My Translation for 2017


Those of you who have followed me and my blog posts for some time probably know that I read through the Bible every year in a different translation. Last year, I chose the Holman Christian Standard Bible. This year’s pick has been the New Jerusalem Bible. I get the joy of reading through those extra books not found in the typical Protestant Bibles.

I’m almost through the book of Genesis.

I’m reminded yet again that the people God chose in creating a nation of His own were far from perfect. All of them had character flaws and a sometimes staggering lack of good judgment. I can relate.

God still doesn’t always pick the best looking or the best dressed or the most type A personalities. Some of the choices He makes with people He works through might seem like head scratchers to a lot of us, but God knows what He’s doing.

Remember God chose you and God chose me, not because we were the most qualified to get the job done, but because God delighted in doing so. The ultimate result is that the credit for anything good that comes out of you or me goes directly to God.

It’s also a reminder that when I get aggravated with those biblical characters choosing poorly and being ignoramuses, I can remember that I occasionally am one of those, too. I imagine some of you are as well.

I love how in the Gospels, Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter, not because of who he was but because of who Jesus saw he would become. It took a while for Peter to live up to his own name and Jesus put up with a lot of immaturity and foot-in-mouth disease from Peter and never gave up on him until he became one of the most powerful spokesmen for the early Church.

I’m thankful that God still chooses to work through nobodies and screw-ups and neurotics. I’m most thankful that there’s still nobody that’s too far gone for God to redeem and restore and repurpose.

 

I Think It’s About Forgiveness

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I’ve been thinking about forgiveness quite a bit lately, particularly in the context of the story of Joseph and his brothers.

I imagine most of you are probably familiar with the story, but I’ll give a brief summary. Joseph has dreams as a teenager and (unwisely) decides to tell them to his family. That and being the favorite son doesn’t do him any favors.

His brothers end up selling him into slavery (making Joseph the first recorded victim of human trafficking). He winds up in Egypt, where he goes from a slave in Potiphar’s court to wrongful imprisonment to a high-ranking position in the government (thanks in large part to his God-given ability to interpret dreams.

One of the dreams he interprets predicts a coming famine to all the known world. He’s able to prepare by storing up large amounts of grain during a time of plenty, so that Egypt not only has enough to survive but also to sell to neighboring countries.

Some of the people who show up to buy food happen to be those very brothers who sold him in the first place. Joseph is able to see how God used their evil act for good to save a multitude of people, including his own family.

Joseph could have chosen bitterness. Or revenge. He was well within his rights to seek retribution against his brothers. He probably could have even had them killed if he wanted.

People will say that forgiveness is a cop out for the weak. I say forgiveness takes great strength. I will go so far as to say that true forgiveness is impossible without God’s help. As my pastor said recently, forgiveness is releasing the expectation that the other person or persons can fix what they did. That’s hard.

Joseph was able to forgive because of his perspective. He saw how God had been with him time and time again though every stage of his journey from home to Egypt, from son to slave to ruler. Joseph was able to see the bigger picture.

Forgiveness ultimately sees that there is nothing that you’ve done or that has been done to you that God can’t work for good and His glory.

Who do you need to forgive (including yourself)? Who do you need to seek forgiveness from?

I love the image that forgiveness is opening the door to a prison cell to release the prisoner only to discover that that prisoner was you all along.

Forgiveness is a beautiful thing.

 

Regret

Since this morning’s sermon at The Church at Avenue South from Aaron Bryant, I’ve been thinking about the story of Joseph in the Old Testament a lot today. More specifically, my thoughts have been centered on Joseph’s brothers.

I’ve always wondered why it was that when his brothers came to Egypt to buy food during the famine that Joseph recognized them but none of them knew who he was.

I realize that he was probably dressed in Egyptian garb and would  have had his hair and beard styled in the Egyptian fashions of that time.

I wonder if one of the reasons he was able to spot them was that they were still stuck in that moment when they made the horrible decision to sell him into slavery over 13 years ago.

