What Happens When God’s Messengers Challenge Authority?

“Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt.” Exodus 1:8

The story of Moses begins where the story of Joseph ends: in Egypt. There are some interesting parallels between the two:

Both were unlikely candidates to be God’s messenger. Joseph was a slave and a condemned prisoner. Moses was banished royalty.

The Rod of Aaron Devours Other Rods

James Tissot, The Rod of Aaron Devours the Other Rods

Both messengers were heard by the Pharoah…but received in very different ways: Pharaoh believes Joseph’s message of impending disaster, knowing from his dreams that all was not well in the land of Egypt. Pharaoh rejects Moses’ warning, being confident in Egypt’s unrivaled power, wealth and divine favor.

God directly influences both Pharaohs’ receptivity to the message…in different ways. God warns Pharaoh through dreams that disaster is coming, preparing him to hear Joseph’s message. God harden’s Pharoah’s heart, so that he is unable to see the impending disaster, even when the signs are everywhere.

Both messengers eventually receive positions of power and responsibility. Joseph becomes second in command in the Egyptian empire, and is tasked with protecting an entire civilization from destruction. Moses takes on the roles of prophet, priest and king over God’s people, and is tasked with protecting them from self-destruction. 

 Both messages affect the geographical relocation of God’s people. As a result of Joseph’s message, God’s people are relocated to Goshen and offered security. As a result of Moses’ message, God’s people are liberated (or expelled) from Egypt. God leads them to the land promised to Abraham, after a generation of wandering into the wilderness.

So, what happens when God’s messengers challenge authority? It depends on the crisis, the messenger and the authority.

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Who among you has ever attended a hot tub expo…?

…and were tempted to buy one?

Last Saturday I noticed several signs on Route 2. With bright bold red letters they announced a hot tub expo taking place that weekend. Hot tubs were being sold at a sharply reduced price. These small square white signs communicated a sense of urgency, as the sale was a one time opportunity.

Christ Carrying the Cross, Hans Holbein the Younger

Sometimes God would speak to His Old testament prophets by drawing their attention to something ordinary, like a pottery working with clay. This ordinary sign reminded me of a situation that I witnessed twenty years ago, but still speaks divine truth to me.

I knew someone who purchased a hot tub, and it became a painful embarrassment to him. He lived on a fixed income, yet he purchased a hot tub he discovered at a clearance sale. To him this was a welcome, and affordable blessing for his family to enjoy after a stressful week.

Until he opened the electric bill.

When he purchased this luxury item, he only considered the benefits of relaxing with friends and family, but he underestimated the long term costs. I have a lasting memory of that empty hot tub sitting adjacent to a redwood deck, an embarrassing reminder of an unwise decision. So it is with a profession of faith that welcomes the benefits of the cross, but doesn’t fully consider the cost of taking it up and following Jesus:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

Like the hot tub, a hasty profession of faith serves only as an empty embarrassment of a hasty decision.

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New Sermon Series: Joseph’s Secret to Success

“The LORD was with Joseph so that he prospered…” (Genesis 39:2)

A successful career. A successful church. A successful life. Who doesn’t want success?

Joseph (in the book of Genesis) was successful. He became second in command of the most powerful empire in the world, and saved an entire civilization from certain destruction. However, these are not why he should be considered a success. In fact, one could argue that Joseph did not pursue success at all – he only pursued God.

Joseph is Ambushed, The Brick Testament

Furthermore, his road to success was one of great suffering and sorrow.

In his Letters and Papers from Prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” If you really want to understand Joseph, look at his suffering. As we read through the stories of Joseph, we can see how his suffering shaped him to be used for God’s glory.

This Sunday we will begin a 7-part sermon series where we will look at Joseph’s unique path to success, and redefine for us what it means to be successful.

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Who Needs (the Gridiron) God?

If football is a religion, as some have argued, then here is what a skeptic might sound like:

Don’t get me wrong. It’s fine that football teams pray after games. Lots of people get excited about this religion, and I respect their right to do so, but it’s not for me.

When friends invite me to a game, I respectfully decline. I don’t feel like getting up on a Sunday morning, driving to a stadium and sitting with strangers for 3 hours. I can see maybe going on Thanksgiving Day, but not every week.

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Notre Dame’s Word of Life “Touchdown Jesus” Mural

I saw a signup sheet in the break room for a football pool. I couldn’t help but notice that you had to pay to join. Everything has a price on it, even religion. And besides, I don’t think I can commit myself to 17 weeks.

I feel stupid when people at lunch start talking about football. Everyone takes for granted that I know who Cam Newton is, or why people hate Dan Snyder. Not everyone is a football scholar, you know. Dumb it down for me and maybe I’ll pay some attention to your religion.

