6 Things I Love About Joseph

James Tissot, The Jewish Museum, New York (SA, Wikimedia Commons)

James Tissot, The Jewish Museum, New York       (SA, Wikimedia Commons/PD)

Joseph’s story is my favorite in the Bible. I’ve read Genesis 37-50 numerous times. Not only is the account fascinating, but it’s also insightful. I learn much from Joseph’s life, and I want to share some of those points with you now. Continue reading

God, Our Contender

CC BY-NC-ND, Michael Heilemann, Flickr

CC BY-NC-ND, Michael Heilemann, Flickr

Jacob and Peter seem like spiritual brothers in my mind. Both carried a profound calling in their lives but didn’t quite grasp the process it would require to develop them in order to maximize it. Thus, we read about their lives with fascination and some puzzlement, at least I do.

Jacob, with a godly heritage, is that guy in every church who respects God and spiritual things but resists the calling he knows is on his life; he isn’t quite ready to give up his game. It’s not his M.O. right now—“I’m not ready for all that”—that is, until God has to get in his face.

Is not that encounter at Jabbock one of the most riveting accounts in scripture? All of Jacob’s years of impartation and resistance come to a singular moment of judgment. I believe the fight actually occurred, but it isn’t difficult to allegorize and deem that here was a moment of crisis in which God gripped Jacob’s heart and gave him the psychological and spiritual fight of his life.

Have you ever fought to the death of your will? Has the call of God ever overwhelmed you…pinned you to the wall?

But what grips me about the story is Jacob’s surrender. In a flash he goes from self-reliance and stubbornness to “I won’t let you go until I have all of you!”

Do You Love Me?

Sounds a little like Peter—“Then wash my hands and head, Lord, not just my feet!” This is Simon whom Jesus renames Peter, don’t forget that. (Didn’t that happen at Jabbock, too? Hmm.)

I really cherish Peter in the scriptures. Some people find their own humanness in the Psalms, Paul’s transparency, and elsewhere; but I discover myself in Peter. I’m not sure if there is a more honest biblical character. I read about him and think, I am Peter.

Peter spent a few years as the closest to Jesus of the disciples. Yet he reminds us of a toddler just learning to walk, sometimes standing, even running, other times stumbling and falling. Peter shows us glimpses of enlightenment—“Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” and “If it is you, bid me to come”—and equal measures of ineptitude and failure—“Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will!”

Still, Peter may have had one of the deepest loves for Jesus.

I recall him outrunning John to the tomb after the report of Jesus’s body being gone. Then, while he and a few of the disciples fished, John identifies the resurrected Christ by his instruction to them to cast their nets to the other side of the boat: “It is the Lord,” John says.

And at that this rough-hewn fisherman wraps his garment around him, leaps out of the boat, and swims to where Jesus stood. Although Peter was at times unstable and insecure, Jesus had made an indelible impact on him.

God’s Will with Our Pain

Like Jacob and Peter, I’ve discovered that the life of faith is not convenient, especially to the imperfections of my heart that ultimately resist the best God has for me. Sometimes I wonder, however, if God doesn’t allow the disappointments and internal conflicts to surface in us to bring us to a place of surrender.

Hosea says, “Come, and let us return to the Lord; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up” (6:1). Only if you’ve gone through such hardship yourself or with others can you understand how a person’s insolence and weaknesses may actually accomplish the will of God.

After denying the Lord the third time, John relates that the cock crowed and Jesus turned and looked straight in Peter’s face. That had to be the worst moment in Peter’s entire acquaintance with Jesus—and he runs away and cries his eyes out.

But where we might ridicule and excoriate him, God is getting his way with Peter. In fact, he just might have him…and Jacob…and your brother, daughter, or co-worker exactly where he wants them—broken and in submission. They have wrestled with God long enough and now God will wait no longer to prove his sufficiency for them. God gets the best of us to get the best out of us.

The late Dr. Adrian Rogers used to say, “The will of God is the thing we would want for ourselves if we had the sense to want it!”

Thank God that he’s patient with us and uses even our mistakes and hang-ups, our malice and carnality to break our own hearts and wrestle us into submission, as only he can. Our assurance lies in a grace that rescues us from ourselves.

So we can have hope that our friends and loved ones, perhaps out of control right now, are, by prayer and the mercy of God, being steered into the very heart of the kingdom.

