A Lifetime Spent With Your Father

A lifetime spent with your Father:

How to practice the presence of God

Dr. Jim Denison

Psalm 23

Two friends, Bill and Tom, were drinking coffee at an all-night café. They got into a discussion about the difference between irritation, aggravation, and frustration. About 1:00 AM, Bill said, “Look, Tom, I’ll show you an example of irritation.” He went to the pay phone, put in some coins and dialed a number at random. The phone rang and rang. Finally a sleepy voice answered, and Bill said, “I’d like to speak to Jones.” “There’s no one here named Jones,” the man replied as he hung up. “That,” Bill said to Tom, “is a man who is irritated.”

An hour later, at 2:00 AM, Bill said, “Now I’ll show you a man who is aggravated.” Again he went to the phone and dialed the same number. The sleepy man answered and Bill said, “May I please speak with Jones?” “There’s no one here named Jones!” came the angry reply as the man slammed down the phone.

An hour later, at 3:00 AM, Bill said, “Now, Tom, I’ll show you an example of frustration.” He went to the phone, dialed the same number, and when the sleepy man finally answered he said, “Hi, this is Jones. Have there been any calls for me?”

We all tend to be irritated, aggravated, and even frustrated. I’ve discovered a simple remedy for such stress and anxiety: practicing the presence of God. On those days when I have sought to walk with God, all across the day, I am far less irritated, aggravated, or frustrated. On the days when I don’t, I’m not.

How do we practice his presence each day, all day?

Admit that you need communion with God

David recorded his prayer life thus: “Evening, morning and noon I call to God, and he hears me” (Psalm 55:17). These were the three watches of the Jewish day: sunrise, noon, and sunset. During each of these hours, every day, he called out to God in prayer and worship. As he fed his body breakfast, lunch, and supper, so he fed his soul.

So should we.

The medieval Christians went even further in their daily discipline of prayer. Taking their cue from Psalm 119:164, “Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous ordinances,” they divided the day into seven “offices” of prayer. Called “lauds, prime, terce, sext, none, vespers, and compline,” the hours themselves varied according to the monastery and the day, but the intent was always the same. Seven times every day the monks would stop whatever they were doing to spend fifteen or twenty minutes in prayer, communion and worship.

Nor are Christians the only faith to do this. In Malaysia I saw Muslims leaving their mosques with their foreheads bleeding because they had rubbed them with such fervency on their prayer rugs. Five times each day, the typical Muslim will turn toward Mecca and bow in prayer.

Adoniram Judson, the great missionary, took seven times a day to be alone with God. At dawn, nine in the morning, noon, three, six, nine, and midnight he would withdraw for secret prayer. George Muller, John Hyde, and other famous men and women of prayer had regular times all across the day to be alone with God.

Jesus himself made time to be alone with his Father all across the day. We see him praying early (Mark 1.35) and late (Matthew 14.23). He prayed in performing miracles, teaching, and ministering. He prayed constantly to his Father, and took time regularly to be alone with him.

If his soul needed such times, doesn’t ours?

Start early

I met God in the morning

when my day was at its best,

and his presence came like sunrise

like a glory to my breast.

All day long his presence lingered.

All day long he stayed with me,

and we sailed in perfect calmness

o’er sometimes troubled sea.

Other ships were torn and battered.

Other ships were sore distressed,

but the winds that seemed to drive them

brought to us a peace and rest.

So I think I’ve learned the secret,

learned from many a troubled way,

you must seek God in the morning

if you want him through the day.

Jesus started his day early with his Father—read Mark 1:35. And then he knew his direction for that day, and for his ministry. He was not alone in Scripture:

•Jacob: “Early the next morning he took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it” (Genesis 28:18).

•Hannah and Elkanah: “Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah” (1 Samuel 1:19).

•Hezekiah: “Early the next morning he gathered the city officials together and went up to the temple of the Lord.”

•Job: “When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would send and have them purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them” (Job 1:5).

•David: “Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn” (Psalm 57:8).

•The psalmist: “I arise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word” (Psalm 119:147).

