As some of you are aware, we’ve begun a sermon series based on the Joseph narrative of Genesis (chapters 37-50). On July 29 we began this series (chapter 37), and I believe that with God’s help, we got off to a good start. The opening chapter of this narrative is engaging. We’re drawn into the story, which is what the author intends to occur. We wonder what will happen to Joseph as he’s taken to Egypt as a slave. But then we encounter chapter 38, and wonder what in the world is going on. I thought this was a story about Joseph. Instead, the author focuses on Judah, one of the older brothers. And what we see is disturbing. Judah left his family and went to live with the Canaanites. We’re not told why he left. Was it out of guilt for what he and his brothers did to Joseph? At any rate, Judah finds and marries a Canaanite woman and starts a family. But all is not well, for Judah doesn’t raise his children in the faith. Incidentally, the Lord intervenes and disciplines (puts to death) Judah’s firstborn son, Er, who was very wicked. Could this be God’s punishment for selling Joseph into slavery? The story gets worse. Judah doesn’t care for his widowed daughter, Tamar, as he should, by providing another husband for her, so that she could produce children and carry on Er’s family-line. In the end, Tamar resorts to deception: she disguises and prostitutes herself to Judah, who gladly accepts her offer. And she becomes pregnant. By the end of the story, Judah seems somewhat convicted about his sexual immorality, but overall, the author depicts a sinful man and a broken family. So why would the author include this story of sin and brokenness, which isn’t directly about our hero, Joseph? I think for at least two reasons. First, I think he’s trying to illustrate the danger that Israel faced in a foreign land. Would they remain faithful to God as they intermingled with people that served other gods? Second, and perhaps more significant to the Joseph narrative, the author seems to be pitting Judah against Joseph, so that we may compare and contrast them. Needless to say, Judah has acted dishonorably at this point, and has done so of his own accord. Now how will Joseph, who was taken away to Egypt by force, act in a foreign land? Will he remain faithful to God or not? I invite you to read Genesis 39 to see what happens next.
I love a good story! In fact, I’m currently reading Anne of Green Gables with my kids, and I can hardly wait for bedtime to come, so we can see what Anne is up to today. I’ve also recently finished reading some of Gary D. Schmidt’s novels for young adults, which I would highly recommend to any one who loves a good story. Most of us love a good story. They engage us and delight us. So it’s no surprise that the Lord chose to record many stories in Scripture. In fact, the Bible is one grand story of redemption that consists of numerous stories. And of all the stories in Scripture, the Joseph narrative of Genesis is one of my favorites. It’s also, in my opinion, one of the most colorful and exciting stories of Scripture. Happily, we turn to it this week as the third part of a year-long curriculum for Christlikeness that I’ve conducted at Wolf Creek Community Church with the guidance of Dallas Willard (The Divine Conspiracy). First we caught a glimpse of our great and awesome God–the Maker of heaven and earth–via a study of Isaiah (Advent 2011). Then through a study of the Gospel of John we followed the One that the Maker of heaven and earth sent to redeem us from our sin and to give us abundant life–Jesus (January to May). And now, in an attempt to find our place in the grand story of redemption, and to become utterly convinced of God’s goodness and love, we turn to the Joseph narrative (Genesis 37-50). Unfortunately we don’t have time to study every chapter of this story, but we’ll aim to study at least the following texts: 37:1-16; 41:1-40; 45:1-28; 50:1-26. I invite you to read the entire Joseph story with me
this summer. Perhaps you can make it a family project. I know you won’t be disappointed. However you decide to engage in this story, it’s my hope and prayer that through it you’ll become thoroughly convinced of God’s love for you, that he is indeed working out all things for your good, as you have been called according to his purpose (see Romans 8:28-29). Amen.
