Priests of the Consuming Fire

Regardless of what you might feel or believe about the word “religion”, it has a place as a definition of the life of a disciple of Jesus. People may not like it, but it remains a reality. The Christian Scriptures refer to disciples of Jesus as priests. And priests practice religion. That is their primary function. Their entire role, perhaps life, is bound up in the practice of religion. And for disciples of Jesus, this is true as well.

Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.

Hebrews 12:28-29 NASB

The word for “service” above is a Greek word typically referring to a “hired hand” or even, in some cases, “enslaved”. The translators of the Septuagint used it for service to God (or other god), almost exclusively. and in the Christian Scriptures, it’s never used otherwise. Here, the writer of Hebrews combines it with “reverence and awe”, making the meaning unmistakable.

One of the dangers of only seeing our life with our Savior as a “relationship” is that we run the risk of missing His superiority. He is our Savior, but He is also our Creator, and not just of people, but the this vast, unimaginable universe. The writer was serious, dead serious, about serving our Savior with reverence and awe.

We think of Jesus as “love”. That makes us feel good because we don’t really understand love. I know that’s true because we get a warm fuzzy comfortable feeling from God being love, but not from God being a “consuming fire”. Suddenly we’re overly hot, on fire, about to die.

We need to strike a balance in our relationship with our Creator. We, as disciples of Jesus, must take Him more seriously than we do. The choice of the word for “service”, brings with it a life dedicated to working for God. For the Greeks, it can have religious significance, but it typically referred to working for someone. We think of our work-life as separate from our religious-life. That’s not how our Creator inspired Scripture to be written.

One of the more familiar passages speaking to service to God is Romans 12:1,2:

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1-2 NASB (emphasis mine)

In this passage, “service” is a noun, but the noun version of verb used in Hebrews 12:28. In other words, it’s the same thing said differently. The point for Paul in this passage is that our lives are to be completely dedicated to this life of service to our Savior. Which is very close to the meaning for Nicodemus, our writer of Hebrews.

Nicodemus provides a terrifying reason, missing in Paul’s call to service. “Our God is a consuming fire.” Do you think of Him that way? Do you consider that your seriousness in service is due to Him being a consuming fire? Our Creator is also our Savior, and He is love. But He is also a consuming fire! Think about that for a moment. That, logically, means that love is a consuming fire.

There is so much we miss in our life with our Savior. We do not pay enough attention to Scripture, and miss so much of what our Creator reveals about Himself to us. We have to fight our tendency to focus only on what we like about our Savior, and miss what He shows us about Himself. We need a more complete view of our Savior. We need to receive all of Him revealed in His Scripture.

This means that we need to spend more time in study of Scripture, something we tend to spend the least amount of time during the day. We also need the varied perspectives of our fellow disciples. Our Creator doesn’t reveal Himself fully to each person, but contextualizes Himself to His creatures. Jesus never healed the same way twice. The Holy Spirit doesn’t “fall upon” His people the same way, and there are different effects each time. Paul doesn’t write the same thing to every church, because they don’t all have the same people nor the same problems.

Let’s remember the seriousness of our religious relationship with our Creator. Let us live reverently and in awe of our Savior. Let’s keep in mind that the One before whom we live is a consuming fire. This isn’t an opportunity for roasting marshmallows, this is the fiery furnace with an extra Person in it. Let’s sober up and get busy.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation


The Secret to Success

We are sheltering in place. I say “we”, because I am not sheltering alone. My favorite person is with me. The love of my life is my partner in sheltering alone. And, even so, we have an enemy, one that transcends the walls and distance between people. We have an enemy seeking to divide us further, to separate us emotionally and spiritually.

As more people are confined to shared spaces, the opportunity for frayed emotions increases, and emotional and mental health can degrade. I think most Americans are not used to it. My wife and I should be used to this, we both work from home, and live in the “country”. Even so, we seem to fight more. As used to these conditions as we should be, this global crisis has caused us stress.

The Serenity Prayer, attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, is normally associated with addicts, but I think the full text of it would be helpful to everyone as we endure this crisis in our own contexts:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference;
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will,
That I may be reasonably happy in this life, 
And supremely happy with Him in the next.