•To sum up: “In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation” (Psalm 5:3).

Nor was Jesus alone in Christian history:

•Bishop Asbury: “I propose to rise at four o’clock as often as I can and spend two hours in prayer and meditation.”

•Joseph Alleine rose at four o’clock for his business of praying until eight. If he heard other tradesmen at work before he was up, he would exclaim, “Oh, how this shames me! Does not my Master deserve more than theirs?”

•Charles Simeon devoted the hours from four to eight in the morning to God.

•Tens of thousands of Korean Christians rise every morning at 4:30 to pray for an hour.


Getting Real with God

Getting real with God:

How to keep the faith

Dr. Jim Denison

Psalm 22

Our spiritual lives are never so tested as when the hard times come. That’s when we need to walk with our Father the most, and are tempted to do so the least. How do we keep the faith when the faith is hard?

Claiming Psalm 22

The problem of evil

Definition of theodicy: “The question of the compatibility of metaphysical, physical, and moral evil in the present world order with the justice and absolute power of God” (Leibniz, Theodicee, 1710).

Statements of the problem:

•Habakkuk 1:3: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?”

•Boethius: “If God exists, from whence comes evil?” (the classic expression of the problem).

•Schopenhauer: “The shortness of life, so often lamented, may perhaps be the very best thing about it.”

Conditions of the problem:

•God is loving

•God is powerful

•Evil exists.

Epicurus’ solutions:

•God wants to remove evil but is unable

•God is able but unwilling

•God is neither able nor willing

•God is both able and willing; why doesn’t he?

Popular but wrong approaches

The nature of evil:

•Evil is an illusion (“maya”)

•Evil is the product of the material world (Greek worldview)

•Evil always results from our desires (Buddhist)

•Evil is always the result of sin (from Hindu karma)

The denial of God’s love:

•Stoic: all is fated by God

•Greeks: the gods are wicked

•Muslim: Allah wills all that is

•Secular: God doesn’t care

The denial of God’s power:

•Dualism: evil is coequal with good

•J. S. Mill, Rabbi Kushner: God is limited

•Deism: God has limited himself

The denial of God’s existence:

•Logical argument (David Hume):

(a)If God exists, he must be loving and powerful and thus eradicate evil

(b)Evil exists

(c)Therefore God does not exist.

Classical atheism

•Classical agnosticism

•Modern existentialism, chaotic world view

Conclusion: Avoid all simplistic answers to the problem of evil and suffering

Biblical approaches to theodicy

•Suffering and Satan:

a.General: John 8:44

b.Accuser: Job 1:9-11

c.Resists the godly: Zechariah 3:1; Matthew 13:38-39

d.Tempts: 1 Chrononicles 21:1; Matthew 4:1

e.Has power over unbelievers: Acts 26:18; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4

f.Preys on people: 1 Peter 5:8

•Suffering and freedom:

a.Freedom given by God: Genesis 2:15-17

b.We are created to worship God freely: Matthew 4:10

c.Free choice led to evil: Genesis 3:6,23-24; James 1:13-15; James 4:1

d.All are now sinners by nature apart from Christ: Romans 3:23

e.The creation is fallen: Genesis 3:17; Romans 8:22

•Suffering as divine punishment:

a.The law of retaliation: Exodus 21:24-25; Deuteronomy 19:21

b.Retaliation by God: Deuteronomy 28:1-3,15-16; Isaiah 3:11; Jeremiah 17:10; Luke 16:19-24; Revelation 20:11-15

c.For repentance: Jeremiah 7:3,5,7

d.For discipline: Proverbs 3:11-12

•Suffering for our good:

a.Some suffering comes from God: Deuteronomy 8:5

b.Can lead to good: Job 23:10; Romans 8:28

c.Refines us: Psalm 66:10; 1 Peter 4:12-13; James 1:2-4

•Suffering as our witness: 2 Peter 2:12,15; 3:15-16

•Suffering and faith: 2 Corinthians 4:1,16; Ephesians 3:13; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 1 Peter 5:7