Read more on the topic: John the Baptist

“Thanks” Series—Post by Michael Stephens

CC BY-NC, Jason-Morrison, Flickr

(See where the tree grows!)
CC BY-NC, Jason-Morrison, Flickr

This post is the fourth in this week’s “Thanks” series that features quotes on thankfulness given by notable Christians. Today I reflect on the following quote by British author and intellectual C.S. Lewis.

“We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good; if bad, because it works in us patience, humility, contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.”

These words make me think of others I’ve spoken—“Why complain when you can be thankful?” I’m a million light-years from Lewis’s brilliance, but I think together we’re onto something here: life is chockfull of occasions to show gratitude.

Eco sustainability teaches the principle of zero waste in nature. No matter the debris or pollution, nature eventually recycles it into use again. Our lives possess that same characteristic because we have every chance to turn all our good and bad instances into moments of gratitude to the Lord. Lewis draws us into the heart of this concept and, in simple fashion, explains why it can be so.

For the Good and the Bad

“If it is good, because it is good,” Lewis says—not merely that we have everything we could wish for, which is nice, but also for the essential goodness that has entered our lives. The adopted boy taken out of the system has drastically more to be thankful for than the fineness of the clothes, toys, food, and vacations he now enjoys. Instead his deepest gratitude springs from one thing: his being chosen.

Lewis continues: “if bad, because it works in us patience, humility, contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.” If you hear Lewis saying we ought to be thankful for bad fortune, you’re hearing incorrectly. We cannot be thankful for disease and violence and poverty and destruction, all things that break God’s heart. But we can be thankful because they are catalysts.

Misfortune offers us a chance to develop in our lives virtue that we might otherwise never experience; and that virtue grants the Lord more control in us and with us. This is spiritual wealth that glorifies God and that, in some unknown way, accrues and awaits us in the life to come.

Moreover, what Lewis conveys of bad fortune rings resoundingly with hope: we should take trouble itself as a cue that better lies just ahead of us. Whether in this life or the next, our present experience is dissolving into something astonishingly wonderful.

God’s Design for Us

Thus, complaints have little hope of thriving when we grasp that every moment is a chance to be grateful to God. The apostle Paul trumps Lewis and me when he says, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thess. 5:18). The will of God is his desire and design for our lives; Paul identifies part of it as a life brimming with gratitude.

On this Thanksgiving Day we raise a toast in praise to the God who has entangled our lives in an intricate win-win situation. His grace makes our good sweeter and helps us transform our misfortune into wealth. He is the author of all good and the Eternal Victor over every dark power. May he who is our every advantage be glorified this Thanksgiving and we remain always grateful.

The Gift You’ll Enjoy Forever

CC BY, jonrawlinson, Foter

CC BY, jonrawlinson, Foter

Consider this for a moment: the eternal God gives lasting gifts. You may think, Yeah, I know that, but really take in the implications.

I’m a stickler for quality. I don’t mind paying more if I am certain the item will last for years to come. That’s not having ‘expensive taste’ or ‘keeping up with the Joneses’, in my opinion. It’s actually saving me money and the hassle of replacing goods. I too like lasting things.

And what God gives you and me are eternal possessions, inasmuch as they belong to him, the Eternal One. God’s gifts proceed from his own good nature, just as light and warmth proceed from the sun. Without the sun we earthlings couldn’t survive; Jesus says the same: “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). All love, mercy, and virtue shine upon us from the glorious God—he being as much the gift as its expression.

God’s Greatest Gift to Us

One gift so many people, including Christians, take for granted is our humanity. I think folk miss out on quality life by either disrespecting their humanity or by not dignifying it and giving it proper expression. Many Christians hold a distorted or wrong anthropology and don’t understand that we were created as humans to eternally exist as humans glorifying God with our humanity. My goodness—Jesus represents us now in Heaven with a human body. I cannot imagine that he lived a crummy earthly life.

I don’t dispute the fact of sin and the depravity of the soul as a present reality. Still, although sin marred the creation, it never effaced the glory of God in it. The angels in Isaiah’s vision cried, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isa. 6:3).

Free Yourself

In Christ we have restored freedom to be as human as possible in this life. Let that sink in: free to enjoy life. Jesus modeled a perfect humanity. I think that if we studied his words and life and the deep implications, we could free ourselves from rote and weighty behavior patterns that suck life out of us rather than give us life. We would see that there are far fewer restrictions on our lives pertaining to what it takes to please the Lord and just to experience genuine happiness.

Some people regard the Bible like a big red stop sign: “You can’t do that! You’ll be punished! God is angry!” But it was after I studied portions of the Old Testament prophets (yes) that I discovered just how loving God is and that all his words to us are a “Go!” rather than a no.

