What NOW?

NBS 13

Take a moment to read Numbers 13+14 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to research these remarks.

I think it’s something that happens to all of us at one time or another.  We’ve prepared for something, enjoyed success, felt elated and satisfied…and then we wake up the next morning and realize that thing is over.  There’s an obvious hole where that thing was, and we wonder, “What now?”

It’s the feeling Simon Peter had the day after the resurrected Jesus appeared to him and even Thomas was finally on board.  Being a man’s man, Peter met the “morning after blues” head on and said, “I’m going fishing.”  Look it up.  It’s in John 21:3.

This is a twice-yearly feeling for pastors, one that is felt most keenly the day after Easter.  Andy Fuqua described it pretty well in an article entitled, “The Post-Easter Blues.”

“You might think that a large attendance, a big production, a chance to passionately share the gospel, and an opportunity to rejoice because Jesus is alive would mean that pastors go home from Easter Sunday on cloud nine.  It may come as a surprise to learn that many, many pastors contemplate quitting the ministry the day after Easter.  The ‘post-Easter blues’ aren’t logical, but they are real.”

(Read the whole article at andyfuqua.com/2016/03/28/post-easter-blues/.)

When dealing with “morning after” moments and the other disappointments of life, the bottom line is this:

Don’t give up on God.

This morning we’ll take a quick look at one instance where the people of God gave even before they got started.  They gave up on God, suffering devastating consequences. We can learn from their mistakes.

  1. 12 spies had 40 days of fruitful research. (13:23-27)

The first half of chapter thirteen details the first committee formed in the Bible; the twelve men sent in to scout the Promised Land.  This was a 40 day trip; pretty extensive searching and a rather daring thing to do considering they didn’t know any languages or cultures.

The last half of the chapter deals with the report they filed.  They brought along physical evidence; a CLUSTER OF GRAPES, with POMEGRANATES and FIGS.  This collection of fruit was so great it took two men to carry it.  They said, “WE WENT INTO THE LAND TO WHICH YOU SENT US AND IT DOES FLOW WITH MILK AND HONEY!  HERE IS ITS FRUIT.”

  1. 10 spies gave up on God’s promise. (13:28-33)

After attesting to quality of the land and its produce, the majority gave up on the LORD when they got around to describing the people who lived there.  “THE PEOPLE ARE POWERFUL,” they said, and embellished on that with, they are “DESCENDANTS OF ANAK (28), and THE NEPHILIM (33).  You might read Genesis 6:1-4 to find out who these legendary characters were.  But please don’t ask me to explain; we don’t have enough room for that.

It seems to me the majority is making excuses; “ALL THE PEOPLE THERE ARE OF GREAT SIZE” (32) and “WE SEEMED LIKE GRASS-HOPPERS IN OUR OWN EYES, AND WE LOOKED THE SAME TO THEM (33).”  These exaggerations are bent on disguising the fact that it was their fear of the size of the task that motivated their pessimism, not the size of the people.  The true comment is added almost as an afterthought:  their “CITIES ARE FORTIFIED AND VERY LARGE (28).”

The two dissenting members were Joshua and Caleb.  Caleb voiced the minority opinion in verse thirty, trying to impart some faith-fueled  confidence to these cowering characters.

  1. 40 years and 1 generation later, they would finally enter the Promised Land (14:1-45).

The majority worked their tale-spinning until the whole COMMUNITY spent the night grumbling and bawling (14:1-4).  They were ready to elect someone to lead them back to Egypt and a return to slavery!

Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb tried to talk them out of this dumb idea (14:5-9).  They gave four excellent reasons for obeying the LORD and entering the Promised Land.

Verse seven: The “LAND IS EXCEEDINGLY GOOD.”

Verse eight: The “LORD…WILL GIVE IT TO US.”

Verse nine reveals two “do not’s.”  One, “DO NOT REBEL AGAINST THE LORD,” and the other, “DO NOT BE AFRAID OF THE PEOPLE OF THE LAND.”

The people’s reaction was violent (14:10).  To make room for new leadership, they decided to stone their current leaders to death!

But God Himself intervened and the GLORY OF THE LORD APPEARED AT THE TENT OF MEETING.  From the beginning (see Exodus 20:18-21), the glorious appearing of the LORD had filled the Hebrews with fear.

God’s reaction sounds extreme (14:11-12).  He was justifiably angry and said to Moses, “HOW LONG WILL THESE PEOPLE TREAT ME WITH CONTEMPT?”  Adding, “THEY REFUSE TO BELIEVE ME IN SPITE OF ALL THE MIRACULOUS SIGNS.”

How could they be so slow to believe?  Not for the first time, God threatened to strike them all down and start over with Moses: “I WILL STRIKE THEM DOWN WITH A PLAGUE” (v. 12).  That was not an empty threat.  Though the nation was spared total destruction, the ten negative spies were NOT spared and, in 14:36-38, died from a PLAGUE.

Moses interceded in prayer for the nation (14:13-19).  Here is Moses’ reasoning: first, killing the entire nation would undo what God had done, causing the nations to disbelieve (14:13-16).  Killing the entire nation would also be contrary to God’s character.  God is love: He is “SLOW TO ANGER, ABOUNDING IN LOVE AND FORGIVING SIN AND REBELLION” (14:17+19).  God is holy, too, demanding justice for the sake of the victims of sin: “HE DOES NOT LEAVE THE GUILTY UNPUNISHED” (14:18).

God forgave the people, but did not tolerate their sin (14:20-38).

According to verse twenty, the LORD had already forgiven them.  Regardless of how it may appear, this conversation is not Moses talking God into forgiving the people as He’d already done it.

But forgiveness does not always mean the offender avoids the consequences of his offense.  Indeed, avoiding discipline or the natural consequences of one’s actions is a shallow perversion of love, not the genuine thing.

That generation of adults had repeatedly been guilty of committing serious sins against the LORD.  In this situation, they had:

DISOBEYED and TESTED Him (22).

Treated Him with CONTEMPT (23).

GRUMBLED against Him (27).

Enacting love and holiness, God gave Moses new orders: “Go back the way you came” (14:25).  This is ironic justice: they’d been plotting to return to Egypt, so God sent them in that direction.

God’s wrath would take 40 years to satisfy.  That complaining, disobedient, and contemptuous generation did not enter the Promised Land; they wandered the wilderness until every member of that generation died (14:26-31).

The people suddenly repented but disobeyed the LORD again and got a whuppin’ for their foolishness (14:39-45).  The death of their ringleaders (36-38) put the fear of God in the nation.  When Moses repeated all God had to him, they MOURNED BITTERLY (14:39).

After what was probably a sleepless night, they were all ready to repent and obey God’s original instructions (14:40).  But they were too late.  This illustrates the principle of “obedience in time” as essential to complete obedience.  When we delay, make excuses or procrastinate, we are being disobedient.  Complete obedience requires doing what you’re told and doing it right away.

Talk about stubborn!  These people thought they’d avoid God’s justice by disobeying Him AGAIN (14:41-44).  The first time they disobeyed Him by refusing to fight.  Now they disobeyed the LORD by refusing to leave, insisting on a fight.  In verse forty-four the writer rightly identified their sin as PRESUMPTION.

Moses warned them a battle now would end with a number of deaths (14:43), which was the awful outcome (14:44-45).  When are we going to learn to obey?  When will we learn going our own way results in calamity?

Notice that in verse forty-four neither Moses nor the Ark of the Covenant was involved in this doomed military expedition.  This battle was not the Lord’s doing & He didn’t assist them.

Don’t give up on God.

You may’ve wondered earlier if I got the “post-Easter blues.”  Not an extreme case, but a little.  I pursued an unusual cure.  I went to a public library and pulled a book from the shelf that expresses some very critical views of the Bible.  I spent the afternoon reading that book and I hope very soon to post a rebuttal on our website.  It sounds weird, but this guy’s heretical opinions set me on edge and that got me out of any sense of the “blues.”