•Suffering and future hope:

a.Future reward: Isaiah 24:13-15

b.Reward for faithful service: Matthew 25:45-46

c.Makes present suffering bearable: Romans 8:18-19

•Suffering and the presence of God: Deuteronomy 20:1; Psalm 23:4; Psalm 34:18; Isaiah 43:2; Daniel 3:24-25; Daniel 12:6-7; Acts 16:25-26

•Suffering and present preparations: Proverbs 24:10; Jeremiah 12:5

Theological approaches

The “free-will” theodicy

•Biblical support:

a.God gave us freedom: Genesis 2:15-17; Exodus 32:26; Deuteronomy 30:19; Joshua 24:15; 1 Kings 18:21

b.We were created with freedom to choose for good: Matt

c.hew. 4:10; Proverbs 1:10; Proverbs 4:14; Romans 6:13; Ephesians 6:13; 2 Peter 3:17

d.Our free choice for wrong led to evil: James 1:13-15; James 4:1

e.All people are now sinners: Romans 3:23

f.Our sin has resulted in a fallen world: Genesis 3:17; Romans 8:22

g.The fall: Genesis 3

•Historical development–Augustine

a.God created all that is

b.All that is, is good

c.Evil is therefore “non-being”

d.God created humanity with freedom of will

e.Humanity has used this freedom for evil

f.We are therefore responsible for the existence of evil, and God is absolved of all blame

•Advantages:

a.Follows Genesis 3

b.Often appropriate

•Disadvantages:

a.Depends on outdated philosophy (evil as “non-being”)

b.Doesn’t account adequately for natural evil

c.Doesn’t account for innocent suffering and often increases such suffering.

d.Question: if man was created good by nature, why did he sin?

e.Assertion: if God gave man freedom of will, he is responsible for it to some degree.

The “soul-building” theodicy

•Biblical support:

a.Suffering sometimes comes from God: Deuteronomy 8:5; Job 16:12; Psalm 66:11; Psalm 90:7

b.Leads to good: Job 23:10; Psalm 119:67; 2 Corinthians 4:17; Hebrews 12:11; Revelation 7:14

c.Refines us: Psalm 66:10; Isaiah 48:10; Malachi 3:3; 1 Peter 1:7; 4:17

d.Promised by God: Romans 8:28-29

•Historical development–Irenaeus

a.God created us to develop into perfect relationship with himself

b.God created the world as a place for that development

c.Evil is thus necessary as a means of our “soul-building”

•Advantages:

a.Proposes a model for explaining the existence of evil before man chose it in Eden (vs. Augustine)

b.Realistic re: God’s allowing or even creating some evil

c.Provides hope for purpose in present suffering

d.Often is our practical experience.

•Disadvantages:

a.The “Fall” is not strong enough re: Genesis 3, other biblical materials

b.The amount of evil in the world is disproportionate to present good

c.Hell is not redemptive

d.Latent universalism.

The “future hope” theodicy

•Biblical support: John 14:1-6; Revelation 21:1-5

•Contemporary expression:

a.Evil will be resolved in the future, making present suffering worthwhile

b.This future hope makes present courage possible.


God in the Mirror

God in the Mirror

Genesis 50:15-21

Dr. Jim Denison

Our church is finishing our annual staff evaluations. In that light, a friend recently sent me some actual quotes taken from Federal Government employee performance evaluations. These should make us all feel better:

•Since my last report, this employee has reached rock-bottom and has started to dig.

•I would not allow this employee to breed.

•Gates are down, the lights are flashing, but the train isn’t coming.

•He’s got two brain cells–one is lost and the other is out looking for it.

•If you see two people talking and one looks bored, he’s the other one.

•This employee is depriving a village somewhere of an idiot.

Evaluations are stressors for us all, because there is something innate to the human condition which wants to succeed, to advance, to be promoted and praised. But this all-too-human desire can have its down sides.

Perhaps you saw the recent Time cover story on ambition. The article surveys high school students more pressured to succeed than ever before, and the rising levels of stress and physical symptoms which result.

Heart attacks, ulcers, and depression are at epidemic levels in our country. Yet we praise ambition and self-driven motivation as the keys to success. Does God?

