Vision Reset

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Last Sunday was my ten-year anniversary as the pastor at Central Baptist Church. It has been an amazing ten years and Roni, Hannah, and I love Central so very much. I had been thinking for some months about what I wanted to use the occasion to say and I decided to do a kind of vision reset. I expressed in the sermon what I believe the way forward for our church is in the midst of these difficult days and beyond. We remain committed to our 4 Canons (to be “an authentic family around the whole gospel for the glory of God and the reaching of the nations”) but these three paths forward constitute emphases arising from our canons that I believe we need to pay special attention to at this time and, again, beyond. The first sermon is an introduction that lays out the three emphases. The next three sermons will flesh each of these emphases out a bit more fully. I will be updating this post each week for the next three weeks to include the whole series here. Below is the first sermon.

Vision Reset, Sermon #1, Introduction [video]

Vision Reset, Sermon #2, A House of Prayer [video]

Genesis and Matthew Sermon Series Updated in Sermon Archives

Just wanted to post a brief notice that the Genesis sermon series and the Wednesday night Matthew sermon series have now been added to the sermon archives of the Walking Together Ministries site. I had been posting sermon audio and links to the manuscripts on the sermon page of www.cbcnlr.org as well as weekly links in the sidebar of the homepage here, but they are now posted in the archives here as well. All sermons from here on out will be posted at www.cbcnlr.org as well as here each week, like we used to do. Thanks so much!

Genesis 49:29-50

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Genesis 49

29 Then he commanded them and said to them, “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30 in the cave that is in the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. 31 There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife. There they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah— 32 the field and the cave that is in it were bought from the Hittites.” 33 When Jacob finished commanding his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed and breathed his last and was gathered to his people.

Genesis 50

1 Then Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him. And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. Forty days were required for it, for that is how many are required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days. And when the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, please speak in the ears of Pharaoh, saying, ‘My father made me swear, saying, “I am about to die: in my tomb that I hewed out for myself in the land of Canaan, there shall you bury me.” Now therefore, let me please go up and bury my father. Then I will return.’” And Pharaoh answered, “Go up, and bury your father, as he made you swear.” So Joseph went up to bury his father. With him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s household. Only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen. And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen. It was a very great company.10 When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they lamented there with a very great and grievous lamentation, and he made a mourning for his father seven days. 11 When the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning on the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning by the Egyptians.” Therefore the place was named Abel-mizraim; it is beyond the Jordan. 12 Thus his sons did for him as he had commanded them, 13 for his sons carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. 14 After he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had gone up with him to bury his father. 15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17 ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. 22 So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. 23 And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph’s own. 24 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” 25 Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” 26 So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.

One of the many things I love about Roni Richardson is her absolute commitment to disliking the ending of any story! Through the many years we have been together, without fail, when a movie ends or a television series ends or a book ends she will inevitably say, “That’s it?!” I have come to expect it and to thoroughly enjoy it! And no matter how much I try to say, “Well, what else could they do? It had to end!,” she will reply, “That’s it?!

I love that there is something about an ending she does not like. I like to think it is a reflection of the Christian conviction that the endings the world offers us are not real endings, that in Jesus the story does not end but goes on and on.

I was thinking about her question while working on the end of Genesis. I could hear her saying, “Is that it?!” and I believe I heard the Lord say, “No. It is not!” For the ending of Genesis leaves us wanting to know the rest of God’s story in and among the human race and the rest of scripture tells us that story. I actually love how Genesis ends, though, because it brings together a number of important theological themes that frame not only Genesis but also the rest of scripture. In fact, I believe the end of Genesis answers three important questions that our hearts are constantly asking and, in doing so, it leaves our hearts wanting to know more and more of God’s great plan of redemption for the world.

