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.

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

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Excerpted with permission from Zip It: The Keep It Shut 40-Day Challenge by Karen Ehman, copyright Karen Ehman. Published by Zondervan‎

 
Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. —Romans 12:10

Respect everyone, and love the family of believers. Fear God, and respect the king. — 1 Peter 2:17 NLT‎


Respect is frequently absent in our society. In person — and especially online — snark and sarcasm often rule. Talking down to someone or insulting one another is the new norm. For adults and for kids, respect is often nowhere to be found.

No longer do we use terms like “sir” and “ma’am” when speaking to a stranger. Addressing elders with terms of esteem is rare as well. And having respect for authority seems to have gone out of style long ago.

Today’s digital world has taken this to a new level. It has become commonplace to sling opinions on a screen, whether on social media or while leaving a comment on a blog post. And unfortunately, sometimes these comments and thoughts aren’t tucked in an envelope of respect. Instead they are laced with cynicism, mockery, or disdain.

However, today’s challenge verse talks about respect. And not just respecting those in authority, like a teacher, a police officer, or a judge. It goes so far as to say that we are to respect everyone.

Everyone.

Does this mean the grumpy neighbour whose dog uses your yard as an outhouse? Yes.

Does it include your combative relative who never speaks respectfully to you? Yes.

What about the difficult person on that committee with you, whose personality and behaviour get on your very last nerve? Yep. That one too.

We can learn to speak respectfully no matter the situation. By drawing on the power of the Holy Spirit to temper our tongues and help us weigh our words, we can speak in a polite tone. This doesn’t mean we don’t speak the truth. It just means we verbalize it in an honourable and honouring way.

We can reflect the love of Jesus when we engage in conversations with a calm, collected, and civil tone.

Then others might notice that our speech isn’t snappy, impolite, or rude. Our language is respectful. Our words are honouring — to those we are talking to and, more importantly, to God.

Today’s Takeaways

Respecting others shows our fear of God. I used to read the phrase “fear God” and get confused. What does it mean to fear God? Isn’t God love? If so, why should we be scared of him? But in Scripture, fearing God has more to do with being in awe of Him, reverencing Him, and respecting Him. And since humans have been made in God’s likeness and bear His image, when we respect others with our words and actions, we are also reverencing God.
Everyone means everyone. We can’t miss the point in this Scripture. We are to respect everyone, not just those we like. Not just those who are easy to get along with.

A mark of true Christians is that they do not play favourites. Luke 6:32 states,
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.

Our behaviour should stand out. It stands out when we choose to show honour and respect to everyone, regardless of who they are or what we think of them.

•Lesson for the Lips‎

Can you name someone in your life who speaks respectfully a majority of the time? What stands out the most to you about how that person uses his or her words?

Do you know someone you have a hard time speaking to respectfully? Why do you think you have trouble showing that person respect with your speech?

Challenge

Think about the person you just named. It’s been said if we look hard enough, we can find a good quality in anyone. So name one good quality about this person. Take your time… you’ll eventually find something.

Okay… deep breath… reach out to that person with your words this week — either spoken, written, texted, or typed — and say you admire that quality in them. Do not expect a response. Do it only to show love and display respect. As you do, think about this verse:

Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honouring each other. — Romans 12:10 NLT

Prayer

Father, help me think before I speak, making sure my words are respectful. Let my tone be tempered and my manner kind. I want to please You and honour others with my speech. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Faaaaassssssttttiiiiinnnnnggggg!!!✨👑

Excerpted with permission from theSpiritually Strong: The Ultimate 6-Week Guide to Building Your Body and Soul, by Kristen Feola, copyright Zondervan.

 
Fasting prepares you for the works God has ordained for you to do. — Kristen Feola in Spiritually Strong

Why Should I Fast? 7 Examples of Fasting in the Bible
by Kristen Feola, from Spiritually Strong

 

Although the Bible doesn’t give a direct command on this issue, examples of fasting appear in both the Old and the New Testaments. One of the most telling passages in which fasting is mentioned is Matthew 6:16, where Jesus is teaching His disciples basic principles of godly living. When speaking on fasting, He begins with, “When you fast,” not “If you fast.”

Jesus’ words imply that fasting will be a regular practice in His followers’ lives.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book The Cost of Discipleship, said, “Jesus takes it for granted that His disciples will observe the pious custom of fasting. Strict exercise of self-control is an essential feature of the Christian life. Such customs have only one purpose — to make the disciples more ready and cheerful to accomplish those things which God would have done.”

Fasting prepares you for the works God has ordained for you to do.

Wesley Duewel, a twentieth-century writer, said, “You and I have no more right to omit fasting because we feel no special emotional prompting than we have a right to omit prayer, Bible reading, or assembling with God’s children for lack of some special emotional prompting. Fasting is just as biblical and normal a part of a spiritual walk of obedience with God as are these others.”

People fast for a number of reasons. Following are seven circumstances in the Bible in which believers sought God through this discipline.

1. To prepare for ministry. Jesus spent forty days and nights in the wilderness fasting and praying before He began God’s work on this earth. He needed time alone to prepare for what His Father had called Him to do (Matthew 4:1-17; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-14).

2. To seek God’s wisdom. Paul and Barnabas prayed and fasted for the elders of the churches before committing them to the Lord for His service (Acts 14:23).