Be humble as Joseph

Remember the dream which started Joseph’s story: “We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it” (Genesis 37:7). If that wasn’t enough, “Listen, I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me” (v. 9).

I’m not sure why he even needed to share them with his family. And their jealous response doesn’t offer much evidence for humility on his part. Is it possible that he had to go to the pit and the prison before God could trust him in the palace?

Fortunately, the story of Joseph’s character development doesn’t end here. Being thrown in a cistern by your brothers and then sold to a wandering band of Ishmaelites and then to Pharaoh’s chief executioner can do much to promote humility.

So it is that he refused Potiphar’s wife with the statement, “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9).

When Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker became Joseph’s fellow prisoners and he learned they had dreams they could not interpret. He knew something about dreams and their meaning. But rather than brag on his abilities, he responded, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams” (Genesis 40:8). And they did, and he interpreted them correctly with God’s help.

Then Pharaoh had dreams he could not interpret, and Joseph was summoned to his palace. Now is his opportunity to show Pharaoh what he can do, fulfilling his personal dreams of honor and authority. Imagine that you’re a writer given a chance opportunity to pitch your best book idea to the chief editor of the largest publishing firm in the world.

Or you’re a singer with a once-in-a-lifetime chance to win American Idol, today. Or you’re a software engineer who finds herself sitting at a dinner next to Bill Gates, or a law school graduate introduced to Chief Justice Roberts. What do you do?

Pharaoh says to Joseph, “I had a dream and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it” (Genesis. 41:15). Quiet on the set; a drum rolls in the background; the action stops. Then Joseph replies, “I cannot do it, but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires” (v. 16). And he did.

Later Joseph revealed himself to his terrified brothers and said, “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt” (Genesis 45:7-8).

Finally Jacob died, and now the brothers are afraid for their lives again. Perhaps Joseph has been kind to them for his father’s sake, but now nothing stands in the way of his vengeance.

Once again they fulfill his dream: “We are your slaves” (Genesis 50:18). Who is your worst enemy, or fiercest competitor, or strongest antagonist? Imagine that person falling before you with the same admission. How do you respond?

Listen to Joseph: “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (vs. 19-20). And so he did.

Seek God’s glory

Do you detect a pattern? Joseph gives God the glory for his ability to interpret dreams, and for the circumstances which have fulfilled his own. And God uses him far beyond anything Joseph or his brothers could have imagined 20 years earlier. Joseph will live for God’s glory, and God will use and bless Joseph. Here’s the sermon in a sentence: God uses most fully those who give the glory to him. Joseph is Exhibit A.

Here’s Exhibit B. Moses led God’s people out of Pharaoh’s Egypt and to the edge of the Promised Land. But not into it.

When the people who had passed through the Red Sea later complained that they needed water, God instructed Moses to speak to the rock so that water would come forth for the nation. But Moses said to the gathered nation, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then he “raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank” (Numbers 20:10-11).

With this result: “the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them'” (v. 12). His desire to get the glory for himself kept him from the glorious Promised Land of God.


Seeking a Pure Heart

Seeking a pure heart:

How to confess your sins

Dr. Jim Denison

Psalm 51

Why do we sin?

Here’s the background of Psalm 51. King David had an affair with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. She became pregnant. To cover his sin, eventually he had Uriah killed and took the widow as his wife. But God knew what he had done, and sent the prophet Nathan to expose his sin.

In this one event David broke nine of God’s Ten Commandments. He broke in order the tenth, coveting his neighbor’s wife; the seventh, by committing adultery; the eighth by stealing her for himself; the sixth by murdering her husband; the ninth, by lying about his sin; the fifth, by dishonoring his parents; the second, by making an idol of Bathsheba; and the first and third, by shaming God and his name. At least he didn’t break the Sabbath, that we know of.

Why did he do this? Why do we sin? Why do these things happen? Let’s do some theology together.

First, we have inherited a sin nature.

Verse 5 is clear: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” This verse does not mean that babies or fetuses sin; it means that we have all inherited a sin nature, a propensity to sin.