The better part of the experience is being reminded that Easter is not the end of Jesus’ story nor is it the end of ours.  There is a lot of living, loving, and serving in the days ahead.  We might as well be grateful for what God gave us on Easter and get on with it.

That’s a little bit of what Jesus said to His disciples just before He returned to heaven.  To paraphrase just a bit, He said, “It’s time to get to work.  There’s a whole world out there and everyone in it needs to learn about me.  We’ll go together.”

The God who began that work in you will surely see it to completion.  Just don’t give up.

Advertisements

Who Wouldn’t Want Delivery?

(Please read 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

God delivers us from death to Himself.

An actual Twitter exchange between an angry customer and Domino’s Pizza:

Customer: Yoooo I ordered a Pizza & Came with no Toppings on it or anything, It’s Just Bread

Domino’s: We’re sorry to hear about this!

Customer (minutes later): Never mind, I opened the pizza upside down :/

A company, feeling it was time for a shake-up, hired a new CEO with a reputation for ridding his companies of all slackers. On a tour of the facilities, the CEO noticed a guy leaning on a wall. He saw a chance to show everyone he means business! The CEO walked up the guy and asked “How much money do you make a week?”

Undaunted, the young fellow looks at him and replies, “I make $ 200.00 a week. Why?” The CEO then handed him $200 in cash and screamed “Here’s a week’s pay, now GET OUT and don’t come back!” Feeling pretty good about his first firing, the CEO looks around the room and asked “Anyone know what that slacker did here?”

With a wry grin, one of the other workers muttered “Pizza delivery guy”.
source: http://www.jokes4us.com/miscellaneousjokes/foodjokes/pizzajokes.html

It is believed that Paul actually wrote four letters to the church in Corinth, but only two of them were preserved and made part of our New Testament.  One of the reasons Paul kept writing to them was to defend his ministry from critics.  The false teachers in the church kept trying to elevate themselves by tearing Paul down.

In our section this morning, Paul is attempting to defend the authority of his ministry in an unusual way.  He effectively wrote, “No one has suffered more for the cause of Christ than I have.  What I know about Jesus and what I have taught you I learned at the ‘school of hard knocks’.”

To his credit, Paul never turned to his sufferings as reasons to complain or any other kind of sin.  Instead, he always turned them to good, brought glory to God, and directed people’s attention to Jesus as the One who delivers us from our troubles.

  1. We are delivered again and again (8-11).

This is obviously a personal section of this letter.  Paul did not want the church to be unaware of the difficulties encountered while ministering on their behalf.  It is unusual for Paul to begin a letter this way.  Usually he emphasized the concerns of the church and not his own struggles.

His TROUBLES were personal.  This is obvious in the repeated use of “WE.”  Our TROUBLES aren’t to be only troubling; they serve the divine purpose of drawing us closer to God.  Imagine how more depressing TROUBLES become when we lack faith.

His TROUBLES were profound.  People of faith don’t pretend to be chipper or strong when they face troubles; they don’t make light of them to impress others.  People of faith are just as deeply affected by grief as anyone else; we have God as a greater resource in overcoming pain.

Paul’s choices of words in vs. 8+9 convey a deep emotional impact from his difficult circumstances.

UNDER GREAT PRESSURE (8) may refer to a persecution Paul suffered in Ephesus (ACS 19:23-41).

DESPAIRED OF LIFE ITSELF (8) indicates a deep sense of grief.

SENTENCE OF DEATH (9) means Paul felt that even God was against him.  Later in life, Paul would receive an actual death sentence and died a martyr’s death.

The point was not to arouse sympathy or to boast, but to do two other things.  Primarily, to glorify God as the Deliverer:

THIS HAPPENED THAT WE MIGHT NOT RELY ON OURSELVES BUT ON GOD, WHO RAISES FROM THE DEAD.

HE HAS DELIVERED US AND HE WILL DELIVER US AGAIN.

WE HAVE SET OUR HOPE THAT HE WILL CONTINUE TO DELIVER US.

Secondarily, to thank the churches for their prayer support.  We tend to reflect on the personal effects of our sufferings.  Paul showed a broader vision by looking at how the church supported him in his TROUBLES by means of prayer.

AS YOU HELP US BY YOUR PRAYERS.

MANY WILL GIVE THANKS ON OUR BEHALF FOR THE GRACIOUS FAVOR GRANTED US IN ANSWER TO THE PRAYERS OF MANY.  The result of God’s deliverance should always result in prayers of thanksgiving.

The greater the sufferings we face, the more we feel loved and the closer we draw to God and one another as we overcome them.  This fact should encourage us, especially in moments of greatest sorrow.

  1. We are delivered to be comforters (3-7).

Giving comfort is what God is all about.

THE FATHER OF COMPASSION (3). (“Merciful Father.”)

THE GOD OF ALL COMFORT (3). (“Encouragement” and “consolation.”)

WHO COMFORTS US IN ALL OUR TROUBLES (4).  The Greek word for “comfort” here is the same one used in John 14 as a name for the Holy Spirit – the source of our comfort.  It means “one who stands alongside to help.”

JUST AS WE SHARE…IN THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST, SO ALSO OUR COMFORT ABOUNDS THROUGH CHRIST (5).  (See also Philippians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 4:10; Colossians 1:24.)  THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST does not refer to the passion of Jesus, but to the things His followers suffer that are similar, and to His identification with us.  As Jesus is the source of our COMFORT, it makes sense that we, by faith, identify our sufferings with Him as well.

Giving and receiving comfort is what God’s people are all about.  Paul saw His suffering as contributing positively to spiritual maturing of the Corinthian believers.

We are also familiar with human nature and repeatedly observe that the most naturally sympathetic counselors are people who have suffered the same things.  Paul affirms both the spiritual and emotional benefits of suffering in five expressions found in vs. 4-7:

SO THAT WE CAN COMFORT THOSE IN ANY TROUBLE WITH THE COMFORT WE OURSELVES RECEIVE FROM GOD (4).

IF WE ARE DISTRESSED, IT IS FOR YOUR COMFORT AND SALVATION (6).

IF WE ARE COMFORTED, IT IS FOR YOUR COMFORT (6).

YOUR COMFORT…PRODUCES IN YOU PATIENT ENDURANCE OF THE SAME SUFFERINGS WE SUFFER (6).

OUR HOPE IN YOU IS FIRM BECAUSE WE KNOW THAT JUST AS YOU SHARE IN OUR SUFFERINGS, SO ALSO YOU SHARE IN OUR COMFORT (7).

The question raised as the title of this message seems easy enough to answer: When you’re sick with real problems or worries, when you’re hedged about with difficulties, when you’re down and grieving, why wouldn’t you want to be delivered from those things?  I’ve been ill for a couple weeks now and have prayed repeatedly for deliverance.  Did I want to be delivered from the flu?  You betcha!

But it is human nature to complicate things, so even deliverance is not as obvious as it first seems.  Do people who hold a grudge pray to be delivered from their anger?

Do drama queens pray to be delivered from conflicts?

Do people who feel empowered by their status as a victim pray to be delivered from that circumstance?

Do people who oppose change pray to be delivered to something new?

Let’s be honest.  The person who stands most securely in the way of deliverance is the person in the mirror.  Sympathy is often a good thing, but good intentions can also impede growth if it merely maintains our affections that oppose God’s will.

God has promised to either deliver us or use our trials to change us more into the image of His son.  People of faith do not waste perfectly good suffering.  They struggle, not only with the trial, but with everything inside them that impedes the work of God on their heart.

Halfhearted or Wholehearted?