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Matthew 10:40-42

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Matthew 10

40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41 The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

The Roman historian Suetonius once mocked the Emperor Claudius as one who “showed such heedlessness in word and act that one would suppose that he did not know or care to whom, with whom, when, or where he was speaking.” Among the list of examples of Augustus’ “heedlessness” provided by Suetonius are the following:

He gave us one of his reasons for supporting a candidate for the quaestorship, that the man’s father had once given him cold water when he was ill and needed it.[1]

For Suetonius the historian, this was absurd and worthy of mockery. Why on earth would a man of power even remember that a person gave him a cup of cold water, much less bless the person who gave the water? The implication is clear enough: a cup of water is an irrelevant gift to Suetonius, a worthless offering, and no truly great man would acknowledge such a paltry thing.

This makes the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:40-42 all the more amazing, for in this text Jesus exalts the giving of a cup of water to an amazing extent. In the Kingdom of God a “small” gift is truly big, for it reveals great faith if faithfully and joyfully given. What is more, Jesus is going to show that giving a cup of water to one of His children is the same as giving it to Him! The context of these comments is Jesus encouraging his disciples to support one another in our mission to advance the gospel in the world. Let us consider Jesus’ amazing words.

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Genesis 49

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Genesis 49

1 Then Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come. “Assemble and listen, O sons of Jacob, listen to Israel your father. “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, and the firstfruits of my strength, preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power. Unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence, because you went up to your father’s bed; then you defiled it—he went up to my couch! “Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords. Let my soul come not into their council; O my glory, be not joined to their company. For in their anger they killed men, and in their willfulness they hamstrung oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel. “Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? 10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. 11 Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he has washed his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes. 12 His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk. 13 “Zebulun shall dwell at the shore of the sea; he shall become a haven for ships, and his border shall be at Sidon. 14 “Issachar is a strong donkey, crouching between the sheepfolds. 15 He saw that a resting place was good, and that the land was pleasant, so he bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant at forced labor. 16 “Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel. 17 Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a viper by the path, that bites the horse’s heels so that his rider falls backward. 18 I wait for your salvation, O Lord. 19 “Raiders shall raid Gad, but he shall raid at their heels.20 “Asher’s food shall be rich, and he shall yield royal delicacies. 21 “Naphtali is a doe let loose that bears beautiful fawns.22 “Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; his branches run over the wall. 23 The archers bitterly attacked him, shot at him, and harassed him severely, 24 yet his bow remained unmoved; his arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel), 25 by the God of your father who will help you, by the Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that crouches beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. 26 The blessings of your father are mighty beyond the blessings of my parents, up to the bounties of the everlasting hills. May they be on the head of Joseph, and on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers. 27 “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, in the morning devouring the prey and at evening dividing the spoil.” 28 All these are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him. 29 Then he commanded them and said to them, “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30 in the cave that is in the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. 31 There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife. There they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah— 32 the field and the cave that is in it were bought from the Hittites.” 33 When Jacob finished commanding his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed and breathed his last and was gathered to his people.

Philip Roth has written an interesting story in which the family of the character Dr. Victor Zuckerman gathers around his deathbed to tell him goodbye. While other family members reminisce about good memories and joyful times together, his son Nathan, for some reason, decides to summarize the scientific theory of the “Big Bang” because he was reading about it on the plane to see his father. As he waxes eloquent on the age and expansion of the universe it occurs to him that what he has chosen to say to his father on his deathbed is inappropriate and does not fit well the scene. Dr. Zuckerman’s response, his last word, is utterly devastating.

            Though Dr. Zuckerman didn’t officially expire until the next morning, it was here that he uttered his last words. Word. Barely audible, but painstakingly pronounced. “B—-rd,” he said.

He curses his son. Later, in the airport, after Nathan tried to convince himself that his father had not said the word he knew deep down he had said, Nathan is scolded by his brother, Henry.

