Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Ministering with Heretics

What is a heretic?  I think all too often we define a heretic as "anyone who does not agree with me."  In a way, that's true - I disagree with heretics.  However, every person I disagree with is not a heretic.  That is a lesson I have learned over the last two year.  Let me explain.

For all of my ministry years I have been part of a group of churches that pretty much all crossed out spiritual "t's" and dotted our spiritual "i's" the same way.  In fact, on most theological issues we were pretty aligned.  That is what I have always been use to and it was very safe and very comfortable for me.

Nearly two years ago I started pastoring a church outside of that group.  In fact, this is the very first time I have pastored outside of that original group of churches.  I guess I simply assumed that this new group of churches was the same as the previous group I was part of all of my ministry life.  That ended up being a false assumption.  When it comes to basic doctrine and the major points of theology we are in agreement.  However, there are many parts of theology that this new group of churches does not take a definitive stand on.  As a result there are many differing views on these issues inside the group.

For example, the group I come from, for the most part, held to a "pre-tribulation" view when it comes to eschatology and the timing of the rapture of the church.  I myself am a committed "pre-tribber" but "pre-trib" is not commonly held by the majority in the group I am now part of.  In fact, you will will find just about all facets of the eschatological spectrum. There are guys on my pastoral staff who do not hold the "pre-trib" view.  I just spent the weekend with a group of pastors from other churches within this group and several of them do not hold the same view as I do.  In fact, the pastor who led the retreat (and did an excellent job) is "post-trib."

What am I driving at with all this?  If you would have told me two years ago that I would be pastoring a church where all the pastoral staff is not "pre-trib," I would have said "NO WAY!"  If you would have told me I would be sitting at a pastoral accountability retreat where the pastor leading the discussion was not "pre-trib," I would have said, "NEVER!"

But I've learned something in the last two years.  I've learned that just because someone does not hold the same exact theological views as I do (aside from the essentials, of course) does not make them a heretic.  Though I disagree with them on this point - we disagree agreeably.  I can partner with them in spite of some of our differing stands.,  I can learn from them in spite of some of our differing stands.  I can be refreshed by them, pray with them, and share with them in spite of some of our differing stands.

Don't take me wrong - there are some doctrinal issues where I believe it is "cut and dry" and there is no room for "differing stands."  But in a way, I feel like I have been "set free" in my understanding that just because someone disagrees with me doesn't make them a heretic.  I'm just glad that as I become better friends and closer ministry partners with them, that when the rapture does take place (prior to the tribulation, of course), I'll be able to smile at each of them as we "go up" and say, "told ya so!"

Thursday, January 24, 2013

When You're Forgotten

We did it!  I’m sure most parents who attend church regularly have as well at some point.  We forgot one of our kids at church when they were real little.  Being the pastor, I usually get to church very early on Sunday so my wife and I have always driven two separate vehicles to worship.  One Sunday we both got home without even realizing that one of our kids was missing.  I thought our kid came home with my wife and she thought that same child had come home with me.  Neither of us realized our oversight until we received a phone call from a faithful church member letting us know that they had our forgotten child!

Just a week or two after moving into our home here in Gaylord we were scheduled to have dinner with a delightful widow in our church.  My wife and I were burning the candle at both ends at that time trying to get our house set up and my ministry going at church.  One evening we were sitting out on the back deck, having just finished a quick dinner, when the phone rang.  It was this widow (still delightful, thankfully) wondering where we were.  The amazing dinner she had spent all day preparing for us was sitting on her table getting very cold.  We had totally forgotten her!

Have you ever been forgotten?  Have you ever felt forgotten by God?  As we continue our series this Sunday through the amazing life of the Old Testament character, Joseph, we will see Joseph in prison having been forgotten by the king’s cupbearer, and perhaps, being tempted to feel just as forgotten by God.  How do you respond when you feel forgotten?  Be sure to join us this Sunday (and invite someone to attend with you) as we see three L.A.W.’s for those who feel forgotten.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

I Love M&M Stories

I love to hear, read and share what I call "M&M" stories.  These are stories that show God using the local church to meet people right where they are at and help move them to where he wants them to be!  Below are a few "M&M" stories that God has done here at Gaylord E-Free Church recently:

I received a phone call from a lady who told me that she had been attending E-Free for the last 2 months.  Her husband, who is not a church-goer, came with her to one of our Christmas Eve services and really enjoyed it.  On the way home her husband said, “I think I’d like to hear that Joseph series they showed the video about.”  Sure enough, he came with her on the first Sunday of the series and, according to her, “Now he’s hooked.”  She explained that much of the dysfunction that I talked about that Sunday morning in the message is true of their lives and background and has created great marital strife.  After hearing the message, on the way home from church he looked at her and said, “Maybe there is hope for us!”  She called to simply say, “Thanks!”  

In spite of the Winter Weather Advisory on a recent Sunday, I met many “first-time” guests including several families with small kids.  That was the Sunday I preached on the “Pit of Betrayal.”  My favorite conversation that morning with a first-time guest was with a single man who had recently moved to Gaylord from down state.  He told me that 25 years ago he found himself in the “Pit of Betrayal” which resulted in exactly what I had said.  He called out to God but the pain got worse so he walked away from God and quit church completely.  That Sunday morning was his very first time back inside a church in 25 years and what was the sermon on?  It was on, “The Pit of Betrayal.”  The man was very moved by the service which was obvious as he told me his story.  When you consider that usually our sermon themes for any given Sunday are planned anywhere from 3-6 months in advance, this is quite a “God-thing!”  

