What Deters Us from Sin? March 20, 2014

In Genesis 38 we read about how Judah had sexual relations with Tamar. Basically, what he perceived to be an “opportunity,” presented itself and he took advantage of it – later to discover his own hypocrisy and sin.

 

In Genesis 39, we read the story of Joseph in which another “opportunity” presented itself for him to engage in sexual sin and yet he refused to do it. In fact, Joseph probably had several built in excuses to engage in the sin, if he wanted. After all, he would simply have been doing what his master’s wife wanted. It was her house, he was a slave in her house, he was just doing what he was being commanded to do. Also, it wasn’t a one-time request and it happened day after day.

 

Yet Joseph is resolute in refusing to engage in sexual activity with Potiphar’s wife. What is the difference between the two brothers?

 

Joseph had concern that he not do anything against his master, and he knew that her request was against what the master would have wanted. Note more importantly, that Joseph understood his engaging in this “opportunity” would have been sinning against God. Even more than the concern about those around him, Joseph was concerned about not sinning against God. He wanted to do nothing which would detract from following and glorifying his God.

 

When we understand the damage sin does to our relationship with God, we are much more likely to be deterred from sin. (Grace is a means to be changed, not an excuse to live in the pig-pen!)

 

May our relationship with the Almighty God be so important to us that we want nothing which will hinder that relationship.

 

Photo Credit: http://visitnewlife.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/joseph_resist.jpg 

The Dream and the Wait March 17, 2014

At times in our lives, God puts desires in us or gives us a vision of  what  He has for us.  We see this in the case of Joseph. Joseph had dreams which were rather significant and were irritating to his brothers and family.

However, between the time of seeing the dreams and the fulfillment of the dreams, it was a good 13-15 years. The fulfillment did not happen overnight.

We see the same thing with King David. David was anointed as a young man to be the next king of Israel – he then spent the next decade running for his life.

We also see this with the Apostle Paul. The day Ananias went to Paul and prayed for his eyesight, God layed out for Ananias what Paul would be doing ministry wise. Again, there were several years before the ministry plan began to take shape.

The point is this: often we can have a dream or direction we believe God is leading us in our lives, but it may not happen overnight and there may be a few detours in the process.  The key is for us to be a person like Joseph, David and Paul—to cling to God and walk with God in the midst of the journey and trusting God for the destination.

Setting Aside the Sinful Idols March 12, 2014

In Genesis 35 God tells Jacob to move to Bethel and build an altar  to worship the Lord. One of the first things Jacob does is have his household get rid of all their idols. It seems Jacob understands that if he is going to worship the one true God, he must get rid of any idols they might have.

As I reflect on this I am reminded of Hebrews 12:1-3 where we read: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.NIV

The witnesses who have gone before us have demonstrated that a life of faith is possible and that such a life is valued in the eyes of God. So we are challenged to get rid of whatever it is that might be hindering us, especially the sin that entangles us. Picture trying to run with vines wrapped around your legs. That is what sin does for us. It grabs us and keeps us from fulfilling what God has for us. We must throw off the sin.

Notice, however, that we must also replace the sinful activities and thoughts with a pursuit of what God has for us—if all we do is attempt to stop sinning, we just create a vacuum and if we don’t fill that vacuum with Jesus, we will sooner or later be back in sin.

We keep our eyes on Jesus and what He has for us—that is the new focus.

Joseph: Just Another Myth? March 11, 2014

Recently I have been studying the life of Joseph in preparation for our continuing series through the book of Genesis.  One of the key events in the life of Joseph occurs while he is in Egypt serving in the house of one of Pharaoh’s officers.  The name of this officer is, of course, Potiphar, and he has a wife who attempts to sleep with Joseph.  As is well-known, Joseph stands firm, and even flees from her presence when necessary.  Of course Potiphar’s wife is not happy about this, and ends up falsely accusing Joseph of attacking her.  Potiphar then throws innocent Joseph into prison.  It is truly an astounding series of events with many lessons for the Christian.

One striking thing one notices, however, in spending any significant amount of time studying this text, is that it does not take long to discover that many find numerous striking similarities between these events in Joseph’s life, and other stories circulating in the Ancient Near East around this time period.  These other stories in the Ancient Near East that involve a spurned seductress clearly have mythical elements in them.  Needless to say, critics of the Bible grab on to these similarities as proof that the Bible’s account of Joseph’s life is also in the realm of myth.  Yet, when one actually compares these stories, are they really as similar as many would have us think?