“The Easter Sunday Morning service began with the choir singing “Up from the Grave He Arose” as they marched in perfect step down the center aisle to the front of the church.
“One lady was wearing shoes with very slender heels. Without a thought for her fancy heels, she marched toward the grating that covered a big hot air register in the middle of the aisle. The heel of one shoe got stuck in the register grate.
“In a flash, she realized her predicament. Not wishing to hold up the whole processional, without missing a step, she slipped her foot out of her shoe and continued marching down the aisle.
“There wasn’t a hitch. The procession moved with clock-like precision. The first man after her spotted the situation and without losing a step, reached down and pulled up her shoe, but the entire grate came with it! Surprised, but still singing, the man kept on going down the aisle, holding in his hand the grate with the shoe attached.
“Everything still moved like clockwork until the next man in line stepped into the open register and fell into it, disappearing from sight. The service took on a special meaning that Sunday, for just as the choir ended with ‘Allelujah! Christ arose!’ a voice was heard under the church shouting, ‘I hope you are out of the way ’cause I’m coming out now!’
“A little girl shouted, ‘Come on, Jesus! We’ll stay out of the way.’”

That’s what a fully-committed disciple of Jesus Christ does: gets out of the way.  We have got to surrender self entirely for God’s Spirit to fill us entirely.  Ego, comfort, convenience, and choice are some of the idols we have to destroy because God cannot and will not share us with anything else.

<Retrieved from https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-bob-hager-humor-2433 on 3/10/17.>

In a 1999 article entitled “THE DANGER OF HALFHEARTEDNESS,” Mark Beaird described HALFHEARTEDNESS as “indecision or double-mindedness – a lack of enthusiasm sometimes because of the lack of a clear goal. HALFHEARTEDNESS causes the heart, the head and the hands to hang down.  HALFHEARTEDNESS, although common, understandable and explainable—whether a result of fatigue, disappointment or disillusionment—is still above all DANGEROUS!”

<Retrieved on 3/10/17, from http://markbeaird.org/wmlib/pdf/sermons/mark_beaird/the_danger_of_half_heart.pdf.>

I hadn’t thought of halfheartedness as “dangerous” before.  A halfhearted person might downplay any sense of danger by saying, “Well, at least I’ve got it half right!”  But honestly, half a faith is a danger because it tempts us to say, “Close enough” and quit.  The danger of being halfhearted is stopping short of a truly saving faith.  Look: half a faith isn’t going to get you where you want to go any more than half a car would.

  1. Being “halfhearted” means having divided loyalties (James 1:2-8).

The context of these verses is James’ teaching on God’s purpose in trials.  The expression TRIALS OF MANY KINDS speaks of multiple types of experiences and multiple repetition of experiences.  It means that all of them, without exception, should be occasions for JOY.

While we don’t want them to happen to us, difficulties are sources of PURE JOY.  That we should count troubles as JOY is surprising enough.  That is contrary to human nature.  We’re more likely to complain.  But the word PURE adds another element of surprise.  What does that mean? PURE could mean “undiluted.”  This would be joy that is not mixed with sorrow.  And it sets up the contrast between a believer and the doubting, double-minded person in verses six through eight.

How does that work?  James explains in vs. 2-4.  TRIALS and TESTING produce a string of virtues that mark the life of a true disciple: PERSEVERANCE, maturity, perfection, completion.  If you don’t get it – if that perspective is difficult to achieve – ask God for WISDOM to understand it and believe it fully.

Verse five promises God will honor this prayer and give WISDOM to see life from His point of view.  This is also a promise regarding prayer and is in line with the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 21:22; “IF YOU BELIEVE, YOU WILL

RECEIVE WHATEVER YOU ASK FOR IN PRAYER.”  This verse is about someone who lacks WISDOM – the way to apply God’s word to their life – or is tempted to chuck it, especially in times of trial.  In the Bible, WISDOM is always a practical quality.  It’s about how to live one’s life by following God.  The outcome of God’s wisdom is persevering in trials and finding the victory of faith.

As verses six through eight make clear, being halfhearted about our faith is the same as having no faith at all.  James offers three things that characterize a halfhearted individual.  A word of caution: these are characteristics, not occasional bouts.  When we cease to fight the enemy and our nature these three things become sins.

The first is DOUBT (v. 6).  Powerful prayer is founded on the conviction that God CAN do anything we ask.  That’s faith at work in prayer.  Impeded prayer results from a lack of conviction that God can do what we ask.

The second is UNSTABLE (6+8).  To the ancient Jew, the ultimate word picture of instability was the open sea.  The waves, with their crest and troughs, were to them the very image of chaos.

The third is DOUBLE-MINDED (8).  This is a person who is fully conscious that they’re not doing right but is unwilling to change.  They purposely pursue compromise though it always fails them.

A halfhearted faith results in frustration (see verse seven).  Here in James, the application is focused on prayer, but this is generally true as well.  In Luke 16:13 Jesus is quoted, “NO SERVANT CAN SERVE TWO MASTERS.  EITHER HE WILL HATE THE ONE & LOVE THE OTHER, OR HE WILL BE DEVOTED TO THE ONE AND DESPISE THE OTHER.  YOU CAN’T SERVE BOTH GOD AND MONEY.”  There is nothing in God’s nature that makes Him incapable of answering prayers with a “yes,” but as James points out in verse seven, there is something in our nature that inhibits powerful prayer, and that is being halfhearted.

  1. Being “wholehearted” requires committing your whole life to the Lord

The prophet Ezekiel was God’s voice to the Jews exiled to Babylon.  He made these promises to His people when they were in captivity in a foreign land.    God gave these promises to inspire them to return and rebuild.  He gave them hope that their rebuilding would be part of an epic blessing.

Ezekiel 11:19 is so similar to the Ezekiel 36:26 passage we studied in the first message in this series, it seems to be a variant reading.  “I WILL GIVE THEM AN UNDIVIDED HEART AND PUT A NEW SPIRIT IN THEM; I WILL REMOVE FROM THEM THEIR HEART OF STONE AND GIVE THEM A HEART OF FLESH.”  These promises are made a third time in Ezekiel 18:31, where they are paired with a warning: RID YOURSELVES OF ALL THE OFFENSES YOU HAVE COMMITTED, AND GET A NEW HEART AND A NEW SPIRIT.  WHY WILL YOU DIE, PEOPLE OF ISRAEL?

There are two notable similarities between these three verses.  One promise to REMOVE THEIR HEART OF STONE and replace it with A HEART OF FLESH is exactly the same.  Likewise, the promise of a NEW SPIRIT is made in all three verses. All the promises God made to His people came after they rejected their idols and quit the sins that went with them.  They had to come to Him wholeheartedly to experience His blessing.

What’s different in 11:19 is the promise of AN UNDIVIDED HEART.  The condition for this promise is ceasing their idolatry and removing all signs of it from their land (see v. 18).  Idolatry is THE sign of a divided heart.  It is anything that we place alongside God or above Him in importance.

We’re going to also turn to Ephesians 6:7-8, a Scripture that develops whole-heartedness as being more than idea or emotion; it is a life of service. SERVE WHOLEHEARTEDLY, AS IF YOU WERE SERVING THE LORD, NOT PEOPLE, BECAUSE YOU KNOW THAT THE LORD WILL REWARD EACH ONE FOR WHATEVER GOOD THEY DO, WHETHER THEY ARE SLAVE OR FREE.

As you might guess, the context of this passage is instructions to believers who are slaves.  The fact that we find these instructions in the context of a teaching about slavery does not limit these verses’ application to all followers of Jesus.  As verse six states, all of Jesus’ people are to be wholehearted in their service as if they were serving God Himself, not just other people.  The context intensifies the command to be wholehearted.  If a slave is commanded to live this way, how much easier should it be for us who are free?

Paul defined WHOLEHEARTEDLY as service that is more sincere than “lip service.”  It is more than service given when the master is watching.  A follower of Jesus is characterized by doing the godly thing even when no one is watching, when no one is there to applaud.  This is because we know God is always watching and always rewards obedience to Him.