I met a dear lady who lost her husband suddenly just a few months ago.  Though catholic all he life, she has come to E-Free with a friend since we started our Joseph series and she shared with me how God has been using the services in her life.

To demonstrate that God is bringing in people with no churched background at all, one adult lady, who started attending E-Free during the “Angels” series, came up to me after the second sermon on our current Joseph (OT character) series and asked me. "When in the story does Joseph become the wife of Mary and father of Jesus?"  She had no concept that there was more than one Joseph in the Bible.  She had never heard of the Old Testament Joseph and simply assumed that the Joseph I spoke about during the “Angels” series was the same one I talked about that morning.  How wonderful it is to see formerly unchurched people attending and learning.

One man in our church met a gentleman he did not know in the foyer after a recent service.  He was looking at the Life Group (our small group ministry) sign-up sheets.  This man from our church helped to explain what they were and helped him sign up for a group that he is part of.  In the course of the conversation this man noticed the big Bible and notebook the man from our church was carrying and commented (my paraphrase), “I need to get me one of those.  Maybe it will help me in learning the difference between the two Josephs in the Bible.”  I continue to be in amazement as to how God is bringing people into our church who have no previous church experience.  BTW – we are going to hook this gentleman up with a Bible.

A mother and daughter were at our church on a Sunday recently for the very first time.  This mother did not go to our worship service but rather sat through the entire Kidz Church program with her daughter.  Afterwards, the mother went up to our Children's Director and explained that she was an atheist but her daughter wanted to go to church so she brought her.  She then asked if we had a Bible that we could give her daughter to help her understand better.  My prayer is that this Bible will also help this mother to understand better as well.  Somewhere I have to believe that a faithful grandmother must be praying for her daughter and grand-daughter.  Will you pray for them too?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Resisting Temptation

Sunday morning at Gaylord E-Free we continued our series on the Old Testament life of Joseph as we saw Joseph, a slave serving in the house of Potiphar in Egypt, dealing with temptation.  In the message we looked at four laws regarding temptation.  In the following posts I will explain each of them, but for now let me simply state them:

LAW #1
Resisting temptation is not founded on the reality of your circumstances but on the resolve of your commitment!

LAW #2
Resisting temptation can become even more difficult with success!

LAW #3
Resisting temptation requires a firm response!

LAW #4
Resisting temptation does not always result in immediate positive results

At the end of the message I intended to give five very practical helps in resisting temptation.  However, because we ran out of time. I was unable to.  So, let me quickly go over them now:

First, be on the alert!  1 Peter 1:8 tells of our need to be "sober" and "vigilant" because our enemy, the Devil, is roaming around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  We can never let our guard down - not even for a moment.  We must always be on the alert realizing that temptation will get us if we quit living with our guard kept high.

Second, pray in advance!  In Matthew 24:16 Jesus tells his disciples of their need to "keep on praying" so that they will not enter temptation because the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.  We need to "keep on" praying.  We can't wait until we are faced with temptation to start praying.  Chances are very good that you already have a pretty good idea how you are going to be tempted this week.  Begin praying about it right now.  Begin asking God now for strength to resist that temptation.

Third, memorize Scripture!  In Psalm 119:11 the psalmist says that he has hidden God's Word in his heart so that he would not sin against God.  Memorizing Scripture is a great way to resist temptation.  Remember the three temptations of Jesus in Matthew 4?  How did He respond each time?  He quoted Scripture.  Memorizing Scripture and quoting it when tempted is a great way to resist temptation.

Fourth, run when you need to!  Paul told young Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:22 to "Flee youthful lusts."  That's what Joseph did in the sermon this morning.  He knew when Potiphar's wife grabbed him and said "Lie with me," that if he stayed he would fall.  So what did he do?  He ran away so fast that he left his outer coat behind in her hands.  Sometimes the only way to "just say no" is to "just run!"

Finally, seek accountability!  James 5:16 tells us to "Confess our sins one to another."  When temptation is getting the best of us, we often need the help of someone else - someone that we can be honest with who will pray for us and with us and hold us accountable as to our thoughts and actions.  When we make ourselves accountable to someone else, it often gives us exactly the extra support we need to resist temptation.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Dealing with Betrayal - the Story of Joseph (part 8); THE PATIENCE IN BETRAYAL

The final truth we learn about the pit of betrayal from the account of Joseph is that the healing of the pain caused by betrayal often takes years to heal completely.  We already saw that often the pain resulting from being betrayed gets worse before it gets better and that pain does not go away overnight.  Neither does it go away in a week, or in a month, or in week, or even in a year.  The truth is that it usually takes many years.  

Look at Joseph.  From his birth to the age of seventeen he was the favored son of his beloved father, Jacob.  At age seventeen he was brutally betrayed by his brothers and forced into the land of Egypt where all the way until the age of thirty he found himself living as a slave and as a prisoner.  Imagine – thirteen long years of daily living the pain of betrayal.  

But at the age of thirty he is finally promoted to the palace in Egypt where he will live out his life as the second most powerful man in Egypt.  He will receive a wife; he will receive sons; and ultimately he will receive the opportunity to forgive his brothers and to be joyously reunited with his father.  It took many years, but the healing did come.  

It may not happen quickly but it does happen.  There does come a point where God removes the sting from the memory.  Be patient!  Healing does come!

