Written by Dave Urbanski

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We began a brand-new study of a book of the Bible on Sunday, and Pastor Scott gave us some compelling background that led to Paul writing his letter to the Philippians.

And that background starts in the book of Acts, which offers us so much history of the early church. In chapter 16, we encounter the story of Paul arriving in Philippi amid his second missionary journey. Interestingly Paul and his companions experienced a lot of doors shutting in their faces prior to arriving in Philippi — even the Lord not allowing them to speak the gospel in certain places. Why did that happen? Why wouldn’t God want a city to be evangelized? Well, of course we know he does — but timing and circumstances also play a role in how God’s plan works, and clearly the Lord had something else in mind for Paul & Co., who just needed to obey.

The answer in this case came through a vision Paul received in the night — a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And it’s in Philippi, a major city in Macedonia, where Paul learns about family ministry. Indeed, the first time Paul uses the word “household” is his writings is in his letter to the Philippians! There he encounters Lydia, a religious woman who doesn’t have Jesus — but through Paul’s witness she becomes a Christian … and her entire household does as well, after which Paul is invited to stay with her family.

Things get tough, though, for Paul after he exorcizes a demon out of slave girl whose practice of divination had been bringing money to her owners. With that Paul and Silas are beaten and flogged and thrown into jail, their feet placed in stocks in the innermost part of the facility to ensure they won’t escape. But they are not the inmates anyone was expecting. Rather than grumbling and complaining about their circumstances, Paul and Silas begin praying and singing praises to God while behind bars. Everyone was listening. Can you imagine? And with that, an earthquake hits, and the cells open, and prisoners’ bonds were broken. As Pastor Scott said, a crisis has come into the jailer’s life. His world was shaken, literally and figuratively. He knew that escaping prisoners meant his execution, so he drew his sword to kill himself. But Paul had a different idea, and hollered to the jailer: “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” But the jailer was still afraid and fell down before Paul and Silas before asking them, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”That’s how quickly people can come to the end of themselves. Like a flash of lightning; a clear moment when we realize we cannot go on without God. And Paul and Silas told the jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Again … “household.” More family ministry! So they “spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.” What a gift!

As Pastor Scott reminded us, our salvation doesn’t depend on our own good works or performance or anything else but what Jesus did for us on the cross. All we need to “do” is believe in him. More than that, the magistrates apparently had enough of earthquakes in connection with Paul and Silas and ordered their release. But Paul wasn’t satisfied — he wanted an apology for their unjust treatment  … and got one before they left Philippi. Fast forward 11 years, and Paul is under house arrest in Rome. And it’s here that he writes his letter to the church in Philippi, whose members are afraid of what may happen with Paul now in chains. What will become of him? Will he be killed? They’re sad, anxious, and angry. So Paul addresses those emotions in the letter to the Philippians.

Pastor Scott emphasized the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is based on circumstances, but joy is different — it is not dependent on circumstances, which means joy can be experienced in the worst of times. So crucial to our well-being, Paul uses the word “joy” 16 times in the epistle’s 104 verses! 
In addition, Paul address his letter to all the “saints” in the church — and as we know, that term has been misused forever as a way of describing someone who does good things … or doesn’t do bad things. But Pastor Scott underscored that all Christians are saints. And again, our sainthood isn’t dependent on our personal righteousness. God chooses to look at us through the lens of Jesus’ righteousness, which is perfect.

Pastor Scott also told us that the letter to the Philippians is the only one in the Bible that names church leaders — overseerers and deacons — in the opening salutation, which is an acknowledgment of the structure of a church. And in this case Pastor Scott said the idea of church leadership here seems to emphasize the Lord’s power in each of us through spiritual gifts we have to offer to the church.

Finally, we stopped at verse 2 of Philippians which offers us two crucial words to all of us: “Grace” and “peace.” Pastor Scott told us that the word “joy” we had just discussed actually is rooted in the word “grace” — and added that the word “grace” is manifested three ways in Scripture: saving grace, which we don’t earn; the grace of spiritual gifts that empower us to do ministry; and grace to endure trials … in the same way the Lord told Paul his grace is sufficient to deal with his thorn in the flesh. And for that reason we all can experience “joy” through the grace God provides for us. And concerning the word “peace,” Pastor Scott told us that it represents the “center” of where the Lord wants us. So that when hard things happen and anxiety hits, we can ask God to give us the “peace that passes all understanding.”

Bottom line, though: To experience grace and joy and peace, we must choose to do so. Therefore, choose wisely today! 

Written by Dave Urbanski

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We have come to the end of our study of Genesis. And chapter 50 may offer us the most robust set of truths we can apply to our lives that we’ve seen thus far in the first book of the Bible.

