Exodus 1:1-11

Blessings as God planned

As the years went by, Joseph and his brothers eventually died in Egypt. However, their children and grandchildren continued to live there and their descendants, the Israelites, became a strong nation.

A new king had come to power in Egypt and he did not even know about Joseph. The king became worried and said, “These Israelites are becoming a threat to us.”

So the Egyptians made them slaves. Yet, even though they tried to make the lives of the Israelites miserable, they only grew stronger and more in number.

Does God’s blessing mean a life without difficulty?

God had made a promise to Abraham—to bless him and make his descendants a great nation. He had made the same promise to Abraham’s son, Isaac, and to Isaac’s son, Jacob. Now, Jacob’s twelve sons had become such a great nation that the Egyptians became worried. And so the Egyptians forced them to be slaves so that they would never be able to rise up and conquer them. It doesn’t seem fair, does it? Surely God’s special favor includes His protection. Had God stopped blessing them? No, it was God’s blessing that made the Egyptians worried in the first place.

However, God’s promise to them was not complete. He had promised them a certain country to live in, and they were not in that country yet. If things had continued to go well in Egypt, they would have had no reason to leave.

Although you may only see a part of what God has promised, He may be using the struggles in your life to prepare the way for something even better later on.

Verse for today

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance” Hebrews 11:13.

A Game of Solids and Stripes

A Game of 

Solids & Stripes

The Story of Jacob & Laban

(Genesis 30, 31)

Uncle Laban was getting grumpy in his old age.

“It’s time for me to go back home,” Jacob said to him one day.

“You had a few sheep and goats before I got here, and now you have many, many more because God has been with me. He has prospered the work of my hands. So now, let me take my wives, and my children and go back home.”

“You have served me well,” Uncle Laban said. “Name your price, and I will pay it.” But I think he had his fingers crossed behind his back when he said that!

Jacob said, “I don’t want any of your money. I’ll tell you what. Let me care for your flocks a little bit longer. I’ll take every black lamb and every spotted, speckled or striped goat and separate them from the rest. Let them be my wages.”

“It’s a deal,” said Uncle Laban.

But then that very same day, Uncle Laban had his sons go through his flocks and take out all the black lambs and all the spotted and speckled goats! And then he had his sons take them far away.

He was trying to cheat Jacob.

Only he must have forgotten that when it came to cheating, Jacob was a master!

So Jacob stayed with Laban’s flocks, even though all the black sheep, and all the spotted, speckled and striped goats were gone.

God was watching over Jacob – Laban didn’t stand a chance of cheating him!

Where Jacob got this next idea, I don’t know, but when he took Laban’s flocks down to the watering place, he set tree branches in front of them that he had cut with a knife so that they were speckled and striped.

He faced the flock towards the branches. When the mother sheep and goats started having babies, all their babies were striped or spotted. How that worked, I haven’t a clue – except that God must have had a hand in it!

So Jacob took the spotted and speckled and striped sheep and set them apart from the rest.

Whenever the strong, healthy sheep were having babies, Jacob set the striped branches in front of them. Whenever the weak ones were having babies he took the branches away.

That way, all the strong healthy sheep had spotted and speckled babies – and they belonged to Jacob. And all the solid babies were puny and weak. Those belonged to Laban.

So Jacob’s flock grew and grew.

All the while Uncle Laban kept changing his mind. First, he said Jacob could have the spotted lambs, and then, when God made all the lambs come out spotted, Laban said, “No, I meant all the striped lambs!” And when all the new lambs were striped, he said, “No, I meant all the black lambs!” And then, all the lambs came out black. The old guy was really getting grumpy! He changed his mind over and over again, all the while trying to cheat Jacob out of his flock.

Finally, Jacob said to his wives Rachel and Leah, “I don’t think your father likes me much these days – he is so grumpy! And I think he is trying to cheat me. Quick, get your things together, we are going back to the land of my fathers.”

And so they packed all their belongings and ran away from Laban.

It wasn’t until three days later that Laban found out his daughters were gone. He got his men together and went after Jacob. But in dream God told him not to hurt him.

Laban finally caught up with his runaway daughters and nephew.

He said to Jacob, “Why did you steal my daughters away from me! You didn’t even say good-bye, or let me kiss my grandchildren good-bye. That’s not fair!”

Look who was talking about being fair!