For some reason, we tend to think everything should be good, easy, or at least pleasant for us. When our situation isn’t any of those things, we’re surprised, confused, and often despondent. Why? I know that, for myself, it’s because I’m selfish. You’ll need to answer that question for yourself about yourself. I recommend refraining from answering it for anyone else.

The other night, my wife and I were reading through Acts 16, and once again, I was struck by the experience of Paul, the most amazing and intimidating Christian missionary ever. He was on his second journey with Silas, and experienced a wide range of results and situations:

  • He found Timothy, yet had to circumcise him even though sharing a letter from Jerusalem freeing Gentiles from Jewish legal requirements (Acts 16:1-5)
  • He was prevented by the Holy Spirit from going into Asia (Acts 16:6)
  • He was not permitted to go to Bythinia by the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:7)
  • Winding up in Troas, he received a vision to go to Macedonia, and going, is beaten and jailed in a Roman colony without trial (Acts 16:8-40)

Now, that’s not all that happened to them in Acts 16, but it was full of ups and downs. They were prevented by the Spirit from going certain places, and when they went to where He wanted them to go, were beaten and jailed. You can see that it would have been easy to be dejected, give up, and just go home. Yet we have things like these things happening as well:

And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.

Acts 16:13-15 NASB

But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately ball the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!” And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house.

Acts 16:25-32 NASB

One of the most telling verses is 25, where, after being wrongfully beaten and jailed, Paul and Silas are singing praises to God, and the other prisoners are listening. Have things been going well? Sort of, but at that moment, not so great. Yet, they are in stocks, bruised and battered, and singing praises to God. By the way, they are praising the God who put them there.

There is definitely a spiritual aspect to this global corona virus pandemic. Lots of people have “conspiracy theories”, some of which spiritualize it. But I believe the greater spiritual aspect is our vulnerability to failing to love each other as Jesus loves us, to being obedient to our Savior, believing instead that He only leads us by worldly success. I believe this crisis brings our selfishness to the surface, or it has for me.

So, in response, let us pray and sing praises to God, the God who put us here, and let everyone with us in this pandemic listen. Are you finding that difficult? Then go back up and pray the serenity prayer. Paul’s writes to this church in Philippi some time later and says this:

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:11-13 NASB

Contentment and serenity go together, and this church to whom he writes already knew this about Paul, they had seen it in his life, and a prominent member had followed Jesus because of this quality in Paul. Paul learned the secret of being content, and the “secret” is that we can do all things through Jesus who strengthens us.

Blessings upon you all as we go through this crisis together, even as we are separated.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

The Para-Myth of Love

Myth. The word inspires images of unicorns and dragons, gods and heroes. We define myth as antithetical to fact, stories that may have a point, but no basis in truth. This is a cultural definition, not an ancient one. At it’s core, the word, regardless of culture, refers to a story. In our culture, that story is always false. But for the ancients, these stories inspired people, and taught them important lessons.

Today, we don’t use the word that way. We think in terms of false stories that people believe, and, most often, to their detriment. False stories or beliefs on which people base their lives can be dangerous. Because of this danger, we avoid myths, or try to. So, you may be surprised that this word is used, in a compound form, several times in the Christian Scriptures. Here’s my favorite:

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.

Philippians 2:1-2 NASB

Did you spot it, the mythic reference? You may not, most people don’t. I missed it for years, and then one day I realized that the word I was drifting past contained the word, myth. The word in Greek is paramuthion, and can be found in the Strong’s Concordance at G3890. It’s made up of the Greek preposition “para”, referring to something alongside another. We get our word, parallel from it, two things laid alongside each other.

What is alongside here is a myth. And this myth comes from love, agape love. The context clearly implies that this “para-myth” of love is what is supposed to happen, so it can’t be a myth in the sense we think of myths. It’s not a false story, but a true story. And this story is what we’re supposed to gain from love. It’s a story to inspire and teach us. But what is it?

There are options for the content of this story. An obvious one is the content of Jesus’ life and ministry. From His life we learn what love truly is, how love is defined by our Creator. That is probably the best option for the content of this particular story. But I believe there are others as well.