Pastor Scott kicked things off by noting that we all have the potential for allowing past negative experiences to rob us of a vital, joyful present. We typically react to such negative experiences by building a figurative wall around ourselves to protect us from future harm — it’s our safe zone. And even the idea of venturing outside or past that wall can result in anxiety — so we tend to stay put. But while we may avoid pain as a result, we also risk missing out of wonderful experiences and emotional, mental, and spiritual growth.

And that’s exactly what Joseph’s brothers were experiencing after their father Jacob died:

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.” So, they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘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. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 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. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus, he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

The regret of Joseph’s brothers, and Joseph’s loving and forgiving reaction to them is the foundation for a number of principles we can adopt when we find ourselves in similar situations — whether those situations are similar to what Joseph’s brothers were experiencing or similar to what Joseph was experiencing.

#1 — Admit there might be a problem by taking responsibility and not blaming others.

#2 — If possible, go directly to the person or persons you’ve wronged and ask forgiveness.

#3 — Extend compassion to those who ask your forgiveness. Pastor Scott made an important connection between Joseph’s compassion and the compassion that Jesus shows throughout the Gospels — particularly Christ’s message to his disciples after his resurrection that he would send “the comforter” after his ascension into heaven (i.e., the Holy Spirit). How amazing that God’s intention for the Holy Spirit is to be a comforter for us! We certainly need that in our lives, don’t we?

#4 — In verse 18, Joseph’s brothers fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Pastor Scott offered us a valuable insight, saying that when we don’t deal with fears in our lives, they become our masters — our bosses. Instead, let us obey Jesus who over and over commands us to “fear not.” We may sometimes respond that we cannot help the emotion of fear, but so often it comes down a choice on our part — and we must ask the Lord to help us move into our fears and choose to deal with them. And he will!

#5 — In the same way that Joseph tells his brothers, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?” we must acknowledge that whatever is causing us to fear in our lives cannot take the place of the Lord. However, over time it very well may control us to the point that’s a kind of god — a kind of idol — that we’re bowing down to. This may be Pastor Scott’s most hard-hitting and important warning for us. For when we see that our fears and anxieties are taking over and controlling what we do on a day-to-day basis, we know they have become “first” in our lives when God should be first in our lives. Let us ask the Lord to get rid of such idols and invite him back to the center of our hearts!

#6 — In verse 20, Joseph told his brothers to not be troubled even though they meant evil toward him many years ago, because the Lord was (and still is) in control — and turned it into something good. Pastor Scott reminded us that “The God Factor” is always our “ticket out” of regret, anxiety, bitterness, and hatred. He’s always on the throne of our lives, working through our decisions, both good and bad, and turning them into goodness in our lives.

#7 — Pastor Scott drew from verse 21 to give us our seventh and final principal: Joseph told his brothers, “So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And then he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. Indeed, the three points of action in this verse will keep us going in times of trouble: There’s nothing to fear since God is for us; God will provide for us, and the Lord will bring comfort to our hearts! Let us not be trapped by our pasts and instead move forward — and out of our comfort zones and into the adventurous, joyful lives God has for us


Written by Dave Urbanski

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We arrived at a poignant moment Sunday toward the end of our study about the life of Joseph when his father Jacob was about to die.

As we saw in the beginning of chapter 48, Joseph got the message that “your father is ill,” after which he took his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, to be with Jacob.

And from this moment until his death, Jacob indeed offered his loved ones “words to live by.”

First off, Jacob — who was energized by the encounter and suddenly sat his withering body up in bed — said “God Almighty” (the powerful reference to the Lord as “el Shaddai”) appeared to him, blessed him, and said the Lord would make his descendants fruitful and give them land as an “everlasting possession.” Then Jacob adopted Ephraim and Manasseh as his own sons.

It was quite a moment, as Pastor Scott explained, noting that Joseph was the eleventh out of a dozen sons of Jacob — and now Jacob is moving Joseph to the number 1 position and giving him a “double portion” of blessings.

What’s more, when Joseph brought his sons to Jacob so he could bless them, Jacob crossed his hands and gave the first blessing not to Manasseh, the older son, but to Ephraim, the younger son! Indeed, Joseph was upset by this outside-the-box breach of protocol, but Jacob knew what he was doing, saying that Manasseh “also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother [Ephraim] shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.”

As Pastor Scott emphasized, Jacob’s nontraditional action reflects how God deals with us in sometimes nontraditional ways as well. Outside the box. Not what we — or anyone else — expects. And because of that, we can rejoice. In fact, we’re all the “Ephraim” and are blessed by the Lord who leapfrogs over men’s rules and traditions to give us what we don’t deserve (grace) that astounds us and everyone around us. All of which ultimately brings God more glory.

Jacob also saw the big picture as the breadth of his expiring life lay before him. Because as it happens, Jacob also was the younger son, as well as his father Isaac. God’s sovereignty and powerful, el Shaddai movement in the lives of people just like us was coming to fruition.