Jacob said, “I have served you well for the last twenty years. You have become rich because God was with me. He has blessed me in everything I did. But you would have sent me away without anything! God saw what you were up to! And he wasn’t going to let you get away with it!”

See what happens when you are on God’s side – and he is on yours!

So Uncle Laban said, “These are my daughters, and all these sheep are mine. But, I can’t keep you from taking them. Let’s not fight about it anymore. Let’s make a deal. You can go your way, and I will go mine. We will make a pile of stones here to remind us that we agree not to try to cheat each other any longer.”

And so they made a pile of stones as a reminder of their agreement.

Laban said, “May God keep an eye on us both when we are apart, so that we will be true to our agreement.” And so they called the place Mizpah, which means “God is watching over us.”

With that, Laban kissed his daughters and grandchildren good bye, and Jacob and his family set on their way, back to the home of Jacob’s father.

And God was with Jacob, and blessed him in everything he did.

What a wonderful thing that is!

Living Our Faith

“Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire—he is God.” Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”—1 Kings 18:23–24

The Torah portion for this week is Ki Tisa, which means “when you raise up,” from Exodus 30:11—34:35, and the Haftorah is from 1 Kings 18:20–39.

This week’s Haftorah portion is among one of the most dramatic stories in the Bible. It takes place during the time of Elijah the prophet when the rulers of Israel were the wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Not only did they worship idols and encouraged idolatry throughout the land of Israel, they also had murdered God’s true prophets. Their influence was powerful and most of Israel had fallen into idolatry.

Elijah decided that enough was enough, so he invited Ahab’s prophets to partake in a showdown between the idol Baal and the God of Israel. The plan was for the prophets of Baal and Elijah to each prepare an offering on Mount Carmel and then call upon their god to light the fire and consume the offering. Whichever god answered would determine the true god of Israel.

Needless to say, the prophets of Baal did not succeed. They sang, danced, screamed, and cut themselves, but nothing happened. Elijah drenched his offering in water and then called out to God. In a flash, a fire came down from heaven, consuming the offering, the water, and everything around it! The people were convinced and immediately proclaimed: “The LORD – he is God!” (1 Kings 18:39).

Most of the time, when we read this passage, the focus is on the people’s faith. After reading the story, we reflect on the amazing display of God’s sovereignty and marvel at the clarity and faith that the people must have experienced witnessing this miracle. However, let’s focus on a different angle of the story — not on the faith of the people, but on the faith of Elijah. Think about the faith Elijah must have had to set up this contest and trust God to come through for him with miracles!

Elijah’s demonstration of faith is perhaps even more remarkable than the faith of the people. In Judaism, there are two words that roughly express the idea of faith: emunah and bitachon. There is a profound difference between the two: emunah is believing in God and that He runs the world; bitachon is acting in accordance with that belief. For example, a butcher who believes that his earnings all come from God has emunah. However, if he panics when a competitor opens up down the street, then he is lacking bitachonBitachon means living out the belief that God will come through for us every time. That’s the kind of faith that Elijah exhibited.

This week, let’s challenge ourselves to live our faith like Elijah – not just in abstract ideas, but in concrete actions, feelings, and emotions. Let’s take our faith to a higher level and know unshakably that God is in control and that we have nothing to fear.

Living Our Faith

A Reflection for Valentine’s Day: Love One Another Deeply from the Heart by Mark D. Roberts

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.

Hearts! Hearts everywhere! Hearts on sweaters and hearts on earrings. Hearts on cards and hearts on candy. Hearts on billboards and hearts on store windows. Hearts on Facebook and hearts on text messages. Hearts, hearts, hearts!

Chances are you’ll see literally hundreds of hearts today because, after all, it is St. Valentine’s Day, a day of love, a day of romance, a day of candy and flowers, a day of hearts. In our culture, the heart, or a stylized heart shape, at any rate, is the sign of romantic love.

1 Peter 1:22 makes a strong connection between love and the heart, but it’s not the kind of connection that sells cards and candy on Valentine’s Day. The main injunction of this verse reads, “Love one another deeply, from the heart.” This almost sounds like what you’d read in a Valentine’s Day card. But, in fact, the meaning is much different from the romantic norm of most cards.

For one thing, the verb translated here as “love” is, in Greek, agapao, related to the noun agape. This is not the Greek word for romantic or erotic love (eros). Rather, it refers to choiceful, self-giving, sacrificial action for the sake of another person. Agape is what you need in a relationship precisely when romance is at its low ebb because it flows from commitment, not emotion.