Dealing with Betrayal - the Story of Joseph (part 7); THE PRESENCE IN BETRAYAL

God’s presence is with you through every painful moment of betrayal.  I know it may not always seem like this is true – but it is always true.  It can be seen so clearly in the story of Joseph.  After Joseph was thrown into the pit and then sold by his brothers into Egyptian slavery, the Bible says,

“The Lord was with Joseph [in slavery]!” (Genesis 39:2)

 And even when things got worse, the same principle remained true.  After Joseph is falsely accused and thrown into prison, the Bible says,

“But the Lord was with Joseph [in prison]!” (Genesis 39:21)

This principle is also true today for you and me.  During the time in our life when we were in the “pit” and the “prison,” my wife and I certainly found this to be true.  In fact, it was this truth that kept us going during some very difficult days (and nights).

During that time, my wife and I would make some coffee and sit out on the back deck at the end of every day and we would list the different ways we saw the presence of God in our lives and in the pain of our situation on that particular day.  We called the list, “The Fingerprints of God!”  Some items on the list were huge in scope while many of them were very small in comparison.  But each one of them was proof to us that “The Lord was with us” in the pit and in the prison.

We told some very close friends about this practice and they bought us a bag of coffee and gave us two specially made coffee cups to use in our nightly ritual.  The coffee cups had fingerprints all around them and the words, “The Fingerprints of God” printed on them.  To this day, every time I use one of those cups, I smile and thank God for our friends, and more than that, for His fingerprints.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Dealing with Betrayal - the Story of Joseph (part 6); THE PURPOSE IN BETRAYAL

God has a purpose that He is fulfilling even in the midst of betrayal’s pain.  In fact, God never allows us to go through any time pain, trial or adversity for no reason at all.  There is always a purpose.  There was for Joseph.

Ultimately, Joseph would find himself managing the entire country of Egypt where his leadership would save thousands upon thousand of people from starvation due to a horrible famine.  Where do you think Jospeh learned those leadership skills?  He didn’t learn it at home.  Remember, he was the favorite son of his father who never had to lift a finger.  He received everything on a silver platter.

But due to being thrown in the pit of betrayal Joseph would become the slave of a very powerful man in Egypt by the name of Potiphar.  He would be charged with managing Potiphar’s home.  From that experience Joseph began to develop and hone those key skills.  Due to his being falsely accused and thrown in a prison he would find grace in the eyes of the jailer and spend years managing the entire prison.  During this time his leadership skills would grow even stronger.

God used Joseph's time in the pit and his time in the prison to prepare him and to teach him the important skills needed to manage and entire country.  God always has a purpose for our pain.  There are always lessons to be learned during adversity, especially in the pit of betrayal.

I can honestly tell you that I have never felt more pain than when I was in the pit of betrayal.  At the same time, I can also tell you that the greatest lessons I have ever learned in my life I learned while in that very pit.  Being in the pit and being in the prison resulted in my becoming a better person and a better pastor.  God had a plan.  He did for Joseph!  He did for me!  He does for you!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Dealing with Betrayal - the Story of Joseph (part 5); THE PAIN IN BETRAYAL

It is important to realize when you are in the pit of betrayal that the pain that is associated with the act of betrayal often gets worse before it gets better.  That is what happened in the case of Joseph.  Some say that Joseph went from the pit to the palace where he would become the second most powerful man in all of Egypt and save the country and the surrounding regions from starvation due to a severe famine in the land – what a story!  But the truth is that his path from the pit to the palace was not a direct route.  From the pit, Joseph landed in the prison.  Due to being falsely accused, Joseph would spend some ten years in an Egyptian dungeon, never seeing the light of day.  That’s how the pain of betrayal works.  In most cases the pain gets worse before it gets better.

Why is it important for you to realize this?  It is crucial because what usually happens when you find yourself in the pit of betrayal is that you cry out to God for vindication, asking Him to take away the pain but then you discover that the pain gets worse.  It is at this point that many turn their back on God.  After preaching on this topic one Sunday recently, I met a man after the service who was one of the many first time guests we get at our church each week.  He shared with me that 25 years earlier he had been pushed into the pit of betrayal.  He did exactly what I just described.  He called out to God but the pain actually got worse.  As a result, he walked away from God.  That Sunday that he visited our church was the first time he had stepped foot back in any church in 25 years.  And what was I preaching on?  The pit of betrayal!  Now that is a "God-thing!"

When I found myself in the pit of betrayal, and the pain got continually worse, I prayed the same prayer over and over.  Every day I asked God for three things.  My prayer was that when my trial was all over, whenever that was and however it ended, that I would be more in love with Jesus than I was before finding myself in the pit of betrayal; that I would be more in love with wife than I was before finding myself in the pit of betrayal; and that I would be more in love with the local church than I was before finding myself in the pit of betrayal.  Even though the pain of that trial got much worse before it got better, by the grace of God the Lord answered all three of those prayers.  And for that I am most thankful!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Dealing with Betrayal - the Story of Joseph (part 4); THE CONSEQUENCES OF BETRAYAL

“Then some Midianite traders passed by, so they pulled him up and lifted Joseph out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver.  Thus they brought Joseph into Egypt (Genesis 37:28)

After pulling their little brother out of the empty pit, Joseph is sold to traders going to Egypt for 20 pieces of silver.  This was the going price in that day and culture to buy a handicapped slave.  In this transaction we see the little value his brothers saw in Joseph.  20 pieces of silver is hardly a financial windfall.  Divided between 10 brothers, it only would equal out to 2 pieces per person.  Betrayal seeks personal gain, no matter how little the gain is.  For these brothers, the greater prize was that they would never have to see their brother again.  They would never have to see him walking around in that extravagant coat.  They would never have to hear him describe another one of his absurd and demeaning dreams.  But now that their problem was gone, they still had the matter of what they would tell their father about his disappearance.

