Have You Ever Smelled a Dead Fish?

Today’s Journey Through Scripture Readings
Exodus 7-8, Matthew 15:1-20

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20 Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded. He raised the shepherd’s rod and hit the water in the Nile in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and all the water in the Nile turned into blood. 21 The fish in the Nile died, and the Nile began to stink so that the Egyptians couldn’t drink water from the Nile. There was blood all over the land of Egypt.22 But the Egyptian religious experts did the same thing with their secret knowledge. As a result, Pharaoh remained stubborn, and he wouldn’t listen to them, just as the Lord had said. 23 Pharaoh turned and went back to his palace. He wasn’t impressed even by this. 24 Meanwhile, all the Egyptians had to dig for drinking water along the banks of the Nile River, because they couldn’t drink the water of the Nile itself. 25 Seven days went by after the Lord had struck the Nile River (Exodus 7:20-25, Common English Bible).

My wife called me a few nights back. When she came home from work there was a smell in the house. No, it wasn’t a dead fish smell. She said it was more like rotten eggs. I thought it might have been natural gas. It wasn’t and it turned out to be something pretty simple and easily fixed.

Things weren’t so easy for Pharaoh. He had a huge problem. When Moses touched his staff on the waters of the Nile, turned to blood and all the fish in the river died. It was a huge, smelly mess. It can be bad enough to smell one dead fish. Think about the stench coming off of thousands of dead fish. And the problem, it lasted for seven days. There were seven days of trying to find drinkable water because the water in the Nile was not palatable. Truth to tell if today’s water tests had existed in Moses’ day the water would not have been usable for much longer than a week.

Smell is one of our most powerful senses. If God didn’t have Pharaoh’s attention before, by the time Pharaoh and the Egyptians had dealt with a week of this mess, God certainly should have had their attention going forward.

There had already been one nasty event in this chapter (more of the evil snakes) and there would be more of the “plagues” to come. Pharaoh wasn’t going to give up this easily. In chapter eight alone Pharaoh and the Egyptians would have to deal with frogs, lice, and insects. And still, God wasn’t done.

Earlier in chapter seven, God had told Moses and Aaron that God would show many signs and amazing acts. God is already living up to that promise. And, it would take much more before Pharaoh would let God’s people go.

These were God’s destructive acts. We can see some of God’s mighty acts too, much more mighty than just the smell of dead fish. We can see God’s positive acts in the world around us. It is just up to us to open our eyes and see and smell what God is doing. If we pay attention, instead of the smell of dead fish, we might smell an early morning rain on a spring day. We might smell a rose growing in a garden or a gardenia growing on the side of a neighbor’s home. We could even smell a patch of wildflowers on the side of a highway. To smell the mighty acts of God it doesn’t take a dead fish. It just takes an alert mind, looking and smelling for the hand of God.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

 

But What If…

Today’s Journey Through Scripture Readings
Exodus 4-6, Matthew 14:22-36

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Then Moses replied, “But what if they don’t believe me or pay attention to me? They might say to me, ‘The Lord didn’t appear to you!’”

The Lord said to him, “What’s that in your hand?”

Moses replied, “A shepherd’s rod.”

The Lord said, “Throw it down on the ground.” So Moses threw it on the ground, and it turned into a snake. Moses jumped back from it.Then the Lord said to Moses, “Reach out and grab the snake by the tail.” So Moses reached out and grabbed it, and it turned back into a rod in his hand. “Do this so that they will believe that the Lord, the God of their ancestors, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God has in fact appeared to you.”

Again, the Lord said to Moses, “Put your hand inside your coat.” So Moses put his hand inside his coat. When he took his hand out, his hand had a skin disease flaky like snow. Then God said, “Put your hand back inside your coat.” So Moses put his hand back inside his coat. When he took it back out again, the skin of his hand had returned to normal. “If they won’t believe you or pay attention to the first sign, they may believe the second sign. If they won’t believe even these two signs or pay attention to you, then take some water from the Nile River and pour it out on dry ground. The water that you take from the Nile will turn into blood on the dry ground” (Exodus 4:1-9, Common English Bible).

We come by it naturally. We often will make excuses rather than to something we are supposed to do, but would really rather not. We can see it in the Bible. Today’s lesson is a great example. God wants Moses to go back to Egypt, a place where Moses had murdered a man, for the purpose of freeing the Israelites. Moses is anticipating ahead of time what is going to happen. “What if they say God didn’t call you?”

