Knew bursitis as a word; that people suffered attacks of; it enfeebled them in its pain; that Judy’s Aunt Von had suffered attacks of. Then, Friday, November 15, I learned bursitis as an experience. When it suddenly shot searing pain from my right shoulder into the upper arm, crippling any movement. My own push-ups were likely to blame.
Every experience lends itself to a spiritual truth. This one teaches the value of personal experience.
Jesus allowed himself to be tempted in every way any mortal can be. Matthew summarized the whole 40 day ordeal in the three temptations of 4:1-11. (The writer discusses this event in detail in his book Face to Face with Jesus.)
C.S. Lewis once said that soldiers discovered the strength of the German army by fighting it, not surrendering to it. And Jesus found the full potency of satanic temptation by resisting it, not surrendering to it. Only when we resist it till it surrenders will we understand temptation’s power AND the Grandeur of Christ’s TRIUMPH over Satan.
Indeed, he allowed Satan’s full, pitiless offense access to him without retaliating. To give him the right to attack satanic strongholds in humanity during his 3 ½ year ministry, Jesus limited himself to mere defense against those temptations in the 40 day wilderness campaign. By withstanding them, he earned the privilege of assaulting Satan’s every appearance in humanity that sent the Deceiver retreating in howling despair. Amen, Jesus!
Unbelieving scholars love to sit in their book-lined studies, supported by churches they no longer believe are relevant, but whose financial support they greedily accept. There they pontificate on the reasons they refuse to accept the Gospels as authentic accounts of Jesus.
They read the Gospels to criticize, not to learn. One such scholar took time to seriously read as a student the Gospel of Mark. Lo, and behold, the story seized his mind. And as he read he felt the Reality of the Person limned by the author.
Indeed, while Jesus is only the object of higher criticism, he can be anything the skeptic WANTS. But when even skeptics become students of Jesus Christ in the Gospels, humanity flutters into submission before his Majesty!
Skepticism about Jesus Christ is a popular pastime in America, especially in academia, spreading from university classrooms into every phase of education and politics.
And it’s easy. Anyone can publicly promote homosexuality as an acceptable alternative lifestyle—and no one will arrest him. Or publicly promote feminism as the answer to male-dominated life—and no one will arrest him. Or publicly tell the world that God is dead and we’re better off without him—and no one will arrest him.
To the shame of American life and the American church, such public sentiments in Saudi Arabia will get a person arrested and punished! We won’t be that radical, that intolerant, that hateful! That previous generations would take a public stand against any of the above, yes. But not America now, since we have learned the value of diversity in culture, with its accompanying demand of tolerance of all behavior.
The story of Potiphar’s wife vis á vis Joseph as a slave, and Joseph as a national powerhouse, resonates with powerful truth regarding unbelievers and unbaptized sinners vis á vis Jesus Christ. For all who now, in the comfort of a culture that tolerates all moral and religious views, however silly, stupid or outrageously blasphemous, who feel justified in living without Jesus, THINK!
What will they do when they see him high and exalted on his glittering GOLD throne, dressed in blinding-white robes, surrounded by heavenly beings constantly shouting his NAME as LORD GOD ALMIGHTY, Judge of all humans ever to live, including all who don’t believe he matters?
How will they feel when they find themselves unprepared and unable to join the Heavenly Throng of those saved-by-the-blood-of-Jesus? Mortals shouting glory, Glory, GLORY to the FATHER and the LAMB—the Great I AM!
And what will they think when they long to, but can’t, sing the Songs of Zion? And when they find they can never enter the New Jerusalem but must remain outside—longing to enter but unable because they chose to disbelieve Jesus Christ could be so encompassingly GREAT! Fini
In Matthew 27:25, the Jewish leadership harangued, beleaguered and bullied gutless Pilate into killing Jesus. When he protested vehemently, washing his hands as a declaration of innocence in Christ’s death, “all the people answered, ‘Let his blood be on us and on our children’” Matthew 27:25.
Yet, within weeks, they listened to bold peasant-apostles preach Christ’s victory over death; they watched them baptize penitents right and left; they witnessed one miracle after another. They then had another perspective: “You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood” Acts 5:28.
