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Showing posts with label Holy Bible. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Holy Bible. Show all posts

Monday, August 8, 2022

The Parting of Abram and Lot

Introduction
Usually at church, we learn about building new relationships and reconciling broken ones.  We don’t often talk about parting ways.  Didn’t Christ come to bring us together and not divide?

Unity is certainly a huge part of Jesus’ Gospel.  But we sometimes forget Jesus also said people would be divided by whether or not they chose to follow Him.  He said in Luke 12:52, “From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against—or two in favor and three against.”

Disagreements and separation are sometimes an unfortunate necessity in our broken world.  Friends fall out.  A family leaves a church.  People quit a job.  Even husbands and wives sometimes divorce. 
So, over the next four Sundays, I want to study four Bible stories where people parted ways.
I believe God will speak an important word to each of us that may help us just where we are.

The first story is the story of Abram and Lot.  God called Abram to leave his homeland and family and go to a new land.  Abram (AKA Abraham) is revered by three major world religions as a made famous for faith.  He trusted God enough to leave what he knew for what he didn't know, believing God's promise to bless him.  Abram’s nephew, Lot, went with Abram.

Genesis 13:5-7
Lot, who was traveling with Abram, had also become very wealthy with flocks of sheep and goats, herds of cattle, and many tents. But the land could not support both Abram and Lot with all their flocks and herds living so close together. So disputes broke out between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot. (At that time Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land.)

Herding Sheep
Abram and Lot were living as nomads.  They didn’t live in cities.  They left a great city named Ur because God called Abram to leave his homeland.  So now, Abram and lot are wandering from place to place in the “wilderness”, living in tents, herding their livestock from pasture to pasture where there was enough water and grass for the animals to survive.  Now, we don’t have any sheep farmers, but I know we have some here who raise cows (or have raised cows).  Can you imagine herding your cows from place to place while also taking everything you own with you and moving from place to place every few months?

It’s always a challenge living together.  Too many people living together can cause serious problems--even in the best of situations.  Anyone who has lived with teenagers may understand the tensions that can be part of a household where people disagree about the rules and the right way to live together.  

“Politics” is a word we usually associate with negative connotations.  Everyone says they hate politics--especially politics in the church.  I think what we really mean is we hate dirty politics.  The definition of politics is just the art making decisions in groups.  People have to live together in groups, because we are social creature.  However, this also means individuals have different ideas about what is best.  Living together means learning to compromise and get along.  But what do we do if our core values or goals are so drastically different we cannot compromise?

One tragic solution people have used is war.  They will fight it out until one side wins and forces the losing side to do what the winning side wants.  How much suffering has been caused over the millennia, how many millions have died because of war?  Is there any other way?

Abram was a man of God.  He saw a better way so resolve his conflict with his nephew, Lot.

Genesis 13:8-9
Finally Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not allow this conflict to come between us or our herdsmen. After all, we are close relatives! The whole countryside is open to you. Take your choice of any section of the land you want, and we will separate. If you want the land to the left, then I’ll take the land on the right. If you prefer the land on the right, then I’ll go to the left.”

Abram was Gracious
Rather than continuing to fight, Abram proposed a separation.  Separating was hard.  It meant Abram and Lot—who were close relatives—would not be living together in the same camp.  And this would also affect everyone in the camp, because all the shepherds and extended family involved were friends and relatives who had lived together for a long time.  They’d traveled many mile together for decades. 

So there were friendships and good times together that would come to an end.  There were also probably many long running disputes and arguments that would go unresolved.  Nobody would be the final “winner”.  Separating meant just, “letting it all go”.  Furthermore, Abram’s proposal gave Lot and his side the pick of the land (and maybe there were many on Abram’s side who thought, “Why do they get the pick of the land?  Shouldn’t we get to pick first?”)

However, Abram is famous as a man of faith.  Abram’s solution relied on his faith in God.  Abram always believed God would take care of him.  God had promised to bless Abram.  Therefore, Abram could be generous and gracious and give Lot the pick of the land, knowing God would take care of Abram and his household. 