Paul urged slaves to look beyond their present circumstance to Judgment Day.  When deciding whether or not to serve WHOLEHEARTEDLY, they were to think about the greater reward Jesus would give them on that day.  Obviously, this command is for all of us. Serving WHOLEHEARTEDLY requires concern about what God thinks, not what people think.

CONCLUSION

“A few centuries before Christ a man named Alexander conquered almost all of the known world using military strength, cleverness and a bit of diplomacy. The story is told that Alexander and a small company of soldiers approached a strongly fortified walled city. Alexander, standing outside the walls, raised his voice and demanded to see the king. When the king arrived, Alexander insisted that the king surrender the city and its inhabitants to Alexander and his little band of fighting men.

“The king laughed, ‘Why should I surrender to you? You can’t do us any harm!’ But Alexander offered to give the king a demonstration. He ordered his men to line up single file and start marching. He marched them straight toward a cliff.

“The townspeople gathered on the wall and watched in shocked silence as, one by one, Alexander’s soldiers marched without hesitation right off the cliff to their deaths! After ten soldiers died, Alexander ordered the rest of the men to return to his side. The townspeople and the king immediately surrendered to Alexander the Great. They realized that if a few men were actually willing to commit suicide at the command of this dynamic leader, then nothing could stop his victory.”

<James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) pp. 102-103.  As retrieved from https://soundfaith.com/sermons/111583-the-tragedy-of-a-half-hearted-religion on 3/10/17.>

That’s an extreme illustration of wholehearted commitment.  It is also a partial explanation of how Alexander the Great conquered almost all the ancient world.  What can a small group of fully-committed followers accomplish?  If they are following Jesus Christ, they can accomplish anything.  A similar level of commitment will be required for us to extend the Kingdom of God into all parts of our world.  A victorious follower of Jesus is one who follows with a WHOLE heart; an undivided commitment to our Savior.

War on Weariness #3

What do we do when we are wearied?

Fruitfulness in ministry (aka “church growth”) is not the solution to a dying church’s problems, but it is an exchange of one set of challenges for another.  We can see this principle illustrated in the very first church, the one that arose in Jerusalem after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension.

The First Church (as I like to call it) had the extraordinary success of growing by the THOUSANDS in the moments after it began.  One of the challenges that arose involved a successful ministry to widows.  Like a modern “food pantry,” the First Church was giving away food to the poorest of the poor – widows.

As Acts 6:1-7 tells us, the ministry outgrew the amount of time the apostles could give to it, and there were complaints that it wasn’t being administrated fairly.  The Twelve came up with a good solution: they got the First Church members to designate seven men to take care of this ministry.  These spiritually mature men were given the heady responsibility of being waiters.  The position thus created would come to be called “deacons.”

What is of interest to us today is not the organizational savvy of the Twelve, but the reason they gave for making that change – “[We will] GIVE OUR ATTENTION TO PRAYER AND THE MINISTRY OF THE WORD” (ACS 6:4).  Do you follow?  They became wearied with the demands of the ministry to widows and its demands on their time.  Doing something good had taken priority over their real job.  So they delegated the ministry to widows to capable men and got back to what was most important – PRAYER and the WORD.

It’s a good example to follow.  When we weary ourselves doing good things, one thing we must do is get back to the basics, the essential acts of the Christian life.  Nothing godly happens apart from our daily practice of PRAYER and study of the WORD.  It is the source of our strength for life.

REVIEW: Strategies for waging war on weariness from installments 1+2.

  1. Continue to do good anyway.
  2. Wait on the Lord.
  3. Stand firm; hold tight; hang on to Jesus’ hand.

NEW: Two additional strategies.

  1. Focus on the basics: prayer and the Word.

I refer herein to prayer and the word as the “basics” because they are two essential acts of spiritual discipline.  Maturing in Christ requires regular (at least daily) prayer and faithful study of the Bible.

Use prayer to regain strength. (Please read Ephesians 3:14-21.)  The use of the word KNEEL right away in v. 14 makes it clear this passage is about prayer.  To KNEEL indicates respect and submission to God.  All of us would do well to note and follow Paul’s attitude in prayer.

Of particular interest to us is the object of Paul’s prayer: what is asks of God on behalf the Ephesian believers is that HE MAY STRENGTHEN them (16). The means of God’s strengthening is HIS GLORIOUS RICHES…WITH POWER (16) and THROUGH FAITH (17).

– GLORIOUS RICHES = there are no limits to God’s generosity, no end to His provision.

– WITH POWER means we can pray for God to empower us physically, spiritually, or in any other way we need His help.

– THROUGH FAITH reminds us that faith is the condition and the conduit through which God’s strength becomes ours.  We must have faith to believe in His provision and to trust in Him.

The place of God’s strengthening is our INNER BEING (16) and our HEARTS (17).  Paul wrote elsewhere that even though our outward self is “wasting away,” God renews our INNER BEING on a daily basis (see 2 Corinthians 4:16; Colossians 3:10).

The result of God’s strengthening is SO THAT CHRIST MAY DWELL IN YOUR HEARTS (17).  The dwelling of Christ in us is manifest in 6 ways.

– BEING ROOTED AND ESTABLISHED IN LOVE (17).  Love is the most worthwhile sign of God in us.

– MAY HAVE ALL POWER (18).  God provides ALL the POWER we need to fulfill His will.  When we supply our obedience, then we experience God at work.

– TOGETHER WITH ALL GOD’S PEOPLE (18).  God’s people experience His power together and celebrate it together, contrary to our individualistic culture and the self-help version of religion we see in too many churches.

– TO GRASP…THE LOVE OF CHRIST (18).  GRASP means to “perceive” or “comprehend,” not “clutch” or “hoard.”  Love is self-emptying.

– TO KNOW THIS LOVE THAT SURPASSES KNOWLEDGE (19).  This sounds self-contradictory; however, the first KNOW is understanding by experience, the second KNOW is understanding by analysis.

– BE FILLED TO THE MEASURE OF ALL THE FULLNESS OF GOD (19).  The more spiritually mature we become, the more of God we experience.

In case all these promises were not sufficient to encourage us in a wearied state, Paul concludes with a doxology that transcends our limited understanding (20-21).

Use the Word to lead you to renewal. (Please read Psalm 119:25+28).  Set aside some time to read the entire chapter: PSS 119 is 167 verses long, the longest single chapter of the Bible.  All of it thanks to God for His Law.  In chapter that lengthy, you’d assume every aspect of gratitude for the revealed will of God would be covered!

Our attention this morning is limited to vs. 25+28, both of which specifically mention the WORD of God (using it as a synonym for Law) and the property of the WORD to uplift our weary moments.

We see a three-fold pattern in v. 25.

– Confession of weariness: Right away the psalm-writer admits he is having a very weary moment: I AM LAID LOW IN THE DUST. His mortality is clearly in view.

– Prayer for strength: In fact, he is so low the highest good he can picture is survival.  He asks only, PRESERVE MY LIFE.

– Acknowledgement of the word of God as a means of his salvation: But he is a man of faith and knows that the only life worth living is ACCORDING TO [God’s] WORD.

Verse 28 repeats the pattern of v. 25.

– Confession of weariness: MY SOUL IS WEARY WITH SORROW.  “I have collapsed with intense sorrow.”

– Prayer for strength: STRENGTHEN ME.  This is not a prayer for relief from troubles, but for power to stand and survive them.

– Acknowledgement of the word of God as the means of his salvation: ACCORDING TO YOUR WORD.  God’s Word reveals how we can be saved and how to live the life of a saved person.

  1. Rely on the Lord’s strength, not your own (John 15:5-8).

When you read John 15:1-17, you’ll see that Jesus taught about the necessity of our spiritual connection with Him by using the symbol of a grapevine.  The BRANCHES of a grapevine cannot produce grapes on its own; it has to draw nourishment from t roots by way of the VINE.