God has a response for Moses. “Take your staff and throw it to the ground.” Moses does and the staff turns into a snake. Then God tells Moses, “Pick it up by the tail.” Moses just jumped when the staff became a snake. I would have run far and fast. If God told me to pick the snake up by the tail, “Nope, not me. You find someone else, God. Oh, and you can keep the staff. I will cut another one. I”m not touching a snake. I freely admit I am afraid of snakes. I am so afraid of snakes I won’t even watch one on television. I put my hand up to block my view. I know the snake on TV can’t hurt me but hey, it’s an irrational fear. For some people its heights, for others needles. For me it’s snakes.

If we continued reading on in Exodus 4 we would see that the next thing when God doesn’t relent and let Moses off the hook, Moses says, “My Lord, I’ve never been able to speak well, not yesterday, not the day before, and certainly not now since you’ve been talking to your servant. I have a slow mouth and a thick tongue.”

It is another “But what if…” In this case, God tells Moses to take along his brother to be his microphone. There would probably have been more “What ifs” except God had enough of Moses’ excuses.

If you have ever served on a nominating committee for an organization, you probably know what I am talking about. People are full of excuses. There is an old joke that goes something like this, “Everyone has excuses and excuses are like armpits. We all have them and at least some of them stink.”

One organization I know of right now is functioning without a president because no one will take the job. Everyone is too busy or too old or too weak, or too… It becomes difficult for an organization to function without leaders. It is difficult for committees to do their work without members.

What if, through that nominating committee God is calling you to serve? Don’t say to God, “But what if…”

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Opportunities for Growth

Today’s Journey Through Scripture Readings
Exodus 1-3, Matthew 14:1-21

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Now a new king came to power in Egypt who didn’t know Joseph. He said to his people, “The Israelite people are now larger in number and stronger than we are. 10 Come on, let’s be smart and deal with them. Otherwise, they will only grow in number. And if war breaks out, they will join our enemies, fight against us, and then escape from the land.”11 As a result, the Egyptians put foremen of forced work gangs over the Israelites to harass them with hard work. They had to build storage cities named Pithom and Rameses for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they grew and spread, so much so that the Egyptians started to look at the Israelites with disgust and dread. 13 So the Egyptians enslaved the Israelites. 14 They made their lives miserable with hard labor, making mortar and bricks, doing field work, and by forcing them to do all kinds of other cruel work (Exodus 1:8-14, Common English Bible).

As I began thinking my way through this post one of the things that came to my mind was the first half of a verse from Psalm 23, “Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger because you are with me.”

We all go through difficult times in life. While we are walking through that dark valley, I think a pretty universal sentiment is, I need to hurry up and get out of here so things in my life can get back to normal.

The converse is also true. When we are going through those great times in life, through the mountain-top experiences, we want them to continue. It would be OK with us if they went on indefinitely, even forever.

The truth of the matter is, we won’t stay in the valley forever. Nor will we stay on the mountaintop forever. I have a theory. The longer we stay up on the mountain, the more likely God is to show up with a spiritual bulldozer to push us off of said mountain. Why? Because the mountain is not where the sheep are fed. It isn’t where growth takes place. The sheep graze on the flat places and down in the valleys. Those valleys, those hard times in life are opportunites for us to grow.

In today’s reading from Exodus we find this verse: “But the more they were oppressed, the more they grew and spread, so much so that the Egyptians started to look at the Israelites with disgust and dread (Exodus 1:12, CEB). The more they were oppressed… The more they walked through the valley, the more they grew. I realize this verse could be read literally and it is still true. But, I want to challenge us to read the verse with spiritual eyes. Read it, instead of a verse about Israel, read it as a verse about you.

Life can be hard for all of us. At times it is hard for all of us. And, of course, we really don’t want to walk the valleys. But, perhaps instead of dreading the valleys and trying to make our way quickly to the other side (something often beyond our ability to control), we should look at these difficulties as opportunities for growth. They are opportunities for God to chip away at our rough edges to become more of the person God wants us to be.

Have a great day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

 

Joseph Wept

Journey Through Scripture
Daily Readings for 1/20/2018
Genesis 49-50, Matthew 13:31-38

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15 When Joseph’s brothers realized that their father was now dead, they said, “What if Joseph bears a grudge against us, and wants to pay us back seriously for all of the terrible things we did to him?” 16 So they approached Joseph and said, “Your father gave orders before he died, telling us, 17 ‘This is what you should say to Joseph. “Please, forgive your brothers’ sins and misdeeds, for they did terrible things to you. Now, please forgive the sins of the servants of your father’s God.”’” Joseph wept when they spoke to him (Genesis 50:15-17, Common English Bible).

What would it take to make you cry? Obviously, for some of us, it is more than for others. There are those who believe gender makes a difference. Perhaps it does though I have known some men who cry easily and women who rarely if ever shed a tear.

