Broken and Spilled Out

Broken and Spilled Out

Genesis 30:22

Dr. Jim Denison

Today is Mother’s Day. Every one of us has had a mother, obviously; however, we don’t all see her in the same way. For instance, there was a little girl who, when shown the wedding pictures of her parents, asked her father, “Daddy, is that the day you got Mom to come and work for us?”

Then there was the teacher who had just given her second-grade class a lesson on magnets. She asked a little boy, “Now, my name starts with an ‘M’ and I pick up things. What am I?” The boy replied instantly, “A mother?”

But my favorite story has to do with a poor mother who was concerned about her eldest son’s use of profanity. She asked her pastor for advice, and he told her that each time her son cussed, she should slap him. Bad advice, to be sure.

The next morning as her sons came to the breakfast table she asked them what they wanted to eat. The eldest said, “I want some ‘blankety, blank Post Toasties.’” His mother slapped him as hard as she could. As he sat dazed on the floor, she turned to the younger son and asked what he wanted to eat. He said, “Well, I sure don’t want any Post Toasties!”

This is a good day, for mothers need all the encouragement they can find. That’s what Anna Jarvis thought when she decided upon her mother’s death in 1905 to make a day in her memory. She copyrighted “Mother’s Day” with the U.S. Patent Office, then wrote governors, state legislators, congressmen, and even the president. Finally, in 1914 President Wilson signed a proclamation making Mother’s Day a national observance.

Upon her death in 1948, a wreath of 43 carnations was placed on Anna Jarvis’s grave, because in that year 43 countries celebrated Mother’s Day. Why carnations? Because they were her mother’s favorite flower.

Anna Jarvis had the right idea for our culture, but also for our souls. For mothers have the single greatest influence on their children’s eternal souls. That is the simple point I want to make today.

The contents are what matters

Our text finds Rachel in dire straits. Her husband loves her, but she has borne him no children. Her sister and even their maids have given him ten sons together; she has none. So she prays, and prays more fervently, and prays still more intently. And finally her prayer is answered.

Fourteen years after she and Jacob were married, she gives him a child, a son. She knows immediately the source of her blessing, for she names him “Joseph,” which means “The Lord adds.” God gave her this child. And she would love him until the day she died giving birth to his brother, Benjamin. The Jewish people venerate the place of her birth to this day.

Rachel’s story illustrates well the relationship of motherhood to pottery. The first fact: the contents of the clay vessel are its value.

A clay vessel is a means to an end. The contents of the pot are what matters, not its form or appearance. Pots are as valuable as they are useful.

We are to judge them by their function, not their appearance. They may be beautiful, but cracked or dirty on the inside, and thus of no value. Or they may be common on the outside but clean and holy on the inside, so that their contents are valuable and pure.

So with mothers. Your eternal value lies in the souls of your children. Not in your status in the eyes of your society, your possessions or appearance or achievements. Your greatest value as a mother is the soul of the child given to you.

The second fact: the vessel seldom knows the ultimate result of its work.

Water poured from the clay pot grows flowers the pot never sees. It helps thirsty people the pot never knows. Its use extends far beyond the pot which held it.

Rachel never knew that her oldest son would one day save his brothers and his nation. She died never knowing that he would be second in all of Egypt, and the most famous son of her family and people. She never knew the eternal significance of the life she gave to the world.

You will likely never know the eternal significance of the souls entrusted to your care, either. But God does.

And the third fact: the vessel is the first influence upon its contents. Its purity or contamination is directly transmitted to that which it holds. So with mothers and their children.

Rachel was faithful to God, and God was faithful to her. She was Joseph’s first spiritual influence. She prayed to have Joseph, a fact we never find about Jacob or the rest of his family. She loved him when his brothers were jealous of him. She was his first model of spirituality. Mothers usually are, for better or for worse.

Mothers have the single greatest influence on their children’s eternal souls. That’s my point. Let’s see if it holds up across biblical history and life today.

A pattern across time

First, some biblical stories.

Consider this text: “On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for them and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, ‘Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist’” (Matthew 14:6-7). Her mother implicated her daughter in one of the worst crimes in Scripture.

Consider Ahaziah, the ancient king of Israel, and this statement: “He too walked in the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother encouraged him in doing wrong. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, as the house of Ahab had done” (2 Chronicles 22:3-4). This mother’s son suffered a violent, ignominious death for the sins she taught him.