After recently returning from a study-leave and vacation, which, happily, was spent almost entirely with my family, I have some thoughts on how to have meaningful summer devotions. Often we think about “devotions” (acts of devotion) as simply Scripture reading and prayer, and these certainly are important spiritual practices. But I’ve come to conclude that “devotions” is much broader than that. In fact, what I’ve found to work very well over summer vacation is Scripture memorization. Now many people shy away from this ancient spiritual practice for a variety for reasons. First of all–let’s face it–it’s a lot of work. I’ll be the first to admit that I struggle to memorize Scripture. It can be a very slow and laborious process. So if this spiritual practice is so difficult, why do it? Is it really worth the effort? Based on my experience, yes, it is worth the effort. In a word, Scripture memorization focuses your mind on Christ and his Word, and puts His love in your heart. After all, “love is the starting point for memorizing Scripture,” writes Joshua Choonmin Kang in his book, Scripture by Heart (IVP Books, 2010). “Love shows concern, willingness to invest hard time and a certain hilarity: ‘Their delight is in the law of the Lord, / and on his law they meditate day and night’ (Psalm 1:2). The object of our love is Scripture. The more we memorize it, the closer we come to it, the easier we understand it, the surer we remember it and impress it on our hearts” (127-128). So do I commend Scripture memorization to you for all times, but perhaps especially during the summer months, when our routines are often interrupted by vacations, etc., and it may be hard to carve-out time for Bible reading and prayer. It only takes a few minutes a day of Scripture memorization to “hide God’s Word in your heart” and to “put the Lord before you at all times.” One suggestion is to write out a passage on a 3 x 5 card or to use your Bible application on your smart phone. Then pull out your memorization tool not only at scheduled times, but also when you have a few spare moments in your day. For example, I often pull out my memory cards when I’m waiting in line. Whatever your plans this summer, I encourage you to consider memorizing Scripture.
Have you ever had a conversation that deeply impacted you? I’ve been blessed with a few of them in my life. In fact, one occurred a few weeks ago at the preaching seminar I attended called, “Imaginative Reading for Creative Preaching.” I applied for this seminar because I struggle to read enough and I was looking for some encouragement and accountability in this area. Recently my father-in-law saw me reading a book in my study at home. He stood in the door, shaking his head, grinning, and said: “Playing with books? That wouldn’t do it for me!” I responded: “Books are the tools of my trade, Dad! I don’t read enough of them!” This humorous incident reminded me of my ongoing struggle to read often and well as a pastor. There’s always another task to accomplish or a telephone call to make, etc., to keep you from your reading. I had the opportunity to share this concern with one of the seminar instructors. I was pleasantly surprised by his response. He encouraged me to aim for quality over quantity in my reading. First, immerse yourself in Scripture. It’s the Word of Life! But also read other authors, especially authors of young adult fiction, so that you’ll learn how to “cut the widest swath in your congregation” as far as communication is concerned. Also, take the time to harvest quotes that you can refer back to in the future. This short conversation may not seem like much to you, but it was the one I’ve been waiting for all my (pastoral) life. I left it feeling grateful, relieved and instructed. Now as I move forward in pastoral ministry, I’m more determined than ever to read, but to read differently: often and leisurely, with a lighter heart and an alert mind, listening for God to speak through the pages of Scripture and other books, and ready to harvest any and all memorable and meaningful quotes. I thank God this new realization, and for my wise and godly instructor, who, although a highly respected teacher and preacher in the Christian Reformed Church, took the time to help a discouraged young pastor. I pray that I’ll be able to do the same some day.
We just returned from a study-leave, in which I attended the preaching seminar sponsored by Calvin Theological Seminary’s Center for Excellence in Preaching called “Imaginative Reading for Creative Preaching.” This seminar occurred at the beautiful Snow Mountain Ranch in Colorado. Although we had to travel a considerable distance to attend this learning event, it was well-worth it, for a few reasons. First, this was a chance for us to connect as a family and to meet other pastoral families. By doing so, we were able to deepen our family friendships and make some new ones. I had some very meaningful conversations about life and ministry with these new colleagues that I am still reflecting on. Moreover, I continue to reflect on the conversations that occurred in the classroom about good reading for preaching. I left this seminar with a new appreciation for words and with a desire to writes sermons for the ear, not for the eyes. So how do you do this? According to one of our mentors, the Rev. Dr. Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., this sort of writing, which he called “noble prose,” develops (in part) as we pay attention to good writing, especially well-written novels for young adults (e.g., Gary D. Schmidt). I was also reminded of the power of poetry to awaken our senses, as we read poems from Jane Kenyon and Robert Frost. I was deeply moved and encouraged by this seminar, perhaps most of all when we worshipped together as students each morning. I want to publicly thank Calvin Theological Seminary for organizing and sponsoring this event, Wolf Creek Community Church for allowing me to attend, and my family for joining me on this journey of discovery. And I thank the Lord for new hope and inspiration.