…to this day

Sometimes you get amazing wisdom from children. And sometimes it comes from those who have been around the block a time or two.

Jacob had definitely been around the block a few times. He lived to be 147 years old, and shortly before his death he asked his son Joseph to bring his grandsons, Manasseh and Ephraim, to him. He wanted to give them his blessing.

It’s as he’s bestowing a blessing upon Joseph and the two boys that Jacob (by then renamed Israel) says, “Then he blessed Joseph and said, ‘May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm—may he bless these boys'” (Genesis 48:15-16a, NIV).

At the very end of his 147 years of life, Jacob looks back and affirms that God had been with him all the way, had walked with him and shepherded him throughout his life, and had protected him every time something threatened to harm him… to this day.

What was Jacob thinking in that exact moment? Was he contemplating all the sins of deception he had committed? Was he reflecting on his brother Esau’s once murderous intentions toward him? Was he considering his father-in-law Laban’s cheating, conniving ways that cost him 20 years of that life? Was he pondering the time he wrestled with the Angel of the Lord? Or the time when Esau and his 400 men were riding out to meet him as he made his way back to Canaan?

Maybe it was all of the above. But whatever it was from the past, Jacob claimed that the very same shepherding and protecting was still happening in the present!

Jacob saw it all clearly, both the past and the present. He saw God’s providence and protection… to this day. He spied many evidences of God’s love… to this day. He witnessed many instances of God’s guidance and forgiveness… to this day.

How about you? As you look back, do you see in your own life what Jacob saw? Do you see the same shepherding and protecting… to this day?

Lord, give me the eyes of Jacob. I want to see you as he did. I want to have the eyes of faith to know that as I walk through life, I am in your eyesight. You are shepherding me every day. You are delivering and helping me at all times, keeping me from harm… to this day!

Our Bible reading for Saturday, January 24, is Genesis 47:13 – 48:22, Matthew 16:21 – 17:13 and Proverbs 3:1-10.

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Prevailing Grace

Human opposition is part of life in this fallen world. You’ve faced it. And so have I.

Sometimes it originates from those closest to us. Brothers have struggled for supremacy over one another all the way back to Cain and Abel. The sinful condition of the human heart–pride, jealousy, anger, and greed–creates volatility in our relationships.

Do you know the story of Joseph? He experienced exactly what it’s like to suffer from the fallenness and sin of people close to him. Every time he would crawl out of one hole, the next jealous or angry person would come along and push him back into the pit.

Yes, there was even an actual pit at one point. And that was followed by being the victim of traders trafficking in humans, then a jealous husband, next an unjust imprisonment, and finally, a high government official that ungratefully ash-canned the help he got from Joseph.

One disastrous situation followed another. Every time it looked like Joseph might finally climb his way out the pit, he’d get slammed right back down again. Ironically, this was all put in motion because his brothers couldn’t handle the fact that Joseph was their father’s favorite.

The remarkable result, however, is that while Joseph’s earthly father could not protect him, his Heavenly Father did. As a result, Joseph stayed close to God.

And so grace prevailed. God’s grace protected Joseph through all the ups and downs. What followed is stunning. Touched by God’s grace, Joseph did not remain angry with his brothers. He did not hold a grudge. Nor did he exact revenge, though he had every reason and opportunity to do so.

Instead, he forgave. He restored their relationship and reconciled with his brothers. Grace prevailed there, too.

And because grace prevailed through all that Joseph endured, God’s gracious purpose prevailed too.

“Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come close to me.’ When they had done so, he said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 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 45:4-5, NIV). 

Lord, may your grace and purpose always prevail. Thank you that your grace toward me did prevail. Help me to reflect that grace toward those who have injured me and sinned against me, so that I may serve your purpose with my life, and through all my struggles.

Our Bible reading for Friday, January 23, is Genesis 45:1 – 47:12, Matthew 16:1-20 and Psalm 14:1-7.

Header image based on "O to grace how great a debtor, daily I'm constrained to be!" by Alexander, CC by 2.0

Where Change Begins

January is the month when we try to make changes in our lives. New Year’s resolutions!

We’re going to work out more. We’re going to lose weight. We’re going to finally read that book. We’re going to fix that relationship.

Character qualities rise to the fore. I’m going to be a more hard-working person in 2015. And more honest. I’ll amp up the compassion. Get rid of the swear words. Stop the gossiping.

So we set up a “fine jar.” A dollar for every cuss word. Five dollars for every time I catch myself gossiping.

We write out our list of goals. We share it with our best friend, and ask him to keep us accountable.

None of those are bad things. In fact, they can be very, very good things. But they are not the place to start.

Jesus shows us that place. The starting line for life-change is not our neighbor or the list on our smartphone.

“But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:18-19, NIV).

This is so important. Jesus tells us why our habits are broken. It’s because our hearts are broken.