Remember that Paul is about to use the life of Jesus, in a shortened form, to inspire the Philippians to regard each other in unified humility (Philippians 2:5-11). But I believe that part of unified humility is to follow in Jesus’ pattern in the stories we tell each other. Think about the sheer volume of reversals Jesus brings about in those He meets. A leper is touchable, an adulterous woman escapes judgement, the lame walk, the dead are raised, the hungry are fed, and fishermen become theologians. Life stories are retold, changed, becoming something completely different.

When was the last time, you sat with the downcast, the depressed, or the mourner, and told them a new story? We do it, actually, we do it a lot of the time. But more often than not, we do it clumsily. We want them to stop bringing us down with them, so, we give them some other way to look at their circumstances that will cheer them up so they can refocus on us. Or, at least they may stop depressing us.

Jesus told a different set of stories than we do. To Martha, the woman who lost her brother, Lazarus, Jesus says that He is the resurrection and the life, and that whoever believes in Him will never die, and those that die will live again. She is encouraged to go get her sister, Mary. To Mary, Jesus tells a different story. He simply weeps with her, then raises her brother to life. For Martha, it could be a story about Himself, but for Mary it had to be tears. For both, it included an act of power.

If we can come alongside each other, and tell different stories from the love of our Savior passing through us into them, then completely fill up joy by being like-minded, together-souled, and of the same love. It doesn’t begin with these para-myths of love. But it includes them. Let’s not forget them. Jesus tells a different love-story to His human creatures, one they can’t even imagine.

He’s given you one, and He has one for the others around you as well. So, pass along the love-story He has for someone else. Tell them the story Jesus has for them, but from beside them, holding their hands. Do not tell the story from above them, or from in front of them, behind them, or below them. Sit with them in their pain, sorrow, frustration, or despair. And tell them the love story Jesus has for their lives.

Working Out…Salvation

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Philippians 2:12 NASB

Faith and works, works and faith, and what part do we play in our salvation? What is it we “bring to the table”? Is there a “table”, and is there an event, like a potluck, or something? Perhaps, in order to be clear, this would be a good time to define some terms.

First off, what is meant by “salvation”? The obvious implication is that there is a “danger” to be saved from. This danger is described in various places as “death”, “hell”, and “separation from God”. All these descriptions are metaphors, and, together, provide a picture of the problem solved by “salvation”.

Salvation, then, provides a solution to death, hell and separation from God. So, therefore, salvation raises the dead, escapes hell (or prevents one from entering in the first place), and connects to God. Which leads us to the question, “how can a person achieve any of those things through their own effort?”

Does it seem reasonable that a Person, who has created this impossibly complex universe, would be accessible to creatures within that universe on their own initiative? How could it be possible that anyone within the system could access someone outside the system, unless granted permission?

Salvation, as it has been described so far, has to originate from our Creator. Nothing else makes sense. Paul states this very clearly in Ephesians 2:8-9:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9 NASB

So, are we human creatures simply passive in this salvation by our Creator? That would also seem odd. Why create us with the capacity to even ask such a question if we were never intended to cooperate with our Creator? To continue Paul’s point to the Ephesian disciples, he explains:

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

Ephesians 2:10 NASB

Our Creator created us to work. We are His workmanship created to work which becomes His purpose in creating us. So, how do these two concepts of our salvation and the work we were created to do fit together?

Look, again, at Philippians 2:12-13. Notice that “work” is used 3 times. Translations have a difficult time of differentiating here, but two different words are used. In verse 12, the Greek word is “katergazomai” (Strong’s G2716), which is to “work down along through”, or thoroughly, accordingly, typically meaning “to work up a sweat”.

In verse 13, a different word is used, “energeo” (Strong’s G1754) which refers to the “function” or “operation” rather than the “effort”. The usage in verse 13 is also interesting. The first use is a participle describing God, “the One working”, and the second is an infinitive “to work”. In Greek, this means that God is the “Operator” making it “operate”. Or, to put it another way, God is the One making the whole thing function.

So, yes, we are to work up a sweat in our salvation, but from within the condition of being saved (Ephesians 2:8-10). And what makes our effort effective is the Operator, our Creator and Savior.