I’m also sure Abram loved his nephew, Lot, even if they’d had their disagreements.  So, Abram was gracious and he let Lot pick which way he would go.  Abram trusted God to work it all out in the end.

Genesis 13:10-13
10 
Lot took a long look at the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley in the direction of Zoar. The whole area was well watered everywhere, like the garden of the 
Lord or the beautiful land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11 Lot chose for himself the whole Jordan Valley to the east of them. He went there with his flocks and servants and parted company with his uncle Abram. 12 So Abram settled in the land of Canaan, and Lot moved his tents to a place near Sodom and settled among the cities of the plain. 13 But the people of this area were extremely wicked and constantly sinned against the Lord.

The Easy Way Isn't Always The Best Way
We see some great life lessons in this story.  We’ve already seen how Abram’s deep faith in God allowed him to be generous and offer Lot the first choice of where to live in the land.  Abram’s generosity was gracious and sparked goodwill between his clan and Lot’s clan that helped preserve relationships and fostered continued cooperation between their groups, even as they separated.

But there’s another lesson to learn.  Lot chose the easy way.  He chose to settle near the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  You probably know how Sodom and Gomorrah came to represent decadence and sinfulness and immorality.  Sodom and Gomorrah were surrounded by rich, fertile land that led to their prosperity.  This in turn led to their decadence, pride, rejection of God, and ultimate decline and destruction.

The easy life, the path of least resistance, where we simply gratify our immediate impulses and avoid all hardships is rarely good for you.  That way of living makes you soft.  It leaves you weak and can start you sliding down a path to destruction. 

We have to learn in life to take the harder roads.  Rather than borrowing money to get what we want now, we must learn to earn and save for what you need before we buy.  Rather than resting on our laurels and coasting off past accomplishments, we must keep pushing to become better and do more good in the future.  We should under promise and over deliver.  And above all, we must always trust God to take care of you—not because you are blessed with a lot—but because He can take care of you even if you only have a little.  Learn to live with less instead of always wanting more.

Closing Meditation
As I close, I invite you to contemplate and pray about these questions:
Where do you see a fork in the road in your own life?
Are you involved in some relationships or behaviors that are not healthy for your soul?
Is it time to part company with some of these people or things? 
Is it time to let go of some relationships that are pulling you away from God?
How might trusting God help you to be generous and gracious, even as you say goodbye?
How can you learn to trust God more in every situation, and not lean on your own understanding or depend on the easy way of doing things?
How could trusting God help you to be more generous and gracious—even to people with whom you disagree?

May God guide you as you make your own decisions.

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?

 

Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Lost Books of the Bible???


 My weekly Bible study asked me to teach about the "Lost Books" of the Bible.  Since this is something many people seem interested in, I thought I'd share my thoughts.  Seedbed put out a helpful 7 minute video that touches on the subject.  You can watch it here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYsNRHSSG9U.  Here are my thoughts on the subject.



Lost Books?
The term “Lost Books” is really inaccurate.  It implies that some books were not included in the Bible because they were lost (maybe even intentionally).  This is not true.  There were many books, scrolls, letters, and other writings floating around the ancient world when the early Christian church formed—just as there are numerous books floating around in our world today.  Some books were good and helpful for early Christians and others were not.  Some writings stood the test of time, others did not.  Only certain books, the ones God wanted, made it into the Bible.  We have known about most of the other so called "lost books" throughout the centuries and they have been available for people to read, though few had much interest.  Some books were indeed lost, simply because books eventually degrade and fall apart if not reproduced.  How many modern books printed in the last 100 years do you suppose have been “lost” in this way simply because no one cares to read them?  The term “Lost Books” is really more of a marketing ploy.  It grabs people’s attention—especially in an age when many are looking for salacious conspiracy theories about how a supposedly “evil church” has tried to suppress the supposed “real” truth about Jesus.  This is all nonsense.  If you want to know the real Truth about Jesus and God and how we are to live, it is right there in the Bible—the same one that often sits forgotten and unread on the bookshelf in many people’s homes.  In an age where few people actually read the Bible, one could argue the real lost books of the Bible are actually the very ones listed in your Bible’s table of contents, because if you don’t read them they are indeed lost to you.

