Grace Itself! 👑

This is one of the moments in Old Testament history that I would have loved to see for myself… 

Twenty years had passed since the time Judah and his brothers sold Joseph into slavery. He had no way of knowing that Joseph had risen above a series of misfortunes to become the prime minister of Egypt. During Joseph’s rise to political power, he engineered a massive government food campaign to store up grain reserves for seven years in order to survive a predicted seven-year famine. Consequently, starving multitudes from all over the Mediterranean world choked the roads and harbors of Egypt, hoping to buy food.

The famine hit Jacob’s family especially hard. So hard that he sent Joseph’s brothers to Egypt for provisions. He refused to send Benjamin, however. His youngest son was Rachel’s only surviving son. Having lost Joseph, he couldn’t bear the thought of losing another favored son.

After a dry, dusty journey, Joseph’s brothers stood among the throngs of people seeking salvation from the famine. Like everyone else, they appeared before the government official in charge of selling grain to foreigners; that is, the prime minister. However, they didn’t recognize their brother. After such a long time, they probably assumed he had died as a laborer in the Egyptian mines. Joseph wore the makeup and official garb worn by all Egyptian officials, and he spoke Egyptian as fluently as a native. Therefore, the ten brothers observed standard protocol when addressing royalty: they bowed. The significance of this moment would not have been lost on Joseph. No doubt time slowed to a crawl as a long-forgotten dream from childhood suddenly consumed his thoughts.

Joseph concealed his identity. He played the part of a suspicious Egyptian bureaucrat in order to test his brothers, to see if they had changed. He also wanted to know if Benjamin had fallen prey to their hatred. So he held Simeon captive and sent the others home with grain, demanding they return with their youngest brother.

Naturally, this didn’t go over well with their father, Jacob. He refused to let Benjamin out of his sight; Simeon would have to fend for himself. But with the passing of time, their supply of grain ran low and they would need to make another journey to Egypt. So Judah made his father a vow.

Send the boy along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die. I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life. — Genesis 43:8-9

Jacob finally agreed. He realized that without food, the famine would surely kill Benjamin; but by sending him to Egypt, everyone might live.

When Judah and his brothers appeared before Joseph again, all eleven of them bowed down with respect for this man whose word was law. To their surprise, Joseph hosted an elaborate dinner in their honor. While everyone enjoyed the banquet, Joseph watched his brothers closely, looking for signs of hatred or jealousy for Benjamin. Instead of hatred, he heard sorrow in their voices. They regretted what they had done to Joseph and expressed remorse for the pain they had caused their father.

To be certain of their remorse, Joseph devised one final test. He loaded each man’s donkey with as much grain as it could carry, placed the money they had paid back into each man’s sack of grain, and then hid an expensive silver cup among Benjamin’s provisions. Once their little caravan cleared the city gates, he directed his officials to accuse them of theft and to search them for stolen property. When the Egyptian officials found the silver cup in Benjamin’s sack of grain, they promptly arrested him, threatening to keep him as a slave.

Joseph framed Benjamin for the sole purpose of seeing how his brothers would react. Would they sacrifice him to save themselves? Would they take this opportunity to rid themselves of another favored brother? Or would they try to save him?

Judah had personally guaranteed Benjamin’s safety with his father, but he was well known for his lack of follow-through. Nevertheless, he asked for a private word with Joseph to plead for Benjamin’s release.

Your servant guaranteed the boy’s safety to my father. I said, “If I do not bring him back to you, I will bear the blame before you, my father, all my life!” Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come upon my father. — Genesis 44:32-34

When Joseph heard this, he couldn’t contain himself any longer. He commanded all of his attendants to leave the court so that only he and his brothers remained. Until this point Joseph had communicated with his brothers through a translator. Now that they were alone, the men had to wonder how they would even communicate with this strange Egyptian. So imagine their shock when he gazed into their eyes and declared in their own language,

I am Joseph! — Genesis 45:3

Once the recognition was complete, the brothers’ heads were bowed to the ground once again. But this time more out of fear than respect. And the brother who had the most to fear was Judah. Judah, who undoubtedly thought of what he would do if the roles were reversed. Judah, who for more than twenty years had outrun the consequences of his betrayal. But what goes around comes around. And so he would get what he had coming to him after all.