“He did say ‘B—-rd,’ Nathan. He called you a b—-rd…You are a b—-rd. A heartless conscienceless b—-rd. What does loyalty mean to you? What does responsibility mean to you? What does self-denial mean, restraint—anything at all?…The origin of the universe! When all he was waiting to hear was ‘I love you!’ ‘Dad, I love you’—that was all that was required!”[1]

It is a poignant and devastating scene. It asks of the reader a difficult question: what would it feel like to hear your own father use his last word to curse you? What a chilling and painful thing to contemplate!

Jacob, while not swearing, similarly pronounces hard words upon some of his boys from his deathbed. Some of them feel the sting of regret at what he has to say to them. And, insofar as our own behavior matches theirs, we too feel the regret of our own shameful actions. But that is, thank the Lord, not all! As hard as what some of what Jacob says is, there is a word of life and of hope spoken from his deathbed as well.

Let us join these twelve sons by the deathbed of their father, the great patriarch Jacob, and listen to what he has to say. We will consider his words to four of his sons in particular. In doing so, we will consider how some of these names bring a word of condemnation to us while one of these names brings a word of hope and life to us.

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Matthew 10:34-39

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Matthew 10

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Afshin Ziafat has shared his rather fascinating story with Decision Magazine.

I was born in Houston and grew up in a devout Muslim home. My dad was very involved in the Iranian Muslim community…Growing up, I was taught the five pillars of Islam and told that if I did them to the best of my ability, then maybe I’d get to Heaven.

I spoke Farsi, not English, so God, in His incredible plan, provided a Christian lady who tutored me, teaching me the English language every day by reading books to me. When I was in the second grade, she said, “Afshin, I want to give you the most important book that you’ll ever read in life.” As she handed me a small New Testament, she asked me to promise to hold onto it until I was older…

Every day, I’d read under the covers in my bed with a flashlight so my parents wouldn’t see what I was doing. Meanwhile, at my high school, a Christian student sat across the table from me at lunch and told me about Jesus. I’d debate against him each day, and then at night I’d go home to read more about Jesus.

One day, I got to the Book of Romans, and the third chapter completely changed my life. I read about a righteousness that comes apart from what I do for God. This righteousness comes as a gift to be received by faith. I was struck by Romans 3:22, which says that this righteousness comes to all who believe. I thought I was born a Muslim and would always be a Muslim, but that verse said that this righteousness was for anyone who believes, of any ethnicity. A couple weeks later, a guy invited me to an evangelistic crusade, where I heard the Gospel proclaimed and came to faith in Christ…

I decided to hide my newfound faith. I would sneak out to church, intercept mail from the church I was attending and keep my Bible hidden.

But my dad found out. He’d seen my Bible, and he’d also seen other evidences in my life. He sat me down and said, “Son, what’s going on? There’s something different about you.”

I said, “Dad, I’m a Christian.”

“Afshin,” he said, “if you’re going to be a Christian, then you can no longer be my son.”

Everything in my flesh wanted to say, “Forget it. I’ll be a Muslim.” I didn’t want to lose the relationship with my dad. So even I was surprised when I said, “Dad, if I have to choose between you and Jesus, then I choose Jesus. If I have to choose between my earthly father and my Heavenly Father, then I choose my Heavenly Father.” My father disowned me on the spot.[1]

Ziafat would go on to become a pastor and, by God’s grace, he now has a relationship with his father, though his father has yet to come to faith in Christ. But the story raises a question that is, as we have seen, a most literal question for many people in the world today: if following Christ meant losing the peace of your home and family life or even losing your home or family itself, would you still follow Him? Would you follow Him if it cost you everything and everyone? Jesus speaks to this difficult question in Matthew 10.