Think of it this way, I can’t bench press 1,000 pounds. On the other hand, if there are three or four Olympic weight lifters on either side of the bar lifting with me, then I probably can. But who’s doing all the heavy lifting? In the same way, we attempt the impossible, to connect with our Creator, but He does the “heavy lifting” of connecting us to Himself.

That’s my view of our Master through my knothole this morning. What do you see of Him through yours?

This Guy Walks Into A Blog…

I don’t normally do requests, but I do consider recommendations.  From a blog I follow, I was directed to an entry on another blog about biblical perspectives on hell, and from there entered into a discussion about life and death.  That discussion led me to Romans 5.  I don’t typically study topically, my method of study makes topics excruciatingly difficult and inordinately long.  I’ve spent around 30 years, off and on, studying the biblical meaning of life and death…see what I mean?

So, I want to begin by thanking Amanda from “Kindling Truth” for the nudge toward this chapter.  She actually had a very long page of references, but many at the top were from this chapter.  Anyway, she can’t be blamed for what I say here, she’s simply the one the Holy Spirit used to direct me to this chapter.

I believe that Romans 5 is a “hinge” in Paul’s explanation of his understanding of the good news of Jesus.  I see in this chapter a point where Paul’s explanation pivots, swinging from an emphasis on the problem to an emphasis on the solution.  In chapters 1 through 4, Paul describes that we are separated from our Creator, whether we have the law of God from the Hebrew Scriptures or not.  Basically, after chapter 4, the conclusion is that we’re all lost, Jews and Gentiles.

In chapter 5, the discussion swings into a focus on the solution, and how the solution perfectly fits the problem.  In this chapter, Paul uses a lot of different words, all referring to a covenant violation of some sort.  If you want to know how Paul can pin “covenant violations” on Gentiles, the answer is found in Romans 2:12-16.  And, honestly, calling these actions “covenant violations” is simply convenient, more than being accurate.  Essentially, our Creator doesn’t want us to do them.  Call them what you will, define them how ever you like, but the basic truth underlying the problem of humanity is that we do what our Creator doesn’t want, and don’t do what He does want.

But, why? There are lots of answers to this question.  The writer of the blog I followed to find Amanda’s believes that we have no choice.  God’s sovereignty means that every thought and action that follows is predetermined by God, and we are powerless to do otherwise.  I don’t subscribe to that belief, but I don’t fault him for it either.  He supports it through Scripture, Jesus is his Master, and his relationship with God is through the Jesus of Scripture.  So, disagree all you want, he’s still a fellow disciple.

Still, if the answer to why isn’t predetermination, then what?  In Romans 5:12, Paul introduces a theme he will return to later.  He writes of the “one through whom sin entered the world”, and most readers agree he refers to Adam in Genesis 3.  Paul begins a contrast between Adam and Jesus, point for point, showing how Jesus solves the problem created by Adam.  He will return to it again in Romans 7 in much more detail.  Here, Paul simply touches lightly the points of contrast.

But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. (Romans 5:15 NASB)

Did you notice the “much more” element of the contrast?  Look again at verses 9, 10, and 17, and you will see this same element.  The solution through Jesus overwhelms the problem.  Wait, have you noticed that I haven’t defined the problem?  Okay, here’s the “hint” from Paul:

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2 NASB)

The problem is defined here, by the solution, “…we have peace with God…”.  The problem is that we have been aligned against Him, enemies of our Creator.  And, because of this, we deserved wrath (see verse 9).  This is described in a lot more detail in chapters 1 through 3, but here, in this “hinge” of his discussion, Paul contrasts the resulting “death” with the gift of “life”.  Look at verses 17, 18, and 21.  These are contrasts where our death is traded for life.  Why? Because of what Paul has said in verse 10,

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Romans 5:10 NASB)

The solution through Jesus overwhelms our problem.  We were dead, but the life of Jesus overwhelms our death.  We are supposed to be dead.  We earned it, death is our “wages” earned as a part of the rebellion against our Creator.  Many today embrace it, they love death, revel in it, consider it their privilege.  Yet, read, again, verse 10, “…while we were enemies…”.  Yes, many do wallow jubilant in their death, but that didn’t stop our Creator from solving their problem, and ours, through His Son, Jesus.

