get there in time.”


20 So God was good to the midwives, and the Israelites continued to multiply, growing more and more powerful. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.


22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Throw every newborn Hebrew boy into the Nile River. But you may let the girls live.”


Generational Change

We’ve been learning how plans fall apart.  I experienced that first hand this week.  I planned to be in church for on-sight worship with you today, but I was exposed to someone with COVID-19.  My test results are negative and I don’t have any symptoms.  However, out of an abundance of caution and on the advice of my doctor, I am in quarantine until Thursday evening.  That’s why I pre-recorded this message for you.  We make our plans and then often things fall apart!  Hopefully this video will play and that won’t fall apart! Haha.


One of the ways things fall apart is as newer generations forget the important values held by the generations before them.  Progress is good.  Newer generations have a lot to offer in the way of new ideas, new energy, and helpful innovations.  And we must all humbly admit that our generation is not perfect.  Sometimes newer generations improve upon our mistakes.  Some examples are the way the founding fathers of America fought for individual liberty.  They improved upon their ancestors who submitted to a monarch. Another example is the generation who fought for civil rights in the 1960s; they rejected the previous generation’s unjust discremination and fought for equality in America.  Unfortunately, newer generations can also get it wrong when they reject the godly values of those who’ve gone before them.  We can certainly see this in the eroding moral values of 21st century America.


This problem of eroding values through the generation is nothing new.  It has always been a problem.  Egypt was one of the oldest, longest lived empires of the ancient world.  To put it in perspective, America is relatively young--244-years-old.  Egypt unified into a world empire in 3100 BC and was one of the most powerful empires in the world for over 2,700 years (over 10X as long as the USA). During those 2,700 years, many dynasties rose and fell apart in Egypt as the attitudes and politics and behaviors of the many generations changed.


Secular historians teach that around 1650 BC a line of foreign rulers known in Egyptian as “Hyksos” dominated northern Egypt.  This would have been around the time the Bible claims Joseph, his Hebrew brothers, and their descendents sojourned in Egypt. Could the Hyksos have been the Hebrews?  Secular historians claim the Egyptians launched a war against the Hyksos and subdued them.  This seems to support the biblical narrative in Exodus 1 where the Egyptian Pharaoh forgets what the God the Hebrews have done for Egypt and subjects them to oppression, slavery, and even genocide.  


The new generations of Egyptians after Joseph clearly did not have the same values as the older generations.  They forgot how God, through Joseph’s people, saved Egypt from starvation.  The new generation of Egyptians were worried there were too many “disgusting” foreigners with too much power and the Egyptians wanted to make Egypt great again.  So they forgot about all Joseph had done for them and they forgot about Joseph’s God and they delved back into their traditional Egyptian cult religion that was unholy and rejected the One True God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.  And we see where that kind of thinking leads--the moral decay of Egyptian society from godly gratitude to ingratitude and from there to arrogance, oppression, enslavement, and ultimately to drowning newborn Hebrew babies in the Nile River.


It’s a problem with which all societies have struggled throughout the ages.  Egypt, Greece, Persia, Rome, Great Britain have all declined as their core values and morals eroded through successive generations.  How do you ensure the next generation will uphold the same essential values you hold dear?  


The older generation cannot hang on to power forever.  In the beginning, you can make your kids do the right thing.  They will soon grow up, though, and you can’t control them forever.  You will have to let go and it can be hard to let go. Harder still is letting go when you feel like your values are being forgotten and trampled upon.


Jesus and the Disciples

Imagine how Jesus felt.  After an amazing three years of ministry on earth, He was crucified.  Of course, we know he miraculously rose from the grave. But then, Jesus ascended to heaven leaving His great salvation mission in the hands of His very human, very fallible disciples.  He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to follow all of my commands.”  We talk a lot in church about our need to have faith in Jesus.  But have you ever stopped to think how Jesus has incredible faith in us to do the right thing for His Kingdom?  Such an idea ought to get you moving and working to do everything you can to build His Kingdom on earth.


Thoughts on Passing the Baton to the Next Generation

I want to share some thoughts from Scriptures about equipping and trusting the next generation to carry on your core values and continue to work on God’s salvation plan, even if it seems like things will fall apart.


Respect Your Parents.  This first word comes Exodus 20:12, “Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”  This is a command from God to you.  And how you obey or disobey this command will be a tremendous influence on how the next generation will honor you.  Your kids learn how to treat you by watching how you treat your own parents (and elders).  If you want the generations that follow you to honor your values, you should honor the values of the generations that came before you.


Lead Your Family to Serve the Lord.  Joshua 24:15 says, “...choose today whom you will serve… But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”  You must firmly ground your own household on the core value of serving God through Jesus Christ.  It is not enough to say it or claim the label “Christian”.  You must actively devote your life to serving the Lord.  Your kids (the next generation) will not continue this value unless they’ve seen you actively living it. So choose today whom you will serve.


Teach Your Children the Scriptures.  Deuteronomy 11:19 says, “Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.”  And Proverbs 22:6 says, “Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.”  I think the Word of God is pretty clear and doesn’t need any explanation, does it?