Some of you reading this are still stuck in the past. You’re frozen in time in the moment when a relative hurt you or a friend betrayed you or a spouse deserted you. You haven’t been able to move past that moment in time.

Joseph had moved on, both literally and figuratively. By the time his brothers showed up, he had been though slavery, false accusations, imprisonment, and later exaltation. He had seen how God was with him through it all.

He was able to see at the end how God used what his brothers had meant for evil and turned it into something good. In fact, God used what was done to Joseph to set up the salvation of an entire nation in the making.

You come to the place where you release the hurt and pain done to you when you realize how God has redeemed it. When you’re able to forgive those who wounded you, you open the door to the prison and find out that it’s you that you’re setting free.

God still works all things together for good– even the bad and hard things– and that includes your story. That doesn’t excuse what people have done to you and it doesn’t lessen the pain, but it does mean that your wounds and scars are not the end of the story. God has a way of redeeming and restoring what was taken from you and giving you something so much better in return.

 

 

More Thoughts About Joseph

I do love the story of Joseph. It’s a beautiful tale of God using one man’s misfortune to bring about the salvation of a nation. It’s God taking what was meant for evil and turning it into the ultimate good.

I noticed a few things about Joseph recently (thanks in part to a sermon series at The Church at Avenue South and the rest of the Brentwood Baptist Church campuses).

Joseph didn’t wait until God placed him in favorable circumstances to be faithful. He trusted God in the pit, in Potiphar’s house, and in prison. He was faithful where he was.

Something I heard today has been resonating with me all day– sometimes when God calls you, you won’t have time to get ready; you will have to be ready.

I think that starts in being faithful and available where you are. It’s called blooming where you’re planted.

Too many of us will miss opportunities to serve and hear God speaking because we’re too focused on looking ahead to what’s next or looking behind to what might have been.

The key to staying faithful for Joseph was the knowledge that God was with him. Over and over throughout the story, the account relates that God was with Joseph. That’s where Joseph found his strength and courage to continue.

When God does call on some of us, it will be those who have surrendered their schedules and made themselves completely and unconditionally available to God and His purposes who will be used. It will be those who have already been faithful in the small details who will find themselves entrusted with much larger plans.

I doubt very seriously that when he was a teenager Joseph ever imagined he’d be second in command over an entire nation. He probably couldn’t see any farther than his own family and their troubles.

But God saw that a people who would be come His own nation would  need saving and chose Joseph as the means of saving them. It all started with being faithful in the small stuff.

 

Forgotten

I love the story of Joseph. It helps that I know the ending where Joseph becomes one of the most powerful men in Egypt and sets in motion a plan to rescue many people from surrounding nations, including his own family who had previously sold him into slavery.

But there were some bumps in the road.

After he was sold into slavery, he ended up in prison, falsely arrested for raping Potiphar’s wife. While he was incarcerated, he met two men from Pharaohs’ court, both of who had displeased their master.

Joseph interpreted both their dreams. One would be restored and one would be hanged. He asked one favor in return from the one who would live– that when he returned to freedom, he would mention the name of Joseph to Pharaoh. As is human nature, when he got out, he forgot all about the person who helped him get there.

Joseph was forgotten.

Have you ever felt forgotten? Have there been times in your life when you feel no one notices you or anything you do?

Many of us have gone through times when we felt invisible and unloved. We felt that for all the good it did, we might not as well have even bothered.

The good news is that God notices. God sees you. No matter if those around us take us for granted, God does not. God is aware of the tiniest of sparrows. He sees you.

Also, that feeling of being forgotten is more often than not a lie. I’ve found out in my own experience that there is usually someone watching you and that someone is often a person you would least expect to notice you or what you do.

You are not forgotten and you are never alone. Remember that the next time your feelings lie to you.

 

 

Thinking About Joseph

My church, The Church at Avenue South, started a new series on the character Joseph from the book of Genesis (along with all the other campuses of Brentwood Baptist Church).