Most of us don’t cry for no reason at all. There is something that makes us cry. It might be due to a physical pain. It could come from an emotional or even spiritual pain. I can remember following the end of my maternal grandfather’s funeral and my paternal grandmother’s funeral, I was in tears for both. If I said I didn’t shed a few tears when my Dad died, I wouldn’t be honest with you or with myself.

For most of us, those times when we lose someone close to us we weep from the pain of loss. It may not be due to the loss of a parent or a grandparent. I don’t know the pain that goes with the loss of a child but I have seen it on the faces of people I know and love. It could even be due to the loss of a pet. To some that may seem silly. To others, it would seem silly not to cry.

It isn’t any of those reasons we see Joseph in tears in our lesson today. We could look back just a few verses back to the beginning of this chapter and we would see Joseph weeping over his father Jacob. But in this lesson, it is something different.

After all they have been through, Joseph’s brothers still don’t know him. When we first looked at Joseph several days ago, we saw a spoiled child, a child whose father had given him too much, a child who thought he could get by with most anything. That was the child, Joseph. That was the Joseph before he was sold into slavery before he was in prison.

The difficulties Joseph faced in life changed him. Age changed him. God changed him. This was no longer the kid who annoyed his brothers to the point they wanted to kill him. This was a man who worked hard, who rose to power and now was seeing his family well cared for. The troubling part was, his brothers still didn’t know the difference.

Joseph wept because his brothers still didn’t know him. Their lack of knowledge of who Joseph had become had them fearing for their lives. They were so scared of Joseph and what he might do, they lied to him about their father’s last words. Joseph knew they were lying. But, Joseph, much more now than before was a grown man and no longer a child. He knew it was time to move forward.

Perhaps that is a lesson all of us could use to move forward in life. Joseph forgave, and so should we. But, more than that, Joseph worked to demonstrate for his brothers the changes in his life. He is doing so again in the lesson. What was needed by them was, to open their eyes and see. The same thing is needed by us.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

If you have gotten behind on your “Journey Through Scripture” readings, as we finish Genesis, now would be a great time for you to catch up. Tomorrow we begin reading Exodus.

With Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

I Have Been a Traveler

Today’s Journey Through the Bible Readings
Genesis 46-48, Matthew 13:1-30

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Joseph brought his father Jacob and gave him an audience with Pharaoh. Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How old are you?”

 Jacob said to Pharaoh, “I’ve been a traveler for 130 years. My years have been few and difficult. They don’t come close to the years my ancestors lived during their travels.” 10 Jacob blessed Pharaoh and left Pharaoh’s presence. 11 Joseph settled his father and brothers and gave them property in the land of Egypt, in the best location in the land of Rameses, just as Pharaoh had ordered. 12 Joseph provided food for his father, his brothers, and his father’s entire household, in proportion to the number of children (Genesis 47:9-12, Common English Bible).

Jacob answered Pharaoh’s question, “How old are you?” by saying, “I’ve been a traveler for 130 years…” I love Jacob’s answer to this question. “I have been a traveler…”

Jacob could have answered the question, in the same way, many of us would answer when asked the same question, “I am 130 years old.” Of course, our numbers would be much different as far as years than for Jacob. Still, our answer would likely take on the same form.

Jacob’s answer would imply that life is more than the number of birthdays that have passed us by. Instead, life is a journey. We begin in one place and we travel through the stages of life. We see the sites, the events that life brings our way. Just as when we travel, there are good sites, sites we enjoy, and there are some things we see that don’t quite measure up.

When I was in the Navy I saw a fair number of sites in Europe. I loved Portsmouth England. Seeing the old sailing vessel, H.M.S. Victory was a treat for me. I wasn’t as crazy about Hamburg German. I loved Copenhagen and many of its sites. I didn’t think as highly of Cherbourg France. I truly enjoyed Scotland but Dublin (it was during the days of the IRA) didn’t hold the same appeal.

The journey of life is much the same. The birth of a child is a wonderful stop on the journey. The death of a loved one, not so much. Graduation from college is a real highlight of the trip. Losing a job falls short of the goal. The list could be endless.

Just as Jacob sees a human life as a journey, the life of faith is even more so. This life in faith is filled with twists and turns. Along the way, we encounter new and different people that bless us along the way. But, we also encounter those who prove to be difficult. We see things that bring beauty as we travel. But, we also see a seedier side of the human experience, something that doesn’t hold the same beauty. We enjoy moments with God yet, on the other hand, we have those times when God seems to be very far from us.

Jacob gives us an interesting perspective. I have been a traveler… How about you?