Don’t Aggravate Your Kids.  Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.”  There are ways parents can nag, pester, be over-controlling, or too demanding that can actually drive their kids to reject their parents’ values.  Ironically, in an overzealous effort to force their kids toward God’s truth, parents sometimes force them away.  Don’t do that.  Pray for wisdom and patience and grace and love to parent well.


Trust God to Work it Out.  Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” You have to trust that God is working alongside you.  He is actually doing the bulk of the work.  If you think it’s all on you, you are going to drive yourself crazy--and crazy people aren’t very good parents.  So stay calm.  Trust God.  And do your part and know God will do His part.


Remember, God Has a Plan You Can’t See.  Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”  People like to quote that verse, because it sounds so nice.  Most people don’t realize the context in which Jeremiah prophesied those words.  You see, he wrote those words in a letter to a group of God’s people who had been sent into exile in Babylon as punishment for their nation’s rejection of God.  Their entire way of life had been destroyed.  People they new and loved had been executed--men, women, and children--or died of starvation and exposure.  Their plans had completely and utterly fallen apart.  Can you imagine what that was like?  And God basically  said, “I know it’s bad now, but I have some good plans for you.  It’s gonna take a couple of generations to work it all out and the future’s gonna look a lot different than what you’re used to, but it’s My plan and it’s a Good Plan.  So trust me and be faithful.”  


Conclusion

Can you trust God like that?  You’ve got to.  Because you are not in charge.  You have about 13 years to be the most important influence in your child’s life.  From that point on, your influence starts to quickly wane and they start making up their own mind.  You will always be important to the younger generation and you will be able to shape them to a degree, but ultimately, you will be letting go more and more and trusting God and the future generations with  the plans you started.  And so, we must pray for future generations.


The Great Evangelist, Billy Graham, wrote these words about praying for younger generations.  “No one except God knows the future, of course, but almost certainly it will be different from today. That means those who follow us will have their own challenges and temptations, including some we can’t even imagine.  No, it isn’t silly to pray for those who will follow us—even those who haven’t been born yet. Repeatedly over the years, I’ve met men and women who had a godly grandmother or saintly great-grandfather whom they never met, but who prayed for them and for others who weren’t yet born. These men and women were convinced that their own commitment to Christ was a result of those prayers, and I can’t help but agree. This may have been what the Psalmist meant when he prayed, “I will perpetuate your memory through all generations; therefore the nations will praise you for ever and ever” (Psalm 45:17).”


A Prayer for Future Generations

God Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  God of Joseph and Moses.  God of the New Testament Apostles and of our grandparents and parents.  We humble ourselves before You, knowing we are most certainly not in control.  And so, we pray for future generations, trusting You will work out Your perfect plans for them and through them.


We pray that they will delight in the Word of God like King David.  Help our children love the Word of God, read it, memorize it, meditate on it, and “soak” in it.


We pray that they will be born again.  Guide them to accept by their own choice Christ as Lord so they can live the new, holy life You want for them.


We pray that they are shaped and influenced by Your Word.  May their hopes, dreams, opinions, decisions, and actions be founded upon Your Word to them in the Holy Bible.


We pray they will be effective and fruitful in ministry to others.  Just as Christ came to serve in compassion, let future generations be filled with Christ’s love for others and so dedicate their lives to loving You and loving their neighbors.


We pray the knowledge of the Lord will spread to generations we will never know.  We pray for generations will never know, hoping that those who outlive us will diligently teach their children Your holy truths.


And finally, Eternal God, we pray the generations who come after us will never fall away from the faith.


We pray through the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.




Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Did Jesus End Up In Your Spam Folder?

Did Jesus end up in your spam folder? We are bombarded with lots of voices all day long. It's no wonder that we can't take it all in. Part of the trick in life is to figure out what to listen to and what to ignore. But we have to be careful we're not ignoring Jesus. His Holy Spirit is with us always to guide us. His voice is most often a whisper while other voices are quite loud and persistent. Are you listening closely to Jesus or did His voice get caught but a faulty filter that landed Him in the Spam Folder of your life? Maybe it's time to check. Is Jesus stuck in your Spam Folder?

While you're at it, check your email spam folder and make sure you are getting messages from my church (if you signed up to be on our email list).  You should be getting at least one important email each week with announcements and vital info about Pleasant Grove Methodist Church.  During this time of social isolation and disruption from normal in-person social contact, email is a vital way we stay connected.  We are working extra hard at our church to get you the information you need to stay connected.  Please make sure the messages are getting through.  Check you email program to make sure it is not filtering our church email address--pgumc@optilink.us.  Please call the church office if you need assistance--706-259-3141.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Things Fall Apart, Ep. 2 - Lonely and Forgotten