“So they took Joseph’s tunic, and slaughtered a male goat and dipped the tunic in the blood; and they sent the varicolored tunic and brought it to their father and said, ‘We found this; please examine it to see whether it is your son’s tunic or not.’” (Genesis 27:31-31)

Joseph’s brothers took the special coat that they had stripped off of Joseph before they had thrown him into the pit and soaked it in animal blood.  They then sent the coat the many miles back to their father’s home with a message that they had found the coat and asking if the coat belonged to Joseph.  The result is that Jacob is thoroughly convinced that his beloved son was dead.  It is very difficult for betrayal to take place without the existence of falsehoods.  Betrayal and lies are linked together like Siamese twins.  The more hatred that is behind the act of betrayal, the more lies are necessary to pull off the act and even a greater amount of falsehoods are then needed to cover up the whole thing.

“So Jacob tore his clothes, and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days.” (Genesis 37:34)

And what’s worse is this – betrayal always hurts more than just the intended victim.  Joseph was not the only one hurt that day – so was Jacob.  This elderly man would now suffer the agonizing pain of believing and grieving the loss of his son whom he thought had died in a horrible accident.  Just like in war, with betrayal there is always collateral damage.  Unfortunately, the betrayer does not consider that fact.  Their focus is single-minded.  All they desire is to get rid of the person for whom they had developed such an intense hatred.

The topic of betrayal hits close to home for most people.  It is almost impossible to make it through life without finding ourselves thrown into the pit of betrayal by someone who we thought loved us or was on our side.  Maybe your betrayal came from a mate.  Maybe it was a parent or a child, perhaps even a sibling who pushed you into the pit of betrayal, as in the case of Joseph.  Maybe you found yourself in the pit of betrayal due to a friend, a co-worker, someone in your church, or even a ministry partner.  Most of us can relate to Joseph.  If you have ever found yourself in the pit of betrayal, or if you are living the pain of betrayal currently in your life, then there are some very important lessons you need to learn about the pit of betrayal from the story of Joseph.  Over the next several postings I will share with you four such lessons.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dealing with Betrayal - the Story of Joseph (part 3); THE CRIME OF BETRAYAL

The first item to notice as we examine the act of betrayal on Joseph by his older brothers is the PLACE involved.

“Then his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock in Shechem.” (Genesis 37:12)

It was common to have to constantly move one’s sheep from area to area in order to seek out pasture where the animals could graze.  As a result, Joseph’s brothers take their father’s flock to Shechem.  This wasn’t these brothers first time in Shechem.  In Genesis 34 we see the account of their sister, Dinah, who is assaulted and raped by the son of the prince of the city.  As a result, in an act of revenge, these brothers killed all of them men of this city and took the women, children and all of the possessions as their own.  Now they were back in this same area.  To those who lived in the region around Shechem, I doubt very seriously that they saw Jacob’s sons in a favorable light.  As a result, when hearing where his sons were, Jacob becomes concerned and sends Joseph to go check on them.

“Then he (Jacob) said to him (Joseph), ‘Go now and see about the welfare of your brothers and the welfare of the flock and bring word back to me.’  So he sent him from the valley of Hebron, and came to Shechem.” (Genesis 37:14)

Joseph obeys his father and goes to the area of Shechem which was no short journey.  It would have been over 60 miles from Jacob’s homestead in Hebron.  When he arrives he discovers that his brothers have already moved another 15 or so miles away to Dothan so Joseph continues on his journey until he finds them.

The second item to notice as we examine the act of betrayal on Joseph by his older brothers is the PLOT involved.

“When they saw him from a distance and before he came close to them, they plotted against him to put him to death” (Genesis 37:18)

As his brothers see Joseph approaching, wearing the extravagant tunic given to him by their father, their malice pours out and they conspire together to kill him.  That is how betrayal works.  Betrayal is not manufactured out in the open.  It is planned in secret meetings and hidden conversations and it almost always includes some sort of recruitment to a conspiracy.  Judas conspired in secret with the religious leaders in betraying Jesus and Joseph’s brothers conspire together to betray Joseph.

With that in mind, beware anytime someone wants to talk to you in secret to communicate to you negatively about someone else behind their back.  Whenever this takes place all kinds of red flags and warning alarms ought to go off in your mind, your heart and your spirit.  It is these types of secret meetings and hidden conversations that usually lead to betrayal.  No place in Scripture are we ever encouraged to participate in such secret conversations.  In the New Testament these conversations are always to be done with the person being spoken about present.

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.” (Matthew 18:15-16)

“Therefore, if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your offering.” (Matthew 5:23-24)

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1)

The third item to notice as we examine the act of betrayal on Joseph by his older brothers is the PIT involved.  As you read on in Genesis 37 you see that Reuben, the oldest brother, convinces his brothers not to kill Joseph, so instead they attack him, strip him of his coat, and throw him into an empty pit.

“So it came about when Joseph reached his brothers that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the varicolored tunic that was on him; and they took him and threw him into the pit.  Now the put was empty, without any water in it.” (Genesis 37:23-24)

Of the ten older brothers, Reuben appears to be the only one to still have at least some part of his conscience still intact and working.  His intent in convincing the others not to kill Joseph but instead to throw him in an empty pit was to return later and rescue his younger brother.  In reality, Reuben saved Joseph’s life.  But while he is gone, the other brothers come up with a plan to dispose of Joseph without taking his life which includes selling him as a slave to some traders who were passing through to Egypt.