The key word here is REMAIN; it indicates that we continue to rely on the strength the Lord gives us.  The Greek word for REMAIN means to “reside” and it refers to where you make your home.  It is a picture of an ongoing, life-giving relationship between Jesus Christ and His people.

I don’t think people decide to leave God as much as they forget to trust Him first and foremost when weariness sets in or other problems arise.  Our human nature is such that we habitually turn to our own devices first.  Rare is the person who prays first or turns to the Bible for direction before looking elsewhere.  My concern is that weariness is inevitable when we trust to our own resources, not God’s.  We are, after all, finite creatures.

That is why the image of a “withered branch” in v. 6 should disturb us.  It’s hard to imagine a more appropriate word picture for a life that is burned out, wearied by the world without relief because the person has not trusted in God.  Notice the outcome of withered branches; they are THROWN AWAY and BURNED.  The judgment of God is always just; He sees through the pretense of their connection to the vine and knows them to be fruitless.  The end of such lives is destruction.  The warning is clear: don’t let this happen to you.  REMAIN in connection with the life-giving vine.

On the other hand, the image of the fruitful branch should encourage us to live life on God’s terms and in His strength.  Three promises:

– First, a promise of powerful prayer in v. 7.   For those who REMAIN in Jesus, petitions made in prayer are answered with a “yes.”

– Second, God is glorified by fruitful disciples because they experience things only God could do.  Their lives give witness to His power.

  1. c) Third, as Jesus taught, “good fruit” is the godly outcomes of a life lived in obedience and truth. Producing good fruit vindicates our faith, giving evidence in action that our faith is real.  That’s much better than a malingering hypocrisy that continues because words are cheap.  Actions are the true overflow of a heart.

In a November 12, 2013 article, Eric McKiddie noted the difference between a “Success Mindset” and a “Fruitfulness Mindset” in church ministry.  It can be hard to tell the difference because on the outside, they look similar.

One way to tell your own mindset is to analyze the questions you ask.  Here are a few examples:

– Success: “How many people came?”

Fruitfulness: “How many people were converted?”

– Success: “How well did that segment of the worship service go?”

Fruitfulness: “How well did we worship during that segment of the service?”

– Success: “How well did I prepare?”

Fruitfulness: “How well did I pray?”

McKiddie wrote, “The success mindset asks self-centered questions about one’s own work. The fruitfulness mindset asks questions that focus on God’s work in others. The pastor who aims for success gets glory for himself, but the pastor who aims for fruitfulness gives glory to God.

“It’s not only a subtle difference, it’s a ‘settle’ difference. The success mindset settles for external results and personal glory instead of striving for spiritual results and God’s glory.”

<Retrieved from http://www.pastoralized.com/2012/11/13/the-subtle-difference-between-a-success-mindset-and-a-fruitfulness-mindset-in-ministry/ on 2/24/17.>

Success is something we chase, something we desire and wear ourselves out trying to attain.  It also betrays an essentially selfish heart.  When we love ourselves first, we think about success a lot.

Let me challenge your thinking.  Success is not a biblical way of evaluating your life.  Fruitfulness is a biblical way of testing our spiritual maturity in order to draw nearer to God.

This renewal of our thinking is a way to wage war on weariness.  Constantly seeking our own way and our achievements is worldly and wearying.  Who do you think is going to dust those trophies?

Instead, let us apply ourselves to faithfulness and let God take care of the fruitfulness.  Let us follow His lead and accept our place in His plan, whether that’s at the head of the line, in the middle, or at the end.  When we obey Him, then we know true rest and are restored from weariness.

PREVIEW: In installment #4 we’ll look at the final three strategies.

  1. Share your burdens. (GLS 6:2)
  2. Spend your sorrow on service.
  3. Invest in wellness.

Wage War on Weariness

It has been talked about and reported so often that Americans are too busy, too driven, and, as a result, chronically fatigued, that it’s not news any more.  But it is worth talking about, because it affects every aspect of our lives AND because God created us to rest.  Remember our discussion of Genesis 1.  From the beginning, before there were calendars and clocks, before businesses and bosses were even thought of, God commanded that one day of the week be set aside for rest, recreation, and renewal.

As I have thought about this topic the last three weeks, I decided a little context might help.  I went looking for some information that might objectify this sense that we are a nation of walking weary.  I found a couple items.  I’m not offering them as proof, but as numerical anecdotes that illustrate the pervasiveness of the problem of weariness.

            “Americans Are Tired Most Of The Week”by Niall McCarthy, Jun 8, 2015

“How many days of the week do you wake up feeling exhausted? If you really feel like a slave to your alarm clock, you aren’t alone. Only one in 7 Americans wake up feeling fresh every day of the week, according to a poll conducted by YouGov. Experts have recommended eight hours sleep, though seven hours should also be sufficient.
“45 percent of Americans sleeping 7 to 8 hours a night reported feeling tired or fatigued up to three times a week. 27 percent of people said they wake up tired on 4 or more days per week. Those only managing six hours sleep or less each night are, quite unsurprisingly, the most tired. 54 percent of people getting six or less hours sleep wake up tired 4 or more days a week.”

<Retrieved at https://www.statista.com/chart/3534/americans-are-tired-most-of-the-week/ on 2/16/17.>

            “The Enormous Cost Of Sleep Deprivation” by Niall McCarthy, Dec 2, 2016

“Are you getting enough sleep every night? According to a new study from Rand Europesleep deprivation is a serious and costly problem for the globe’s major economies. In the United States, 1.2 million working days are lost every year due to insufficient sleep, costing a whopping $411 billion. That equates to 2.28 percent of the country’s GDP. Japan is also suffering the effects of sleep deprivation, losing 600,000 days and $138.6 billion annually.”

<Retrieved at https://www.statista.com/chart/7052/the-enormous-cost-of-sleep-deprivation/ on 2/16/17.>

These statistical snapshots seem to support the general conclusion that we are weary and our weariness is costing us.  Fortunately, God has provided several things we can do to combat weariness.  We will continue that study today and learn another step faithful people can take when trials threaten to weigh us down.

What do we do when we are wearied?

REVIEW:

  1. Continue to do good anyway.
  2. Wait on the Lord.

NEW:

  1. Stand firm; hold tight; hang on to Jesus’ hand.

Do not take your eyes off the prize.  Please read Philippians 3:12-16 in your favorite Bible, I have used the NIV for these remarks.

In vs. 12-14 Paul admitted that he had more to learn and room for improvement. But he did not focus on his failures or the wearying parts of life. Instead, he oriented himself toward the future.  We clearly see that orientation in the following: I PRESS ON…FORGETTING WHAT IS BEHIND AND STRAINING TOWARD WHAT IS AHEAD, I PRESS ON TOWARD THE GOAL.

PRESS ON is a hunting term; “to pursue, chase, run down.”  This is an aggressive term, indicating the passion Paul had for knowing Jesus Christ and expressing His character in the way Paul lived.

FORGETTING WHAT IS BEHIND means whether we see the past through rose-colored glasses, exaggerating its good points, or through dark glasses, exaggerating its ills, the fact is that it is behind us and will always remain unchanged.  A concentration on the past contributes to weariness.  Looking to the future – with optimism or pessimism – gives us strength and excitement.

STRAINING TO WHAT IS AHEAD = STRAINING is an athletic word, picturing a runner giving everything he’s got to finish first.  Think of that final lunge across the finish line.  His emphasis was on the time frame over which we can exert the most influence: the future.  Human nature is such that we move in the direction we’re looking.  That is a physical truth and a spiritual one as well.

