I Have Questions About the Story of Joseph

Like many people I talk to, the story of Joseph is one of my favorite stories. He survives a dysfunctional environment and rises to the throne. His story gives us so much encouragement. For example, I love how Judah illustrates true repentance when he says,

And now, my lord, I cannot go back to my father without the boy. Our father’s life is bound up in the boy’s life. If he sees that the boy is not with us, our father will die. We, your servants, will indeed be responsible for sending that grieving, white-haired man to his grave. Genesis 44:30-31 NLT 

Judah tells Joseph he would rather die a slave in Egypt rather than break his father’s heart. What a beautifully accurate picture of repentance. 

I love studying my Bible near the beautiful Tampa Bay area,

I love it when Joseph tells his brothers,

But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. Genesis 45:5 NLT 

Now here is some profound theology. Joseph is not blaming his dysfunctional family for all of his problems in life! He realizes how his dysfunctional family played right into God’s hands to get him exactly where he needed to be. Years ago someone 1200 miles away called me with a job offer. As it turned out one of my coworkers knew the person who called me. I told a pastor friend, “I wonder if my coworker gave my name to the person who called, just to get rid of me?” The pastor wisely replied, “If so it doesn’t matter what the motives of  your coworker are. Joseph’s brothers had poor motives but they still got Joseph to the throne. God will work everything out for your good.” 

I could go on and on but  through the years I have also come up with some questions and I am wondering if you can help me? Some of these questions may seem more pertinent and some maybe just curious but I still would be interested in knowing what you think about them, so thank you for indulging me. 

If I put myself in Joseph’s sandals I’m thinking as soon as I got free I would go find my father. Once Joseph got on the throne do you think he made any attempts to contact his father? He knew he was in Canaan somewhere. According to this story there were obviously such a thing as spies. If I was Joseph I would have commissioned someone to do a little detective work and find my dad. Do you think Joseph tried anything like that?

Before we feel too sorry for Joseph do you think he may have actually enjoyed being away from his brothers?  As much as he loved his father, as far as his brothers go I think he may have enjoyed being free from all that dysfunction. Could Egypt have actually been a haven for Joseph long before he even came to the throne? Could Joseph have been just as happy to get away from them? 

When the brothers started telling Jacob all the strange questions the ruler was asking about the family, and especially his interest in the father and the little brother, do you think Jacob may had some fatherly instinct that helped him read between the lines and get a clue as to what was actually going on? Especially since Joseph’s body was never found? Not even skeletal remains an animal may leave behind? I could be way off, but as I read the story lately I get a hunch Jacob may have been figuring things out before it was actually spelled out for him. I know it would also take a lot of intuition to connect the dots but intuition is a thing. What do you think? 

Our imagination should never be placed above a plain “Thus saith the Lord” but I believe these stories are also written to leave room for a healthy imagination. I believe the stories come to life and are more real to us when we read with a healthy imagination that stays within the realms of the information Scripture provides. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. 

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.

God Will Definitely Give you More Than you can Handle

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

You may listen to the podcast version here.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 NLT 

When Jesus places his yoke upon us He is not giving us a burden, He is giving us a support system. 

I have heard it said that God will never give us more trials or burdens than we can handle. I disagree. God will definitely give us more than we can handle, but He will never give us more than He can handle. This is where the yoke of Christ comes in. His yoke is meant to carry our burdens. He gives us rest as we work in His strength instead of our own weakness. Paul writes about a time when he was given a trial from God in which he did not have the ability to endure. 

We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us.  And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety. 2 Corinthians 1:8-11 NLT 

Here we see Paul was crushed and overwhelmed beyond his ability to endure. Paul stopped relying on his abilities to endure and instead relied upon God. God saved Paul. Paul’s confidence is not in himself but in God. Paul also mentions the prayers of others helped get him through. Paul was given more than he could handle but thanks to God and his church family he endured. God does not expect us to overcome in our own strength. God invites us to unite our weakness to His strength. We do this when we take His yoke upon us. 

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 NLT 

Have you ever endured a trial so great you don’t even have a clue how you survived? That’s because you survived by grace. I remember when my fiancée left me, I lost my  old job and my new job was very hard for me to catch on to. I remember everything was going wrong every time I turned around. I remember crying out to God, “Give me one break, just one break!” It seemed the most simplest things would not go right. Everything became hard and complicated and impossible. I also remember crying out to God, “I’m not asking you to make it easy. Just make it possible!” During this time my car kept breaking down, and after the umpteenth  time it broke down in the middle of an intersection, I could not handle it anymore and I started yelling and cursing at the top of my lungs things no child of God should ever say! I won’t tell you exactly what I yelled but I will say when I hear someone else curse and swear when they are pushed beyond their limit I am totally unfit and unqualified to judge them. All I’m qualified to do is throw my arms around them and hug them.