Romans 5:12 says, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all have sinned.” We have each inherited a tendency toward sin.

Second, we choose to sin of our own free will. While we have this nature, we are nonetheless responsible for our own sin. God does not make us sin, and the “devil made me do it” is a cop-out. Our family backgrounds and circumstances are often contributing factors, but the choice is ours. We choose to sin.

Listen to James 1:14-15: “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

Third, Satan deceives us. The devil is very real, and he hates you. You are his enemy. Jesus said in John 8:44 that the devil is a “murderer from the beginning,” and “a liar and the father of lies.” He tempts and deceives every one of us.

He is sly and subtle, never tempting us to do what he knows we will not do. As when lights are dimmed slowly and our eyes adjust to the darkness, so he seeks to lead us by steps from sin to its devastating results.

As a result, we each think that we are the one person in all of human history who can sin without consequences. No one will know about us; we can do this and be o.k.; no one will be hurt. Every person in sin thinks it’s so. But as we all know, that’s a lie.

Mark it down: sin always takes you further than you wanted to go, keeps you longer than you wanted to stay, and costs you more than you wanted to pay. Always.

To summarize: why do these things happen? Because we have a sin nature, and we choose to sin; we are deceived into thinking we can do so without consequence. And the results are disastrous and devastating.

I read this week about a terrible work of modern art: a loaded shotgun affixed to a chair. It was to be viewed by sitting in the chair and looking directly into the gunbarrel. The gun was set on a timer to fire at an undetermined moment within the next hundred years. And people waited in line to sit and stare into the gun!

Get out of that line, now.

What do we do when we sin?

Our second question: what do we do when we sin? Our psalm is very clear.

First, we turn to God (1-2). We ask for his “mercy,” which is not getting the punishment we deserve. We ask for his “unfailing love,” the Old Testament word for “grace,” which is getting the love and forgiveness we don’t deserve. We ask him to “blot out” our transgressions, a Hebrew phrase which means to wash the garment until it is clean and the stain is gone.

Our tendency when we sin is to run from God and his church, when we need to do the opposite. The sick need a doctor; the sinner needs God.

Second, we admit our sin to him (3-4). Our human reaction is to excuse our sin, to transfer blame to others, or to rationalize what we have done. A lawyer once told he never met a guilty defendant. Every one had justified his or her behavior somehow.

But David didn’t–he admitted his “transgressions,” which means to cross the boundaries of what is right. He acknowledged his “sin,” his moral failure.

And he stated correct theology: “Against you only have I sinned” (v. 4). We hurt other people, sometimes in horrible ways; but by theological definition we “sin” against God.

Third, we come to God in repentance and contrition (16-17). We don’t try to excuse our behavior by right and good actions (16). Instead, we come before God on bended knees and broken hearts. We are genuinely contrite and sorry for our horrible choices and actions.

God promised in 2 Chron. 7.14, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and forgive their sin, and heal their land.” If we come to him in humility and contrition.

This is not because humble repentance earns God’s forgiveness, but because contrition receives it. I cannot receive with a fist. I must admit I need what God can give, and open myself to receive it. So must you.

Fourth, we claim God’s cleansing (7-12). Then, when we confess our sin God does truly forgive and cleanse us. Hyssop was used by a priest to sprinkle the blood of a sacrifice over the sinner. So God cleanses us by the blood of his Son, Jesus Christ, who paid for all our sins.


The Key to Successful Living

The Key to Successful Living

Genesis 39:1-6

Dr. Jim Denison

The inventor Thomas Edison was talking with two dejected assistants. They informed him, “We’ve just completed our seven hundredth experiment and we still don’t have an answer. We have failed.”

Edison replied, “No, my friends, you haven’t failed. We’re closer to finding the answer, because we now know seven hundred things not to do. Don’t call it a mistake. Call it an education.” And the light bulb was the result.

Cornell psychiatrist Ari Kiev:

In my practice as a psychiatrist, I have found that helping people to develop personal goals has proved to be the most effective way to help them cope with problems. Observing the lives of people who have mastered adversity, I have noted that they have established goals and sought with all their effort to achieve them. From the moment they decided to concentrate all their energies on a specific objective, they began to surmount the most difficult odds…The establishment of a goal is the key to successful living (emphasis mine).