What we have in these two instances is the difference in opposing Jesus when it’s safe and opposing him when he has become dangerous.
Potiphar’s wife could understand the difference. Assuming she survived the intervening 13 years after having Joseph imprisoned, she never gave a second thought to having him punished for repudiating her advances. How dare a Hebrew slave dishonor her by honoring his God more than her allure! She likely paid no attention when hearing that a former Hebrew slave had become second in command to Pharaoh. But hearing his name got her attention: the very man her scorned fury jailed! And saw him dressed in linen robes, gold chain around his neck, Pharaoh’s signet ring on his finger. When in public she saw him passing in his chariot, runners preceding and shouting to all “Make Way! Bow Down!”—and found herself on her face until he passed!
What would she have thought then? End Part I
Satan’s penetration of our mind goes deepest with temptation near and God far away. When God doesn’t help and pleasure beckons. That’s the time the Holy Spirit reminds us to hoist “the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” Ephesians 6:16.
Like Jesus after 40 days and nights without food, our eyes may be dimmed but they can still flash with spiritual defiance at Satan. Like Joseph, even when physically weak or emotionally burdened, we can be spiritually potent. In the crucible of temptation, God’s word expects to prove us pure gold in his sight, not Play-dough in Satan’s hands.
When personal fortunes plummet, and it seems useless to continue being faithful, God expects from us the same high-class morality Jesus, Joseph and every apostle exemplified. God’s PERFECTION never reduces his expectations of us; it does activate the potency of the Holy Spirit to INCREASE our MATURITY in thought and behavior.
We may never fill any great role in God’s Kingdom, but we can be great Christians in God’s Kingdom! As Acts 6:14 stresses, it’s the kind of people God seeks from us, not the type of responsibility we bear for or service rendered to him.
We may witness to the lost without result. Nevertheless, we have fulfilled our role as Christians, since it’s the Holy Spirit’s role to convince, convict and convert the lost. Fini
Since God’s word teaches us right from wrong, never make another person’s wrong our standard of right.
Since God’s word always, and our particular feelings never, determines acceptable morality, never sacrifice his eternal word for momentary pleasures.
Capitalizing on whatever light God shines in our minds activates his grace in us. With only patriarchal moonlight as illumination, Joseph’s faith in God lifted him above his losses and sorrows. How many of us, living in the blinding light of Jesus, who “brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel, II Timothy 1:10, equal Joseph’s faith in our adversities?
Our response to adversity or catastrophe determines its ultimate impact on us. Allow that Joseph had difficulty accepting his new, degraded status. That he scoured his mind raw wondering WHY it happened! And so on....Yet...faith in God remained stalwart in him—empowering him to accept punishment for being true to God instead of receiving favored-servant status by surrendering to a fallen woman.
Yet, 13 years later, he rose from prison warden to second in power to Pharaoh! How many of us, after we exit whatever adversity or catastrophe we endure, can claim equivalent spiritual victories? Stronger personal faith in God? Stronger resisting temptation? Stronger against doubt? Stronger against comprising the Gospel, etc.? - More to come -
In adversity of the worst kind—loss of home life under a beloved father, cast aside as vermin by older brothers, sold into a foreign country as a slave—Joseph, son of Jacob, thrived spiritually. After adversity of the war-imposed-kind passed, many Americans cast aside their religious convictions to find themselves cast upon the turbulent sea of secularism.
In previous blogs of this series, this writer suggested that the inspiration of faith made the difference between Joseph’s growth in faith and the WWII generation’s loss of faith. His centered on GOD, theirs on a CHURCH. Do not be surprised that a distinction exists in the two inspirations. And do not be surprised that Satan finds it easier to divorce one’s loyalty to a church than to sever one’s commitment to Jesus. To this day, many who don’t attend church till profess faith in Christ! We can’t deny their profession unless it’s demonstrably false. And not attending church regularly doesn’t automatically make it false.