But there was no sound of guards rushing into the room. No clamor of weapons. No orders for arrest. All was strangely calm. This would be a day Judah would never forget.

This was a day of grace.

For on this day he was given precisely what he deserved least. Joseph continued,

And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. — Genesis 45:5

This is one of the moments in Old Testament history that I would have loved to to see for myself. We can only wonder how long it took for Joseph’s words to register. How long before any of the brothers had the courage to make eye contact? They were consumed with guilt over what they had done. Joseph was consumed with something else entirely. Grace.

Not only did Joseph forgive them, but he invited them to bring their families and to live in the most fertile territory Egypt had to offer. Within seconds, Judah and his brothers went from condemned to death to the position of esteemed guest of the second most powerful man in Egypt. Once again, the law of sowing and reaping was thwarted. But this time it was thwarted by grace. As it turned out, Judah never really got what he deserved.

As is always the case with grace, he got exactly what he deserved least.

* * *

Originally from The Grace of God by Andy Stanley
 
* * *

Faithfulness, an Act of Faith✨✨

 

 
Sometimes the greatest act of faith is faithfulness, staying where you’re planted. -Craig Groeschel

One day you’re going to come to a fork in the road. And this new direction may look like the perfect route to take.
 
But no matter how appealing it is, God may lead you to stay the course instead. 

Maybe you’re in college right now. You’ve been thinking, I’m not going to make it. It’s too expensive. It’s too much work. This is just too hard. A lot of people would just walk away. That may even be the right thing for you to do, as long as you’re sure that’s the way God’s leading you. But if God is speaking to you — if you’re hearing that still, small voice telling you, “You are not a quitter. You’re a finisher!” — then put your blinders on. 

Get a second job. Get off that unrealistic four-year college plan you’ve been beating yourself up with, commit to a seven-and-a-half year plan instead, and remain faithful. Semester after semester, just keep plowing away, one class here, two classes there, a summer class over here. Then one day, you’ll wake up and realize you have a degree. Your story will be, “You know, it wasn’t easy, but today I have a job I wouldn’t have been able to get if I hadn’t hung in there. I’m not a quitter. I’m a finisher.” 

Maybe something’s happened at your church that you aren’t happy about. Maybe someone did something really un-Christlike that challenged your faith. And now you’re thinking, Christians? Really? Whatever! They’re a bunch of hypocrites. Forget them! Someone once said that church would be great if it weren’t for the people. The problem is that the church is people, and people are imperfect. And imperfect people can make it hard to stay. 

But what does God want? Maybe He wants your story to be, “Someone at my church hurt me. Pretty badly, actually. But with God’s help, I was able to do for them what Christ did for me: I forgave them. We worked through our differences. That was ten years ago. Today we’re at a place spiritually that I didn’t even know was possible. Now we don’t just go to church, we are the church. Together we’re making a difference in this world. It would have been so much easier just to go. But today my life is different because I stayed.” 

Maybe what you’re dealing with is even more serious. Maybe you’ve been trying to come to terms with God. Something happened that you couldn’t understand, something you didn’t like. And ever since, you’ve been crying out to God, “Couldn’t You have stopped this? Why did You let this happen? If You’re going to allow things like this, I don’t need You.” Your story could be that you walked away from God, just like many people before you. 

Or your story might be that you decided to stay with God. 

You chose to accept that God will never leave you nor forsake you, so you stayed. 

You chose to trust Him and keep talking to Him. “I don’t understand this, God. It doesn’t make sense to me. But I also know I’m not You. I know Your ways are higher than my ways. I choose to believe in You even during those times when I can’t feel Your presence. Still I know You’re there.” 