I wonder if we unnecessarily tie ourselves in knots sometimes.

Thus, we are free to celebrate and explore our passions, to embrace one another, to develop the virtues within, to enhance our talents, to soak in nature and art, to wonder and draw near to God by it—more gifts he gives.

In Yet a Little While…

Is this not the most fitting way to honor the God who bestows these good and lasting things? And how inseparable they are from our very human nature! It is how we process our existence…humanity is our existence. We are not angels or spirits nor were we intended to be. Instead, God has deemed it that we praise him best as humans; and I will accomplish that by being the best human I can be.

So I honor God and this great gift he’s given me by unpacking all the treasure he’s placed within me. I do it by cherishing others and building lasting relationships. I do it by fighting sin and storing up spiritual wealth. I do it by clarifying his will in my life. I do it by having uninhibited fun. And I do it by gleaning from every experience because I know my growth will continue in the life to come.

I cannot wait to see myself in resurrection with perfect form, within and without. You know, we’ll spend time in Heaven but we’ll return with our King, arrayed in immortal bodies, to a gloriously new earth. I believe that.

What excites me is that the gifts, talents, and virtues—that ‘spiritual wealth’—we amass now…things we love and that God has given us to perfect: they hold much value for that time, although we cannot fathom how. I surmise that this present life is just too important and too short to squander.

Every gift from God should ultimately become a gift back to him. Vibrant, godly, authentic humanity is our best worship.

His Need, Our Privilege

CC BY-NC, S.Kakos, Flickr

CC BY-NC, S.Kakos, Flickr

God inherently needs nothing and no one. Yet we would fling him beyond reach should we forget that he has done us a favor obligating himself to us. He “needs” us only because he desires us and requires himself to us.

Moreover, he has created a place for us in his plan.

He commands our worship because it benefits us and not because he lacks adoration. Ultimately, his purpose is accomplished with us and we get the joy.

Could he offer a better deal?

God shall forever be the Great Giver, limitless and generous. And I gladly resign myself to the honor of being needed by him.

God of the Process

CC BY-NC, mandykoh, Flickr

“We have all had parents who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!” (Hebrews 12:9)

I grew up hearing the old church mothers exhorting that the Lord desires a yes’ from his people. Although I thought I knew what that meant, it has not been until now, many years later in my walk with God, that I understand it. What has become most clear to me along the way is all that it does not necessarily mean. It cannot always suggest that I have turned away from God to seek worldly pleasures. It doesn’t imply that I have refused God’s commands. If it pertains to my willingness to engage in ministry, I cannot be considered slothful.

I have learned that the ‘yes’ God wants from me and us all is the readiness to submit to his plan for our lives and by the path he has chosen. Simply, it is to follow God’s plan God’s way.

The Necessity of Conditioning

We often wrestle with God’s purpose for us despite our sincere desire for it. God may have given us a glimpse of his intent for our lives, but his plan for our possessing that goal may not be as convenient as we expect it to be. In our hearts, we sometimes rebel against the chosen path and, more notably, against it being our Father’s choice for us. We rebel because the way God leads is designed to elicit a faith-filled response from us, and never did we imagine that the way of faith could be so difficult. We will be tested and kept relying on God’s grace.

God promises us, however, that the process will never destroy us and that he has a plan and the power to restore anything lost during that time. But a process it is. The blessedness of the path, however, is that we will be made more efficient in God’s plan.

Among the greatest stories in Scripture are the lessons we discover in the life of Joseph. At a young age, God showed Joseph his life’s purpose, but it was 13 years before it became reality. God knew that Joseph had to be trained and conditioned to carry the vision of God. It is the same for us. There is never lack in the vision. The work of God within us is in perfect condition, like a seed awaiting prime soil conditions. The vision, however, has to be sheltered from the very ones who possess it.

Lurking in the saintliest hearts are all the vices that, under a different kind of circumstance, may halt the purpose of God in our lives. So God must perform a work on the heart that makes the two—his vision and the bearer—compatible. This work is also necessary because without the bearer being conditioned, the weight and demand of God’s vision would simply be unbearable.

Is God Unfair?