Introduction
A long time ago, in a land far away…
Joseph, a bright young man with the incredible ability 
to dream about the future, believed everyone would one day bow down before him. 
However, his plans for future dominance fell apart 
when his jealous brothers overpowered him and sold into slavery. 
Joseph found himself at the very bottom, serving as a slave 
in an Egyptian commander’s house. 
But God did not forget Joseph. 
His master, Potiphar, recognize Joseph’s special abilities 
and put him in charge of the whole estate. 
All was going well, until Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph. 
Joseph would not sin by committing adultery 
so Potiphar’s wife accused him of trying to rape her. 
Once again, Joseph’s hopes for fame and fortune fell apart... 
In today’s episode, we find Joseph rotting in the royal dungeon 
with two of Pharaoh’s former servants: a baker and a cup bearer. 
And yet, because God’s blessing rests on Joseph, 
everywhere he goes, he rises to the top. 
But what good is it to be at the top if you’re in chains, 
lonely and forgotten…

Genesis 40:5-23

While they were in prison, Pharaoh’s cup-bearer and baker each had a dream one night, and each dream had its own meaning. When Joseph saw them the next morning, he noticed that they both looked upset. “Why do you look so worried today?” he asked them.

And they replied, “We both had dreams last night, but no one can tell us what they mean.”

“Interpreting dreams is God’s business,” Joseph replied. “Go ahead and tell me your dreams.”

So the chief cup-bearer told Joseph his dream first. “In my dream,” he said, “I saw a grapevine in front of me. 10 The vine had three branches that began to bud and blossom, and soon it produced clusters of ripe grapes. 11 I was holding Pharaoh’s wine cup in my hand, so I took a cluster of grapes and squeezed the juice into the cup. Then I placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.”

12 “This is what the dream means,” Joseph said. “The three branches represent three days. 13 Within three days Pharaoh will lift you up and restore you to your position as his chief cup-bearer. 14 And please remember me and do me a favor when things go well for you. Mention me to Pharaoh, so he might let me out of this place. 15 For I was kidnapped from my homeland, the land of the Hebrews, and now I’m here in prison, but I did nothing to deserve it.”

16 When the chief baker saw that Joseph had given the first dream such a positive interpretation, he said to Joseph, “I had a dream, too. In my dream there were three baskets of white pastries stacked on my head. 17 The top basket contained all kinds of pastries for Pharaoh, but the birds came and ate them from the basket on my head.”

18 “This is what the dream means,” Joseph told him. “The three baskets also represent three days. 19 Three days from now Pharaoh will lift you up and impale your body on a pole. Then birds will come and peck away at your flesh.”

20 Pharaoh’s birthday came three days later, and he prepared a banquet for all his officials and staff. He summoned his chief cup-bearer and chief baker to join the other officials. 21 He then restored the chief cup-bearer to his former position, so he could again hand Pharaoh his cup. 22 But Pharaoh impaled the chief baker, just as Joseph had predicted when he interpreted his dream. 23 Pharaoh’s chief cup-bearer, however, forgot all about Joseph, never giving him another thought.

Loneliness
Poor Joseph. Every time he starts to rise like a star, someone does him wrong and it costs him.
First his brothers assaulted him and sold him into slavery.
Then Potiphar’s wife accused him of rape and Joseph ends up end prison--back in chains again only worse.  (How can anything be worse than being a slave?  Oh, being in a dungeon!)
Now the chief cup-bearer—a man with the influence to rescue Joseph—forgets him.
But God didn’t forget about Joseph and we will hear more about that story next Sunday, but today I want to talk about loneliness.

Have you ever felt lonely or forgotten, like no one cares about you?
Loneliness is a plague in our times. We are more connected than ever through technology. However, people seem lonelier than ever.  And currently, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, so many people are struggling with loneliness because we're trying to be more socially isolated for the sake of public health.  It's a real problem, because thing we're asked to do to keep people safe is the very thing that also fuels loneliness, which is a detriment to our mental/emotional health.

Loneliness can strike at any age of life. Your child might feel lonely if they struggle to make friends. They may be in a classroom full of other kids, but they feel lonely because they cannot connect. A college student who moves away from home for the first time may feel lonely and homesick because everything they are used to has changed. People often struggle with loneliness when things in their life fall apart: a child grows up and leaves home, someone is betrayed by a friend, a marriage ends in divorce, a loving spouse dies, etc.  You may also feel very lonely if you face a chronic debilitating illness; even if you have many people supporting you, no one really understands what you are going through and that makes you feel lonely. You would think that celebrities would be imune from feeling lonely, right?  I mean, they have thousands of people who love and adore them.  Surely they wouldn't fell lonely.  Unfortunately, people with a lot of fame often feel very lonely, because no one really knows them; people only know their persona and that itself can be very isolating.  Perhaps that is why we often hear of very famous celebrities committing suicide.  There are many things in life that can make you feel lonely. Have you ever struggled with loneliness? Are you struggling with loneliness now? 

Loneliness is often misunderstood. Loneliness is not  a state of being alone.
Loneliness is a state of feeling alone. A person can be in a crowd of people and still feel alone.
On the other hand, some people can be happy all by themselves for a long time and not feel lonely.
A person who is lonely may feel like no one listens to them. They feel isolated, forgotten, empty, incomplete, unloved, abandoned, unimportant. Loneliness is a dark, depressing place.