When Reuben returns he discovers what they have done but instead of confessing to their father what had happened and sending a rescue party in search of Joseph, Reuben will ultimately go along with the lie the brothers will tell their father, Jacob, in order to cover-up their evil actions.  This is another principle regarding betrayal.  Even though there may be some involved who see that the actions being taken are far from innocent, they still often succumb to the pressure of the more influential participants and go along with the deed and then with the cover-up.

The fourth item to notice as we examine the act of betrayal on Joseph by his older brothers is the PEACE involved.  The beginning words of the next verse are very striking.

“Then they (his brothers) sat down to eat a meal.” (Genesis 37:25)

After attacking Joseph (which I assume was quite violent seeing that their original intent was to kill him) and then throwing him into a pit, what do these brothers do?  They have lunch!  As they listen to Joseph’s screams coming from deep within the pit where he is trapped, alone and fearful, they sit down to a feast.  It is a picture of total contentment.  It almost seems out of place.  You would expect them to show an attitude of soberness, maybe even guilt.  Instead, they sit down to a feast.  How can this be?  It happens because betrayal, with all of its deceptions, also involves a form of self-deception.  In many cases those who are involved in the act of betrayal will at first experience a peace and a satisfaction at their actions as they deceive themselves by rationalizing in their minds a justification for their evil actions.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Dealing with Betrayal - the Story of Joseph (part 2); THE CAUSE OF BETRAYAL

In the story of Joseph in Genesis 37, we see three causes as to what led to the betrayal of this teenager at the hands of his brothers.  In these reasons we see the path from jealousy to envy to hatred to malice to betrayal.

The first cause for their betrayal was Joseph’s FAITH.  In Genesis 37:2, we read:

“Joseph, when seventeen years of age, was pasturing the flock with his brothers while he was still a youth, along with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives.  And Joseph brought back a bad report about them to their father.”

Joseph was out in the field with his brothers and their father’s sheep.  We do not know the exact circumstances, but his brothers were involved in some activity that resulted in Joseph telling his father which, no doubt, ended in some type of negative repercussions on his older siblings.

At this point it is easy to conclude that Joseph brought some of the fury of his brothers on himself by being a tattle-tale.  After all, no one likes a tattle-tale.  But was this the case?  I tend to see it differently.  Remember the character of his older brothers.  They were extremely evil.  Back in Genesis 34, after their sister, Dinah, was raped by a man in the city of Shechem, these brothers conspired together to take revenge.  They tricked the men of the city into a treaty which required all of them to be circumcised.  While they were sick, feverish, and weak from the circumcision, Joseph’s brothers went into the city, slaughtered all of the men, and then took the women, children and all the possessions as their own.  Simply put, these guys were evil.  It was Reuben, Jacob’s first-born, that in Genesis 35:22 had an affair with one of his father’s concubines that was also the mother of two of his half-brothers (see Genesis 30:1-8).

When you look at the track record of these older brothers, I doubt very seriously that the offense of these brothers that resulted in Joseph bringing this bad report to his father was something minor.  It is more likely that it was a very wicked activity that not only could bring a bad name on Jacob and his family but also could have put these very brothers in danger.  If this were the case, would you see Joseph’s actions as mere tattling?  Of course you wouldn’t.  What I believe was driving Joseph’s actions was his sincere commitment to righteousness.  That appears to be Joseph’s commitment throughout his life.  Later on when he is alone in Egypt after being betrayed and sold as a slave, he is propositioned to a night of sexual passion with his master’s wife.  Being that his master was a very powerful and influential man in Egypt, it is quite likely that this wife was very beautiful.  After all that had happened to Joseph, it would have been easy to rationalize this pleasure in his mind.  But instead Joseph responds by saying,

“How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9)

Even in the worst of circumstances, Joseph’s life was driven by a desire for righteousness.  It is very believable to think that this is what motivated him to bring this bad report about his brothers back to his father.  And I believe that it was Joseph’s faith and his commitment to obedience that became one of the causes for jealousy in the hearts of his brothers which would ultimately grow to a horrific act of betrayal.

The second cause for their betrayal was Joseph’s FAVORITISM.  In Genesis 37:3-4, we read:

“Now Israel (Jacob) loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic.  His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms.”

Jacob made a grave mistake when it came to parenting.  He not only loved one of his sons more than the others, he showed it.  He put his favoritism on display which was like pouring gasoline on the fire of jealousy that was already burning among his sons toward Joseph.  We shouldn’t be surprised at Jacob’s actions as his father did the very same thing.  Jacob had a twin brother named Esau and in Genesis 25:28 we read,

“Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.”

Jacob’s father loved Esau more than he loved Jacob and I am sure that Jacob hated that fact.  But as is often the case, even though children have a huge dislike for the sins and weaknesses they see in their parents, they are very often prone to repeat them.  And that is what Jacob does in loving Joseph more than his other sons.  The reason for this favoritism is due to the fact that Joseph was the son of his old age.  He was also the son of his most beloved Rachel who died giving birth to Joseph’s younger brother, Benjamin.  As a result, Jacob favored Joseph and showed it visibly by giving to him a very extravagant gift – a varicolored tunic.

The key to this robe was not necessarily the many bright colors within it but rather in the extravagance of the garment itself.  It was what we would call “over the top” and it would have been extremely expensive.  The word used to describe this robe would also suggest that it was a cloak whose sleeves went down to the wrists and had a length that went down to the ankles.  In other words, it was not in any way a work coat.  Tunics that were designed to work in were short in length and usually were sleeveless.  This coat might also have indicated that Joseph did not have to carry his weight when it came to the chores and workload that his ten older brothers had to complete.