After some time has passed, maybe you’ll be looking back, reflecting on your story, and you’ll realize that even though you didn’t know it at the time, God was using that very thing that you hated to rewire you, to change you, to transform your life. You perhaps didn’t think it was possible, but you’ve indeed changed in an important way. What the enemy intended for evil, God somehow used for good. Maybe your story will be that you learned to know God and His faithfulness in a way that you never had before. Maybe your story will be that you chose to live for Him and His glory in a way you never thought was possible. And all because you decided to stay with God. 

Maybe you’ve already been remaining faithful. Maybe you’ve been doing that for a long time. You’ve stayed in the same boring job, and you feel like a failure. You’ve stayed raising your kids, but you still feel like a failure. You’ve been stuck in the same boring marriage, and you feel like a twenty-year failure. 

But sometimes the greatest act of faith is faithfulness, staying where you’re planted. 

From where you’re standing in your field, picking up leftover grain, you may not be able to see your Boaz yet. But…

Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. — Galatians 6:9 ESV

“One of my favorite stories about staying comes from one of my best friends, Bobby Gruenewald. Bobby started and sold two technology companies before he ever graduated from college. Obviously this guy is crazy smart. 

Bobby started volunteering for the church in his mid-twenties, and we eventually hired him. Although his contribution to the church was extraordinary, he didn’t feel like he was making a difference. So Bobby considered quitting and going back into business. 
 
Truthfully, it would have been easier for him. As a pastor, he still had a lot to learn. Business is second nature to him. But by the grace of God, he decided to stay. And among his many important contributions, Bobby came up with the YouVersion Bible App, an idea that has done more for Bible distribution than any idea since the printing press”

So if you are tempted to walk away, make sure to seek God, because you never know what he might do if you have the courage to stay. 

Don’t give up.

Don’t. Give. Up.

Listen to what God is telling you He wants you to do. Sometimes the right decision is to stay. 

*** From Craig Groeschel’s ‘Divine Direction’***

The Easter Aftermath 👑👑

 
The Kingdom of God has come near to you. -Luke 10:9

5 Surprising Things Jesus’ Followers Did After Easter

2,000 years, we’ve heard the Easter story so many times we often think we know everything about it. 

But there are some aspects that are not as well known, particularly the actions that the followers of Jesus took in the days and weeks after the resurrection.

Here are five specific things the disciples did that may surprise us:

1. The disciples were skeptical. 

The Gospel records are clear:  many of Jesus’ closest followers were openly skeptical of the early reports of the resurrection. 

When the women who first saw Jesus alive reported what they had seen, the other followers dismissed it as “an idle tale” and “did not believe them” (Luke 24:11). 

The Gospel of John adds that one of Jesus’ closest followers, named Thomas, refused to believe that God had raised Jesus to life.  He insisted that he would have to put his finger in the nail holes in Jesus’ hands before he would believe such a thing. 

Some of the disciples had doubts even when they saw Jesus with their own eyes. 

On a mountain in Galilee, Jesus appeared to eleven of His disciples and they worshiped Him there, but, Matthew reports, “some doubted” (Matthew 28:17). 
What does that mean for us today? 

It means that:

Christians should acknowledge the skepticism they encounter about the Christian testimony. 

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have,” we are told in 1 Peter 3: 15. “But do this with gentleness and respect.”

What else did Jesus’ followers do following Easter?

2. They broke bread in Jesus’ memory. 

It appears that the Last Supper rite that Jesus bequeathed to His followers was put into practice very early, perhaps within days of the Crucifixion. 

A story related briefly in Mark and at length in Luke concerns two followers who had an encounter with the risen Jesus near the village of Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 

The disciples did not recognize the risen Jesus but invited Him to eat with them.  At the table, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and, Luke says, the disciples’ eyes were opened. 

They reported the incident to the entire community, saying that Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24: 12-35).
What does that mean for us? 

Christian denominations differ on how they interpret what the Last Supper means, but it’s clear from the New Testament that Jesus’ earliest followers followed Jesus’ command to “do this in memory of Me.” 

According to Acts, after Easter the disciples in Jerusalem “broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (Acts 2:45).