I PRESS ON TOWARD THE GOAL turns the hunting imagery to track and field.  In any case, “pressing on” is not necessarily easy and does not always feel like a success, but it is necessary, and it is a path toward healing weariness. The Greek word translated as “goal” pictures a physical marker that indicates where the finish line is located.  In spiritual terms, the GOAL is becoming more like Jesus as we move ahead toward eternal life.

In v. 15 Paul confidently asserts that all maturing believers will share this orientation toward the future.  There is no room for disagreement on this matter.  Well, he was an APOSTLE, after all!

In v. 16 we are told the bottom line is that we don’t regress.  We are committed to not moving backward.  When we are weary we may be truly incapable of moving forward, but we should at least not give up any ground.

Please read Hebrews 3:1-14; 4:14 in your favorite Bible.  I use the NIV.  Keep the faith you received.

In 3:6 we read BUT CHRIST IS FAITHFUL AS THE SON OVER GOD’S HOUSE. AND WE ARE HIS HOUSE, IF INDEED WE HOLD FIRMLY TO OUR CONFIDENCE AND THE HOPE IN WHICH WE GLORY.  The object of this verse is to teach us about the essential role of Jesus Christ in our salvation.  Based on that fact, we have something substantial on which we can HOLD FIRMLY.  Our CONFIDENCE and HOPE are safe and secure as long as they are based on the truth about Jesus Christ.

When we dilute that truth by allowing modern culture to change our minds, then our CONFIDENCE and HOPE are less reliable.  Notice the phrase IN WHICH WE GLORY.  This means that our CONFIDENCE and HOPE is what gives us true joy, real strength.

In 3:14 it is written WE HAVE COME TO SHARE IN CHRIST, IF INDEED WE HOLD OUR ORIGINAL CONVICTION FIRMLY TO THE VERY END.  We tend to focus on beginnings, don’t we?  We get sentimental about firsts and that includes our Christian faith.  We also lump beginnings and endings into one, deleting the process in the middle.

These tendencies come back to bite us when we think that baptism or joining a church is the end of it.  This is why people sometimes disappear from church once they have achieved milestones like this.

However, Paul here reminds us of a central truth: how we begin our journey of faith is important, but it is of greater importance how we continue it and how we end it.  Commitments to Christ can be easily made in a moment, but professions of faith must be proven true by doing the hard work of living for Jesus each day, through the end of your life.  Our CONFIDENCE and HOPE are safe and secure as long as they are based on the truth about Jesus Christ.

For example, He is superior to any human priest because He is THE SON OF GOD.  Our faith asserts that He is fully God and fully human at the same time.  Any teaching that shrinks from this assertion is false.  The human side of Jesus’ nature assures us that He is sympathetic with our condition, having experienced it Himself.  The divine side of Jesus’ nature assures us of our salvation: because He is God He is able to save us.

In 4:14 we are told THEREFORE, SINCE WE HAVE A GREAT HIGH PRIEST WHO HAS ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN, JESUS THE SON OF GOD, LET US HOLD FIRMLY TO THE FAITH WE PROFESS.  The object of this verse is to teach us about the priestly role of Jesus Christ.  In the OT system, a PRIEST was a mediator between God and His people.  The HIGH PRIEST had an especially important role in that he offered the annual Day of Atonement sacrifice for the sins of the nation.  Jesus is superior because HE ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN, a greater feat.

Notice Jesus is our GREAT HIGH PRIEST, far superior to any person who ever held that office.  He offered Himself as a sacrifice for sins and that was done once and is effective to save all people in all places at all times.  Everyone who accepts this act of grace will be saved.

This is a question that pains me as a Minnesota Vikings football fan.  HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF WALTER PAYTON?  Walter Jerry Payton from the state of Mississippi. Payton lived from July 25,1954 until November 1, 1999. He was 45 years old when he died of a liver disease.

Mike Ditka was Payton’s coach and he said: “Walter was a great player, but he was even a greater man.”  Payton’s nick name was “SWEETNESS.”  Payton played for the Chicago Bears and so was constantly a thorn in the side of the Minnesota Vikings.  The worst was setting a single-game rushing record that I believe still stands.

Because it is too painful for me to recount and to avoid boring you good folks, I will spare you all the statistical evidence and just say it can be argued that Payton was the greatest running back of his time, perhaps of NFL history.

Someone once asked Walter, “Where did your greatness start?”  Walter said: “When I started playing my junior year the coach told us to run up and down the hill behind the school 25 times.”  Most of the players ran up and down the hill a few times and went to the locker room. I started to go with them and then I thought: “No, the coach said run the hill 25 times, so I went back and was the only one who would run the hill 25 times. That may have been a turning point for me.”

Payton’s Motto?  “NEVER DIE EASY — ALWAYS GET UP — NEVER QUIT — KEEP ON TRYING.”

<By Wade Martin Hughes, Sr. Kyfingers@aol.com, retrieved from https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-wade-m-stories-84249 on 02/17/17.>

“Never die easy;” that has a strange ring to it, doesn’t it?  But I think it has a great similarity to the words we’ve just studied in Hebrews.  Weariness is going to happen.  Discouragement sets in.  When these trials come against us, what are we to do?

One of the things we are to do is resist the urge to quit.  Instead of giving up as a way to try to ease our pain, we need to hang on more tightly to the truth.  Here is one essential truth to which we must cling: Because God is for us, it doesn’t matter who is against us.  If we remain in Him, the outcome is assured.  We will triumph.

PREVIEW:

  1. Focus on the basics: prayer and the Word.
  2. Rely on the Lord’s strength, not yours. (RMS 8:13)
  3. Share your burdens. (GLS 6:2)
  4. Spend your sorrow on service.
  5. Invest in wellness.

Joseph: Prisoner (Part One)

(Please read Genesis 39 in your Bible.)

The following may be one of the more interesting stories of recycling you’ll ever hear about.  The Bible Walk museum is a bizarre biblical museum made up of discarded waxworks of celebrities and other unwanted wax figures from across the globe. The BibleWalk museum in Mansfield in Ohio, USA, was founded in 1983. The museum features over 300 figures rescued from closed or failing waxwork museums.

The museum is split into four exhibitions as visitors take in the Life of Christ, the Miracles of the Old Testament, the Museum of Christian Martyrs and the Heart of the Reformation. It started over 30 years ago with some fiberglass figures purchased from an outdoor museum in Pittsburgh that was closing, and the collection has been added to ever since. The origins of the figures are a closely-guarded secret, but celebrity-watchers have spotted some of the repurposed figures.

* A young-looking Prince Philip is dressed in an all-white gown, playing an angel in a scene depicting Judgment Day. While some burn in the fires of hell, the now 94-year-old cuts a clean figure surrounded by other angels.

* Prince Charles is also a star attraction at the museum which gets up to 40,000 visitors a year. He has been transformed into Abel – the son of Adam and Eve – complete with ‘bowl’ haircut.

* Tom Cruise, the Scientologist, has been repurposed as Jesus.

* John Travolta appears in a scene with King Solomon as does the late Elizabeth Taylor.

* Action hero Steve McQueen plays a mere bystander in one of the scenes.

* Other stars from the world of entertainment include

The Beatles’ George Harrison, and legendary actors Marlon Brando and Burt Lancaster.

Director of the museum, Julia Mott-Hardin, 62 is reluctant to widely publicize the museum’s re-purposed famous figures. Julia, who has worked at the museum since its founding, even refuses to give tours to those who want to see the celebrities. She said: “I’ve had calls from people who wanted to take the tour, but only if I accompanied them pointing out the celebrities. I refused. The museum is about glorifying God and his works. That’s what we want to achieve. I just don’t want to take any of the glory away from God. That’s the most important aspect of BibleWalk; God’s glory.”

(Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/howaboutthat/11800739/Discarded-celebrity-waxworks-given-new-life-at-BibleWalk-museum-in-Ohio.html on 8/14/15.)

