Genesis 45.1-28 – July 24, 2020

Genesis 45:1–28

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.
Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.
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. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 
“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. 10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. 11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’
12 “You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. 13 Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.”
14 Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.
16 When the news reached Pharaoh’s palace that Joseph’s brothers had come, Pharaoh and all his officials were pleased. 17 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Tell your brothers, ‘Do this: Load your animals and return to the land of Canaan, 18 and bring your father and your families back to me. I will give you the best of the land of Egypt and you can enjoy the fat of the land.’
19 “You are also directed to tell them, ‘Do this: Take some carts from Egypt for your children and your wives, and get your father and come. 20 Never mind about your belongings, because the best of all Egypt will be yours.’ ”
21 So the sons of Israel did this. Joseph gave them carts, as Pharaoh had commanded, and he also gave them provisions for their journey. 22 To each of them he gave new clothing, but to Benjamin he gave three hundred shekels of silver and five sets of clothes. 23 And this is what he sent to his father: ten donkeys loaded with the best things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain and bread and other provisions for his journey. 24 Then he sent his brothers away, and as they were leaving he said to them, “Don’t quarrel on the way!”
25 So they went up out of Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. 26 They told him, “Joseph is still alive! In fact, he is ruler of all Egypt.” Jacob was stunned; he did not believe them. 27 But when they told him everything Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts Joseph had sent to carry him back, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. 28 And Israel said, “I’m convinced! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.”  
(Genesis 45:1–28 , NIV)

Wouldn’t you have loved to be a fly on the wall when Joseph’s brothers visited him in Egypt!

Thought Questions:

If you had been Joseph, how do you think you would have treated your brothers when they came to Egypt?

Think about people you know for whom a past event they could not get over, often times dealing with a family member, prevented any sense of well-being or perhaps even harmed them in the years following? How can we get to the point where we allow ourselves to forgive those who have done wrong to us?

In what ways has God used what might have initially appeared a tragedy for good?

Genesis 32.33-32 – June 1, 2020

Genesis 32:22–32

That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel,  because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel,  and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.
 (Genesis 32:22–32, NIV)

Why DID Jacob want to know the name of this man with whom he wrestled?

Thought Questions:

How do you think Jacob felt, knowing he had seen “God face to face”?

Why does knowing someone’s name strengthen the familiarity and bond you have with that person? Why do people value their name so much and like to be called by their name?

How does a name give a blessing to the one who has that name?

Genesis 37.1-11 – May 19, 2020

Genesis 37:1–11

Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan.
This is the account of Jacob’s family line.
Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.
Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.
Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”
His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.
Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”
10 When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” 11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.
 (Genesis 37:1–11, NIV)

“I enjoy seeing God’s presence in all of Joseph’s life journeys. It gives me much confidence in God’s love for me.”

Thought Questions:

As you read through the introduction of Joseph, what sort of life do you think he had growing up? What would you consider normal and what seems very different to young people growing up today?

What advantages and disadvantages do you think there was for Jospeh since his father loved him more than his other sons?

Despite Joseph’s rocky start, we are going to find out that God uses him for good. How have you found God to be a part of your growing up and in what ways has this helped you do good for him today?

Genesis 41.1-40 – April 25, 2020

Genesis 41:1–40

Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40 You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.” (Genesis 41:39–40, NIV)

Who would have thought that a young man sold into slavery would become second only to the Pharaoh in the most powerful nation of the day?

Thought Questions:

Why do you think God sent the dreams he did to Pharaoh? Do you think it unusual for God to work in this way?

In what ways did the Spirit of God guide Joseph, not only in this story but throughout his entire life? What was required from Joseph for the Spirit to work in the way he did?

How can you allow the Spirit of God to not only be present, but also direct how you go about your life?

Genesis 21.1-7 – April 11, 2020

Genesis 21:1–7

Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. Abraham gave the name Isaac  to the son Sarah bore him. When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 

Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

(Genesis 21:1–7, NIV)

Finally, the promise God made to Abram and his wife Sara (now Abraham and Sarah) had come to pass. This was not just any fulfillment of a promise. This promise set in motion an even greater result, that Abraham would become the father of a great nation.

Thought Questions:

If you know anything about the Abraham and Sarah story, you know they wrestled with fully believing the promise God made to them. (It really did seem impossible!) Why do you think they struggled with this instead of just taking God at his word? Why do we wrestle with God’s promises?

How do you think it would have felt to be Abraham and see this promise come true, even at 100 years of age?

How have you laughed at the fulfillment of the promises of God in your life?

Genesis 42.1-44.34 – February 15, 2020

Genesis 42.1-44.34

Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the person who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground. As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them. “Where do you come from?” he asked. 

“From the land of Canaan,” they replied, “to buy food.” 

Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. Then he remembered his dreams about them and said to them, “You are spies! You have come to see where our land is unprotected.” 