It does, however, prove that the person mistakenly put his faith in a church, not in Jesus. Worse, it indicates a profound ignorance of the intimacy that exists between Christ and the church. Before he established his church, Jesus recruited faith in himself. “Follow me”, he repeatedly said, “take up your cross daily and follow me”. That automatically meant that Christianity would be a relationship, not a religion. He called each disciple one by one, each loving and obeying Jesus as Savior and Lord. Many non-attenders still have that much right, though they may not use the words.
That’s where Christianity begins—each sinner one by one accepting Christ’s sacrifice for his sins and Christ’s Lordship of his daily life. Christianity begins, not ends, there. It isn’t “Jesus and me”, from now on, “Jesus and me a plurality”, whatever the opposition. A Christian automatically becomes part of Christ’s body. For on the day the apostles baptized 3000 converts, Luke says they “were added to their number” Acts 2:41. Whose number? The Twelve Spirit-baptized apostles as the nucleus around which God built a larger membership of Christians.
So it continued throughout the New Testament. Wherever converts were baptized, “the Lord added to their number” Acts 2:47. Paul summarized it all in Ephesians 5:25-33. Jesus is the head of the church, which is his body. That body existing in real time, in real places, all over the world, in every age.
Some people say they can accept God, but not Jesus. How can that be? The “our” in Genesis 1:26 is God, Jesus and the Spirit, three in one and One in three, the indivisible Godhead. Jesus is God’s WORD, the One through whom God speaks John 1:1-2. He is the One in whom the fullness of the Godhead lives Colossians 1:19. If we believe in God, we must believe in Jesus as His Only Begotten Son John 3:18, 14:7, 9, etc.
Others say they believe in Christ, but not the church. How can that be? He is the “head of the body, the church” Colossians 1:18, Ephesians1:22-23. Whatever way we remove a head from its body, only a corpse remains. And since no severance ever comes between Jesus and his church, only the person who thinks to separate them becomes the religious corpse, severed from the HEAD. Fini
(This is not the Finale promised. That comes later.)
Since Jesus is our example and model, what we feel about the opposition we Christians face needs to follow his response. Whenever we see the apostles living and preaching, they fearlessly followed Christ’s example. He remained unimpressed by the opposition. And unafraid of the opposition. For “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross....” Colossians 2:15.
Making a spectacle of the spiritual powers confronting him means he: mocked them; ridiculed them; snapped his fingers in scorn at them; and figuratively spit in their face as the leaders literally spit in his at his trial.
Let us learn a great truth. God will never expect from us what he hasn’t given us power to achieve. No height exists that we can’t climb; no depth we can’t descend; no situation we can’t master.
Therefore, Jesus will not have his people thinking they’re defeated when he KNOWS HE’s VICTORIOUS! And, since he lives in us through the Holy Spirit, we share HIS victory. He wins through us NOW because he WON for HIMSELF while on earth!
Never give up as a Christian, because it’s hard. Never give in as a Christian because it seems impossible. Never stop trying to be a Christian, even if it seems you’ll never make it. God designed the Christian faith to succeed when it should and must. It will never fail us if we persevere in faithful obedience to our Living Lord! End Part VII
In an earlier part of this blog I suggested that the 1940’s and 1950’s religious faith hadn’t prepared Americans for the rigors of the 1960’s and later. That didn’t mean faith didn’t motivate significant moral and kingdom development. Lincoln Bible College, in Lincoln, Illinois, began in 1944. Ozark Bible College, in Joplin, Missouri, in 1942. Many new church buildings re-located from small to larger facilities. Churches sent missionaries abroad in increasing numbers.
However, that faith flourished largely in church-focused loyalty, not Christ-centered commitment. It was easier to be a church member since so many were. And easier to have a church-focused life since so many had.
Since the 1960’s, and increasingly in the 21st century, it’s easier to be an environmentalist than a Christian; or an animal activist than a Christian; or a climate-change advocate than a Christian; or a business major or Wall Street analyst than a Christian. To be a devotee of yoga, Buddha or Mohammed than a Christian. Anything now is easier than being a Christian!