I couldn’t catch a break. I was pushed way beyond what I could handle. There was no way out on my own. But you know what? I’m not sitting in the middle of the intersection with a broken down car now. I now have a car that’s paid for and very dependable. I have a job that I love. No I haven’t found the love of my life yet, unless you want to consider the love of my life being my job, the place I call home and all my wonderful family and friends in my community and around the world. Years ago I was sitting in the middle of an intersection with a broken down car, no money, no love life, no way to survive. And with the attitude I now had I did not deserve to survive.  I gave hope up and began to curse. But yet, with no hope and no strength I did survive. I survived because of one word. Grace. 

God gave me more than I could bear. And while I had given up and thrown in the towel and was cursing life, Jesus came and threw His yoke around me and pulled me out of my pit of despair. I can’t even credit my faith because I had no faith! It was all one word. Grace. 

God gave me more than I could handle. But that’s okay. I survived. Obviously He handled it all for me. The yoke Jesus gives us is not a burden. It is a support system. It’s grace. 

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.

When Self Confidence is Shattered

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

When I read in Wednesday’s section of this week’s lesson that David’s self confidence was shattered, it reminded me of a conversation I had years ago with a man who was studying eastern religions.  He asked me about my faith so I told Him I believed in Jesus. “But this faith in Jesus leads you to believe in yourself, right?” He asked. “No.” I said. “It actually makes me not believe in myself at all. Only in Jesus.” The young man didn’t even try to hide his scowl, and as to this date has not wanted to hear any more about my faith. Apparently believing in oneself is very important to this young man, but how can I believe in myself, when I know all too well what Paul confessed?

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. Romans 7:18 NKJV

Hard for me to believe in something where nothing good dwells.

But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Romans 7:23-24 NKJV

Romans 7 knows me all too well. But there is hope! Not in me, but in Jesus.

I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. Romans 7:25 NKJV

My mind wants to serve God but my flesh wants to serve sin. So what is the solution? Paul shares the solution in chapter 8. Many agree that Romans 7 describes the unconverted man while Romans 8 describes the converted man.

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4 NKJV

Jesus took my flesh with nothing good in it and crucified it. Now I can walk in the spirit and the law of love can be fulfilled in me.

And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:24 NKJV

In the physical world one must be born before they can die. In the Spiritual world one must die before they can be born.

For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. Galatians 5:17 NKJV

When the Spirit wars against the flesh is it the good things or the bad things we cannot do? Which is stronger? The Holy Spirit or the flesh? The previous verse makes it obvious.

I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. Galatians 5:16 NLT

So if I walk in the Spirit I have victory over the flesh. Why do I need victory over my flesh? Why can’t I believe in my own flesh like my friend wanted me to? Let’s examine the works of the flesh and see how many of them are good things to believe in.

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 NKJV

Eeeww! I didn’t find anything good in there, did you? No wonder Jesus had to crucify my flesh on the cross, and I must die to selfishness daily. See 1 Corinthians 15:31 and Luke 9:23. You may ask how does one die daily? I don’t think we can on our own. We must be crucified with Christ. See Galatians 2:20. As we behold Jesus emptying Himself on the cross, the Holy Spirit empties us of self too.

For not even those who are circumcised keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. Galatians 6:13-15 NKJV

It’s impossible to look at the cross and glory in my flesh.

“When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.” -Isaac Watts

“What is justification by faith? It is the work of God in laying the glory of man in the dust, and doing for man that which it is not in his power to do for himself. When men see their own nothingness, they are prepared to be clothed with the righteousness of Christ. –Ellen White, Faith I Live by, Page, 111

Now that my glory is laid in the dust, look at what is possible.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Galatians 5:22-26 NKJV

When the Holy Spirit fills me, this fruit shows up in my life. This is not my works! We saw earlier how disgusting all my works are. No, this fruit is not the results of my works. It is the result of the Holy Spirit living in me and producing His own fruit.

When we live by faith on the Son of God, the fruits of the Spirit will be seen in our lives; not one will be missing. –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 676

See why I told my friend the answer is not for me to believe in myself?

For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, Philippians 3:3 NKJV

“The circumcision” are those like Abraham, who stopped trusting his flesh to produce the fruit that only the Holy Spirit can produce. God had Abraham put away the part of the flesh he was trusting in so He could trust God’s promises instead. I pray God will give me another opportunity to talk to my friend again, so I can explain all that is possible when we stop believing in ourselves and believe in Jesus. Then again, the Holy Spirit can have anybody explain that to him. What the Holy Spirit does in me He can do in anyone. After all, it’s not me working. It is the fruit of the Spirit.

Grasshoppers, Giants and Reality

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Reality is 90% perception, or so they say. I don’t know who comes up with these statistics, but it makes a lot of sense to me.

When I was in sales, I led my district one year, but also went through a three-week drought with no sales at all. So what was my reality? Was I a good salesman who had a bad drought, or was I a bad salesman who just happened to get lucky?

Since the dynamics of a family are so different between first born, middle and youngest child, and, taking into account the gender difference, two siblings can grow up in the same family, but since their perceptions are different, it is like growing up in different families. Each child perceives and experiences the family differently to the extent that as far as perception goes, it’s not even the same family. You and I can watch the same football game, but if I am watching behind the goal, and you are sitting on the sideline near the center we are going to have a totally different experience and perception of the same game.