The Cure for Loneliness
God doesn’t want us to feel lonely. When God made us, “He said, It is not good for man [or woman] to be alone. I will make a helper that for him.” (Genesis 2:18). God created us for relationships—relationships with God and with each other. We’re designed to be social creatures. That’s why loneliness leads to health problems, substance abuse, antisocial behavior, heart disease and stroke, decreased memory and learning, depression and suicide, and poor decision-making. It’s important to deal with loneliness, but where do we begin?

What I’m about to say may sound like a church cliché, but it really is true. Hear me out.  

The cure for loneliness is Jesus. You were deigned from the very beginning to be in a relationship with God. That is why God made people. Tragically, sin separates us from God and breaks our our relationship with Him.  There's a deep void in our soul that only God can fill, but we can't be filled because sin is in the way.  And this makes our souls desperately hungry and thirsty.  So many times, people feel lonely and they try to address loneliness in all the wrong ways. 

People often try to solve loneliness by acquiring material things.  They think if they have the latest gadget or the nicest car in town everyone will love them and they won't be lonely anymore.  Or they reason, "If I have a really nice house with all the amenities, I will be comfortable and happy.  And I could even invite people over to visit. Then I won't be lonely."  It never works.  There are many people who have all these things and are still lonely. "Well," you say, "Of course that won't work.  Loneliness is about relationships."  And that's true.

That's why many people try to cure loneliness by building relationships with people.  And that may address half of the problem, but it doesn't really get to the heart of the matter.  The problem is, we were made for a relationship with people and God.  But when we turn to people to address the yearning we have for God, they cannot fill that void.  If they love us and truly care about us, they may try, but they will always fail.  We will be left disappointed and they will be upset that they let us down.  And this type of heartbreak happens all the time, because people who are lonely try to fill the longing for God in their soul with the love of people and it just won't work.  It's not fair to expect mortals to satisfy us in way that only the Divine can satisfy us.  Unfortunately, there are also many, many people in this world who do not love you or have your best interest in mind.  Because they are lonely and broken too and desperately trying to fill the hole in their soul, they will abuse you and use you.  And because you are lonely and desperate, you will allow them in the vain hope that a relationship with them will satisfy your deep yearning.  I see it happen so often that many people will submit themselves to bad relationship after bad relationship seeking a cure for loneliness that people cannot give.

And some will get so hurt by people they give up and decide to just build walls to keep people out.  They don't want to be hurt anymore so they just won't let anyone in any more.  Walls work well to keep people out, but they also keep you in.  Soon you find you are trapped in a prison even worse than the dungeon in which Joseph found himself.  That's not what you need.

Others will try to numb the pain of loneliness with drugs or alcohol.  And that may make you feel better---at first.  If you're drunk or high you may not feel the pain for a time.  But then you sober up and you feel it again.  And you have to get drunk or high again and each new cycle require more and more to make the pain go away.  Soon, you build up such a tolerance it doesn't work anymore.  And now you're in an even worse state because you broken and lonely and hurting and drunk or high.

Jesus is the only cure, because Jesus can to address our sin.  Jesus went to the cross on Calvary to pay the price of our sin.  His blood shed there washes away our sin so nothing separates us from God.  Now we can have a relationship with God when we repent and turn to Jesus as our Lord and allow Him to save us.  Then we begin to enjoy a fresh relationship with the God who created us for that very purpose!  Now we are free to also have healthy relationships with people because we don't expect them to give us what only God can give.  Now they are free to give us what people were suppose to give.

“But I have Jesus and I still feel lonely!”  You may still feel lonely at times after you become a Christian and begin a real relationship with Jesus. This can happen because our thinking is sometimes still immature  or because God allows lonely feelings in order to helps us grow our faith. 

Loneliness is a kind of separation anxiety. Small children feel separation anxiety when their parents leave them with a babysitter. They may cry as if their precious little hearts have been broken in pieces! They may feel abandoned and lonely. (And in a few minutes, hopefully, the get over it, right?) Of course (even though it breaks a parent’s heart to see this), we know the child is not abandoned. Right? As mature adults, we know, but the child is still immature and is still learning. They will grow up and eventually be able to be separate from their parents for longer and longer without feeling abandoned or lonely.

Similarly, overcoming loneliness for Christians is a natural part of growing in spiritual maturity. So don’t feel guilty or ashamed if you are a Christian and you still feel lonely. This is part of growing up in the faith and we all grow and mature in different ways at different times.  You may even struggle with loneliness as a Christian after you are quite spiritually mature, because God sometimes allows it in order to strengthen your faith and teach you endurance.  We must practice knowing that we are not alone—even if we at times feel alone. If Jesus is your Lord, His Holy Spirit is with you always—as close as your own heart. Cling to that Truth, especially in your loneliest times.

Find an End to Loneliness Through Jesus
Are you feeling lonely and forgotten?
I want to tell you today that the cure is found only through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
No one knows about loneliness better than Jesus. 
He left the glory of His Home in Heaven to come to our dark and broken world.
(Don't you know he must have been Homesick quite often?)
Jesus lived among people who didn’t understand him, were afraid of him and felt threatened.
Even His friends didn’t always get Him. In the end, those closest to him literally betrayed Him, abandoned Him, and denied HIm. He was tortured and nailed to a cross. And as Jesus was dying a horrible death, he cried out from Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (This is the prayer of someone who feels abandoned.) So when you feel lonely and forgotten, abandoned, unloved, unimportant, isolated, Who better to turn to than Jesus who came specifically to save you and went through all those feelings to do it? 