The guy in the cubicle next to me is a religious fanatic. He is always reading something on NFL.com, even when he should be working. I get a little suspicious when he starts talking to me about “the big game” – I wonder if he is trying to convert me.

People are always wearing football jerseys on Friday. I believe religion is a private matter, not something you have to wear on your sleeve. They don’t realize that they might turn people off or offend someone.

Football can be controversial, just like politics. I don’t like the trash talking, and the arguing. These people can get really nasty.

My family watched football when I was growing up, but when I went to college I got out of the habit. Maybe someday, when my kids are out of the house and I retire, I’ll start watching football games again. I may even become a fan.

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Does it Matter Where We Shop?

“The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you.” James 5:4

Ten years ago I joined a Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA), and members were given the opportunity to meet the farmers growing the produce. I’ll never forget what one of them said: “Whenever you save money on food, you are probably costing someone somewhere.”

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Ruth Gleaning, James Tissot

I had never considered this before, which is sad considering the biblical teachings calling for justice for the poor and oppressed. This goes beyond giving to the poor – God takes an interest in our business transactions, because they impact those providing the goods and services we purchase. How often do we consider the wages, living conditions and local economies of those growing beans for our morning coffee and cacao for our candy bars? Are they paid a fair price for their work?

Biblical faith requires us to think about such things before we buy:

  • In Amos chapter 8, God contemns Israel’s dishonest trading practices, for cheating and exploiting the poor by “skimping on the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales” (vv. 4-7).
  • God prohibits “taking advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy” (Deuteronomy 24:14), but requires employers to pay “his wages on his day before the sun sets, for he is poor and sets his heart on it; so that he will not cry against you to the Lord and it becomes sin in you” (Deuteronomy 24:15).

The fair trade movement supports farmers and artisans who are socially and economically marginalized, by ensuring prompt and fair payment for workers and producers who may go without food, shelter, clothing or dignity, because of their poverty. Learn more about fair trade principles and become a fair trade shopper whenever possible.

Financial stewardship is not just about how we spend our money (Luke 12:13-21). We should also prayerfully consider where we spend it.

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Should We Complain to God?

“I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy. I pour out before him my complaint; before him I tell my trouble.” (Psalm 142:1-2)

We live in a world that breeds discontent. We are bombarded with the message that to be happy we need more things, fewer wrinkles and better vacations. We also live in a world of sin, violence, sickness and death.

Jesus calls us to constant prayer (Luke 11:9-10), but what about our complaints?

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King David at Prayer, Rembrandt

There are numerous biblical references to believers like Job, Moses and David complaining to God in the midst of their troubles and suffering. There are also the Psalms of lament – prayers and songs that show us how to express our pain to God in a context of worship.

In these laments the authors pour out to God their sorrow (Psalm 137), anger (Psalm 140), fear (Psalm 69), confusion (Psalm 102), disappointment (Psalm 74), or depression (Psalm 88).

God expects us to experience pain and then express our pain in prayer and worship. We can do this privately, like David did when he wrote Psalm 142 (1 Samuel 22), and we can do this corporately, like the people of Israel did when they sang Psalm 142.

Psalms of lament remind us that God does not expect for us to always experience prosperity. They also model for us how to complain in a way that honors God.

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How Desperate are We?

“Surely the Lord is in the place; and I was not aware of it” (Genesis 28:17). 

We associate the words “rock bottom” to describe disgraced politicians, drug addicts, alcoholics or anyone who experiences the consequences for their actions. The words can also describe anyone experiencing disappointment, frustration or depression. Stephen Covey names two things that motivate people to make dramatic changes in their lives: inspiration and desperation. There is tremendous power in hitting a low-point in life, because it can force us to consider serious changes.

jacob-s-ladder

Jacob’s Ladder, William Blake

Desperate. That’s how I imagine Jacob in Genesis 28:10-17. As he leaves his family, flees for his life, seeks safe haven from Uncle Laban and hopes to find a wife, I imagine his worries as he travels. What kind of reception would he receive from Laban? What could he possibly offer as a dowry? Could he ever return home?  I have to believe that he is experiencing guilt for being the worst kind of liar and thief – he deceived his blind, elderly father, and stole from his brother. Jacob is desperate. 

But for Jacob, it was not just desperation at work in his life. There was also inspiration.

Jacob, as shepherds often did, propped his head on a stone and slept under the stars. In his sleep he saw a stairway reaching from heaven to earth, with angels ascending and descending upon it. At the top was God.

One might expect God to rebuke Jacob for trying to work out his own plan, instead of trusting God. Instead God reminds him of the promises he gave to his father Isaac, and his grandfather Abraham, that He plans to bless the world through him. Jacob realizes that God is with him, which gives him inspiration to continue his journey.

Jacob’s ladder reminds us that God is still working in us even when we reach the point of frustration and desperation. This should inspire us.

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