It’s a very familiar story that I’ve heard literally all my life, yet there are new lessons I can learn from the story about how God redeemed one man’s misfortune to bless and save an entire nation.

Joseph didn’t start out so well. He had dreams about being in power over his father and brothers. His decision to tell his father and brothers about these particular dreams was not a wise one. He choose rather poorly.

Can anyone else relate? I know I can. There have been seasons in my life where I’ve been poor decision-prone and where I kept sticking my foot in my mouth in conversations.

The good news is that God is for all the Josephs of the world, even during those seasons of poor decision making. There’s not a mistake or even a fiasco that God can’t redeem and turn into good in the grander scheme of His unfolding story.

Like I said before, God took every negative from Joseph’s life and used it toward His purpose of saving a family and a nation through which would later come a Savior who would save people from every ethnic group and nation.

Did that excuse Joseph’s initial arrogance? No. Will it excuse mine? No. Will it defeat God’s purposes for me and for the world around me in which I live, work, and play? No.

I am never given an excuse for disobedience, but at the same time, God can take my bad decisions and weave even those into His overall redemptive plan. While my sin will still have consequences, it doesn’t have to mean the end of my story or God’s plans for me.

God is stronger than my weaknesses and my fears. I don’t have to be perfect to be useable. I just have to be available and willing.

 

 

Happy Birthday Adam (Also Known as Birthday Eve Eve)

As some of you may know, my birthday is Sunday. Two days away. Let the festivities begin.

The place where I work let me go early in celebration. I ended up at McKay’s Used Books, Movies, Music, and More. I’m more sure than ever that it’s Nerd Nirvana. I’m sure heaven will look a lot like McKay’s.

I picked up my usual eclectic assortment of music. I got Johnny Horton, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Santana, Genesis, Ray Lynch, Jeff Buckley, and Brian Wilson. I think that covers it.

I admit that I don’t quite look forward to birthdays in the same way that I used to. Back in the day, birthdays meant milestones– turning 10, 18, 21, and so forth.

Now the only milestones I hit are the decades. Those aren’t quite as rewarding. Mostly, you just get older.

Still, I also admit that I am more grateful for each birthday than I was for the last. I know more and more that life in general (including birthdays) isn’t something to be taken for granted. No one is entitled to live to be 90 years old and to die in a comfortable bed surrounded by loved ones.

Too many of my family and friends won’t get to reach that ripe old age. Some who were younger than I am now are gone. Just about everyday, I read about someone else who died tragically way too young. That’s sobering.

So thank you, God, for year 44. Or if you like, the 9th anniversary of being 35. That sounds less painful.

I’m also all about celebrating for as long as I can, so I will probably still be going strong on Monday. I guess I should be thankful that I wasn’t born on February 29, or I’d be celebrating turning 11.

Oh, and I do accept all forms of currency for presents, including cash, credit cards, traveler’s checks, and coins. FYI.

 

Why I Love Old Abraham

“By faith Abraham heard God’s call to travel to a place he would one day receive as an inheritance; and he obeyed, not knowing where God’s call would take him. By faith he journeyed to the land of the promise as a foreigner; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, his fellow heirs to the promise because Abraham looked ahead to a city with foundations, a city laid out and built by God.

By faith Abraham’s wife Sarah became fertile long after menopause because she believed God would be faithful to His promise. So from this man, who was almost at death’s door, God brought forth descendants, as many as the stars in the sky and as impossible to count as the sands of the shore” (Hebrews 11:8-12).

“That’s what Scripture means when it says, ‘Abraham entrusted himself to God, and God credited him with righteousness.’ And living a faithful life earned Abraham the title of ‘God’s friend'” (James 2:23, The Voice).

I like Abraham. I can relate to Abraham.

Sure, he was the father of many nations. Sure, he’s the one through whose line came the Messiah, the Hope of the World.

But he also had clay feet at times.