Material things won’t fill the void in your life.  People, friendships, romantic relationships, sex, none of these things will fill the emptiness inside you either.  Only Jesus, the Son of God, sent to save you and restore your relationship with God, the source of life and love, can help you with your loneliness.  Won’t you turn to Jesus today and be saved?  You can do that today.  I pray you will.  What’s stopping you?

And Christians, you who already follow Christ as your Lord.  Are you still struggling with loneliness too?  Why is that?  Is it because you are still looking for love and fulfillment in the wrong places?  Sometimes—even after we turn to Christ—we keep looking for joy and peace and love in the things of this world and the people of this world.  It’s an old habit that’s tough to break.  We have to look to Jesus first.  We have to practice finding our first and best relationship in Him.  Until Jesus is your all, everything else will suffer.  “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, he will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:33)

Won’t you decided to put Jesus first in your life today?  Won’t you choose this day to find your greatest relationship needs fulfilled by your relationship with the King?  Because when you do, all your other relationships will grow deeper and more fulfilling.  And the one’s that don’t grow (or come to an end) won’t bother you nearly as much because you are grounded in the infinite, perfect love of Christ.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Things Fall Apart, Episode 1 - Sun, Moon, and Stars

Introduction

A long time ago, in a land far away…

God’s chosen people live in Canaan.

A teenager named Joseph was full of God’s Spirit,

Which made him dream and showed Joseph the meaning of the dreams.

The dreams revealed a glorious future, but also great trouble,

Because even when God has great plans in store for us,

Things Fall Apart.

Joseph was gifted by God and loved by his father,

But Joseph was also young, spoiled, and arrogant.

His brothers hated him.  Their father, Jacob, loved Joseph more than them.

He showered Joseph with praise, cuddled him, and gave him special gifts,

Like the custom made, multicolored coat, Jacob had made just for Joseph.

The borhters hatred of Joseph was fueled by jealousy and by Joseph’s own egoism.

He never missed and opportunity to rub his status as the “golden child” in their faces.

But dark days were coming, because even for God’s people,

Things Fall Apart…

God's Salvation Story
It’s a story that goes all the way back to the beginning of time.  I’m not talking about the story of Joseph—that’s just one series of stories in the midst of the The Story—the story of God’s salvation of humanity.  No, I’m talking about, the story of how things fall apart.  Things have been falling apart since Genesis.  For God created a perfect world and He made a perfect Garden and He made people to be perfect and that’s why He gave them the ability to choose how they would live in this perfect world—because that was the only way to allow them the ability to love.

Love is always a choice.  It must be a choice.  You cannot will someone or force someone to love.  They must choose to love of their own free will.  That is the only way real love can exist.  And God loved His creation.  And God loved the people He made to be stewards of His creation.  And God hoped His people would love Him too.  But God could not make them.  He would not make them.  For He wanted their love—if they chose to love Him—to be genuine. 

And to start with, the first humans did love God.  They obeyed Him when He said, "Do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of God and evil."  But then Satan, that crafty, deceitful, shamefully evil serpent slithered into God’s garden and tempted the first woman.  And she ate some of the fruit God told her she must not eat. And she also gave some to her husband and he ate.  And so that day they chose to love themselves and their own ambitions more they they loved God.

That was the first time things fell apart.  Sin entered the world. 

God’s perfect world became corrupt.  His people became corrupt. You can read all the stories in the Bible.  Cain killed his brother Able and then people became more and more wicked until the only solution was for God to wash the whole earth clean with a flood.  He started over again with a man named Noah.  But even then, things fell apart.  Even as God actively works to save the world from sin, things fall apart—right up to this very day.

Who among us haven't experienced our plans falling apart during the COVID-19 pandemic?  I think everyone has.  It's almost impossible to plan.  School was supposed to start back nea the beginning of August, but then COVID cases surged adn they decided to push the start date back to August 31st.  However, we are now experienced enough to know that's just a target date.  We know things can change, because we live in uncertain times and things fall apart. 

But where was I?  Oh yes.  The story of Joseph, a bright young man with a bright future.  But things fall apart... 


Genesis 37:9-13, 18-21

Soon Joseph had another dream, and again he told his brothers about it. “Listen, I have had another dream,” he said. “The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me!”

 

10 This time he told the dream to his father as well as to his brothers, but his father scolded him. “What kind of dream is that?” he asked. “Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow to the ground before you?” 11 But while his brothers were jealous of Joseph, his father wondered what the dreams meant.

 

12 Soon after this, Joseph’s brothers went to pasture their father’s flocks at Shechem. 13 When they had been gone for some time, Jacob said to Joseph, “Your brothers are pasturing the sheep at Shechem. Get ready, and I will send you to them.”