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Matthew 10:26-33

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Matthew 10

26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch says that courage is “when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” Samuel D. James, after commenting on a number of modern examples of Christian ministries that have paid a public price for standing on biblical truth, appealed to Finch’s definition of courage and said:

The days of polite silence and pragmatism are gone beyond recall…The illusion that Christian institutions can survive based on unspoken assumptions of shared beliefs has been shattered by cultural revolution and legal transformation. Believers who want to introduce their generation to the risen Christ must announce Him explicitly and await the consequences. We may be “licked” before we begin, but the gates of hell will not endure.[1]

This is true today. It was also true two-thousand years ago. In so many ways, from an earthly perspective, the disciples knew they were “licked before they began.” That is, they were, from a human perspective, no match for the earthly power structures that would oppose them. Even so, Jesus called upon them in Matthew 10 to accept this and be bold and courageous in their witness regardless. In Matthew 10:17 He had warned them that they would have to deal with “men…[who] will deliver you over to courts and flog you…governors and kings…” In Matthew 10:26, he gives them a solid basis for the courage He was asking them to demonstrate.

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Genesis 48

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Genesis 48

1 After this, Joseph was told, “Behold, your father is ill.” So he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. 2 And it was told to Jacob, “Your son Joseph has come to you.” Then Israel summoned his strength and sat up in bed. 3 And Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, 4 and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’ 5 And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are. 6 And the children that you fathered after them shall be yours. They shall be called by the name of their brothers in their inheritance. 7 As for me, when I came from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan on the way, when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath, and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).” 8 When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, “Who are these?” 9 Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.” And he said, “Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.” 10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. So Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them. 11 And Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also.” 12 Then Joseph removed them from his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth. 13 And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near him. 14 And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn). 15 And he blessed Joseph and said, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, 16 the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” 17 When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him, and he took his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 And Joseph said to his father, “Not this way, my father; since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head.” 19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.” 20 So he blessed them that day, saying, “By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying, ‘God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.’” Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh. 21 Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers. 22 Moreover, I have given to you rather than to your brothers one mountain slope that I took from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and with my bow.”

It is not uncommon in religious art to see depictions of the great saints of yesteryear holding, looking upon, and contemplating human skulls. This will sound macabre to us, but, to them, it was simply a way of remembering their own mortality and of ordering their lives in such a way so that they could die without regret when that time came. Such practices as contemplating skulls constitute in Christian history what is known as “memento mori, a Latin phrase that means ‘remembrance of death’ or ‘remembrance of mortality.’”[1] Timothy George has written of this earlier contemplation of death.

A Franciscan friar, Richard of Paris, once preached for ten consecutive days, seven hours a day, on the topic of the Last Four Things: death, judgment, heaven, hell.  He delivered his sermons, appropriately enough, in the Cemetery of the Holy Innocents, the most popular burial ground in Paris. Hardly less dramatic was his contemporary, John of Capistrano, who carried a skull into the pulpit and warned his congregations: “Look, and see what remains of all that once pleased you, or that which once led you to sin. The worms have eaten it all.”[2]

That is dramatic, to be sure, and I am certainly not calling us to any sort of morbid preoccupation with death. On the other hand, one wonders if modern people, even modern believers, have perhaps not neglected such memento mori to our own peril. It is interesting that Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann has argued that the last few chapters of Genesis have the virtue of providing modern believers with a model of how to die well.

            These materials may be useful to the listening community of our own time in facing the problem of death. Modernity would rob us of the capacity to face death faithfully. The collapse of tradition and memory, of community and hope, has made death an acutely private crisis for which individual persons lack resources…The power-laden words of religious tradition have been flattened or replaced by one-dimensional profane language. As a result, we have no symbols with which to speak about transcendent meaning related to the reality of death. These materials in 48:1–50:14 indicate how death is faced in this sojourning family which trusts the promise.[3]

In other words, we might say that our chapter, Genesis 48, is a biblical memento mori, a reminder that we will die and a reminder that we should be aware of and shape our lives in light of this fact. Our chapter places us beside Jacob’s deathbed. It is fascinating to see what Jacob does and says here as we approach the end of his life. In fact, I want to argue that Jacob’s behavior reveals two great questions that will be presented to all of us on our deathbeds. These are the only questions that really matter.