Indeed, its UN-POPULAR to be a Christian, defending Jesus today. Try praying in his name in public; or condemning anti-Bible behavior; or insisting publicly that Jesus remains the only way to enter God’s Presence. Such “Christian” declarations earn disciples the label of “intolerant hate group.”
What, then, should Christians do in such a resistant society? Consider ourselves cab drivers in inner-cities at night. To make a living, they chance bodily harm or death. To make a witness for Jesus, we chance rejection, ridicule or worse. We risk whatever cost we pay to continue being his witnesses, whether wanted or not, welcomed or not. End Part VI.
How can we rise to the occasion and best serve Jesus? The answer in the Finale.
What catalyst turned Joseph, son of Jacob, into what he became at 30 after being what he was at 17? How did he, in the intervening 13 years, turn his odyssey from a dead-end beginning into an open-ended future?
The answer is best understood from Jacob’s in-depth teaching about God’s Presence and Word that all his boys heard, to which Joseph listened more carefully and applied more personally. Only Judah, of the remainder, began to mature into the leading role he assumed on the men’s second trip to Egypt.
Consider six examples of how Jacob’s experiences empowered Joseph. First, when he taught that God would always be true to his word, his life-experience proved it. Promised a return to Canaan as a 77 year old man going to Paddan-Aram, God fulfilled his promise when Jacob had turned 97 in Paddan-Aram.
Second, when Jacob taught God’s care for his people, he had the example of 12 sons and a daughter as proof—at a time when large families meant God’s benefaction. Third, knowing his father had been mistreated for 20 years empowered Joseph to persevere through 13 of adversity.
Fourth, if a scorned woman caused Joseph’s prison sentence, Jacob’s father-in-law would have stolen his own daughters from Jacob had God not intervened. Fifth, if Joseph received a pitiful wage as prison warden, Laban had changed Jacob’s wages 10 times in 20 years. Sixth, if the young Joseph feared the dangers slavery imposed, his older father learned to face, not flee, danger; he prepared by prayer to trust God when confronting Esau.
Joseph learned from Jacob’s experiences that God had always been a refuge for his people and a very present help in trouble. Joseph garrisoned his life with those truths.
Do we get the drift of this point? Jacob’s in-depth personal experiences with God became the fulcrum on which Joseph built his own life in those 13 years. If Jacob endured to success through it all, Joseph could also, and did.
Nevertheless, and equally important, Joseph had to learn by personal experience in those years that Jacob was RIGHT about God. For faith in God must be personalized as each generation lives it as a fresh experience. That way, whatever our age, we can stay fresh and green Psalm 92:14.
That knowledge, learned as a boy, reinforced Joseph’s faith: when he went to jail for making the RIGHT decision. For resisting temptation. For bearing witness to God’s purity by maintaining his own.
Answering the question, “Is that any way for God to increase a person’s faith: letting him suffer for doing good? Making belief difficult and obedience hard?
YES. In God’s Providence, YES! End Part V
eople his age often take with them to college their untested but accepted faith in Jesus. They begin to doubt and, not a few, to lose their faith, when hearing nothing more than the baseless mongerings of humanistic skeptics. But Joseph, son of Jacob, flexed his faith in God when, at age 17, he found himself in a foreign country, deprived of all that he had known and accepted as the basis of belief in God.
WWII dragged into secularism and materialism, with accompanying loss of faith in God and Christ, many of its generation. (How can they be the “greatest generation” when they lost much of their faith in the Living God and his Son Jesus Christ? Indeed, while overcoming the perils of Germany’s dictatorship and Japan’s ancestor worship, they returned to America shorn of the “horns” of powerful faith.)
While Joseph, deprived at 17 of the parental encouragement so crucial to sound decisions, spent 13 years more enduring undeserved, unavoidable and inescapable captivity. With no answers coming from God, no spiritual tutors forging strong religious convictions in his mind, and no fellowship with other believers bolstering his faith.
And while Joseph, with far less inspiration—not even Mosaic instruction—not only remained faithful to God; and not only resisted the “whatever makes your life more comfortable” morality, but increased in his spiritual witness to become second in power only to Pharaoh.
End Part IV