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Upon Further Reflection

Journey Through Scripture
Daily Readings
Genesis 43-45, Matthew 12:24-50

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31 “Therefore, I tell you that people will be forgiven for every sin and insult to God. But insulting the Holy Spirit won’t be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Human One will be forgiven. But whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit won’t be forgiven, not in this age or in the age that is coming (Matthew 12:31-32, Common English Bible).

Until not too long ago, I would have told you and did tell my congregations for some time, something that, upon further reflection, and further study of Scripture, I have come to understand I was wrong. I want to pause here and ask forgiveness from any of those who heard me say it and are now reading this post.

The something I said, “In the eyes of God, sin is sin.” For the most part, I would stand by that. In the eyes of God, stealing a piece of bubble gum that would cost a nickel, well, with today’s prices may be a dime is the same as robbing a bank and stealing potentially thousands. Stealing is stealing. While many want to believe that the bank is worse because of greater value, that wouldn’t be the case with God. The problem here is, we tend to equate crime with sin. Yes, the secular penalty for the bank robbery would be a great deal bigger issue than stealing the piece of gum. For God, they are both the same.

One day I was reading the passage that is the lesson for today’s post or the passage where Jesus is asked the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:36-40). I really don’t remember which. It doesn’t matter because when I read one and thought about it, my mind immediately went to the second.

Think of it this way. In today’s lesson, Jesus says, “And whoever speaks a word against the Human One will be forgiven. But whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit won’t be forgiven, not in this age or in the age that is coming.” If this is an unforgivable sin, it must be a greater sin than any other, even speaking against Jesus, which he says we can find forgiveness.

In the Matthew 22 passage mentioned above, Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment. His response is, love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself. The idea hit me suddenly. If this is the greatest commandment, to violate it just might be a greater sin.

Reflecting on the Scriptures, even Scripture we already know is a good thing. We might find new insights. We might find things we read wrong the first time around. Or, most important, God might have something new to say to us as we read and reflect.

Even if I am wrong and my logic is flawed, it seems to me, if we work hard to avoid sin and keep it at arm’s length from our lives, it really won’t matter if these sins are greater sins or if my original thoughts were correct. We won’t always avoid it, but when we fail, there is more grace in God than there is sin in us.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

 

Guilty Conscience

Today’s Journey Through Scripture Readings
Genesis 41-42, Matthew 12:1-23

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So they prepared to do this. 21 The brothers said to each other, “We are clearly guilty for what we did to our brother when we saw his life in danger and when he begged us for mercy, but we didn’t listen. That’s why we’re in this danger now.”

22 Reuben responded to them, “Didn’t I tell you, ‘Don’t do anything wrong to the boy’? But you wouldn’t listen. So now this is payback for his death.” 23 They didn’t know that Joseph was listening to them because they were using an interpreter. 24 He stepped away from them and wept. When he returned, he spoke with them again. Then he took Simeon from them and tied him up in front of them (Genesis 42:20b-24, Common English Bible).

When I read this part of the story, it always gets me. That old saying, “Time heals all wounds,” well. it just isn’t true. This story is evidence that there are some things we just can’t get past, regardless of how much time may have past since our infraction occurred.

It was a while in coming. We really don’t know how long but we do know it was more than seven years. From the day the brothers sold Joseph to a Midianite trader until the day of today’s lesson, more than seven years had gone by.

We know Midianite traders bought Joseph from his brothers but we don’t know how long the Midianite traders held him captive. We know Joseph ended up in the house of Potiphar, who held Joseph in high esteem. We don’t know how long Joseph was held captive before Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him and Joseph was sent to prison. We don’t know how long Joseph was in prison before he was brought to interpret Pharaoh’s dream and he was released. We do know that after Joseph’s release from prison that there were seven years of plenty and that was followed by seven years of famine. We also know that sometime during the seven years of famine, Joseph’s brothers showed up to buy food, but again we don’t know when they actually showed up. It might have been in the second year or the fifth.

My point with all that is, a significant period of time had passed before the sons of Israel made their way onto the scene in Egypt. I really think we can pretty safely assume ten years or more. When trouble comes there way, where to do their minds go? Their guilty conscience shows up as they once again (probably not for the first time) remember what they did to Joseph and they know they are guilty. They don’t even know it is Joseph and yet they say, ““We are clearly guilty for what we did to our brother when we saw his life in danger and when he begged us for mercy, but we didn’t listen. That’s why we’re in this danger now.”

Time will come for the guilty parties to face up to what they had done, but this was not yet the time. So why did they go there? When I read verse 21, their guilty consciences show. When we commit a serious wrong, few of us can just put it behind us forever. At some point, at least for most of us, we can’t quite get over what we did to someone else. It is time to confess our sin and cleanse that guilty conscience.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved