Category Archives: Devotional

First Fruits

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

–1 Corinthians 15:20 (NIV)

I grew up around a farm. I didn’t really live there, I just hung out there a lot. It was my grandfather’s and I basically just visited on the weekends and stayed most of every summer, but I proudly considered myself a “farmboy.”

Truth is, I helped in the haymaking each summer, and usually got to go out with Grandpa gathering sap once or twice each Spring, and a couple of times gathered eggs from the henhouse. That’s it. Not much of a farm life after all.

BUT, I remember the wait for the fresh peas and green beans from Grandpa’s garden. Oh, and the corn on the cob, too! I could hardly wait for Grandpa to say they were ready, ‘It’s about time we tried some of those peas and beans.’ (He actually liked the onions and turnips and asparagus too, but even grandparents can’t always be perfect, I suppose).

And that first small serving of fresh vegetables, that first taste of the fruit of Grandpa’s hard work, was delicious! But with that first taste of those “first fruits” came the knowledge that much more was on its way! We wouldn’t have to wait much longer!

It doesn’t take much of a farm boy to recognize the parallel in our Christian walk when Paul talks about death and uses Christ’s resurrection as the “firstfruits” of the resurrection to eternal life that all believers will experience. If we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior, then we can look at Christ and recognize that His resurrection is merely a “firstfruits” of ALL believers’ resurrections to come. There is HOPE of what is yet to come! For us… and for our loved ones in Christ who have already “fallen asleep” through death.

Oh Christ, You are only the FIRST fruits of resurrection. HALLELUJAH!!!

I stumbled across a devotional I wrote for the Lenten Devotional our worship committee created in 2001 at our Trinity UM Church in Patton, PA. We invited the congregation to reflect on a list of Scriptures and pick one to write a devotonal about.

This was my meditation reflecting on 1 Corinthians 15:20.

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Do Not Quarrel Along The Way

After Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, and they are all reconciled with one another, he sends them with his blessing to go home and get their families, and their father Jacob. But in Genesis 45:24 we read:

“Then he sent his brothers on their way, and as they were leaving he said to them, ‘Do not quarrel along the way.’”

My district superintendent used this passage about Joseph (Genesis 39-45) as the core of a pastor’s retreat I attended earlier this month. And I kid you not, I did not know that verse was in there! (I toyed with maybe God had just recently done an update, but I probably just missed it).

Even after all the reconciliation and reunion, the forgiveness and the blessings, and the hope of the future, Joseph still knew what his brothers were like and what they’d probably do once they headed home. And he reminded them not to get into the blaming and “I told you so” kinds of quarrelling. Am I reading more into it than is there? I don’t think so, because clear back in Genesis 42:22, Reuben, the oldest brother, had already headed down that path. He just didn’t know that Joseph could understand what he said. (“Then Reuben answered them, ‘Did I not tell you not to wrong the boy? But you would not listen…’”)

There are some people who think we Christians are supposed to be perfect all the time or else we’re not really Christians. Being a Christian means we’re forgiven of our past, but not necessarily immune from ever sinning again. Even after Jesus is Lord in our life and we claim to be his followers, we still mess up sometimes. That’s why Jesus’ words to the woman caught in adultery (after her accusers had all made themselves scarce) are so hopeful to me: “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” (John 8:11b)

Joseph knew his brothers would be tempted to fall back into the quarrelling. Jesus knows that we are likely to be tempted to fall back into our old ways. And Joseph, and Jesus, give that encouraging reminder that we don’t have to fall back into the old ways.

The thing is, the brothers had to rely on each other, while Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit to help us when we’re tempted. We can call on him for help!

In fact, that’s where another of my favorite passages comes in:

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (First Corinthians 10:13)

After the forgiveness and reconciliation, with God, with our brothers and sisters, with family members, or whomever, there will still be an easy way to slide back into the old ways… the ways that broke relationship to start with. Sometimes, another person will be the one that re-breaks the relationship… but it doesn’t have to be us!

And when it comes to our spiritual relationship with our God, he ALWAYS makes sure that there is some way out of the temptation or the testing. IF we choose to take it!

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Forgive Us Our Trespasses

I was struck by Genesis 45 at a pastor’s retreat earlier this month, when I read how his brothers reacted when Joseph revealed who he really was.

“But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.”

They have been living with their guilt and remorse for years and years. And they’ve changed their ways because of it. I know that because of their differing behaviors towards Benjamin and their father… even in the face of a seemingly all-powerful Egyptian lord. They are no longer looking for the easiest way out of a problem, rather they are willing to plead and Judah even offers up himself as a slave to try to protect the one who cannot protect himself.

But now, their past sin, hidden so long, has come back to them. And they are afraid. Not only might Joseph still be angry, he’s in a position to have each of them sold as a slave or even killed. And they know they’ve earned those penalties if he decides to carry them out.

And, like Jesus so many centuries later, Joseph doesn’t make them wallow in their guilt and sin. He has already seen and heard their hearts as he tested them in chapters 42, 43, and 44. He steps in and releases them from their past, their sin, their guilt, their shame, and their fear… before they can even figure out how to respond. And Joseph welcomes them into his presence and delivers them from their daily fight for survival in a famine while he’s at it.

Jesus, once he’s seen our repentant hearts, releases us from our past, our sin, our guilt, our shame, and our fear, and welcomes us into his presence as one of his. We are under his protection and have access to all he has.

Where do we see ourselves in this account from Genesis? One of the brothers who hurt someone? Have we really had enough of the guilt, shame, and its consequences that we have “changed our ways” with a repentant heart?

Perhaps we see ourselves like Joseph where we have been the one on the receiving end of the hurt? As Christians we often pray the Lord’s prayer and point blank ask God to only forgive us in the same way we have forgiven those who have hurt us. (“…Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…”) How have we forgiven the ones who did us wrong?

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Forgiveness follows Repentence

Earlier this month, at a pastor’s retreat at Olmsted Manor, our district superintendent walked through chapters 39 – 45 of Genesis. We followed Joseph, as a slave, as he was promoted and then betrayed in Potiphar’s house, then was taken to prison where he was again promoted, but then forgotten, and eventually remembered and promoted again to “chief of staff” over Pharaoh’s kingdom.

By chapter 42, Joseph’s brothers, who had originally betrayed him and sold him into slavery, show up in Egypt trying to find grain to buy in the midst of the great famine. Because of Joseph’s new position, they have to come to him to try and buy food. He of course recognizes them, but they have no idea that he is the one they now once so badly mistreated.

Now, I don’t know if he was just trying to jerk their chains a bit or if it was again God helping to orchestrate a few lessons for the brothers on empathy and perhaps conviction, but chapters 42, 43, and 44, are an account of Joseph’s brothers experiencing what it is to be unfairly accused, unjustly detained, and contemplating the pain of grief their father had to experience at Joseph’s loss so many years ago. And now, they find that this unknown Egyptian leader may actually force them to grieve their father again at the loss of another son, Benjamin, as he is accused of villainy and now must stay in Egypt as a slave.

In verses 33-34 of chapter 44, Judah, who had been the one to hatch the idea of selling Joseph as a slave (Genesis 37:26-27), unknowingly pleads with Joseph that he be allowed to take Benjamin’s place.

“Now therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord in place of the boy; and let the boy return with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the suffering that would come upon my father.”

Officially at least, everything in chapter 44 is aimed at punishment of Benjamin, and by extension, the other ten brothers. But in that moment of confession and penitence, Judah offers himself up for a younger brother, and for his father’s sake, and breaks the power of intended punishment. Punishment, at its best, is to teach a lesson. Judah and the other culpable brothers have shown that they have remorse for their past and have indeed learned their lesson. Our sin(s) do have an impact on our lives, even when others seemingly don’t know about our sin. (Scripture never tells us if they ever fessed up to their father about how Joseph happened to end up in Egypt.)

A couple things jumped out at me this time. First, my choices, sinful or not, WILL have consequences. There are no victimless sins. Ever. Judah and his brothers faced the consequences of their sin in Egypt, even if only for a short time. But Joseph spent years in the midst of the consequences of their sinful choice. Jacob, their father, spent some 13 or more years needlessly grieving the loss of his son, because of their sin. And they faced over a decade of living with his grief and daily being reminded that they were the cause of all that grief. And I’m sure, based on their later penitent conversation, that they spent that time racked with guilt that they had no way of easing.

Paul, in First Corinthians 5, says that those of us who are Christians, are called to a “ministry of reconciliation.” As you read more of the New Testament you come to understand that while Paul is immediately talking about reconciling people with God, there’s also a ministry of helping to reconcile people with people as a way of drawing ourselves closer together and closer to God.

It hit me that if I, as a Christian, really want to become closer to God, then I have a responsibility to do the best I can in being reconciled with the rest of God’s people around me.

That’s essentially what Jesus was teaching in Matthew 5:21-26. He starts by talking about anger with someone else and then talks about the moment we leave them and head towards God. In his day, it was making a sacrifice or presenting a gift in the Temple, but in our day it might be that we go to church, or Bible study, or try to pray. If we truly want to draw closer to God, then that reconciliation thing has to happen… as much as we can. Jesus actually said:

“So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)

And of course, “brother” and “sister” aren’t referring to genealogically related individuals alone.

Is there anything in your past keeping you from drawing even closer to God? Is there anyone who has suffered because of you or your sin? Have you tried to make things right with them? If not, that’s your next right thing to do!

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While Joseph Waited

At Olmsted Manor earlier this month, our new superintendent walked a group of us pastors through Genesis 39 – 45 with Joseph. Before this passage starts, Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers while they told his father that some wild animal had killed him. Joseph meanwhile ends up as a slave in Egypt at the age of 17. And these next few chapters see him from age 17 to age 30 or so.

I found myself challenged several times. Over the next few days, I’ll share a few of my observations and challenges of that retreat.

First, at both the beginning and the end of Genesis 39, Scripture goes out of its way to highlight that God was WITH Joseph.

Joseph endured, time after time, unjust circumstances and unfair accusations. At one point, in chapter 39, he is invited to betray his master by the master’s wife, and he does the right thing. And yet ends up removed from his position and imprisoned unjustly. Later on, in chapter 40, he is promised that someone will plead his case and seek justice for him. Yet it doesn’t happen. Joseph is literally forgotten by the one whom he had thought would stand up for him. Yet we are reminded over and over again that God was still with him.

Not only was God with him, but whether it was in Poitiphar’s household, in the prison, or in Pharaoh’s service, God “gave him success” no matter what it was Joseph attempted next.

There have been times when I have felt unfairly treated or misunderstood. I can’t even say that I was as pristine and pure as Joseph, always choosing to avoid whatever temptations came my way nor choosing to sinless before God. And yet, in each situation, I have tried to allow whatever happened to draw me closer to my Lord and to my family. And God has gone out of His way to make sure we knew He was with us every step of the way, whether we knew exactly where we were going or not or what might possibly be our next step. As we allowed situations to draw us closer to Him and to each other, we have had a peace that God was in control, even when it looked like we were in a freefall.

Secondly, again, at both the beginning and the end of Genesis 39, Scripture goes out of its way to highlight that God gave Joseph success in whatever he did in the midst of those unfair and unjust times.

As I allow the down times, when I feel like I’m forgotten and seem to have been derailed from what I thought God was doing in my life, I can remember how Joseph, in those same circumstances, simply did the next right thing. He couldn’t see any way out of his situation (on his own), but he still chose to find the right thing to do in that moment, and to do that right thing. And rather than being forgotten, Joseph was being watched by the One who was with him, and that One was watching out for him.

I can trust the God who is with me, to continue to lead and guide me even in the down times of despair and discouragement. And I have but to “do the next right thing” to be considered successful. It may, or may not, lead to promotions. It may, or may not, lead to recognition or prestige or fame. But in the final tally, it is being considered successful in God’s eyes that matters most, isn’t it?

I don’t know if you have times when you feel unjustly and unfairly treated by friends, family, employers, or whomever, but the account of Joseph reminds us that if, in the midst of the “stuff” we face in life, God IS with us, and as we draw closer to him and choose to do the next right thing, we can still be considered “successful” by the One that matters most.

 

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Patiently Perservere and Endure

James 1:2-4, in the New Living Translation, says: “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”

Here where the NLT uses the word “endurance,” the KJV says “patience” and the NIV “perseverance.” Whatever word you use the idea is that (1) if you are a believer, then temptations & trials WILL come, and (2) when they DO come, God has made sure that you ARE able to patiently persevere and endure whatever comes your way. Add to that the promise found in 1 Corinthians 10:13: “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”

Oh God, help me to remember these promises and to patiently persevere and endure through whatever trials and temptations come my way. Help me to quickly identify those temptations when I’m facing one. Help me to then see where the “way out” is in the very midst of that temptation. I want to be able to find, and use, the ‘escape hatch!’

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MUST NOT!

A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants. 

— 2 Timothy 2:24-26 (NLT)

In our Tuesday Bible Study recently, we spent some time looking at a couple of the cults that we’ve encountered in our area from time to time. And while we discussed specifics about what they believed, and how it differed from True Christianity, another topic also arose: That of how do we treat people who are not like us… whether they are in a group we consider so different from our beliefs that we call them a cult, or perhaps just from another one of the Christian churches, or even an entirely different religion, or race, or political persuasion, or even sexual orientation… whatever.

As I’ve taught this class on and off in six churches over 19 years I’ve been a pastor, I’ve been inundated with different folks’ beliefs on how to best ‘get rid of’ a cult member who’s coming to your door: hiding in the closet till they go away, putting all the shades down, yelling at them to go away, standing there and belittling them with the fallacy in their belief, or deliberately showing up dressed in nothing more than a single undergarment.

I’ve also been at annual conference 18 of those 19 years (and to one of our General Conferences) when every time something legislative was brought up trying to sway the United Methodist Church to change our condemnation of homosexual behavior. (By the way, it is ALWAYS brought up and it has ALWAYS been voted down.)

My concern as a pastor relates to the passage up above. The way we talk to each other in the church, and to those outside of the church, is commanded that we never stoop down and quarrel in anger and bicker and fight like the non-believers do in the public forum. As Christians, regardless of how wrong we are convinced someone else is, we do not have the right to parley with our tongues like weapons and using our words like ammunition. Read that passage again: catch the words “gently” and “kind” and “patient” and the command to “not quarrel.” And the language used is not like these are suggestions. The emphasis is laid out in the very first phrase: “must not.”

And to top it all off, Jesus Himself is quoted as saying: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” — John 13:35 (NRSV)

If we are to be his disciples, then the world around us will see it and hear it in through the love we show them. Because that’s what a Christian is like… at least according to Jesus. If we are just making a point and zeroing in for the kill by scoring a win over another person’s point, or argument, r discussion point, then we are JUST AS WRONG AS they are… in fact, we are MORE wrong, because we are Christians and are given CLEAR instructions in these two passages (as well as others) as to what the expectation is for a Christian.

In closing this month, my prayer is the prayer embedded in Psalm 19:

“May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be pleasing to you, O Lord…”                             — Psalm 19:14 (NLT)

 

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