But there are good examples of our point as well. Moses, for instance, was raised in the pagan culture, traditions, and religion of Egypt. And yet because of his spiritual mother, he never forgot his God or his people, and one day led them to their Promised Land.


The Cure for Cracked Pots

The Cure for Cracked Pots

Genesis 39

Dr. Jim Denison

Families and relationships face brand-new challenges these days. This week’s Dallas Morning News reported that the ten-year project to decode the human genome, the operating manual for how human beings are constructed, will be completed next month and available to the world over the Internet. We will be able to cure diseases, but also to design offspring and change human nature.

The Internet is fast becoming the “Evernet”—anything with electricity is having chips embedded in it, from pagers to toasters to cars, and connected to networks. As a result, the new Mercedes 500 has more computing power than the 747-200.

And you will be able to surf the Web everywhere, but the Web will also be able to surf you, to know where you are and what you are consuming, what your family is doing, all the time.

Technology presents great challenges to our homes and relationships. But these are not the greatest problems we face. Our gravest problems have not changed since the Garden of Eden, because human nature does not change. Joseph’s relational problems were exactly our problems. Joseph’s relational solutions will still work for us today.

Let me show you what I mean.

The story of strong clay

Our metaphor for this series on relationships is taken from Jeremiah 18, where God is the Master Potter who molds the clay of our hearts and homes. From this analogy we discover that the clay the potter uses must be pure, or it will crack under pressure. It will collapse under the fire of the kiln or the weight of use. The integrity of the clay determines the strength of the vessel.

So it is with our souls and relationships.

When we last left Joseph, Rachel had just given him life and his name, “The Lord adds.” Joseph drops out of the Genesis narrative for the next six chapters, but resurfaces as a teenager in Genesis 37. Here we watch Jacob honor him above the other brothers, and Joseph brag about his dreams of future superiority. And you know the result.

This teenage boy with dreams of greatness becomes a slave in Egypt, sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharoah’s guard. These are Pharoah’s elite personal troops, and Potiphar is their leader. Alfred Edersheim, the Jewish historian, says that he was “chief of the executioners.”

But God is still with him, for he “gave him success in everything he did” (v. 3). Indeed, “The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field” (v. 5). God is redeeming Joseph’s suffering for his own glory.

Now the test comes. It came for Jesus; it came for Joseph; it comes to us all. Everything is going so well, but this is typically when the enemy strikes: “Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’” (v. 7). If this were a Hollywood movie or television show, we all know what would happen next.

But it’s not—it’s the story of a man of great moral courage and personal integrity. Listen to Joseph’s response: “No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife” (v. 9a). He will not sin against the master who has been so loyal to him.

And he will not sin against the Master who has so blessed him: “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (v. 9b). He continually defends his heart and his integrity: “Though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her” (v. 10).

Unfortunately, Joseph must pay for his integrity. Potiphar’s wife accuses him of attempting to seduce her, and he moves from Potiphar’s home to a prison cell. But all is not as it seems, as we’ll see in a moment.

Put your integrity first

Webster defines “integrity” as “the quality or state of being of sound, moral principle; uprightness, honesty, and sincerity.” This Joseph demonstrates in abundance. If he were preaching this sermon today, he would say to every one of us: put your integrity first. Why is it so important?

Integrity enables us to withstand temptation. Joseph’s character gave him the strength to withstand perhaps the greatest temptation a man can face. We’ll see how in a moment.

Integrity enables others to trust us.

According to Egyptian law (and Jewish legal statutes as well), Potiphar would have executed Joseph for this crime if he had believed his wife. Jail was never the result of such sin by a slave against his master, especially when that master is the chief of Pharoah’s executioners. Potiphar put

Joseph in jail because he knew he didn’t deserve to die, but he couldn’t have him in his house around his sinful wife.

His integrity saved his life, because Potiphar believed him. It enables others to believe us as well.

Most of all, integrity enables God to use us. Joseph’s character was the reason God could use him. The Holy Spirit can only use a vessel yielded to him in godly integrity.

Four times this chapter says, “The Lord was with him.” Why? Joseph didn’t earn or merit such blessing; he simply received it because the integrity of his heart could. A cracked pot cannot contain much water.

And so even at the end of the chapter, God is still blessing Joseph: “while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did” (Genesis 39:20-23).