Satan well knows how perception affects our picture of reality. So he likes to play little mind games. A while back during a Bible study I mentioned that sometimes I am tempted to think that I care more about people than they care about me. My Bible student quickly responded, “Me too!” Then he paused, scratched his chin, and added, “I bet Satan tries to make everyone feel that way.” I agreed with my Bible student.

Let’s look at how Satan played mind games with the Israelites. Look at how they perceived themselves after spying out the Promised Land which had already been … well, promised to them!

All the people we saw were huge. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak. Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too!” Numbers 13:32-33 NLT.

Wait a minute? First of all, historians say the Canaanites may have been a few inches taller than the Israelites, but not so much taller as to be called giants. The grasshopper comparison was a drastic exaggeration. Furthermore, how did they know the Canaanites thought they were like grasshoppers? How would they know what they were thinking at all? They didn’t! They cast their perception on other people, and thought their perception was reality, when it was all in their minds. Satan was playing mind games with them.

Later, in Joshua 2:24 another group of Israeli spies visit Rahab in Jericho and there they found out what the reality was.

“The Lord has given us the whole land,” they said, “for all the people in the land are terrified of us.” Joshua 2:24 NLT

So the grasshopper comparison was just a little mind game of Satan’s that the first spies bought into. It was not reality. Sure, God wants us to be humble, but that does not mean he wants us to think we are grasshoppers while everyone else is a giant. Those who walk humbly with God are a terror to those who stand in their own pride and arrogance. If you walk humbly with God you do not need to be intimidated by anyone, regardless of their title or letters behind their name.

Humble men, armed with the word of truth alone, withstood the attacks of men of learning, who, with surprise and anger, found their eloquent sophistry powerless against the simple, straightforward reasoning of men who were versed in the Scriptures rather than in the subtleties of the schools. –Ellen White, Great Controversy, Page 455.

So it is today as in every age. The same can be said for you today, which was said of John the Baptist.

He could stand erect and fearless in the presence of earthly monarchs, because he had bowed low before the King of kings. –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, page 103.

Wisdom and humility go beautifully together, while the common combination of arrogance and ignorance seems to be lacking in comeliness. While we do not want to be arrogant and ignorant, it is possible to be humble and confident. Our confidence should be in God and not in ourselves.

Are you facing a giant today? First humble yourself before God. Put your confidence in His love and power. Walk forward in humble faith and obedience, and your giants will turn into grasshoppers. The humble of the land can also be the confident of the land, and not cowards.

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.

Can Parents, Mentors and God be Friends With Their Children?

The Lord is a friend to those who fear him. He teaches them his covenant. Psalm 25:14 NLT

We’ve all heard it said, Parents and teachers cannot be friends with their children. They have to be disciplinarians instead. I saw a meme on Facebook where a mother was telling her child, “I am not your friend. I will discipline you when you need it. I will always be watching you and needing to know where you are every second.” To me, that sounds exactly like a friend! When talking about parents and teachers being friends with their kids maybe we just need a broader view of friendship. There is more to being friends than going shopping or golfing together and then out to eat.  Actually I have many friends who I have never done any of those things with. To me, the discipline and accountability all fall under friendship. 

A friend of mine in Texas summed it up wisely I believe. She said, “While I can’t be friends with my child who is rebellious I can be friends with my child who is obedient.” Of course I still believe she was being a real friend by disciplining her child who was rebellious. Even so I appreciate the point that she made that a parent and teacher can be friends with an obedient child. As the Psalm above tells us that the Lord is a friend to those who fear (respect) Him I understand that the goal of the covenant He teaches us is friendship.

The goal of the atonement is friendship. The goal of the covenant is friendship. While I have never had children of my own I have had countless students over the years in the Adventist schools where I have helped out. Disciplining children to learn has opened my eyes to my own teachers so long ago. The teacher who I despised for making me stay after school to get my work done I now see was truly my friend. At dismissal time she could have told herself that she had done all she was paid to do and gone on about her day, but instead she gave up her own time to make me succeed. It did not matter to her that it made me upset with her. She cared so much about my future successes that she was willing to make me hate her if that is what it took for me to succeed. Now that is what I call a real friend! 

Now as a teacher and mentor, often I have to be the “enemy” when I am really being a friend. As a matter of fact, as I was just now writing this, it occurred to me that if a child is set on self destruction then I really am their enemy by foiling their self destruction. Even so, in my mind I am still being a friend. I am at peace with the fact that there are several young people out there who consider me an enemy because I held them accountable to be their best. At the same time while gift cards and treats are nice during teacher appreciation week, nothing is more meaningful to me than when years later former students call me up or even send a text, asking me a Bible question or sharing a prayer request. Sometimes they will share a warm memory assuring me my time and efforts were worthwhile. Even though I have never “hung out” with them, even so with all the time spent in the classroom together I still consider them my friends. The fact that they contact me years later when they have a need tells me they consider me a friend. Again there is a lot more to friendship than golfing and sharing nachos together. 

When I study the covenant I see that Jesus is interested in my friendship. If I am respectful and obedient I am more than His servant. I am His friend.

You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. John 15:14-15 NLT 

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.