Last week I told you that God has a dream for you. Today we’ll learn to seek it. In coming weeks we’ll learn how to persevere, to be ready when our chance comes, and to satisfy the one indispensable requirement for the dream God blesses.

Believe God has a dream for you

Let’s begin where we ended last week: believe that God has a dream for you. Joseph “had a dream” (Genesis 37:5): his brothers, and indeed the entire human race, would bow down to him. 20 years later, they did. Does God have a dream for you?

Some evolutionists say that life began as a chance coincidence, with no particular plan or purpose at all. Existentialists say that this life is all there is, and life is chaos. Postmodernists say that truth is relative, and there is no overriding purpose to life. So, does God have a plan for us, or is life a random coincidence? In the words of Shakespeare, are we “sound and fury, signifying nothing”?

Does God still have a dream for us?

In Jeremiah’s letter God claims, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Even though they were enslaved in Babylon, with no hope and no future.

God dreamed that Noah would save the human race. He dreamed that the childless Abraham would be the father of the Messiah. He dreamed that the shepherd Moses would give his laws to the world. He dreamed that the young shepherd boy David would be king of his people.

He dreamed that the fishermen Peter, James, and John would lead his global church. He dreamed that the persecuting Saul of Tarsus would take his word across the Empire. He dreamed that the imprisoned John would write his Revelation. And so it was.

God has a dream for you. For every day there is a dream. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, how healthy and prosperous you are or aren’t. If God had a dream of greatness for an arrogant teenage sheepherder, he has a dream for you.

And he wants you to know it. He is sovereign over history, while you are free. He knows your future, but permits you to help decide it. He created time, and transcends it now. He is not today peering into the future–there is no “future” with him. He is the Great I Am, not the I Was or the I Will Be. He observes all time as now.

So he observes all that we will choose to do. Observing is not deciding. He knows our future, while allowing us to decide it. Choose well.

Listen for his voice

So, how do we know God’s dream for us? In the same ways we know everything else in life. Sometimes God speaks to us intuitively. We have a sense of something we should do. Or his Spirit speaks to our spirit and we know what is right. We don’t need pragmatic or rational evidence–we just know it.

Such was Joseph’s experience. He “had” a dream, a vision which was given to him by God. He was not the last. Jacob had a vision of the ladder to heaven (Genesis 32:30). As he was being martyred, Stephen had a vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:56). Paul “had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:9-10).

God wants to speak to our spirits more than we want to hear him. He promised, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions” (Joel 2:28); this promise was fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 2:17).

How is it fulfilled today? How do we see God’s vision and hear his voice?

We make a space to listen. God spoke to the young boy Samuel in a voice so quiet it did not waken anyone else in the house (1 Samuel 3). He spoke to Elijah in a “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12). He spoke to Peter in a vision only Peter saw.

But Peter first made space to see and hear the Lord: “About noon the following day…Peter went up on the roof to pray” (Acts 10:9). This was the unshaded part of the house, in the heat of the day. He knew he would be there alone. And he was, until he was joined by the God of the universe.

Make space for God. Answer his invitation: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). When last did you give God even 15 minutes to speak to you? When you weren’t doing all the talking to him? Open his word and ask him to speak to your heart from his revelation. Consider something in his creation, a leaf or sunset or cloudy sky, and ask him to speak to you from his creation. Worship him, and ask him to speak to you from the songs or words you sing or speak.


The Wisest Investment You’ll Ever Make

The Wisest Investment You’ll Ever Make

Genesis 39:6-10

Dr. Jim Denison

Thomas Edison said of one of his inventions, “The phonograph is not of any commercial value.” Astronomer Simon Newcomb proclaimed in 1902, “Flight by machines heavier than air is impractical and insignificant, if not utterly impossible.” Thomas J. Watson, IMB chairman in 1943, announced, “I think there is a world market for about five computers.” At my house, anyway. Not such good investment advice, was it?