10 “No, my lord,” they answered. “Your servants have come to buy food. 11 We are all the sons of one man. Your servants are honest men, not spies.” (Genesis 42:6–11, NIV)

The story of Joseph and his brothers is a joy to read … if you are reading from our perspective. I can imagine that the brothers of Jospeh found no joy in their circumstances, and we will discover, saw their situation go from bad to worse. I wonder if God ever looks at our story and chuckles, since he knows our stories from a better vantage point than our own?

Thought Questions:

What do you think was going through the minds of Joseph’s brothers as they faced obstacle after obstacle in their quest to get food from Egypt?

Knowing he would reveal himself to his brothers and take them in, why do you think Joseph spent as much time as he did “playing them along?”

How would the lives of the Israelite people been different if Jospeh’s brothers had been faithful to God’s laws? If Jospeh had NOT been faithful to them?

Time Away – January 22, 2019

Genesis 44.1-45.28
Matthew 14.13-36
Psalm 18.37-50
Proverbs 4.11-13

All throughout the gospels, we see the writers demonstrate a pattern in the life of Jesus that regularly includes getting away from the crowds and the busyness to stop and spend time in prayer.

Our reading today is an example of this. In Matthew 14.23, Jesus has sent his disciples on ahead of him and “he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone.”

Question: Why did Jesus need to get away and spend time alone in prayer?

You would think that someone who was the Son of God would be so inherently connected to God that he would have a “built in” sense of knowing what to do and thus eliminate the need for prayer. (Such thinking may tell us more about our own view of prayer than Jesus’ nature, by the way.) Perhaps this is true, but I think there is more to it than that.

One might also make the argument that Jesus was providing an example for us to live by. Someone once said that the greatest single argument to pray is that Jesus prayed and this would certainly be an example of that. This also may be true, but it places prayer within a category of checklist items to be accomplished, which misses the point altogether.

No, I think the reason Jesus spent time alone in prayer, especially in Matthew 14, was that he needed to refocus or re-center his life so as not to be distracted by the distractions bombarding him at every turn.

Look at what all happened to Jesus within today’s reading:

  • He had just found out John had been killed
  • Crowds followed him to remote areas, even when he was trying to get away and be alone
  • He was faced with the challenge of feeding over 5,000 people
  • The crowds would continue to seek him out so that wherever he went, people were present seeking to be healed

It doesn’t take us long to figure out that Jesus’ schedule was overwhelming. He HAD to get away in order to maintain a focus on what was most important, otherwise the crowds would take over his time and efforts.

Stop for a moment to look at your calendar. How much “white space” is left on today? This week? How easy is it for you to refocus on what is really most important in your life?

Jesus gives you an example on how to accomplish that, by the way.

Questions:

Why do you think Joseph tells his brothers to “not quarrel about this along the way?” What did he know that perhaps we or his brothers did not?

How do you show compassion for people around you?

What can you praise and exalt God for today?

If someone asked you for the one key to life, how would you answer them? How does your answer compare to that of the Proverb writer, that his instructions are the key to life?

God Did This – January 21, 2019

Genesis 42.18-43.34
Matthew 13.47-14.12
Psalm 18.16-36
Proverbs 4.7-10

In today’s story of Joseph and his brothers, we see three different responses to a payment of money being “left” in a sack of grain.

First, Joseph’s brothers, returning from buying grain from Joseph (although they did not at the time know it was Joseph), discover the money that was to be a payment for the grain in their sacks of purchased grain. Their response: “What has God done to us?” (42.28)

Second, as they prepare to return to Egypt to purchase more grain, the brothers’ father, Jacob, reminds them to include money for a new payment, but also the old payment for: “it probably was someone’s mistake.” (43.12)

Finally, worried they were going to be imprisoned for stealing the money, the brothers immediately tell Joseph’s household manager of their plight upon their return to Joseph’s house. “Relax,” the steward replies: “Your God, the God of your father, must have put this treasure into your sacks.”

So, here’s my question: Which one of these reactions would you consider most accurate? Is God punishing the brothers? Was it all just an honest mistake, soon to be corrected by the return of the money? Is God blessing the brothers, even as they view it as a disastrous curse? Is it “D,” all of the above?

Does it surprise us that a steward of Joseph’s house understands the blessing of God? One can take a clue from the life of Joseph and his willingness to continue to have faith in God, even in the midst of his circumstances. Joseph is held out as a faithful hero in the midst of this story, so his life would certainly be an influence on others, such as those who worked in his house.

I think there is also a sense in which throughout the entire Joseph story, not only is God at work, but the twists and turns of irony surprise us. Who else BUT a servant of Joseph to remind not only the brothers, but also the readers: God is faithful and provides blessings for his people … even when they least expect it or have done anything to deserve it?

As you go through today and something happens to you or around you, ask yourself not just “Why did this happen,” but also: Where is God at work in this situation? Is his hand in this and am I just overlooking his blessing?

