Week 4 January 21-27, 2018

As a German monk who later sparked the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther once proclaimed, "God can draw a straight line with a crooked stick."

Luther's quote is often used to illustrate how God can produce righteous fruit from the lives of redeemed sinners. But throughout the storyline of Scripture, a more accurate application of Luther's words might be that God can take our evil intentions and work them out for His greater good.

The pinnacle of this principle is found in the final chapters of Genesis, where God sovereignly draws straight lines from the crooked sticks handed to the persecuted Joseph.

Born as the favorite son of Jacob's old age, Joseph was blessed with a robe of many colors and also cursed with a family of many jealous brothers. This sibling rivalry later leads to a string of crooked sticks dealt to Joseph. However, the end of Genesis reveals one continuous straight line that was being secretly drawn by the hand of God the entire time.

Jacob's sons handed Joseph the crooked stick of being sold into Egyptian slavery; God drew a straight line that would prosper Joseph as the overseer for a respected officer named Potiphar. Potiphar's wife handed Joseph the crooked stick of being framed for rape; God drew a straight line that put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners he was incarcerated with. Finally, the chief cupbearer of Pharaoh handed Joseph the crooked stick of a broken promise to mention him to Pharaoh; God drew a straight line that enabled Joseph to interpret Pharaoh's dream two years later and then immediately be installed as a ruler of Egypt.

Throughout decades worth of pain and persecution in Joseph's life, we can look back and see God drawing straight lines that would take him from being a slave rejected by his family, to a ruler who enabled thousands to survive a severe famine. That is why when Joseph's brothers finally apologize to him in Egypt for their wicked schemes, Joseph simply replied, "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" (Gen 50:20).

Is life handing you crooked sticks today? Does it seem like all your efforts to please God end in persecution instead of prosperity? Those who truly love and serve God will suffer backlash from a broken world. But take comfort from the life of Joseph. His struggle reminds us that behind every crooked stick the world hands you, God is drawing a straight line that is molding and shaping you into the image of Jesus Christ.

Straight Lines & Crooked Sticks

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Fear That Leads to Friendship

David makes a unique statement in Psalm 25 when he says in verse 14, "The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him." There is no other friendship we have in our lives that is build on a foundation of fear. Yet God invites us to call Him our friend if we approach Him with the awe and reverent fear that He is worthy of as our Creator. God desires an intimate relationship with His creation. But, we can only embrace that intimacy when we understand that we are not His equal in any way. The paradox of the Christian life is that the more unworthy we realize we are to be standing in the presence of a Holy God, the closer God will draw us to Him through the shed blood of His Son, and the indwelling presence of His Spirit.

A Promise and a Prophecy

When Jacob blesses his twelve sons in Genesis 49, there are several important promises that he reserves for Judah. In verses 8-12 he says that Judah's brothers will praise him and bow down to him, and that the scepter will not depart from Judah's lineage. This means that royal authority for the nation of Israel will come directly from the descendants of the tribe of Judah. The most immediate fulfillment of this prophecy is found in the life of King David, who comes from the line of Judah. The greater fulfillment of this prophecy, however, comes in the life of King Jesus, who comes from the royal bloodline of David as revealed in Matthew 1:1-16.

Addressing our Aim to Please

A harsh truth all Christians would do well to remember is found in the following lyrics of a Bob Dylan song, "Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, But you're gonna have to serve somebody." Practically speaking, one of the ways we serve the devil instead of God is when we try to please people instead of God. The Apostle Paul reminds us in Galatians 1:10 that when we follow Christ there is no room to try and seek the approval of man. Paul says, "If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ." The foot of the Cross is a place where believers must surrender their desire to get applause from the world if they want to serve the Redeemer of the world instead.

Justified to be Crucified

In Galatians 2:15-21, Paul reveals that when we are justified by Christ, our lives will also be crucified with Christ. To be justified by Christ means that we are declared innocent from the penalty of our sins because of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross at Calvary. To be crucified with Christ means that since He died for us we now live for Him. Our old lives that we once lived for ourselves have now been nailed to the Cross and died at the same moment Christ did. As He rose to new life three days later, we now live a new life as His followers. This is a new life that is focused on His glory and is being fueled by our faith through His grace.

Tips to Keep You on Track

Next week's readings will take us through the first few chapters of the book of Exodus. Although these vivid stories of horrible plagues and parted seas remind us of Charlton Heston's famous role in The Ten Commandments, notice instead how the narrative of Exodus points to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In Exodus, Moses frees God's people from the bondage of Egyptian slavery and sacrificially leads them to a new land where the abiding presence of God dwells. In the four gospels, we see Jesus free God's people from the bondage of sin as He sacrificially leads them back to the Kingdom of God where the eternal presence of God dwells. The entire book of Exodus is a foreshadowing of what is later accomplished through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Week 5 Readings: January 28 - February 3

-Day One:  Exodus 1-3; Galatians 5

-Day Two:  Exodus 4-6; Galatians 6

-Day Three:  Exodus 7-9; Psalm 105; Ephesians 1

-Day Four:  Exodus 10-12; Ephesians 2

-Day Five:  Exodus 13-15; Psalm 114; Ephesians 3