3. To show grief. Nehemiah mourned, fasted, and prayed when he learned Jerusalem’s walls had been broken down, leaving the Israelites vulnerable and disgraced (Nehemiah 1:1-4).

4. To seek deliverance or protection.Ezra declared a corporate fast and prayed for a safe journey for the Israelites as they made the nine-hundred- mile trek to Jerusalem from Babylon (Ezra 8:21-23).

5. To repent. After Jonah pronounced judgment against the city of Nineveh, the king covered himself with sackcloth and sat in the dust. He then ordered the people to fast and pray. Jonah 3:10 says, “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He relented and did not bring on them the destruction He had threatened.”

6. To gain victory. After losing forty thousand men in battle in two days, the Israelites cried out to God for help. Judges 20:26 says all the people went up to Bethel and “sat weeping before the Lord.” They also “fasted that day until evening.” The next day the Lord gave them victory over the Benjamites.

7. To worship God. Luke 2 tells the story of an eighty-four-year-old prophetess named Anna. Verse 37 says, “She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.” Anna was devoted to God, and fasting was one expression of her love for Him.

Despite biblical examples throughout Scripture, many Christians are slow to fast. I believe there are three main factors that cause believers to be hesitant — fear, ignorance, or rebellion.

Fear. They’re afraid. Afraid of the unknown. Afraid of feeling hunger pangs. Afraid of starting and not finishing. Afraid of fasting alone. The Enemy has them convinced they could never do it. Instead of looking to the Lord’s strength for help, they become consumed with their own weaknesses and paralyzed by fear.

Ignorance. Many Christians simply have not been taught about the importance of seeking God in this way. Churches often do not encourage fasting, and in many cases never even mention it from the pulpit. For example, I grew up in a Bible-believing church, but I don’t recall hearing a message on fasting until I was an adult.

Rebellion. A large segment of the Christian population is aware of the benefits of fasting, yet they’re unwilling to do it. Their hearts are hardened when it comes to the idea of fasting. When God invites them to draw near, they dig their heels into the ground and refuse to obey.

Dr. Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, was a firm believer in the power of prayer and fasting. In his guide Why You Shoul

d Fast, he listed the following reasons for seeking God through self-denial.

Fasting was an expected discipline in both the Old and New Testament eras.
Fasting and prayer can restore the loss of the “first love” for your Lord and result in a more intimate relationship with Christ.
Fasting is a biblical way to truly humble yourself in the sight of God.
Fasting enables the Holy Spirit to reveal your true spiritual condition, resulting in brokenness, repentance, and a transformed life.
Fasting will encourage the Holy Spirit to quicken the Word of God in your heart and His truth will become more meaningful to you.
Fasting can transform your prayer life into a richer and more personal experience.
Fasting can result in a dynamic personal revival in your own life and make you a channel of revival to others.

Many times we don’t fast because we’ve lost our spiritual appetite. John Piper says, “The absence of fasting is the measure of our contentment with the absence of Christ.” Piper adds, “If we don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because we have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because we have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Our soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.”

Fasting is a much-needed discipline in the life of a believer.

It truly is the “path of pleasant pain,” as John Piper calls it. As you empty yourself physically and spiritually, you open the door for God to step in and do the miraculous. Your relationship with the Lord is taken to a whole new level. You also become more sensitive to the work of the Holy Spirit, which enables you to hear God’s voice more clearly.

Anyone who has done a fast — whether absolute, liquid, or partial — would agree fasting is difficult. Physically, you may suffer from unpleasant side effects, such as headaches, fatigue, and intestinal discomfort, as your body attempts to adjust to the reduced caloric intake. Spiritually, attacks from the Enemy increase in frequency and intensity, resulting in a barrage of frustrations that can seem overwhelming. However, the same people who would be honest about the challenges of fasting would also concur that the sacrifices are well worth the rewards. So don’t resist the suffering that accompanies fasting. Rejoice in it! Fasting is a spiritual exercise which God honors. He promises to heap blessings on people who are hungry for Him (Matthew 5:6)‎

LOVE: A Sacrifice 👑❤❤

Excerpted with permission from The Broken Way: A Daring Path into the Abundant Life  by Ann Voskamp, copyright Ann Morton Voskamp. Published by Zondervan.

 

Jesus said, ‘Whoever loses their life for Me will find it.’ — Matthew 16:25

Jesus risked Himself on me. How can I not risk my life on you? You may not love me back. You may humble me, humiliate me, reject me, shatter my heart, and drive the shards into my soul—but this is not the part that matters. What matters is that in the act of loving we become more like the author of Love HIMSELF. What matters most is not if our love makes other people change, but that in loving, we change. What matters is that in the sacrificing to love someone, we become more like Someone. Regardless of anything or anyone else changing, the success of loving is in how we change because we kept on loving.

Who knew that sometimes if you don’t risk anything — you’re actually risking everything?

How to reach out and touch my father’s broken places: love is always worth the risk because the reward of loving is in the joy of loving itself. Love is a risk that’s never a risk. Loving is itself the greatest outcome because loving makes one more beautiful, more like broken-hearted Beauty Himself.
No matter what the outcome looks like, if your love has poured out, your life will be successful.

I am what I love and I will love you like Jesus, because of Jesus, through the strength of Jesus. I will love when I’m not loved back. I will love when I’m hurt and disappointed and betrayed and inconvenienced and rejected. I simply will love, no expectations, no conditions, no demands. Love is not always agreement with someone, but it is always sacrifice for someone.