As you can imagine, this coat became a lit fuse every time his brothers would see Joseph wearing it.  It was a visual reminder of their father’s favoritism.  Though we can’t necessarily fault Joseph for his being the recipient of his father’s special treatment, we do see something that offers us a great lesson to be learned when we find ourselves on the receiving end of someone who has a jealous attitude toward us.  Later in the story we will see that Jacob will send Joseph to go check on his brothers who were tending their sheep.  Guess what Joseph wore to do this?  He wore his special coat.  I’m not sure that Joseph did this to rub his favoritism in his brother’s face, but there is no doubt that seeing him coming toward them with this colorful robe glimmering in the sun would have only incensed them further.  My guess is that Joseph simply didn’t think through how his wearing that coat would set with his older siblings.  The better part of wisdom would have certainly been to leave the robe at home while on this errand.

From this we can learn an important principle about betrayal.  In most cases, when we are the victim of betrayal, we ourselves may have done things that made the situation worse, not better.  That doesn’t in any way justify the vicious actions that might have come our way, but when we take time to look back at our scenario we can usually identify things we could have done differently that may have helped to at least some degree.

When I went through a very difficult time of being betrayed I fell into this very trap.  I didn’t necessarily see it then but in the years that have followed as I have taken the time to process the details of what happened I can identify key actions and conversations of mine that, though they were not intended to, made the situation even more difficult and volatile.  If you are currently in a situation where jealousy is growing toward an act of betrayal, be sure to walk circumspectly yourself.  Prayerfully consider every action before you take it and every word before you speak it so that you, even without realizing it, don’t actually make the situation that much worse for you and for others.

The third cause for their betrayal was Joseph’s FUTURE.  As we continue reading in Genesis 37 we see that Joseph had a dream, actually he had two of them.  In the first dream he and his brothers were out in the field binding sheaves when his sheave stood up erect and his brothers’ sheaves all bowed down before his sheave.  When Joseph told his brothers about his dream they were infuriated as seen in Genesis 37:5.

“Then Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more.”

Joseph also had a second dream.  In this dream the sun, moon and 11 stars all bowed down before him seeming to indicate that one day his entire family would bow before him.  Again he told his brothers and again their jealousy toward Joseph escalated as seen in Genesis 37:11.

“His brothers were jealous of him…”

Now we know the end of the story.  We know that this is exactly what would happen.  Ultimately Joseph would become the Prince of Egypt and ultimately his entire family would bow down before him just as Joseph had dreamed.  But at the time Joseph had these dreams it seemed like only that – a dream.  To his brothers it was brazen narcissism from a hot-shot younger brother.  Some might even argue that Joseph was wrong to tell his brothers about the dreams.  Some might see this as bragging and that might be the case but it doesn’t seem to be consistent with the character of Joseph.  Think of it another way.  Who gave Joseph the dreams?  It seems very evident that these dreams came from God Himself.  Through these dreams God was putting a passion in Joseph’s heart for the way He was going to use him in the future.

One thing I have learned is that when God puts a passion in your heart and gives you a vision for how He wants to use you it is next to impossible to keep it to yourself.  You want to share it.  You need to share it.  You have to share it.  As Joseph shares what God had put in his heart about how he was going to use him, his brothers, whose jealousy was already on a course headed toward an explosion, continued to multiply.  That shouldn’t really surprise us as it seems to be the norm today.  As I look at the state of Christianity today and the way we talk and treat those who are attempting big things for God, it seems to me that those who dream big spiritual dreams often carry a bulls-eye for criticism, jealousy and ultimately, betrayal.

The betrayal of Joseph was at its very root founded in jealousy.  Joseph’s faith; his favoritism; and his future all fueled this jealousy which grew to envy, and then hatred, and then to malice which resulted in the crime of betrayal.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Dealing with Betrayal - The Story of Joseph (part 1); JEALOUSY AND BETRAYAL

We are all familiar with the story of Joseph.  Next to the story of Jesus’ betrayal at the hands of Judas, this is perhaps the most notorious example of betrayal seen in Scripture.  At the age of 17, Joseph is assaulted by his brothers, stripped of his coat of many colors which was given to him by his father, thrown into an empty pit, and then sold as a slave into the land of Egypt where he would live alone while his aged father would be convinced that his precious son was dead.  From this account we can learn many principles about dealing with betrayal that can help us to successfully recover from the pain of betrayal that often occurs in life.

Before we look at the actual event of Joseph’s betrayal, let’s first answer the question, “Why?”  Why would his brothers do such a cruel and vicious thong to their younger sibling?  It seems so extreme – but often, betrayal is fleshed out in very extreme ways.

If you look at all the reasons behind this assault, you will find at its very foundation the root cause of jealousy.  Most often, the act of betrayal stems from an inner attitude of jealousy.  Unfortunately, today jealousy has become one of the more respectable sins resulting in our failing to really understand how dangerous and how devastating it can be.  You see, jealousy never stays at just jealousy.  If left unchecked, jealousy always grows into something worse.  Jealousy is internal but what it leads to is external.

Jealousy almost always leads to envy.  What’s the difference?  When you have something I wish were mine - that is jealousy.  When I don’t want you to have it either and I try to deprive you of it - that is envy.  For example, if you drove into the church parking lot with a brand new SUV, full loaded, right off the lot, an $80,000 vehicle, and I wished that vehicle were mine – that would be jealousy.  But if after watching you drive to church in that vehicle for several weeks, I snuck outside during one of the worship services and slashed the tires of that SUV and poured sugar into the gas tank so that you could not drive it either – that would be envy.  And it doesn’t stop there.