Questions:

How would you have liked to have been Joseph, watching the scene with his brothers unfold, seeing their reaction, and knowing everything they were saying? How do you think you would have handled this situation if you were in Joseph’s place?

We are told that Jesus did only a few miracles in his hometown of Nazareth because of the unbelief of the people. Why do you think their unbelief caused him to do so little here?

Rewrite Psalm 18 in your own words, expressing the things God has done for you as well as the life you have lived before God.

Who do you listen to for advice on how to live a good life? How helpful do you find their advice? Are there others who might be a better source of advice in your life? How can you listen to them more?

One Degree – January 20, 2019

Genesis 41.17-42.17
Matthew 13.24-46
Psalm 18.1-15
Proverbs 4.1-6

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread.”

You have most likely heard the saying “A little bit goes a long way.” Yet all too often, we live by the rule of: “If a little bit is good, a lot must be better.” Why have a regular size burger, fries, and drink, when you can value size it?

Certainly, there are times when more really is better, but the challenge is that we begin to think in an all or none mentality. Suppose you want to lose weight, let’s say 25 pounds. That process is not going to happen overnight. Simply skipping your value sizing today will not result in substantial weight loss tomorrow.

Or let’s say you have decided to run a marathon. Unless you have had a large amount of training up to this point or you are some freak of nature, your ability to complete a training regimen for running 26.2 miles will have to include many small, slow steps that build up to a large conclusion.

James Clear, in his book Atomic Habits, discusses the importance of small steps in accomplishing a big goal. The analogy he uses to stress the importance of small changes is to discuss how just one degree of adjustment will make a large impact on a cross-country flight. If you were to move the nose of a commercial aircraft just one degree, the movement would be measured in a handful of inches, perhaps a couple of feet. But if you stayed on that setting throughout an entire cross-country flight, the difference would be miles, as in, you would end up miles away from your intended destination.

I think Jesus was alluding to this sort of idea when he says that the Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast used in the baking of bread. You do not have to be a baker to know that the amount of yeast used in a loaf of bread is a very small portion compared to the amount of dough you have. Yet, that small amount of yeast transforms the entire loaf.

Many of us long to follow God better, yet too often we want it to be an all or none proposition. We want to decide today and act blameless with no struggles tomorrow. Perhaps our focus needs to be on the one degree of change that we can undertake today.

Remember, it may not seem like much, but even a very tiny amount can make a huge impact.

Questions:

Are we surprised that Joseph is described as one who is filled with the spirit of God? How does the Spirit help us face adverse situations like Joseph did in a way that gives glory to God?

Jesus tells a parable that the kingdom will be full of weeds, but those weeds will be dealt with when the harvest comes. How does this story impact your understanding of the world we live in and the challenges we face?

Does knowing God hears you affect the ways you cry out to him? What can you do this week to better understand the fact he hears you?

What specific steps can you do this week to gain spiritual wisdom?

I Can’t … But God Can – January 19, 2019

Genesis 39.1-41.16
Matthew 12.46-13.23
Psalm 17.1-15
Proverbs 3.33-35

Being good at something can be a challenge. Not just the work it takes to become good at something, but the fact that once you are good at something, you begin to lose the memory of the effort it took to get you there in the first place. What you either accomplished through lots of work or just the luck of being naturally talented, others find amazing, primarily because of their lack of ability to accomplish that task.

This can lead to a sense of false security, an attitude of pride for all youhave accomplished.

Take Joseph in today’s story. He seemed to have the Midas touch. Everything he attempted or was asked to do was successful. Even before he was brought before Pharaoh to interpret the leader’s dream, Joseph had proven his ability to do so. Given the circumstances—called before the leader of the greatest country in the world at that time—it would have been easy for Joseph to attempt to oversell his accomplishments.

“Why yes, Pharaoh, I CAN interpret dreams. You remember the baker and the cup-bearer, don’t you? Nailed those dreams, I did!”

Instead notice where Joseph gives credit, or better stated, to whom Joseph gives credit.

“It is beyond my power to do this … but God can tell you what it means.”

Here’s the question: Whatever success you have, to whom do you give the credit?

It can be too easy to assume that saying, “Yes, I can do this,” is shorthand for “God has given me the powers to do X, Y, or Z.” (We may even be thinking this as we let it go unsaid.) Even if your life has been filled with hard work and an extended time of learning (I’m thinking of all you doctors and lawyers and individuals with advanced degrees), isn’t it God who gives you the ability to do so? And if this is true, then shouldn’t our response to be to point to the one who gives us the power to accomplish anything.

I can’t … but God can.

Questions:

Joseph’s concern about sinning with Potiphar’s wife was that it would be a sin against God. How can we focus more on our doing wrong being a sin against God, rather than something for which we might get caught or seen in a poor light by others?

How do we define our being a part of the family of God?

How certain are we that God will answer when we call out to him? What other “go-to” responses do we have because they seem to provide a more immediate or certain response than one God might provide us?

How do you attempt to ensure your life is one of humility versus one that mocks others?