$1,000 invested in Coca Cola stock when it went public in 1919 would be worth more than $150 million today. The same investment in Home Depot stock when it went public in 1981 would be worth $1.2 million today. But $1,000 invested in American Motors Corporation or Eastern Airlines, good deals at the time, would be gone today.

This morning I’ll show you the wisest investment you’ll ever make. You already have the capital to do the deal. The broker’s on the line. The choice is yours.

Joseph’s temptation

“Joseph was well-built and handsome,” we’re told (v. 6b). The same Hebrew words used of Rachel are translated, “lovely in form and beautiful” (Genesis 29:17). Joseph has been in Egypt for 10 years, and is now 27 years of age. He is a healthy, handsome, successful young man, managing the household affairs of one of the most important officials in the country. If you were 27 and chief of staff for the Secretary of Defense, you’d be in a similar position.

It’s just then that temptation strikes: “after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, ‘Come to bed with me!'” (v. 7). Ancient historians depict wealthy Egyptian wives as alcoholic and immoral. There’s a story about one Egyptian ruler searched for years seeking a woman he believed would be faithful to him; when he found one, he married her instantly.

This apparently had happened before: “My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife” (v. 9). Why would he need such explicit instructions? I would not need to specify such if I were hiring someone to manage our family’s affairs. This kind of thing was as common in their society as it is in ours.

This is a great opportunity for Joseph. If Potiphar’s wife likes him, there’s no telling how far he can go. On the other hand, if he rejects her he may lose everything. None of the household servants are around; no one will know. It will just be their secret. Everyone does it, after all. What’s the harm? So long as Joseph performs his public duties well, his private life is his own business. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

Our temptation

You’ve met Potiphar’s wife, and so have I. If you don’t commit the public sins which will disgrace you, and you don’t hurt anyone, you’ve done all that morality requires today. What you do on your time is your business. No one has the right to legislate morality anyway.

Private thoughts about coworkers; slander or gossip repeated to friends you trust; Internet sites or late night television; what you do on a date; how you report your personal taxes; whether or not I did my own work on this message; how you handle your billable hours; how you bill the patient’s insurance; how you are with your staff behind closed doors–it’s all your business. You’re in church this morning, and most of you will be in Sunday school shortly. You haven’t murdered anyone or broken any “important” laws this week.

There are two schools of ethical thought, and neither seems to speak to Mrs. Potiphar.

Duty for duty’s sake is one. Do not commit adultery, the seventh commandment orders. “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” Jesus adds (Matthew 5:28). But why? What harm will it do? No one will get hurt.

Consequentialism is the other: the end justifies the means. Do whatever leads to the results you want. Again, there seem to be no consequences here, no down side. Joseph can sleep with Potiphar’s wife and no one will know. You can slander someone to a trusted friend and believe that the person you discussed will never know. Private sins are just that–private.

Yet God’s word clearly requires more of us than external morality:

“There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known” (Luke 12:2).

Indeed, “What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs” (v. 3).

Private morality is the cost of public blessing. If you want to fulfill God’s dream for your life, you must pay the price. Joseph had to flee this woman, leaving his “cloak” in her hand (Genesis 39:12). This was his undershirt–he probably ran out naked. And paid the price–unjustly accused of attempted rape, thrown from Potiphar’s palace to his prison. Why was this a wise decision?

Choose to refuse

The “Holy” Spirit cannot use that which is impure. A surgeon must have a sterile operating room and sterile tools, or he cannot operate. God cannot use impure instruments to accomplish his pure and perfect goals.

So, why not sin and confess, sin and confess? Why not do those things which are without public consequence, then confess them to God so that he can begin to use us again? Because there is no sin without consequences.

Jesus said, You cannot serve God and money. You cannot walk in two different directions at the same time.

Every hour spent in private sin is an hour lost to God’s purpose for your life. Every wrong thought prevents the Spirit from leading you with right thoughts. Every day spent outside God’s word and will is lost forever. It is one day subtracted from his dream for us. It makes his dream one day less fulfilled. Private sin limits public blessing, now and forever.