I loved the director’s comments because that’s the attitude we want to bring to the entire Bible.  The hero of every Bible story is God, no one else.  While we are examining and celebrating the life of Joseph, we need to keep in mind that the important things are the things we learn about God.  Some, like Andrew Lloyd-Weber and Tim Rice, want to glorify Joseph as some paragon of perseverance and hope and merely human attributes.

Our purpose, instead, is to show God’s hand at work in Joseph’s life.  In good times in bad, when his circumstances rose and fell, God was always at work getting Joseph where He wanted him and prepared to do the work God wanted him to do.  HE WILL DO THE SAME WITH US, IF WE ARE FAITHFUL.

Message: Evil has it’s say, but God provides a way.

  1. Joseph landed on his feet (vs. 1-6a).

V. 1 is a repeat of 37:36, a reminder of what happened before the digression that is the account of Judah and Tamar (ch. 38). This is a recurring theme in the account of Joseph’s life: circumstances that cause us suffering can be a forge God uses to accomplish His purposes.  In this part, we see God used Joseph’s brothers’ misdeed to put Joseph where He wanted him: in Egypt.

Joseph’s feet landed in the household of Potiphar.  Potiphar (“devoted to the sun”) served in Pharaoh’s court as CAPTAIN OF THE GUARD.  Based on this we might assume:

– He was happy to have someone like Joseph, with whom he could entrust the boring details of running a courtly house.

– He was away from home a lot.  His absences may’ve been part of the reason his wife’s attention turned to Joseph.

THE LORD WAS WITH JOSEPH AND HE PROSPERED (2) is an apt summary of Joseph’s life.  Part of his prosperity was indicated by the trust his master put in him (3-4, 6). Potiphar recognized THE LORD WAS WITH [Joseph] AND GAVE HIM SUCCESS IN EVERYTHING HE DID; a good reason to trust Joseph with authority in the first place.  Verse six describes the depth of Potiphar’s trust in Joseph in an amusing way: HE [Potiphar] DID NOT HAVE TO CONCERN HIMSELF WITH ANYTHING EXCEPT T FOOD HE ATE!

Another indicator of God’s blessing was the prosperity that came to his master’s household while Joseph served him (v. 5).  The author expresses the same thing two ways in this verse.  However, this is not a story of Joseph’s success, but an account of God’s faithfulness to keep His promises.

  1. Mrs. Potiphar tried to sweep him off his feet (vs. 6b-18).

Verses 6b-7 explain Mrs. Potiphar’s attraction to Joseph as simple lust of the eyes.

Joseph has learned from his initial misfortunes; he is a pious young man and he refused her advances (8-10).  His moral maturity is evident in his:

– Unwillingness to violate his master’s trust (8).

– Refusal to abuse the authority he’s been given (9a).

– Recognition that adultery is a sin; a WICKED offense against God (9b).

Joseph wisely tried to avoid her.  But in this world, doing the right thing does not guarantee a righteous result (11-18).  Case in point: Joseph remained faithful, but Potiphar’s unfaithful wife brought a lot of trouble on Joseph’s undeserving head.  In fact, Joseph’s moral maturity is greater than his forbearers:

– Of all t Patriarchs, it is written of Joseph alone, T LORD WAS W HIM(3)

– Of all the patriarchs, only Joseph was recognized as gifted with the SPIRIT OF GOD (41:38).

Joseph was one of the most undeserving sufferers in the Bible.  We need to understand that suffering isn’t always about what a person deserves.  However, it is always about God accomplishing His purposes in us and through us.

Mrs. Potiphar finally caught Joseph alone.  This became one of those “he said/she said” situations with no way out!

Joseph panicked.  The only thing he could think to do was run.  The problem was that he left behind his CLOAK, which the vengeful Mrs. Potiphar used as “evidence” against him.

  1. Joseph’s feet were chained (19-20a).

After having placed such trust in Joseph, it’s hard for me to understand why Potiphar would turn on him so suddenly and fully: HE BURNED WITH ANGER (v. 19).  I guess that he was under the influence of his wife.  The text clearly wants us to blame her:  Mrs. Potiphar is the villainess and Mr. Potiphar is a dupe.

Another reason may be implied in v. 14, where Mrs. Potiphar calls in HER HOUSEHOLD SERVANTS and tells them the outrageous lie she will repeat to her husband in vs. 17-18.  I can think of no good reason for her to do this other than to enlist their support as false witnesses.  She’s making sure all of them have their story straight before the boss comes home.

Why would the other servants support Mrs. Potiphar’s story? They may have been jealous of Joseph’s rise to authority (she emphasized he was a HEBREW and said Potiphar used Joseph TO MAKE SPORT OF US).  They may have been used to bowing to their mistress’ strong, vindictive personality.  Who would want to get on this woman’s blacklist?

While he might not have believed Mrs. Potiphar’s story on her word alone, the additional weight of the other servants’ testimonies and the CLOAK in her hand helped to convince Potiphar of Joseph’s guilt in the matter.  Also, Joseph was not there to defend himself.  It’s easier to get angry at someone when they’re not right in front of you.

However we understand the details of the plot and the motivations of the characters, Joseph was cast into the king’s prison, which may have been a worse situation than others.

  1. Joseph landed on his feet again (20b-23).

By outward appearances, being thrown into prison may have indicated Joseph was an evildoer and God had abandoned him.  The author of Genesis allowed no such misinterpretation and promptly informs the reader of the truth; BUT WHILE JOSEPH WAS THERE IN PRISON, THE LORD WAS WITH HIM (20b-21, 23).

This time the LORD’s presence took the form of favor in the eyes of the WARDEN (21-23).  It’s amazing how the attitude of the WARDEN parallels that of Potiphar and how Joseph earned the Warden’s complete trust even as he’d earned Potiphar’s.

Joseph suffered another setback, but God would use this to raise him higher still: The LORD GAVE HIM SUCCESS AT ALL HE DID.

William Congreve (1670–1729), a playwright, penned these familiar words in The Mourning Bride. Act iii. Sc. 8. “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”

Joseph was the unhappy victim of that maxim.  But, in spite of his setbacks, the important thing was that the LORD was always with him.  Joseph prospered because of that fact, not because of his cleverness.

It would be good for us to remind ourselves that what was true of Joseph could be true of us as well.   We can trust that the LORD is with us and despite the way things go – or how we feel about them – He is working for our ultimate good.  As Rev. Randy Rassmussen put it to me this week; The LORD uses adversity to prepare us for authority.  Ministry, maturity, and other good things come as a result of what we have suffered faithfully.

Test Anxiety

 “Test anxiety” is not an excuse for failure, it is a legitimate challenge to the ability of some persons to achieve a result commensurate with their ability and preparation. As we learn from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: “Test anxiety is a physiological condition in which people experience extreme stress, anxiety, and discomfort during and/or before taking a test. These responses can drastically hinder an individual’s ability to perform well and negatively affects their social emotional and behavioral development and feelings about themselves and school. Some anxiety is normal and often helpful to stay mentally and physically alert. When one experiences too much anxiety, however, it can result in emotional or physical distress, difficulty concentrating, and emotional worry. Test anxiety has been shown to have a consistently negative relationship with test performance, and test-anxious students are found to perform about 12 percent below their non-anxious peers.

“Inferior performance arises not because of intellectual problems or poor academic preparation, but because testing situations create a sense of threat for those experiencing test anxiety; anxiety resulting from the sense of threat then disrupts attention and memory function. Researchers suggest that between 25 to 40 percent of students experience test anxiety.”

(Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Test_anxiety on 8/14/13.)

Scientists have been studying this phenomena since 1950, so where was this information when I was going to school? Perhaps this explains why I wasn’t exactly a straight-A student!