Joseph would never have become rescuer for his people had he resisted Egypt. Now a little common sense offers some explanation here. There is no one who being kidnapped to live in bondage to another person wouldn’t utterly detest his circumstance. There are unfortunate people today—the ones we see on milk cartons or in the news—somewhere living lives that have been forced on them. Joseph’s situation was similar. Our common humanity with Joseph assures us that there were tough days when he cried and became hysterical and longed for his parents and festered with hateful feelings at everyone, including God. There must have also come the day when the tragic reality seized him that he was never leaving Egypt.

It is in times when our situation is formidably colossal and sealed with finality that maturity and faith must be relied on to teach us how to cope with the hand we’ve been dealt. Although Joseph could have never factored Egypt into God’s plan for his life, he would never have survived it without looking beyond the hopelessness of his dilemma. He must have fought himself not to doubt in his darkness what he had once seen in the light.

Is God unfair? Does he want to punish us without cause? Surely he would not contradict his own character to bring about his purpose. No, but the process to God-given greatness, which God carefully controls, is necessary for the promotion he wishes to bring us. The promotion God gives is different from what we see in the world. God’s promotion comes with a righteous objective. He doesn’t raise people just to live in self-absorbed privilege of any kind. Instead, promotion comes as a precursor to righteous judgment that will institute good and halt evil (Prov. 11:10).

Gaining Clearer Insight

After a person has come through the process that God has designed for them, God may bestow a certain abundance or success upon him or her, just as he did for Joseph; only now it is abundance to one for whom it no longer matters. This is because God’s process brings clarity of priority and insight and excises all attachment to things and invention and the frivolous so that what remains is a heart fixed upon the purpose of God.

Thus, those who resist the process resist their own deliverances and those of others in the future who depend on their faithfulness to the process. There is a host of people that only God can see that depend on the process of extraction—the fire—that God desires to lead us through; not only that we may be their teachers, but rather that we might open to them the way into God’s righteous cause.

The point is poignant: Our suffering is redemptive and reaps a harvest we cannot yet see. The vision of God for Joseph, as it is for us, was all-encompassing. Joseph did not merely become prime minister or the architect of a survival plan for Egypt’s devastating famine. He was a spiritual deliverer of God’s people into promise, an intercessor between God and man.

“God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” (Genesis 45:7)

The Unveiling

God’s plan for us is immense and pervasive, but he requires that we be in the place he designates for us. This is what our life is about, calling. The call of God is not a vocation or anything we may presume it to be. Contrarily, it is what we learn by spiritual intuition, as Joseph received dreams from God, and it is the righteous purpose that lures us into position. Our position, the place of purpose, is where God ultimately wishes for us to land. It is unimpeded, Spirit-empowered ministry that was always God’s intent, the life force deeply implanted in the seed. For Joseph, it was as ruler in Egypt.

It is crucial to understand here. The promotion God gives is not the same as the position. Promotion is never a sigh of relief but only a sign that we should proceed to the highest purpose God has chosen for us. What good was Prime Minister or any leadership position to Joseph if, let’s say, he were still micromanaged by a suspicious Pharaoh or caught up in the thicket of political skirmish? The scenarios are endless, although there is no indication of this type of circumstance in the story.

The point is that the fortuity of being taken from prison to the palace within itself could not signal the most important thing God wanted to give Joseph. God’s blessings—true blessings—don’t lend us further grief. It should also be clarified that God’s plan for us is not simply a pain-to-promotion scheme. Why would God punish us just to reward us with plenty? Could he not have given us the plenty without the pain? This is how we know that there must be some redemptive purpose in our suffering. God’s own character safeguards us.

The promotion God gives us guarantees all the authority and comfort with which we may execute his plan that we now understand is no longer about us. This promotion catalyzes, or initiates, the full intent of God in one’s life. So it wasn’t merely a leadership post for Joseph; God made him to rule, to be the chief executor. He was granted unlimited power to act as he saw fit on behalf of all Egypt. Pharaoh took the signet ring from his own finger and placed it on Joseph’s hand telling him, “I am Pharaoh, but without your word no one will lift hand or foot in all Egypt” (Gen. 41:44).

It was a staggering turn of events that must have sent shockwaves throughout the region, amazing Joseph just as well. But God was still getting his way with Joseph. As prime minister (the promotion) God gave Joseph the means and clout to rule (the position and purpose) and not just a reward for his suffering. This led to him engineering a rations strategy for the famine whereby he saved and sustained Egypt and God’s chosen people and, thereby, God’s plan for them. Ultimately, he delivered the Hebrew people into God’s promise and helped pave the way for Christ. How important was Joseph in the plan of God—and his suffering.

More on this topic: God, You’re Killing Me! and New Strength is Coming!