The Bible.  The Canon.
When we talk about the Bible, we are really talking about an authorized collection of books and letters that have been preserved through the ages and are considered inspired by God and authoritative for Christian belief and practice.  The authorized list of books is called the canon.  No, we’re not talking about a big gun that shoots cannonballs.  Canon is an old word that means “ruler,” like a measuring ruler.  The books we have in our Bible today were “measured” by God through the use of the early Church Christians and found to be inspired and authoritative to be included with the Jewish Bible (the Old Testament) to serve as God’s written Word.


How did they measure which books should be included in the Bible?
Great question!  This was determined by 3 measures:
Measure #1 is Authorship. Who wrote it?  All the books early Christians included in the Bible were written by the Apostles or someone close to them.

Measure #2 is Harmony.  Does the book agree with the doctrine of what other accepted books teach and what Jesus and the Apostles said? 

Measure #3 is Acceptance.  Was the book widely used by the early Church as a whole?  The books that made it into the Bible were only the ones that had gained wide acceptance by the whole church that was spread out across the Mediterranean world during the first few centuries of the Christian era.

[Note:  Historical records show that by 180 AD Irenaeus says that the 4 Gospels had become authoritative (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).  By 325 AD, Eusibius shared a list of 20 books that are in our New Testament.  By 362 AD, Bishop Athanasius lists all 27 New Testament books that we now have in our New Testament.  And of course, the Christian Bible always included the books of the Old Testament (the Jewish Bible Jesus read).

Why were the so called “Lost Books” not included in the Bible?
The “so called lost books” weren’t included in the Bible for good reasons.  They didn’t measure up.  They were not written by the Apostles or those close to them (although they sometimes falsely claimed to be).  They were not in harmony with the plain teachings of Jesus and his early followers.  They were not widely accepted by the whole Church.  There were sometimes other reasons too.  When heretical groups tried to corrupt or change the true message of Christ, they often discarded books that contradicted their teachings and/or substitute their own writings, which were forgeries written to support their false teachings.  For example, one corrupted group led by a man named Marcian created their own Bible.  The Marcian Bible rejected the entire OT, used only parts of the Gospel of Luke, and some of Paul’s letters.  (They only allowed the parts of the Bible that didn’t refute Marcian’s heretical religious ideas.)  Marcian and his sect's ideas were strange and vastly different from what Jesus and his Apostles taught and what the Christian Church as a whole believed.  Their ideas and their books were rejected.  Heretical groups like the Marcians eventually lead Christians to establish an authorized canon of books that the church was already using that did "measure up".  These are the 27 books we now have in the Christian New Testament, plus the Jewish Bible that Christians call the Old Testament.

Conclusion
The Canonical Bible that we use is the Inspired Word of God.  The writers were inspired but also the collectors were inspired so that the Bible we have today is the Inspired Written Word of God that has the authority to guide all Christian beliefs and practices.  John 21:25 actually says, “Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.”  We don't claim that the Bible tells us absolutely everything that happened, only that it teaches everything the Christian needs to know for salvation and to live a Christian life.  Furthermore, the Bible can be trusted as the inspired Word of God.  Those other so call "Lost Books" are not trustworthy and are not the Word of God.  At best, they may be interesting and helpful (though they are mostly weird and boring).  At the worst, they are false teachings designed to lead people astray.  

It doesn't make much sense to waste much time reading so called "lost books" of the Bible.  The real Bible, which is the authorized Word of God, has plenty of challenging truths to digest.  You will never exhaust the Bible's resources.  It will change your life and continue to help you grow from day to day as you listen and obey.  Therefore, I recommend you not waste time wading through other ancient writings unless you have a really good reason.  They will not give you some mind-blowing new revelation.  The Bible can, but they can't.  Therefore, devote your time and energy to studying something with true power and authority--The Holy Bible.  And I invite you to join me for Bible Study on Thursdays at 10:30 AM at Pleasant Grove UMC to really get the most out of God's Holy Word.  We will have a discussion about the "So Called Lost Books" April 4th and then start a new series called "Scripture and the Wesleyan Way" on April 11th.  God Bless!