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Genesis 47

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Genesis 47

So Joseph went in and told Pharaoh, “My father and my brothers, with their flocks and herds and all that they possess, have come from the land of Canaan. They are now in the land of Goshen.” And from among his brothers he took five men and presented them to Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to his brothers, “What is your occupation?” And they said to Pharaoh, “Your servants are shepherds, as our fathers were.” They said to Pharaoh, “We have come to sojourn in the land, for there is no pasture for your servants’ flocks, for the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. And now, please let your servants dwell in the land of Goshen.” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you. The land of Egypt is before you. Settle your father and your brothers in the best of the land. Let them settle in the land of Goshen, and if you know any able men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.” Then Joseph brought in Jacob his father and stood him before Pharaoh, and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How many are the days of the years of your life?” And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning.” 10 And Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from the presence of Pharaoh. 11 Then Joseph settled his father and his brothers and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded. 12 And Joseph provided his father, his brothers, and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their dependents. 13 Now there was no food in all the land, for the famine was very severe, so that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished by reason of the famine. 14 And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, in exchange for the grain that they bought. And Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s house. 15 And when the money was all spent in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, “Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? For our money is gone.” 16 And Joseph answered, “Give your livestock, and I will give you food in exchange for your livestock, if your money is gone.” 17 So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them food in exchange for the horses, the flocks, the herds, and the donkeys. He supplied them with food in exchange for all their livestock that year. 18 And when that year was ended, they came to him the following year and said to him, “We will not hide from my lord that our money is all spent. The herds of livestock are my lord’s. There is nothing left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our land. 19 Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for food, and we with our land will be servants to Pharaoh. And give us seed that we may live and not die, and that the land may not be desolate.” 20 So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for all the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe on them. The land became Pharaoh’s. 21 As for the people, he made servants of them from one end of Egypt to the other. 22 Only the land of the priests he did not buy, for the priests had a fixed allowance from Pharaoh and lived on the allowance that Pharaoh gave them; therefore they did not sell their land. 23 Then Joseph said to the people, “Behold, I have this day bought you and your land for Pharaoh. Now here is seed for you, and you shall sow the land. 24 And at the harvests you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and as food for yourselves and your households, and as food for your little ones.” 25 And they said, “You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh.”2 6 So Joseph made it a statute concerning the land of Egypt, and it stands to this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth; the land of the priests alone did not become Pharaoh’s. 27 Thus Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen. And they gained possessions in it, and were fruitful and multiplied greatly. 28 And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years. So the days of Jacob, the years of his life, were 147 years. 29 And when the time drew near that Israel must die, he called his son Joseph and said to him, “If now I have found favor in your sight, put your hand under my thigh and promise to deal kindly and truly with me. Do not bury me in Egypt, 30 but let me lie with my fathers. Carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burying place.” He answered, “I will do as you have said.” 31 And he said, “Swear to me”; and he swore to him. Then Israel bowed himself upon the head of his bed.

“If life is a race (and it is), then it is run across wet concrete.”[1]

N.D. Wilson wrote that. I think that is one of the most powerful little statements I have ever heard. What an image! Life is a race run across wet concrete. That is, it is has a purpose and a destination, but it leaves its evidences and impacts, for good or ill, behind, long after we are gone.

Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays, the late Baptist minister, former President of Morehouse College, and famed civil rights leader, wrote of life:

Life is just a minute—only sixty seconds in it.

Forced upon you—can’t refuse it.

Didn’t seek it—didn’t choose it.

But it’s up to you to use it.

You must suffer if you lose it.

Give an account if you abuse it.

Just a tiny, little minute,

But eternity is in it![2]

How, then, do we live this thing called life and live it well? How do we make sure that the prints we leave in the wet concrete of time solidify into something God-honoring, something good? In Genesis 46 Jacob reflects on his life and begins to look toward his death. His family is safe now in the land of Goshen under the protective umbrella of Egypt. And what we see in both Jacob and his sons helps us see and understand how life is to be lived by the people of God.