What I learn from this is that death is optional.  I know my buddy at Perfect Chaos disagrees, and that’s fine, but even he agrees that the problem of death, predetermined though it may be, is solved in Jesus, even if for another predetermined population.  It’s still Jesus, He’s still the answer to the problem of death.  I believe I have a choice in this, he doesn’t, you may nor may not.  Regardless, a solution exists.  I don’t have to remain in death.  Neither do those who claim to revel in that existence the Scripture defines as death.  Even though they “love” it, they can be saved from it.  Jesus’ willing action in death overwhelms the problem of our death, and, as He rose from death, so His life now becomes ours.  And the life defining our existence has no end, no wrath, and no death.

I have chosen life, others have submitted to the determination of our Creator to live, and both of us call Him Lord.

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.” (Deuteronomy 30:19 NASB)

What does your view through the knothole lead you to believe this morning?  Are you bound for eternity in the promised land?

The ‘Tweens

“Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so.” – Douglas Adams

Time between things is the worst for me.  I don’t like waiting, even though waiting is something my Master has directed me to do. My frustration with waiting makes these times between things particularly difficult for me.  There’s too little time to accomplish any task (even fun ones), and too much time to just leave because you’d be way too early.  It’s an illusion that stems from my selfishness, I know that, but I still don’t like it.

It’s not enough to know that my Master has called me to wait, worship, and walk before Him.  I know that waiting is something He wants of me specifically and personally.  I figure it’s because I don’t like it, and, to do it, shaves more off my self-centered paradigm. It’s His way of making me more into the image of Himself.

Paul probably experienced this frustration at being caught between things in Troas…

They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. (Acts 16:6-8 NASB)

I doubt very much that selfishness drove Paul’s attempts to reach into Asia and Bithynia, but, it still had to be frustrating to be working blindly to find where Jesus did want them to go. It turns out Troas was where He wanted them to go, Paul and Silas were simply being directed there.  These times between times are times where my Master is teaching me to look for what He wants.  It’s the “not getting what I want” that creates the frustration.  Wanting what He wants would alleviate that.

It is an important reality that my Master doesn’t waste time and opportunity.  I am to be like Paul, going to the tempo of my Master; being where He wants, when He wants.  Right now, I want to work on a book I’m compiling from my journey through Judges.  But I can’t go at the pace I want.  I need to take it in steps.  I hate that.  On the other hand, going at the pace of my Master is part of obedience as much as doing the thing itself.  Remember, this is relational not legal.  The only ritual is the seeking of His Spirit in any given situation.

So, now I wait in Troas for the vision of the next step.  I’ll try not to twiddle my thumbs so dramatically, and maybe listen for my Master’s still small voice.

That’s my view through the knothole this morning.  What’s your view like this morning?

Blooming Where Planted: Joseph IV

If I can’t judge the love of my Master for me when I’m in the crusher, then can I do so when things are going really good?  Nope.  Paul claims that he learned the secret of being content in plenty and in poverty (Philippians 4:11-13).  A change happens for Joseph, but his behavior remains consistently focused on his Master, Yahweh.

Now in the morning his spirit was troubled, so he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all its wise men. And Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them to Pharaoh.  Then the chief cupbearer spoke to Pharaoh, saying, “I would make mention today of my own offenses. (Genesis 41:8-9 NASB)

The cup bearer has an opportunity to remember Joseph, and what he did for him while in the jail.  Joseph is brought out, cleaned up, and given an opportunity to come before Pharaoh.  When he does, what does Joseph say? He points to God.

Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”  Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”  (Genesis 41:15-16 NASB)

And God does give Pharaoh a favorable answer, but there’s more than just the answer God gives to understand the dream.  Joseph also gives Pharaoh guidance in how to respond to the meaning.  There’s an important element to how Joseph does that.