Another important moment happened when Jacob gathered his sons around him and gave them prophetic words of blessing — but also it was instructive because we saw that not every son would be living so well in the end. Case in point was Reuben, who — as we saw previously in Genesis — was guilty of sexual immorality. And because of it, Reuben would be hindered in receiving Jacob’s blessing. In the same way, Simeon and Levi — who slaughtered innocent people earlier in Genesis due to angry and vengeful spirits — also were hindered in receiving Jacob’s blessings.

But Judah, another brother who also behaved immorally earlier in Genesis — including coming up with the idea of selling Joseph into slavery — managed to receive Jacob’s blessing because Judah later demonstrated a broken and contrite heart in the face of his sins. And it’s all a big hint for us: Because if we, too, are to receive God’s blessings, we must not let our sin get in the way. So, let us confess and be forgiven so we can move forward with the Lord!

Lastly, Jacob spoke to Joseph before he breathed his last and said, even though he would be dying soon “God will be with you.” As Pastor Scott noted, that had been the motto — the central theme, in fact — of Jacob’s life. And we certainly would benefit greatly if it became a central motto in our own lives!

Jesus already promised that he’s with us always, until the end of time. So, let us live like we know he is with us always. Let us lay hold of the abundant life God promised us. And not based on material things the Lord may give to us, but abundance in the sense of deep meaning and love and generosity toward others. Let’s let the Lord lead us like he is Our Shepherd, and we are his sheep. Let us trust God in such a way, knowing that whatever happens in our lives, it ultimately is well with our souls.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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As we continue looking at the life of Joseph, we find him dealing with the consequences of the famine that has swept over the land. The people were desperate. No food means no life. Pastor Scott made a keen connection to the fact that today we’re living through our own kind of famine — a spiritual famine. Thing is, there’s no lack of abundance in terms of the availability of God’s word, the Bible. Anyone can quickly access it, read if they want to … but fewer and fewer people are reading it as time goes by. 

And here’s some news that may (or may not) be a shocker: A recent study found that about 60% of people between the ages of 18 and 39 who consider themselves born-again Christians don’t believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven. That’s scary. And that’s indicative of a culture that has been drawing in and negatively influencing the younger generations to the point where they’re tossing aside very basic, very standard Christian theology for beliefs that may feel good and are acceptable to the culture at-large, but ultimately are false.

Indeed, many of us — in the church even — are spiritually malnourished. How much emphasis are we placing on short-term cures that leave God out but ultimately leave us unsatisfied and unhealthy? Are we dining at a spiritual McDonald’s instead of “eating right” with the Lord’s commands in Scripture?
Another very crucial part of the famine story in Genesis 47 is the fact that the desperate Egyptians are giving everything they had to Joseph in exchange for food … their money, their livestock, their land, and even their lives. They became servants to Pharaoh so they could live another day. 

Interesting, isn’t it? When you’re hungry and thirsty and on death’s door, you’ll exchange ANYTHING in order to live. It ought to be the same way with regard to our relationships with Jesus. He wants EVERYTHING from us. Our time, our finances, our careers, our priorities. Everything. But more often than not, we put off giving Jesus everything in our lives because we’re not under the kind of stress one feels at the point of starvation! So we put it off. “I’ll be more committed to the Lord tomorrow,” we tell ourselves. 

But Pastor Scott really brought home the truth that this is one thing we cannot put off. And he challenged us to look into our own hearts and emotions for clues that we’re not where we need to be in our relationships with Jesus. Are we angrier than we ought to be? Are we way more anxious about things in our daily lives? If so, it likely means there are areas in our lives that we’re not giving over to God and letting him control; grain we’re keeping for ourselves in our own crumbling storehouses. Jesus told us that if we try to hang on to our life, we will lose it. And there is nothing on earth worth the price of our own souls. We must give everything over to the King.

Also, in verse 27 we see that amid the famine, Joseph’s father and brothers are thriving in the land that Joseph gave to them. Why is that? They submitted to Joseph and called upon him for help, and Joseph responded by giving them the best part of the land upon which to live and work. In the same way, as Christians we must be the subculture that lives differently than the rest of the world going in the wrong direction, submitting ourselves to the Lord’s direction and trusting in his guidance and plan for our lives. And indeed, by doing so we will avoid the pitfalls of our culture’s short-term pleasures and “solutions” and thrive through God’s power and provision.

Finally, we see Jacob reaching the end of his life and making Joseph swear that he’ll bury him in the land of his forefathers rather than in Egypt. And it’s, again, a reminder for all of us that this world is not our home; we are sojourners and just passing through. Jacob had a bigger picture of what God was doing — and we must have that same long-term view!