But seriously, Test Anxiety can be debilitating for some people. Most of us don’t like tests and that attitude can carry over to school in general and even more broadly, into one’s life. Too many of us live what’s called an “unexamined life.” We don’t know ourselves, we don’t ask the important questions or seek deeper answers, content to shuffle from one life experience to the next. An unexamined life is marked by indecision, poor impulse control, and impulsiveness.

A solution, then, is to test ourselves. To understand why we’re prone to do the things we do and take steps to avoid repeating our mistakes.

As we’ll see, an examined life is a biblical virtue. It is a life where we are students of God, His creation, and ourselves. A life with one’s head in the sand is not our best life and it is not the life to which we are called. We’ll look briefly at three Bible passages that speak directly to this matter of testing ourselves.

God tests us. (Read 1 Peter 1:6-9; I use the ESV.)

Context: Peter wrote specifically to encourage believers who were discouraged by the persecutions and suffering they faced. At the beginning of his letter, he sets before them our hope of salvation and the reason God allows His people to suffer trials.

Comment:

Verses three through five detail the ultimate security of our hope salvation. That is reassuring to know, and that’s why verse six begins “In this you rejoice.” Knowing we have an eternal home in heaven is surely the best reason to rejoice.

But first, we may have to face temporary trials; “for a little while,” (note that even life-long troubles are still just temporary; they will cease at death). These trying experiences will cause us grief. They may also cause us to doubt God’s love or His power or even His existence. BUT, they are not the last word and they are not without a redeeming value. As verse seven makes plain, the value of trials is the testing they give our faith. This has three results.

The most immediate result is the improvement of our faith. “The tested genuineness of your faith” shows God’s purpose in allowing trials to come to us. His purpose is to test and improve our faith. The example Peter offers is that of gold, the most precious metal of his day. It is refined by fire. When melted, the impurities float to the top and are skimmed away. It is a familiar but reliable saying, “trials will either make you bitter or better.” The outcome is truly a matter of our own choosing. According to verse eight, the improvement of our faith is manifest in our sense of God’s presence, a new level of intimacy in our relationship with Him. Take note, on mental and emotional levels, of the depth of love Peter describes; “love, inexpressible joy, and glory” are all potent words and they’re all here.

The most important goal is to direct human attention to God (as always); “to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

The long-term goal is in verse nine, “obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

 

We test God, but only in one way. (Read Malachi 3:6-12.)

Context: The last of the prophets, Malachi ministered at time when the love of Israel had grown cold. He confronted several problems and one of them was tithing, the expected offering of the first ten percent of one’s income to God.

Comment:

Normally, we do not test God. It is not necessary because He does not change and is therefore perfectly reliable. “I the LORD do not change” the nature and character of God are eternal. This means He is faithful even when we are not – He will not suddenly change His mind and leave us hanging.

Human beings, on the other hand, are typically capricious and even the best of us need to change in order to become more like Jesus. That’s why God commands us to change – to repent of our sins – “Return to me and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts.”

This passage offers one example of a sin for which Israel needed to repent; failure to pay their tithe. In fact, God charged them with robbery; “you are robbing me…in your tithes and contributions.” This was not an isolated incident; it had become part of their national character. Their thievery has brought a curse upon their heads (verse nine) because God is behaving with perfect consistency. He told them from the beginning that if they would keep their end of the covenant, He would bless them. If they broke the covenant, He would curse them.

God’s solution to the problem was to invite them to do something He had forbidden elsewhere; to test Him. “Put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts.” The test would consist of obedience in this one area; this aspect of their failure to obey; “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.” God is saying, “Try it, and see what happens.”

If they were faithful to do this, here are the blessings God promised.

Abundant provision = “[See] if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” This is not just a promise of material provision, but it certainly includes that. But notice the degree of blessing; pouring out of an open window – too much to be contained, overflowing the amount of their need.

Removal of the curse = “I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts.” They had been suffering the loss of crops, probably from locusts, as the material outcome of their cursed status.

Receiving special status = “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts.” When the Lord blesses it brings Him glory to lift His people up. We then become an example to the world of what God can do. It’s never an egotistical thing, it’s always about directing our attention to God.

 

We test ourselves. (Read 2 Corinthians 13:5-8.)

Context: 1 Corinthians is a letter that is all about correcting the errors of a local church, Paul warns them in chapter five that when he gets back to Corinth, it will be to bring discipline on the members who refuse to repent and change. In these verses, he gives them and opportunity to get their house in order before he comes and escape that rebuke.

Comment:

Logically, they need to recognize their sin as a first step toward repentance. Truthful self-understanding is essential. And so it is written, “Examine yourselves…test yourselves.”

Ask yourself; “What kind of a person am I? How close is that to the kind of person God wants me to be?” “What do my attitudes and actions reveal about my loyalty to Jesus? What am I saying without using words?”

Most importantly, the purpose of the test is to see if you are truly a disciple; “To see whether you are in the faith….that Jesus Christ is in you.”

Of secondary importance is the beneficial effect self-examination has on our conduct. “That you may do what is right” means that godly living will be manifest among God’s people. Being a disciple in words only is not enough; it must fundamentally change who we are and be revealed in how we behave.

The phrase “For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth,” excludes all pretense, all hypocrisy. The truth is what God has revealed as such. Genuine disciples will do everything they can to promote the truth in themselves and others.

Because not everyone who claims to be a disciple is, it is possible to fail this test: “Unless indeed you fail to meet the test.” A disciple follows Jesus. A disciple, according to the ancient expression, walks so closely to his rabbi (teacher) that the dust from his feet falls on them. Whose dust has accumulated on your feet?

Paul was also concerned about the outcome of their self-examination as it reflected on his ministry to them. “I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test” means that Paul hopes they will not fail the test because He and his associates somehow failed to introduce them to Jesus or encourage them to true faith.

“Not that we may appear to have met the test….though we may seem to have failed.” One thing that makes church leadership difficult is that the results are out of the leader’s hands. If the preacher/teacher faithfully represents the Lord and the Word, the responsibility for conversion and discipleship falls on the hearers. Remember, Paul founded the church in Corinth and he has every right to expect and hope that his ministry there has not been in vain.

One kind of testing that the Bible does not allow is testing one another. We DO NOT test each other. I can find no biblical support for the notion that we have any right or responsibility to try one another’s patience or inflict intentional harm to see how faithful the other person will be. The other person is God’s problem – not yours. We are responsible to love one another and build each other up and occasionally confront sin, but never to test each other.

Love is to guide all our relationships. I read recently about one way people all over the world are demonstrating their love. The practice is called “locks of love,” and I’m not talking about the donation of cut hair.

According to a Google Groups web page, “Locks of love are the padlocks fixed by loving couples, on to a fence or a pole or metallic chain/string alongside some wall, etc., at a public place, to symbolize their eternal love. A couple would hang a padlock after inscribing their name or initials on it and throw the key away so that their love is locked forever. Some couple use two inter-twined locks, each lock bearing their name/initials. Besides lovers, often family members and close friends also put such locks at these places, to lock their relationship forever.
“The tradition probably originated from China where the love locks can be seen at several locations alongside the Great Wall of China and also in many temples and on the steps/paths leading to sacred peaks. The tradition has spread around the World and is now quite prevalent.
“In the USA, lovelocks came to the city of Lovelock, Pershing County, Nevada, USA as tourism business promotion. On Valentine’s Day, 2006, a dedication ceremony was held to start the tradition of at the new Lover’s Lock Plaza near the courthouse in downtown.”
(Retrieved from http://productforums.google.com/forum/#!msg/gec-people-cultures-moderated/2hHtssF43rU/H4-9buhAspUJ on August 14, 2013.)

The Holy Spirit is God’s “love lock,” His promise to you that His love for you will never cease. When you suffer trials of any kind, when you have reason to be discouraged, or when you are afraid, do not doubt God’s love. Instead, hold on to that lock, knowing the key has been thrown away. Troubles will come, but they are signs of His love, not His rejection.