“I’m ready to go,” Joseph replied.

18 When Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, they recognized him in the distance. As he approached, they made plans to kill him. 19 “Here comes the dreamer!” they said. 20 “Come on, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns. We can tell our father, ‘A wild animal has eaten him.’ Then we’ll see what becomes of his dreams!”

21 But when Reuben heard of their scheme, he came to Joseph’s rescue. “Let’s not kill him,” he said. 22 “Why should we shed any blood? Let’s just throw him into this empty cistern here in the wilderness. Then he’ll die without our laying a hand on him.” Reuben was secretly planning to rescue Joseph and return him to his father.

Fallen Red Wood Tree

Have you ever made really good plans, only to see them fall apart? I had some awesome plans to take my daughter to see the red wood forest in California.  It was to be a special trip in honor of her turning thirteen.  We were to fly out to Portland Oregon and spend several days driving down the Pacific coast and stopping in to see the redwood forest.  Then we would end our trip in San Francisco before flying back home.  The flights and hotels were booked and we were supposed to leave the last week of March.  And then COVID-19 shut everything down. a week or two before our trip.  Things fell apart.

If God’s plans fall apart, why are we surprised when our plans fall apart?  We delude ourselves if we think anything is guaranteed.   

Joseph’s brothers hated him and planned to kill him.  Reuben secretly planned to save Joseph.  He had a plan.  He hated Joseph too; but it’s one thing to hate someone.  It’s another thing to kill them.  Rueben didn’t want that.  Reuben had a plan to save Joseph, but it fell apart. 

Genesis 37:23-36

23 So when Joseph arrived, his brothers ripped off the beautiful robe he was wearing. 24 Then they grabbed him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it. 25 Then, just as they were sitting down to eat, they looked up and saw a caravan of camels in the distance coming toward them. It was a group of Ishmaelite traders taking a load of gum, balm, and aromatic resin from Gilead down to Egypt.

26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain by killing our brother? We’d have to cover up the crime.[c] 27 Instead of hurting him, let’s sell him to those Ishmaelite traders. After all, he is our brother—our own flesh and blood!” And his brothers agreed. 28 So when the Ishmaelites, who were Midianite traders, came by, Joseph’s brothers pulled him out of the cistern and sold him to them for twenty pieces[d] of silver. And the traders took him to Egypt.

29 Some time later, Reuben returned to get Joseph out of the cistern. When he discovered that Joseph was missing, he tore his clothes in grief. 30 Then he went back to his brothers and lamented, “The boy is gone! What will I do now?”

31 Then the brothers killed a young goat and dipped Joseph’s robe in its blood. 32 They sent the beautiful robe to their father with this message: “Look at what we found. Doesn’t this robe belong to your son?”

33 Their father recognized it immediately. “Yes,” he said, “it is my son’s robe. A wild animal must have eaten him. Joseph has clearly been torn to pieces!” 34 Then Jacob tore his clothes and dressed himself in burlap. He mourned deeply for his son for a long time. 35 His family all tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “I will go to my grave[e] mourning for my son,” he would say, and then he would weep.

36 Meanwhile, the Midianite traders[f] arrived in Egypt, where they sold Joseph to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. Potiphar was captain of the palace guard.

Who’s to Blame?

What a terrible waste!  Joseph was just about the same age as my daughter, who just started her first semester of college.  I think of my daughter—so young, so smart, so full of potential with a bright future ahead f her.  That was Joseph. God’s hand was upon him.  He was going to do great things through Joseph.  Then, this happened.

Who’s to blame for it all?  His brothers are to blame—for sure.  Their murderous actions were pure evil.  You should never hate someone.  Do you see where it leads?  I don’t care how much you hate someone, you should never murder. 

Even so, Josephs brothers aren’t the only ones to blame.  Let’s be honest.  Joseph’s father is to blame too.  Jacob loved Joseph more than all his other sons.  And he didn’t even try to cover it up.  If Jacob had loved his sons all the same and treated them fairly and equally, they wouldn’t have been so jealous they wanted to see Joseph dead.

And what about Joseph?  Doesn’t he share some of the blame too?  Didn’t he relish being his dad’s favorite son?  Didn’t he go out of his way to rub it all in his brother’s faces?  I’m not saying any of this justifies what Joseph’s brothers did.  However, I hope you can see everyone shares at least some of the blame for the way things fall apart.  We all share some of the blame because we all sin and sin corrupts the world and leads to this kind of suffering for everyone, everywhere.

God still has a plan for Joseph.  God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent.  When things fall apart, God is still in control and He is still at work.  Some how, some way, God takes things that fall apart and turns them into something beautiful.  However, in order to see if and how God redeems this broken story, you’re going to have to come back for the next episode next week.

 

The Mosaic of Life 

Some of the most beautiful art is created with mosaics.  A mosaic is a picture or pattern produced by arranging together broken pieces of tile or glass.  It takes incredible vision and artistic ability to make the most intricate mosaics, which may consist of millions of tiny broken pieces.  However, the results are stunning (as you can see in the picture above).