The place to start is with healing the heart. And the place where healing the heart begins is the cross. The person who can change my habits permanently is not me. The person is Jesus.

That’s because change begins with hope, with strength, with love. Not with condemnation, with feeble attempts, with selfishness and shame.

And who is Jesus? He is hope. He is strength. He is love.

Ask him to heal your heart. And change your life.

Jesus, heal my heart through the good news of your forgiveness won for me at the cross. I want to change. Give me your hope, your strength, and your love.

Our reading for Thursday, January 22, is Genesis 43:1 -44:34, Matthew 15:10-39, and Psalm 13:1-6.

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No daggers. Simply grace.

Jacob had problems. And they were of his own making. He had deceived his father, Isaac, and stolen his brother Esau’s blessing.

This did not make Esau happy. In fact, he was murderously unhappy with Jacob. So, on his mother’s recommendation, Jacob decided that it was time to beat a hasty retreat from his home.

What follows shows us how merciful and gracious our God can be. On the very first night of Jacob’s escape, God came to him with a message. It was not a message of anger, though Jacob had sinfully and faithlessly taken matters into his own hands. It contained no warnings of a desire to punish Jacob, despite his refusal to simply trust God for his blessing.

No wrath-daggers would be thrown. Not by Esau. Not by God either. Instead, God gives Jacob promises of sheer grace. He will be present with Jacob. He will bring Jacob back home again. He will not fail to keep his promises.

“I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:15, NIV).

Do you need a message like this? Maybe you suspect that God has every right to be angry with you, turn his back on you, and let you hang out there with no hope of rescue or return. You’re all set to dodge the wrath daggers.

After all, you are a sinner.

But God’s grace that he displayed to Jacob, is the same grace that he has displayed (and will display) to you.

He is with you, present every day in your life. He wants to bring you home to himself. He will not fail to keep his promises to you.

How do you know this? Because Jesus–God with us–is the most perfect evidence of the fact that God is present, longs to bring us home, and will not fail to keep his promises to us.

Lord Jesus, be merciful to me. Be present with me and demonstrate your grace to me. I do not deserve it. I deserve your wrath and anger. I deserve your punishment because I too, have been faithless. But treat me as you treated your servant Jacob.

Our reading for Tuesday, January 13, is Genesis 27:1 – 28:22, Matthew 10:32 – 11:15 and Psalm 9:1-6.

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Birds of a Feather

“Birds of a feather flock together.” At least, that’s what my Mom used to tell me. She had all sorts of proverbs like that. Such wisdom came from her Kentucky upbringing.

The only problem is that the proverb doesn’t work at all for Jesus. The one who was tempted like us in every way, except without sin, had not come to “flock together” with other spiritually pure and sinless people.

Good thing. Because those people don’t exist. At least not in the real world. And Jesus came into this very real world for real people like us.

He came for sinners. The spiritually sick. Those who are not in a healthy relationship with God. That’s who he came for.

People like me.

People like you.

Praise God for that!

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13, NIV).

Lord Jesus, thank you for coming for a sinful person like me. I am sorry for the unrighteous and sinful things I do every day. Please forgive me. Call me to be your disciple as you once called Matthew. Show me the same mercy you once showed him.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, January 10, is Genesis 21:1 – 23:20, Matthew 8:23 – 9:13 and Psalm 7:10-17.

Header image based on "Birds of a Feather?" by McCullough, CC by 2.0

More than a pinkie promise

The entire Bible is really the story of God blessing mankind by sending his Son Jesus to rescue us from sin and wickedness.

66 books. Over 40 authors. One story.

The Old Testament is the set-up of God’s plan to send Jesus. The New Testament is the story of Jesus’ arrival, and the aftermath of that arrival.

To put it another way, the Bible is the story of God making and keeping a big promise.

After Adam and Eve chose to disobey God’s command and brought death into the world, God immediately gave them a promise of rescue. He looked directly at Satan and told him that he would send someone to crush him and his evil rebellion: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15, NIV).

In Genesis 11, we read another account of God promising to bless sinful mankind. He tells Abraham and his descendants that they would serve a great purpose in the world. They would be God’s messengers to mankind, and God’s way of shining light into a very dark world.

Most importantly, one of Abraham’s descendants would become the one to fulfill that promise made previously to Eve that one of her offspring would crush Satan.

Do you need someone to help you crush Satan’s power and influence in your life? If you read Abraham’s story, you’ll see that he needed it. And so do we.

That’s why God promised a Savior from the very beginning. And that’s why God delivered on that promise. He delivered so that you and I could be blessed with forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

And that’s way more than a pinkie promise.

“The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. ‘I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you'” (Genesis 12:1-3, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, January 6, is Genesis 11:10 – 13:18, Matthew 5:21-42 and Psalm 5:1-12.

Header image based on "Promises" by Ditaputratama, CC by-SA 2.0