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Genesis 46

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Genesis 46

So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.” Then Jacob set out from Beersheba. The sons of Israel carried Jacob their father, their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to carry him. They also took their livestock and their goods, which they had gained in the land of Canaan, and came into Egypt, Jacob and all his offspring with him, his sons, and his sons’ sons with him, his daughters, and his sons’ daughters. All his offspring he brought with him into Egypt. Now these are the names of the descendants of Israel, who came into Egypt, Jacob and his sons. Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, and the sons of Reuben: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi. 10 The sons of Simeon: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman. 11 The sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. 12 The sons of Judah: Er, Onan, Shelah, Perez, and Zerah (but Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan); and the sons of Perez were Hezron and Hamul. 13 The sons of Issachar: Tola, Puvah, Yob, and Shimron. 14 The sons of Zebulun: Sered, Elon, and Jahleel. 15 These are the sons of Leah, whom she bore to Jacob in Paddan-aram, together with his daughter Dinah; altogether his sons and his daughters numbered thirty-three. 16 The sons of Gad: Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli. 17 The sons of Asher: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi, Beriah, with Serah their sister. And the sons of Beriah: Heber and Malchiel. 18 These are the sons of Zilpah, whom Laban gave to Leah his daughter; and these she bore to Jacob—sixteen persons. 19 The sons of Rachel, Jacob’s wife: Joseph and Benjamin. 20 And to Joseph in the land of Egypt were born Manasseh and Ephraim, whom Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera the priest of On, bore to him. 21 And the sons of Benjamin: Bela, Becher, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Ard. 22 These are the sons of Rachel, who were born to Jacob—fourteen persons in all. 23 The son of Dan: Hushim. 24 The sons of Naphtali: Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, and Shillem. 25 These are the sons of Bilhah, whom Laban gave to Rachel his daughter, and these she bore to Jacob—seven persons in all. 26 All the persons belonging to Jacob who came into Egypt, who were his own descendants, not including Jacob’s sons’ wives, were sixty-six persons in all. 27 And the sons of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt, were two. All the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy. 28 He had sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to show the way before him in Goshen, and they came into the land of Goshen. 29 Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while. 30 Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.” 31 Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and tell Pharaoh and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me. 32 And the men are shepherds, for they have been keepers of livestock, and they have brought their flocks and their herds and all that they have.’ 33 When Pharaoh calls you and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ 34 you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,’ in order that you may dwell in the land of Goshen, for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.”

Does this matter? By “this” I mean what we are doing this morning. We have come to church. We are here together. We have sung. We have prayed. Now we have turned our attention to the Word. But does it matter?

In Charles Williams’ novel, War in Heaven, Prester John asks Barbara about going to church.

“Go to church? Yes, if you like. I’m afraid,” she added, blushing rather more deeply as she looked at the stranger again, “that we don’t go as regularly as we should.”

“It is a means,” he answered, “one of the means. But perhaps the best for most, and for some almost the only one. I do not say that it matters greatly, but the means cannot both be and not be. If you do not use it, it is a pity to bother about it; if you do, it is a pity not to use it.”[1]

I find this statement by the character Prester John interesting because it sums up, I think, the way many people view corporate worship as a gathered church: it matters (“It is a means, one of the means.”) but it does not really matter overly much (i.e., “I do not say it matters greatly…”). I suspect if you could get many folks who attend church frequently to be real honest, they might admit to something like this: an appreciation for corporate worship as a gathered church, but not a sense that it is overly important.

But let us note this: in Genesis 46, when Jacob discovers in Canaan that Joseph, his son, is alive in Egypt, he worships! He goes to Beersheba and offers sacrifice. And when He does so, God speaks to Him. And what God reveals to Him sheds light on why the elderly Jacob worships at all! And this light also illuminates our own paths, showing us why we should worship.

I want to argue, contra Prester John, that worship, in fact, does “matter greatly.” It matters because of what we discover when we worship…and what we discover when we worship is also the reason why we worship at all!

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