 

Our lives are like the broken pieces of a mosaic in the hands of God.  We see our plans falling apart.  We see only broken pieces, but God has a vision and plan.  He uses even the brokenness to make something indescribably beautiful.

 

God had a plan for Joseph. God has a plan for you.  And it doesn’t matter if you:

·       Messed up with your kids like Jacob

·       Struggle with jealousy like Joseph’s brothers

·       Are arrogant and proud like Joseph

·       Or anything else.

 

If your plans fall apart and you don’t know where to begin putting the pieces back together, trust God. God has a plan for you and nothing can thwart His plans.  Even if everything falls apart, God can put it back together in ways you can’t even imagine. 

But you’ve got to be patient and you’ve got to trust God.

You will be tempted to either give up or try to glue the pieces back together yourself.

It won’t work.  Only God—through Jesus Christ—can redeem your broken life and broken plans.

And when He does, it will be more beautiful than you can ever imagine.

Do you trust Him?  Will you let Him?

 

Monday, August 10, 2020

The Last Days

Introduction
2020 may go down as the worst year in the last century! 2020 will always be remembered as a unique leap year. It had 29 days in February. 300 days in March. Five years in April. (And we stopped keeping count after that.) 

It’s been bad y’all.  I cannot believe that “Tiger King” was the most normal part of 2020 so far.  If 2020 was made into a drink, it would be a colonoscopy prep.

There have been a lot of jokes made about 2020 being a bad year.  But “the year 2020” is the worst joke

of them all.  Can we just skip to 2021 and start over? (But then, how do we know if 2021 will be any better?) 

With all that’s been going on, I’ve been getting a lot of questions from people like this: “Pastor, is this the end of the world?  Do you think Jesus is coming back soon?”

It’s on everybody’s mind—especially

if you grew up with a Christian background.

Jesus said he would come back one day and create a new heaven and a new earth and the world we live in now will be destroyed and replaced (see Revelation 21). 

So I want talk about the last days and get to this question:  Are we living in the Last Days?

 The Apostle Paul wrote about the

“End Times” to a young man named Timothy.  Paul perceived the end was near for him and he wanted to giv some advice to the next generation of Christian leaders.  Paul knew, as we all do, that the next generation will not do things exactly the way we do them.  That's as it should be; they will live in different times and must adapt to their times.  Even so, we hope the next generation will hold fast to the essential values we've help dear, even as they adapt for their context.  Paul wrote to advice Timothy to be true to the essential elements of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be ware of those who would try to lead people astray by changing the message and living in ungodly ways in the last days. 

2 Timothy 3:1-5
1 You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!

Does It Seem Like the End is Near?
With all that’s going on, it’s no wonder that people are asking if the end is near.  And when we read what Paul wrote to Timothy here, it may sound very familiar.  And other places in Scripture teach similar themes about the “Last Days”.

Paul wrote Timothy: in the last days there will be very difficult times.  These are some of the most difficult times we have faced in a long time.  And we definitely see a lot of selfishness and greed all around.  So much of the public discourse, business practices, and even personal behavior of people today is saturated with selfishness and greed.  And Paul told Timothy in the last days, people will be puffed up with pride and scoff at God.  That's a very accurate description of the way people act these days.  Scoffing means to make fun of or ridicule someone so as to discredit them.  People don't even listen to each other anymore and they certainly don't listen to God.  Instead, they write God and others off as stupid and not even worthy of giving the time of day.

And Paul told Timothy when the end is near, people will love pleasure rather than God.  I see this so clearly right now.  I always knew the attitude was there, but I see it so clearly during this pandemic.  People are "afraid" to come to worship God in a public gathering.  And I get that it is risky and some people because of health issues or other legitimate reasons do indeed need to avoid public gatherings like a church worship service.  However, I see some of the same people who are avoiding church because it is too risky also quite willing to go to entertainment venues for pleasure.  It's to "unsafe" to worship God but "worth the risk" for the sake of pleasure.  Really?  It seems we have our priorities all out of wack!

Paul writes, in the last days, people "...will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly."  You can see this clearly in America today.  While church attendance has been declining for decades, we actualy see a surge of interest in spirituality among the population.  People are intrigued by things like new age religious philosophy, eastern religious techniques, yoga, and self help.  There have been television series made about spiritual mediums who contact the dead and talk to them.  So it's not that people aren't "religious"; it's just that people prefer to dabble in religion as an intriguing hobby.  They will try a little religion they way they will try a fad diet.  They take a little bit of Christianity and a little bit of Buddhism and a little bit of this or that and blend in all up into a cool little cocktail they can sip and and show to their friends like the latest, hippest craft beer.  And if their "religion" or "spirituality" ever comes into conflict with something they want ro like, they can always just set their cocktail aside and grab something new that's more pleasant.  Hardly anyone is ever deeply committed.  Few ever turn to Christ and fall on their knees and completely surrender and say, "Jesus, You are Lord!"  Your Lord is the absolute sovereign of your life.  You do what your Lord says, even if you don't want to, even if it challenges you or changes you. And so, may people today act religious, but they reject the power that could make them godly.