But doesn’t “Love one another deeply” imply emotion? Not in the original Greek. Peter uses the adverb ektenos, which might better be translated as “eagerly, constantly, or persistently.” This adverb is used to convey the quality of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, a prayer of painful persistence (Luke 22:44). We love people ektenos when we hang in there with them, in bad times as well as good times, on Valentine’s Day, yes, but also on the day when we’d like to shove them off a metaphorical cliff.

Okay, but Peter says were to love each other “from the heart.” Isn’t this about emotion, if not romance? No, not really. English speakers locate emotions in the heart. Speakers of New Testament Greek, however, put them in the bowels or kidneys. The heart, in the language of 1 Peter, was the seat of thinking, willing, choosing, and feeling. The emotional dimension of the inner life isn’t absent from the heart, but it isn’t the main part either.

So, is love a matter of the heart? Yes, in the sense that love is something we choose to do, being motivated as much by conviction as by emotion. Is love something romantic? Yes, in a way. But the love we find in 1 Peter 1:22 is a different sort of love, a love that transcends feelings and romance, a love that flows from commitment and conscience, a love that perseveres in good times and in bad.

So, today, send hearts and flowers to the one you love. But, today, and tomorrow, and the next day, and every day, love one another deeply, from the heart. Act out of self-giving commitment to what is best for others. Be persistent in loving even when it’s hard. Choose to love because you know it’s right.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Can you think of a time when you chose to love, even though your feelings were disengaged or even negative? What happened to the other person? What happened to you? How does “purifying ourselves by obeying the truth” (1 Pet. 1:22) enable us to love each other more consistently?

PRAYER: O Lord, I do give you thank today for creating us with the capacity for romance. Thank you for the feelings that come when we fall in love, for the happiness of weddings, and for the deep joy that comes from a romance that lives throughout years and years. (Thank you, Lord, that I’m about to celebrate thirty years of marriage in a couple of months.)

But, even more, I thank you for love that is so much more than emotion. Thank you for the committed love of parent for child, husband for wife, friend for friend. Thank you for your love for us, a love that claims us and never gives up on us. Thank you for revealing this love in Jesus Christ, in his life and death, in his words and deeds.

Help me, dear Lord, to love others deeply from the heart. Help me to love them sacrificially. Help me to love them consistently. Help me to love them both when it’s easy and especially when it’s hard. May I love others with the same love you have shown to me.

All praise be to you, God of love. Amen.

“He shall baptize you with fire” (Matt. iii. 11).

Fire is strangely intense and intrinsic. It goes into the very substance of things. It somehow blends with every particle of the thing it touches.

There are the severe trials that come to minds more sensitive, to the minds that have more points of contact with what hurts; so that the higher the nature the higher the joy, and the greater the avenues of pain that come.

And then there are deeper trials that come as we pass into the hands of God, as we pass from the physical and intellectual into the spiritual nature.

When they first come, we shrink back from their unnatural and fearful breath, and we say: “Oh, this cannot be from the hand of a loving Father! This cannot be necessary to me.”

And then come the pains and sufferings from God’s own hand, when He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver, when He lets it burn, until it seems that we must be burned to ashes, and we are, indeed, at last burned to ashes.

But we must get the victory through faith. The moment you cease to fear it, that moment it ceases to harm you. He says, “The flames shall not kindle upon you.”

And his allowance was a continual allowance given him of the king, a daily rate for every day, all the days of his life. 2 Kings 25:30

Jehoiachin was not sent away from the king’s palace with a store to last him for months, but his provision was given him as a daily pension. Herein he well pictures the happy position of all the Lord’s people. A daily portion is all that a man really wants. We do not need tomorrow’s supplies; that day has not yet dawned, and its wants are as yet unborn. The thirst which we may suffer in the month of June does not need to be quenched in February, for we do not feel it yet; if we have enough for each day as the days arrive we shall never know want. Sufficient for the day is all that we can enjoy. We cannot eat or drink or wear more than the day’s supply of food and raiment; the surplus gives us the care of storing it, and the anxiety of watching against a thief. One staff aids a traveller, but a bundle of staves is a heavy burden. Enough is not only as good as a feast, but is all that the veriest glutton can truly enjoy. This is all that we should expect; a craving for more than this is ungrateful. When our Father does not give us more, we should be content with his daily allowance. Jehoiachin’s case is ours, we have a sure portion, a portion given us of the king, a gracious portion, and a perpetual portion. Here is surely ground for thankfulness. Beloved Christian reader, in matters of grace you need a daily supply. You have no store of strength. Day by day must you seek help from above. It is a very sweet assurance that a daily portion is provided for you. In the word, through the ministry, by meditation, inprayer, and waiting upon God you shall receive renewed strength. In Jesus all needful things are laid up for you. Then enjoy your continual allowance. Never go hungry while the daily bread of grace is on the table of mercy.

