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
We senior citizens know that California isn’t the same state we came to and the church today isn’t the same we knew in the 1940’s—and early to middle 1950’s—when it was the most influential, trusted institution in America.
We didn’t realize at the time that much of religious faith had a strip-mine quality, not deep-hole penetration by God’s word. Slightly below the surface cutting, nothing far underground. Cosmetic, not surgically implanted. And church-focused, not Christ-centered.
And something else we didn’t realize. Slight tremors of change occurred undetected throughout the 1950’s. Only in the early 1960’s did it become obvious that America had regressed spiritually. Music changed, from lyric-based melodies of love to sound-based attacks on accepted morality. The Free Speech Movement, popularized first at Berkeley, and spreading nation-wide, spouted hatred of all authority, human or God.
While this writer had little idea how bad it would become, even he, then a graduate student in Seminary, with Judy and three little boys at home, KNEW America had entered a new and dangerous phase.
Now Parts I-III may sound like a sociological treatise, not a Biblical message. But while I’ve added more historical information than originally planned, and more personal stories, it should all be helpful in understanding that the change in America that began quietly in the 1940’s; that continued more vocally in the 1950’s; that erupted through society in the 1960’s and continues now in depraved societal morals, wouldn’t have occurred to the extent it has if religious faith had then been the mind-saturating, heart-converting, life-dominating power Gospel preaching can, should and DOES produce when preached faithfully, to some depth, on all occasions.
The very kind of faith young Joseph, son of Jacob, possessed when he found himself away from home and in Egypt. End Part III
The decline in American morals and spiritual potency after WWII didn’t lack great individual faith. Indeed, faith in God motivated missions abroad and the start of Bible Colleges at home. Lincoln Bible Institute in Lincoln, Illinois, started in 1944 and Ozark Bible College, Joplin, Missouri in 1942. New building programs also proliferated, each a witness to faith in God’s work.
However, that great faith usually expressed itself in the community of believers; with iron sharpening iron, Christians challenging Christians, all advancing together. It was easier to be a church member, since so many were. And easier to embrace a strong Christian ethic, since so many had.
As a result, in the years between January 1942, and May, 1945, many individual disciples, who had grown accustomed to a GROUP consensus to help maintain their faith in God, found themselves weakened or defeated when alone.
In the transition from peace to war, sacrificing their occupations to serve as warriors; no longer bolstered by home, friends and the church; sent to strange places for basic training, then to foreign countries to fight or serve; where they associated with those whose only goal was work or war; and put in situations where anything WENT, and oftentimes everything DID, belief in God, morals and church attendance, suddenly no longer seemed necessary, dominant or relevant. The result being the growth of a galloping secularism, materialism and pluralism in American life. End Part II
Maintaining one’s moral code and spiritual convictions is easier when personal and societal values exist in a familiar equilibrium. That happened in America during WWI. Under General Pershing we had a million men in France by May, 1918, and four million in uniform. We also had many thousands of women working outside the home for the first time in history.
Yet, when the war ended, most of the men returned to their hometowns and most of the women to their homes. In fact, 26 states had laws prohibiting employment of married women. And a 1930’s survey showed that 82% of Americans didn’t want married women earning a salary.
WWII somersaulted Americans into an altogether different mindset. For example, of the 8 million women employed during the war, 6 million remained in the work place afterwards. Sixteen million men and women wore the colors during the war: training in multiple basis nation-wide; and sent to fight or serve on foreign soil. Afterward, millions of them followed the pioneer’s wanderlust and re-located. As a result, while mid-western towns saw a decrease in population, Pacific Coast states increased 110% between 1940-1960.
That change turned a religious, small town, America into an increasingly urban, suburban and secular America. Previously, living in hometowns; attending local schools and churches; with friends of shared common values, people more easily remained true to the lifestyle fostered by the churches. End Part I
Summarizing the first two meanings, symbiosis refers to the union of dissimilar organisms to gain mutually beneficial results. Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, p. 1194.
Christian discipleship offers the perfect example of symbiosis, with Jesus and we united. He, the eternal I AM made Flesh, we mortals fleeting as a mist. He, the Only Begotten Son of the Father, we the product of sexual passion between men and women. He, full of grace and truth, we of anger and lies. He, by Nature God, we by nature objects of wrath. He, the Image of the Invisible God, we the image of human mothers and fathers. He, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” Colossians 2:3, we ignorant of and unwilling to learn from him. He, focused solely on doing God’s will, we a congeries of ambitions—like General Lafayette, concerned only with gaining glory, or like the Rich Fool, only on acquiring possessions, or like Jeff Bezos, acquiring as many companies as rapidly as possible, etc.
Now...the conclusion of the matter. How can such dissimilar persons exist in a mutually profitable relationship? By the GRACE of God in Christ. “Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers” Hebrews 2:11. And we...objects of that Grace...can believe in Jesus, follow Jesus, obey Jesus and BE IN Jesus RIGHTEOUS, by his declaration, not by our achievement! Amen.
A man spent 40 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. The jury rejected the sworn testimony of fellow-workers to find him guilty. That’s an extreme example of witnessing fruitlessly.
Why, then, bother to bear a witness to Jesus since at least some, or most, will pay no attention? Well, one reason is that God’s Truth must have a witness. Jesus referred to that in his Triumphal Entry. The leaders criticized when he accepted praise from little children. Were they the best he could offer? Yes, because God used such innocence to praise his reality Matthew 21:16. And the leaders went ballistic when they heard the tumultuous crowd descending from Mt. Olivet praising Jesus, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” When they demanded he stop all that excess, Jesus replied, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out” Luke 19:37-40.
God’s word can’t return to him void of results Isaiah 55:10-13. And if the only result is the witness borne, those who still reject it do so from intention, not ignorance. True, every Christ-centered witness can be challenged by a Satan-inspired denial. And many will prefer to live in denial of God than confess their need of him.
Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription, “The Lord knows those who are his, and everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness” II Timothy 2:19.
Christians, take a chance. Bear a witness for Jesus. Some won’t like it. Some will object. Some will verbally attack you for being so bold. Or worse. A Jews for Jesus witnessed on a New York Street. Someone came by and slugged him to the ground. A fellow Christian Jew stood by and watched. “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars,” he said. The prone Christian replied mournfully, “Neither would I.’
But he would for Jesus. Amen. Take heart, Christians; if we fail in our witness, we have failed in a cause that shall eventually succeed. Far better, then, to bear a failed witness in an ultimately successful effort. Far worse to be a successful proponent of a cause tht eventually fails.
But, word of hope. We’ll often be surprised by how effective our witness is. Many want to know God in Christ. They will listen when we teach Christ’s word. They will obey. It’s like reaching a hand back to offer assistance to someone struggling to regain his balance or stance or escape some danger. The one reaching out will find that someone reaching back and holding on!
God’s truth will be vindicated. Never stop talking about Jesus to unsaved friends. They need to hear what we have to say. And, whatever their response, they will know that “a true prophet has been among them Ezekiel 2:5. Fini