If continued to go on unchecked, envy will then grow into hatred.  At this stage, I don’t just wish your vehicle were mine.  At this point, I no longer simply try to deprive you of having the vehicle.  Now I develop an inner anger toward you as a person because you have the vehicle and I don’t.  And this hatred ultimately leads to malice.  At this point I am prone to take actions against you that I never dreamed I would ever be able to do.  That’s what happened with Joseph’s brothers.  It followed this very cycle.

We see a jealousy toward Joseph because he was their father’s favorite son and because of his dreams that showed them bowing down to him.  Genesis 5:11 says,

“His brothers were jealous of him.”

We see envy as they strip the very tunic off of Joseph that had become a symbol of his father’s love for him.  Genesis 37:23 says,

“So it came about, when Joseph reached his brothers, they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the varicolored tunic that was on him.”

We see hatred in their heart and in their actions toward Joseph.  Genesis 37:4 tells us,

“His brothers saw that their father loved Joseph more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms."

We then see malice as they resort to the unthinkable.  They throw him in an empty pit and ultimately sell him into slavery in Egypt while at the same time leading their father to believe that he had been killed by a wild animal (Genesis 37:24, 28, 31-33).

Their jealousy changed to envy which grew to hatred which resulted in malice.  This is the path of betrayal.  It should be a huge warning to each of us of our need to protect and guard our own heart from any hint of jealousy toward another.  First Corinthians 13:4 teaches us that true Biblical love is not jealous.  Whenever we allow a seed of jealousy to exist in our life toward another individual we are starting down a path that, if left unchecked, will lead to envy, hatred, malice and finally, betrayal.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Current Studies and Series

For me, one of the best parts of being a pastor is the many teaching/preaching opportunities I get to have.  I love studying and sharing God's Word.  Currently, here are the different studies that I am part of in my ministry here at the Gaylord E-Free Church:

JOSEPH:  On Sunday mornings I am preaching through the life of the Old Testament character, Joseph.  This Sunday will be message #2 in an 11-part series.

PSALM 139:  Beginning Monday I am going to take the next 4 weeks in our Staff Prayer Time to take our total staff (pastors, ministry staff, office staff and custodial staff) through the amazing chapter of Psalm 139 as we see how great our God is through His omniscience, His omnipresence, His omnipotence and His holiness.

INFLUENCE:  Beginning this Monday night I will lead our Leadership Team through John Maxwell's book, "Developing the Leader Within You."  The first chapter of this book is on the topic of "influence."

PRIORITIES:  I already took our Ministry Staff through the first chapter of the same book by Maxwell,  I will now be continuing this study with them as we go through chapter two on the topic of "priorities."

SEVEN CHURCHES:  I am not leading this one, but our Elder Chairman is currently taking our Elder Board through a study on the "Seven Churches of Revelation 2-3."  As we look at each church we are discussing how our church compares and what we can learn from each about the type of church God wants our church to be.

STUDYING AHEAD:  I also am actively studying for the series that will follow our current series on Joseph including a special 2-week series on Palm Sunday and Easter that we are calling, "Good News!" and a five week series that will follow Easter on the topic of "You and Your Money" as we see from Scripture what our attitude should be in regard to our money and Greed; our money and Government; our money and Generosity; our money and Giving; and our money and God.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Truths About Betrayal

Last Sunday here at the Gaylord E-Free Church we started a new series on the life of the Old Testament hero, Joseph, by examining the many lowlights of the dysfunctional family from which he came.  This Sunday we will continue this series by seeing Joseph thrown into the "Pit of Betrayal" by his very own brothers.

Have you ever found yourself in the "Pit of Betrayal?"  I honestly believe that few wounds pierce deeper or hurt longer than those wounds that are inflicted at the hands of betrayal.  There are many truths about betrayal that we can learn from this account of Joseph in Genesis 37.  In the days ahead I may add some postings in which I elaborate more on each of them, but for now, let me just list the truths about betrayal that we will see from the life of Joseph this Sunday as our series continues here at Gaylord E-Free Church.

Jealousy is often the root cause for betrayal!

Those who dream big dreams for God often carry a bulls-eye for betrayal!

Betrayal almost always includes a recruitment to a conspiracy!

Those who betray others often feel a satisfaction having rationalized and justified their actions! 

Betrayal seeks personal gain, no matter how little that gain might be!

Betrayal cannot take place without including falsehoods that hurt others!

The pain the comes from betrayal often gets worse before it gets better!

God has a purpose that He is fulfilling even in the midst of betrayal's pain!

God's presence is with you through every moment of betrayal!

The healing of the pain caused by betrayal often takes years to heal!

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Lessons from the Pit

Last Sunday here at Gaylord E-Free we began our new message series on the life of the Old Testament character, Joseph, by looking at his severely dysfunctional family background.  What a hoot it was to hear the whole congregation singing the theme song to "The Brady Bunch" (but that's a whole other story).

This Sunday we will see how the fuse that had been burning from all of those years of a dysfunctional family reached a point of explosion as Joseph’s very own brothers attacked him, threw him in a pit, sold him into slavery, and then convinced their father that his favored son, the one they were so jealous of, had been killed by a wild animal.

My guess is that the smell from that pit his brothers angrily threw him into before selling him into slavery never really left Joseph’s nostrils.  If you have every found yourself in, “The Pit of Betrayal,” you know exactly what I am talking about.  Few wounds go deeper and few hurts last longer than those which are caused by betrayal.