These are all characteristics of the “End Times” and we see them clearly in our world right now.

And I pray that everyone reading this will repent of any of these attitudes and actions, immediately, because we do not know how much time we have left.  Jesus promised he would return.  And he will return in your lifetime.  Either he will will return for the whole world or he will return for you.  One thing is certain, you will come before Jesus at the end of your life.  The question is:  will that be a very good thing or a very bad thing?

Are we living in the Last Days?  Yes!  But so was Paul when he wrote these words to Timothy nearly 2,000 years ago.  God has been working for a long, long time to save the world from the devastation and death humanity’s sin brought on Creation.  The plan God details in Scripture goes all the way back to Genesis—some four or five thousand years ago.  The most important aspect of God salvation plan was for His Son, Jesus, to come preach the Good News of God’s salvation, to give His life on the cross for our sins, and to rise from the grave.  Jesus did all these things.  We are in the last stage of God’s plan.  But God is being patient.  2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” 

We are living in the last days, but no one knows when the end will come.  Jesus is full of wisdom and power.  If people knew the day and hour Jesus was coming back, they would procrastinate.  Probably, mo people would get worse before they thought about getting better.  If they knew they had two years left, they would think, 'Why worry about that now?  Let's have some fun before we need to get serious."  They would be even more selfish and greedy and prideful.  They would live sinful lives for as long as they could—turning their backs on God—and then, at the last minute, they would turn to God and beg for forgiveness.  That’s why Jesus said, “No one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself.” (Matthew 24:36).  And he warned, “You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” (Matthew 24:44)

How Bad Are Things Right Now, Really?
I know when we look around at the world today, it seems like it may all be unraveling and the world is coming to an end. I get that.  I understand that feeling.  However, as bad as 2020 has been for us, I want to help you keep things in perspective.  According to Google, there have been 727 thousand deaths worldwide from COVID-19.  That's awful.  Every one of those deaths represents someone's mother or father, sister or brother, son or daughter.  My heart goes out to them.

At the same time, let's compare the difficulties in our times to those of other eras.  50 Million people died worldwide from Spanish flu in 1918.  And near the same time 40 Million people--soldiers and civilians--died around the worldwide during WWI.  And between 1941-1945, six million Jews died in the holocaust (nearly six times as many as have died so far from COVID-19.)  These are staggering figures.  I'm sure many people living through those tragedies looked around and thought, "These must be the last days."  Maybe they were even praying for it so God would come and get them out of that mess.  

And of course, right now, things are for people financially in our country.  The economy is suffering from months of shutdown and disruption.  Many people have lost jobs.  And I know it's a struggle.  At the same time, again, let's keep it in perspective.  Do you realize that Americans--even in financial difficulties--have it way better than most of the rest of the world?  I googled this and found out that the average annual income for Sierra Leon (where our church sponsors Nick and Heidi Griffiths as missionaries) is only $504.  (That's not a typo. That $504 per year, not per month).  And this is not just the case for Sierra Leone.  Similar poverty for the average person exists in Kenya, Guatemala, El Salvador... and the list goes on and on and on.  And People in third world countries have been living that way for decades.  Don't you know someone living in those conditions would look at us in our country and think, 'So you think the end of the world is coming because you lost your job and you're on unemployment?"  Meanwhile, they're digging through trash at the city dump trying to figure out how they can get they next meal.

Or what about the young boy in our own country who lives in an abusive home and has for years?  Or what of the teenage girl in Atlanta who is being trafficked for sex?  Do you think a year ago they were thinking everything was fine, but know because of COVID-19 it must be the end of the world is coming?  It's all about perspective.

Paul, writing to Timothy nearly 2,000 years ago, thought the end was eminent.  He wrote his letter with that perspective.  Interestingly, most church historians believe Paul lived for several more yers, even traveling to Spain to preach the Gospel of Christ. So even Paul was a bit misled in his perspective in regard to when the end would come.  However, Paul was martyred--along with thousands of other Christians in the first century.  Some of them were were even fed to lions in the Roman coliseum.  Don't you think that kind of cruelty made them wonder if they were living in the Last Days?

We don’t know if the signs of the times mean that Jesus is coming back today, tomorrow, or even this year. What we do know is: His return is closer today than it was yesterday.  And we don't know how much time we have left.

Conclusion
Well then, what difference does it make?  
Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:15) It was his first sermon recorded in the Scripture and it was His message throughout his ministry. And we need to take it to heart, because we do not know how much time we have.

If you feel nervous because of all the bad stuff happening, good! You need realize how vulnerable you are and how important it is that you repent and turn to God through Jesus Christ. This is the whole point of the Bible’s warnings about the last days.  You need to get your heart right with God.

If you are not a Christian, you need to recognize that Jesus is Lord. Turn to Him. Follow Him. Live the way He said we should live. Trust Him. You will find salvation. You will also find peace—even in the midst of bad times.  And if you are already a Christian, times like these ought to remind you and motivate you to get busy doing the things Jesus told us to do—loving God, loving our neighbors, making disciples, praying and working for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in Heaven.

What do you need to do today?  What commitment are you going to make?