The Ancient Near Eastern story that probably most closely resembles the events of Joseph’s life came out of Egypt.  It is often referred to as “The Tale of the Two Brothers.”  The tale is found in a manuscript which probably should be dated sometime around 1225 BC.  In the story there are 2 main characters who are brothers.  The older brother’s name is Anubis, and the younger’s name is Bata.  It should be noted that these were also the names of 2 Egyptian gods, so the tale seems to be describing the actions of certain deities acting like humans.  Anyway, the younger brother, Bata lives with his older brother, Anubis and his wife.  Bata is a very strong and good worker.  He works with, and for, his brother and brings much success to the household through his good and wise work.  One day the brothers were working in the fields together, and they ran out of seed.  Anubis sends his younger brother, Bata, back to the house to get more seed.  It appears that Bata impresses his brother’s wife with how much seed he can carry, and Anubis’ wife attempts to sleep with Bata.  At one point she even grabs hold of him, but Bata will have none of this.  He refuses out of loyalty to his brother.  Anubis’ wife is of course very angry, so she pretends to have been attacked by Bata which enrages Anubis.  Now, we must admit, up to this point at least, there do seem to be some similarities between the events in Joseph’s life and this Egyptian tale.  However, let us continue with the Egyptian story.  Anubis is so enraged that he plans to kill his brother.  He takes his lance and hides behind one of the doors in the stable.  As Bata approaches the stable, a talking cow warns Bata that his brother is waiting to kill him, and Bata flees for his life.  Anubis chases him, but Bata prays to the Egyptian god, Re, for deliverance.  Re places a massive body of water filled with crocodiles between Bata and Anubis which saves the life of Bata.  Bata then speaks to his brother across the water and informs his older brother about the despicable actions of his wife.  Bata is so serious about showing that he is innocent that he actually castrated himself to prove his innocence to his older brother!  Anubis believes his younger brother, and returns home to his wife where he kills her and throws her body to the dogs!  The end.

While this is indeed quite a story, and there are some similarities between the Joseph narrative and the Egyptian tale, it does not take an Ancient Near Eastern scholar to see how incredibly different these stories are as well.  The events in the Egyptian story clearly veer off into the realm of mythology about Egyptian gods.  As is often the case in this type of mythology the gods don’t act any better than humans do!  When one reads the Joseph narrative there is a completely different feel.  The Joseph events clearly sound like historical narrative as opposed to the mythological details in the Egyptian story.  In the Joseph narrative people often behave in very wicked and foolish ways, but God is always holy and righteous.  While critics of the Bible may try to make a mountain out of a molehill by emphasizing the similarities between the Joseph story and the Egyptian tale, it seems clear that the similarities really are cosmetic at best.  The details of the stories really go in very different directions.  To say that the similarities prove the Bible is a myth too really says more about the critics’ bias against the Bible than it does about any substantive similarities between the two stories.  God’s Word is true, accurate, and historical.  We can count on His Word to be true as history, but also to be true as it highlights areas of our life that need to change.  God uses the truth of His Word to show how our great God works in human history, and how we have hearts that need to be changed by the truth of the Scriptures.  Thank God for His true Word.

 

-Pastor Nathan Hogan

Our anger does not produce God’s Righteousness March 5, 2014

In James 1:19-20 we read: Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry. This is because an angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness.

 

Anger is a natural emotional response to situations around us. Normally, anger happens when we believe that we have been wronged: someone manipulates the truth, or mocks us, or verbally attacks us, or one of many other things that happen to us.

 

However, more than once I have felt anger welling up within me only to realize later that I had misunderstood the situation, or that the person making the comments had misunderstood the situation.

 

James reminds us that we need to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Our emotions can alert us to the fact we think something is wrong – but our emotions are not the voice of God. We need to carefully examine and understand what it is that we have heard and what the situation is before we make judgments or respond.

 

Often we are concerned about justice, especially justice on our behalf. But as James points out, our anger is not going to make things right in God’s eyes. It does not produce God’s righteousness.

 

Ephesians 4:26-27 tells us: Be angry without sinning. Don’t let the sun set on your anger. Don’t provide an opportunity for the devil.

 

Anger and feeling injustice is a natural part of life. How we deal with it reveals the depth of our maturity. Notice with me that neither James or Paul tells us not to ever get angry and neither encourages us to just bury it. We need to deal with it but in a rational way once we have carefully understood what is going on. If we just bury it (don’t deal with it) and we become bitter, we give the devil an opportunity to influence our lives – and that never leads anywhere good.