“Now as for the repeating of the dream to Pharaoh twice, it means that the matter is determined by God, and God will quickly bring it about.  Now let Pharaoh look for a man discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt.  Let Pharaoh take action to appoint overseers in charge of the land, and let him exact a fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven years of abundance.  Then let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and store up the grain for food in the cities under Pharaoh’s authority, and let them guard it.  Let the food become as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which will occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land will not perish during the famine.”  Now the proposal seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his servants. (Genesis 41:32-37 NASB)

Whether Joseph did this with the hope that he would be “the man discerning and wise”, or whether he simply saw the answer and gave it without hope to be that man, is debated.  It’s not easy to know.  In every previous circumstance we’re not given the initial response of Joseph to his masters, merely that he succeed under each master.

So, it’s possible that he uses this suggestion as a way to get in good with Pharaoh, who has already demonstrated a lack of wise magicians.  But it’s also possible that Joseph is simply without guile by this time, and makes the suggestion knowing that this will be the best response for whoever Pharaoh appoints.

Then Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is a divine spirit?”  So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has informed you of all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you are.  You shall be over my house, and according to your command all my people shall do homage; only in the throne I will be greater than you.”  Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” (Genesis 41:38-41 NASB)

But it works out that Pharaoh has no qualms about who Joseph has been, only for what he has said to Pharaoh now.  There’s no “class” problem with Joseph having been a slave, or a felon, or even a Hebrew.  Pharaoh makes Joseph the second in the Kingdom of Egypt because it’s clear he has a plan.  Joseph has arrived.

Right away, Joseph gets busy implementing his plan for surviving the seven years of famine.  And he collects so much grain in the seven years of plenty that they stop counting it.  But Joseph also is fruitful personally…

Now before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph, whom Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore to him.  Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.”  He named the second Ephraim, “For,” he said, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” (Genesis 41:50-52 NASB)

The names of Joseph’s sons is an important view into Joseph, and how he sees what God is doing with him.  Think about why he names his sons as he does.  “God has made me forget all my troubles, and all my father’s household.”  He’s done with where he has come from, and is totally invested in his present.  His past wiped away his dreams.  He has forgotten his father’s house, their dysfunction, their treatment of him, his loss, and his pain.

To Joseph, this is what God is doing in him, this is his “payback” for all he has suffered.
“God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”  He is finally being blessed for his faithfulness to God.  So, the lesson for Joseph is that, if we hold fast to our faith in God, then, eventually, we’ll be blessed wherever we are!  God is good, see?  Look what He did for Joseph, rewarding his faithfulness.

So, decisions we make, decisions to remain faithful to God, these eventually work in our favor.  The question is timing.  The problem with pragmatism is that, way too often, time is too heavy of a factor.  Understanding and wisdom comes over long periods of time, but we’re impatient.  Often it’s the spectrum of experience, bad and good, that helps us better understand where we are, and what our Master is doing around and through us.  But keep in mind, the goal isn’t the achievement of power God granted to Joseph, but the serenity Paul learned.  We, too, can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

What’s your view through the knothole?

Getting Dirty

When a large crowd was coming together, and those from the various cities were journeying to Him, He spoke by way of a parable: “The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great.” As He said these things, He would call out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Lk. 8:4 NASB)

I won’t presume to unpack all that Jesus stuffed into this parable; not even in my lifetime.  But I really like that my Master chose to use dirt, probably because I’m still a kid at heart and like to play in the dirt, and also because it adds a fun element.  So, let’s get dirty and check it out.

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Foundational Obedience

“Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?    Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like:    he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.    But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.” (Luke 6:46-49 NASB)

Obedience.  It’s one of those words that affects us at a gut level.  Sure, when we were teenagers, it was difficult.  But now that we’re adults…it’s still hard.  We want to drive faster than the posted limit.  We want to leave work early or come in late, and who’d know?  We tell “white lies” to our families, some of which we eventually believe.  Obedience is not exactly a strong behavior trait in our culture.  In fact, the highest degree of obedience is when it we consider obedience to be a direct benefit to us.  Then we’re obedient, and it’s easy; as long as it’s about us.

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To Judge And Not To Judge

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned;  pardon, and you will be pardoned.    Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” (Luke 6:37,38 NASB)

This is one of those passages that gets thrown around, used as a “defense”, and basically misused a lot.  Because of this there is a responsibility that believers have which we’ve abdicated.  And because we’ve abdicated this responsibility many people never come to repentance.

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