Joseph is an example of this.  So, in fact, is Jesus, who also was a victim of what we might call, “The Kiss of Betrayal.”  If you have been so fortunate thus far in your life to have never experienced betrayal’s sting, you are very blessed.  However, be careful.  Chances are still good that this pit is just ahead of you as you journey on in your life.

There are many lessons that we can learn from deep within this horrible pit caused by betrayal.  And if we learn them well we can actually become a better person for being in it.  The smell of this pit may never really leaver our nostrils, but the lessons we learn from it are life-changers.  Be sure to join us this Sunday and invite someone to come with you.  

Saturday, January 05, 2013

The Norm of Dysfunction

In the day and age in which we live, dysfunctional families are more the norm that they are the exception.  In fact, most all of us don't have to go back far in our family history to identify some type of dysfunction that often leaves behind scars on the generations to follow.  But dysfunctional families are really nothing new and they can be found all throughout the Bible as well.

This Sunday at Gaylord E-Free Church we will begin our new series on the life of the Old Testament character, Joseph.  We will begin by seeing the dysfunctional family this Biblical hero comes from.  In fact, this just might be the most dysfunctional family you will find in all of Scripture.  If you doubt that, quit reading this blog posting right now and instead go read Genesis 25-35.  These 11 chapters will reveal to you a dysfunctional family that will leave your head spinning as you wonder how God could ever use such a messed up group of people.

The problem with dysfunction is that in most cases it gets repeated throughout the generations.  Let's take Joseph's father, Jacob, as an example.  Part of the dysfunction in Jacob's family was that of sibling rivalry.  This rivalry did not begin as teenagers or ever as small children.  This rivalry actually started in the womb.  Jacob was a fraternal twin of Esau.  Their struggle actually began while they were in their mother's womb and was evidenced clearly at the very time of their delivery.  Again, if you doubt that fact, read Genesis 25-35.

To make matters worse, Jacob's parents made the horrific mistake of throwing gasoline on the hot and glowing embers of Jacob's rivalry with Esau.  The Bible tells us that their father loved Esau more than he loved Jacob while their mother loved Jacob more than she loved Esau.  And what's worse is that these parents demonstrated this partiality in very visible ways.

Unfortunately, though we hate the mistakes and weaknesses of our parents that bring about such dysfunction, we tend to repeat those same mistakes.  Children of alcoholics hate the fact that their parents are alcoholics.  Yet, statistics tell us that children of alcoholics are much more likely to become alcoholics then are children of parents who do not drink.  In most cases, children of divorced parents hate the fact that their parents have split up causing them to be shipped back and forth between two homes and two families.  Yet, statistics tell us that children of divorced parents score much lower on marital adjustment tests than children of parents who did not divorce.

The same thing happened to Jacob.  I'm sure he hated the fact that his parents' favoritism poured gasoline on he and Esau's rivalry, but Jacob ended up pouring gasoline on his family in the same way.  First, he did so with his own wives.  That's right - Jacob had two wives - Rachel and Leah.  To complicate things even more, these two wives were also sisters.  I guess the only silver lining for Jacob was that he still only had one mother-in-law.

It's a wild story how he ended up with these two sisters as his brides and, again, it's worth reading Genesis 25-35 to see the whole story.  This produced quite the rivalry between these two brides.  And what did Jacob do?  He poured gasoline on the fire.  The Bible is very clear in telling us that Jacob loved Rachel more than he loved Leah - and he showed it.  The same dysfunction that Jacob's dad wounded him with now becomes the same dysfunction through which Jacob hurts his family.

And what parents do in moderation, children often do in excess.  Such was the case with Jacob.  Not only did he pour the gasoline of partiality on the sibling rivalry that was already burning between his wives, he did the same thing to his own sons.  Jacob ends up with 12 sons (by 4 different mothers - you just have to read Genesis 25-35 to see this multiplication of dysfunction).  But as the opening chapter of the life of Joseph unfolds we find that Jacob loved Joseph more than his others sons and he showed it.  Unfortunately, the gasoline he poured on this fire caused on explosion that would result in Joseph spending the next 13 years of his live as a Egyptian slave and an Egyptian prisoner while Jacob is told that his beloved son was dead.

But somehow from this mess, God uses Joseph in an amazing way.  Joseph ultimately becomes the Prince of Egypt who saves all of the land from a deadly extended famine while, next to Jesus, becoming the greatest example of the power of forgiveness you will find in all of Scripture.  Joseph's family was filled with extreme dysfunction, but Joseph still emerges as a true spiritual hero.

Perhaps you are carrying the scars of decades of family dysfunction.  Let Joseph be an example to provide you with hope.  Your past history of family dysfunction does not have to destine you to a future of family failure.  The truth is that while you can do very little about your ancestors, you can influence your descendants greatly!

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Egypt Under Construction

Construction began this week on the stage for our new message series on the life of the Old Testament character, Joseph, that begins this Sunday at Gaylord E-Free Church. 

When it is done it will include a PIT on one side of the stage; a PRISON on the other side of the stage; and a PALACE in the middle of the stage. All of this will have as a backdrop seven brightly colored panels which will represent Joseph's coat of many colors. There is still much to do to complete the set by Sunday. 

What a great team of volunteers we have working under Joshua Rupp, our Director of Worship. I sure do appreciate all of the time, effort and creativity they put into each of our stage sets. I can't wait until Sunday! Why don't you join us (9:00am or 10:30am)?