Remember the time when he lied about his wife, saying she was his sister? Twice?

Remember when he tried to help God out by agreeing to go to bed with Sarah’s servant Hagar to produce the heir God promised?

Remember when Abraham had a hard time believing that God could keep His word in giving him a child?

Yeah, I can relate to all of that. Abraham’s my kind of guy.

The Bible is full of people like that. Not saints in the sense of people who walked through life with halos hanging over their heads who never messed up or got a hair out of place or got their knickers in a bunch. More like saints who stumbled and fell often, but kept getting back up, kept trusting in the next step, kept trusting that God knew where he was leading them through all the deserts and foreign countries.

Sometimes faith is simply showing up and taking the next step, trusting that God knows where He’s leading you. As Corrie Ten Boom said, faith is trusting the conductor of the train when it goes into a pitch black tunnel instead of jumping off the back of the caboose.

I suppose we’re all thankful that even faith the size of a mustard seed can move  mountains and uproot trees. It can change stubborn old hearts like yours and mine.

Best of all, faith leads you to the place where God is, where you were always meant to be, the place where your heart can rest.

 

Four Gardens

I heard something new today, so I can’t take credit for any of what follows. It all involves four gardens.

The first garden was the Garden of Eden where it all went horribly wrong for all of us. Adam and Eve both ate of that dratted fruit. It doesn’t matter what kind of fruit it was or who ate first. The simple fact that out of every tree in that garden (and there must have been plenty), they chose the one tree God asked them not to eat from.

We’ve been like that ever since. Ever see a “Don’t step on the grass” sign? What’s the first impulse you have when you see that? I rest my case.

The second garden was the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus chose the cross. I know it was His destiny from the beginning and He knew all along that Calvary was His destination, but here is where the temptation to bail was strongest and here is where Jesus prevailed against such a temptation.

The third garden was the Garden of the Tomb. When Mary first saw Jesus, she thought He was the gardener. So it follows there was a garden. Here is where everything wrong was made right. Here is where Jesus’ victory was confirmed and forever validated.

The final garden is in Revelation 22. There you find a very familiar tree, the tree of life, planted by a river and located in the City of God. Here instead of a forbidding commandment is an invitation to come and partake.

Oh, and there’s the whole fruit of the Spirit thing, too.

I love how God doesn’t miss any details. Everything that was lost in the first garden gets found in the last one. Nothing that is good and pure and true is ever truly lost, but God finds a way to redeem it back.

Thoughts from Deuteronomy

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I heard this from a pastor once: most people have every intention of reading through the Bible. Every intention.

They start off well, because Genesis has a good bit of action and intrigue and drama. Sort of Downton Abbey meets Ben-Hur. You get to see the story of God’s people unfolding and see where everything got its start.

Exodus is doable because it continues the storyline from Genesis. There’s more than a few rules and regulations thrown in, but there’s also the drama of God’s people making their way through the desert.

Leviticus throws most people for a loop. There are a lot more rules and a lot less action. A lot of what’s here seems far from relatable and applicable. I mean, who will be sacrificing a goat any time soon?

Numbers usually is like a punch to the solar plexus and Deuteronomy generally finishes the people off that Numbers didn’t. I mean, it seems so far removed from the mercy and grace of the New Testament.

But think of it as an unfolding love story between God and His people. At first, His people need boundaries and guidelines, as we all do when we’re growing up. We need to know that sin is serious business and that every sin demands a sacrifice and blood.

It’s the same God who shows up later in the form of Jesus. I admit I don’t completely understand how the different parts of the story mesh together, but I know that they do. All the loose ends of the plot get resolved and we do live happily ever after. Just not yet.

I see how Adam and Eve blew it in the garden. I see how the children of Israel messed up with God literally from day one. But instead of looking at the could-have-beens, I see the what-will-be. Where Adam and Eve and the Israelites failed, Jesus got it right and one day soon, everything that went wrong as a result will be put right.

That sounds like a happy ending to me.