Chevrolet – making it clear where they stand

ad·ver·tise   verb   \ˈad-vər-ˌtīz\
to make the public aware of something (such as a product) that is being sold
(Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Merriam-Webster needs to get with the times.  Today many corporations are selling something – but it doesn’t seem to be their products.

Case in point – the latest Chevrolet commercials currently airing during the Winter Olympics.  Chevrolet has produced two new ads entitled “The New Us” and “The New Love.”

“The New Us” ad, a heart-string-pulling, awww-isn’t-that-touching commercial, features, well, touching depictions of family moments.  However, Chevrolet’s definition of a “family” also includes two homosexual men raising children.  The ad features same-sex couples with children as voiceover narration states:  “While what it means to be a family hasn’t changed, what a family LOOKS like has.. THIS is the new ‘us’.”  The narrator ends with: “Chevrolet Traverse … for whatever shape your family takes.

GM now seems to be in the business of morals instead of motors.  I never realized that Chevrolet was the definer of what is a “family” – I always thought that it was the Creator of families who made that determination. 

But according to Chevrolet, “what it means to be a family has changed.”  And that’s the message the company wants to send to all the Olympic viewers.  Oh, and by the way, purchase a Chevy Traverse to cart around your misshapen “family” while you’re at it.

The other new ad by Chevrolet is “The New Love” commercial.  This ad pushes “progress” – changing from our old ways to new and better ways.  The narration states: “that even though the world is constantly changing, the things that matter most remain the same.”

“The New Love” commercial continues with this commentary: “Like the old love, the new love starts with a kiss” as the ad depicts the “old” love of a heterosexual couple shown kissing, then moves to the “new love” of a wedding scene of two men getting married.

The ad goes on to talk about “the old family” and “the new family” and ends with this faux-pearl of ‘wisdom’ –  “Because when you know what you stand for, you know where you’re going. With a whole new line-up for a whole new world, the new us, like the old us, is built on the things that matter most.”

Well these ads certainly show what Chevrolet now stands for – and it’s not baseball, hotdogs, and apple pie.  Chevrolet is right on one thing – the world is changing.  Chevrolet may jump on their politically-correct station wagon to scold viewers into accepting their “new” definition of family, but what truly matters most is the One who never changes – nor does His truth.

According to Chevrolet Chief Marketing Officer Tim Mahoney: “Perhaps more than any other event, the Winter Games represents the global values that unite us.  In this context, we saw an opportunity to extend the Find New Roads story by showing how Chevrolet is helping consumers try new things and break new ground.”

However, the “global values” that Chevrolet is pushing in these ads do not represent the values held by millions of people from all over the world.  As Chevrolet tries to “help consumers try new things,” they may very well be alienating vast numbers of potential customers.

Chevrolet is leaving their family-values image behind to side with those attempting to bully those whom they have accused of being “intolerant bullies” for adhering to biblical values.

Chevrolet has joined AT&T, Chobani yogurt, and other American companies in chastising Russia for their new law banning homosexual propaganda from reaching minors.  As Forbes magazine comments, the Chevy ad “not-so-subtly sticks it to the Olympic hosts over their anti-gay-activism laws and sets up Chevrolet as an unlikely provocateur in the ongoing uproar over Russian societal discrimination against homosexuals …”

However,six years ago when the 2008 Summer Olympics were held in Beijing, China I don’t recall any of these corporations getting on their bully pulpits to rebuke China for their highly egregious human rights violations and religious persecution of Christians.

As the Chevy ad states:  “when you know what you stand for, you know where you’re going.” 

Chevrolet has made it clear where they stand, now it’s our turn to let them know where we stand.

Take Action!  Click here to send a message to Chevrolet telling them that they can keep their “changing” values, we’re happy with our changeless ones.