But Jesus’ followers didn’t break bread only.  They did something else as well…  

3. They searched the Scriptures.   

With a few exceptions, the earliest followers of Jesus were devout Jews, steeped in the traditions and laws of their ancestors.  It was natural, then, for them to search their ancient holy books (or holy scrolls) to find explanations for the extraordinary events that had happened in their midst.

It’s clear from the New Testament that Jesus’ followers did search the Jewish scriptures, often using the Greek translation known as the Septuagint. 

Acts describes how the apostles, particularly Peter, explained in great detail the meaning of passages in the Hebrew Bible and how they explained Jesus’ life and mission.  The apostle Philip did the same with the Ethiopian eunuch.  Later, Paul and Barnabas also explained the Jewish scriptures in synagogues throughout Cyprus and what is now central Turkey.

The meaning for Christians today is that we, too, should be like the residents of Berea who received the Gospel message with great eagerness but “searched the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17: 11).

 4. They took care of the sick.

A major component of Jesus’ mission on earth appears to have been free healing.  Twenty-five of the thirty-seven miracles attributed to Jesus in the New Testament, or fully 65 percent, are miracles of healing.

One of the first things the gospel of Mark says about Jesus is that He was a healer:
 

[Jesus] healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. — Mark 1:34

What is less well known is that Jesus commanded His followers to do the same.

According to Matthew’s account, Jesus called His twelve apostles and instructed them to heal “every disease and every affliction” (Matthew 10:1). In Luke, Jesus sends out seventy-two of His disciples as emissaries of the kingdom, instructing them specifically to
 

heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ — Luke 10:9, NIV

The very first miracle recorded in the Acts of the Apostles after Easter is the healing of a lame beggar by Peter who was seated on the steps leading up to the Beautiful Gate, probably the spectacular bronze doors donated to the Temple a few years earlier by  the Alexandrian craftsman Nicanor. 

“I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you,” Peter told the man. “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”  Throughout the rest of Acts, Peter and the other disciples are engaged in a healing ministry, for example through the healing of Aeneas and the resuscitation of Tabitha (Acts 9:32-40).     

Ever since, Christians have been involved in medical mission work – building hospitals, establishing medical organizations such as the Red Cross.  ‎
We should remember that medical missions have been an essential part of the Christian witness from the very beginning.

5. They invited others into their fellowship.  

In the 20th century, some New Testament scholars claimed that Jesus never intended to launch a movement or form a fellowship. 

But that is precisely what the earliest Christian records say.  The Gospels and the rest of the New Testament are emphatic that Jesus instructed His followers to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

From the very beginning, it appears, this was Jesus’ intention for His followers.  Jesus’ first challenge to the Galilean fisherman Simon bar Jonah, for example, was for him to follow Jesus and He would make him “a fisher of men.” 

Indeed, that was one of Jesus’ metaphors to explain what the kingdom of God is like, a fishing net.  “The kingdom of Heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind,” He told a crowd one day on the lakeshore.

Within weeks of Easter, then, Jesus’ followers were inviting everyone who would listen into their fellowship.  According to Acts, after Simon Peter’s sermon to the crowds gathered at Pentecost, “about three thousand” people joined the community in a single day.

This is surprising because in the ancient world religious groups were often exclusive.

The sociologist Rodney Stark points out that the phenomenal growth of the Christian movement can be explained, at least partially, by the welcoming attitude of Jesus’ followers towards groups scorned by other religious movements, such as women, slaves, Samaritans and foreigners. 

Stark estimates that the Jesus movement grew at the rate of about 40 percent per decade,  from an initial 1,000 followers to roughly 217,000 followers at the end of the second century, to almost 34 million in AD 350, to 2 billion today.

Not surprisingly, the rapid growth of the Jesus movement was also due in large part to the other steps the disciples of Jesus took after Easter – their willingness to patiently answer the skepticism of their critics, break bread with strangers, search the scriptures and take care of the sick. 

These, more than anything, proclaimed to the world what Jesus and His followers were all about.  It is something worth pondering in our secular world…

***Original post by Robert Hutchinson***