Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Two Lives of Joseph

There is a book that my mother used to read to me when I was little entitled, The Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day. Though I do not, at this time, recollect all the ins and outs of this book containing a day’s worth of mishaps and bad memories, it is one of the first thoughts which enters my mind when contemplating the life of one of the Bible’s most famous men.

The account of Joseph as given in Genesis 37-50 is one of the most well-known accounts of Biblical history. From the coat of many colors, to the prison cell dream interpretations, to being the second-in-command of an entire nation, Joseph’s life is one of twists and turns that would cause a professional novelist a great deal of mental exertion trying to keep up. Yet the life of this great man of Scripture is one that in actuality brings forth two lives being led at once. They coexist, yet in Joseph they seem to be completely separate and detached from one another. This is not to say that they do not have an impact on one another, but that the direction the first life in our discussion takes does not, by means of necessity, impact the second. Consider the two lives of Joseph.

The Physical Life of Joseph. The physical life of Joseph was a roller coaster ride of proportions that would make Six Flags watch in amazement. Joseph went from being the favorite son of his father to being almost murdered by his brothers at the age of 17 (Gen. 37). He went from being sold into slavery by them to rising to be the overseer of the house of one of the most prominent officers of Pharaoh (Gen. 39). He went from being thrown into prison for a crime he did not commit, to again rising from the ashes, this time as the second in authority over the entire land of Egypt (Gen. 40-41). All of this occurred over the space of many years, and yet the emotional and physical trials this man went through cannot truly be imagined by many of us today.

The things which happened to Joseph would leave many people with an attitude as rough and callous as the scarred wounds of a badly burned skin. Joseph, however, was not readily affected in such a way. He sought to make the best out of every situation, even when there did not seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel. By doing so he earned the respect of those surrounding him at every point in his life.

There are many occasions in our lives when things do not go as we had planned in our minds. Even so, let us remember the exceptional example of the great-grandson of Abraham.

The Spiritual Life of Joseph. From the very first introduction of Joseph, it is evident that this young man had a faith in God and a purpose for which he lived his life. In every facet of his life, whether at the highest peak or the lowest valley, Joseph’s spiritual life remained a constant stream of devotion to God.

He did not blame God when things went badly, neither did he ignore God when things went well. God was always at the forefront of all that Joseph did. Joseph was the perfect example of one who had a faith that did not ebb and flow with the tides of life’s trials, but instead stood as the fortress to which Joseph could go for refuge no matter his situation.

It would have been very easy for Joseph to have blamed God for allowing all of these events to happen to him throughout his life. Instead, Joseph explained to his brothers his attitude toward all these things when he said, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me: but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Gen. 50:20).

Before we blame all our ills on God and live our lives in the malady of woe and self-pity, let us look back to Joseph and recognize that God uses those bad situations to bring forth good if we are willing to let Him (Rom. 8:28).

Throughout Joseph’s life there were two lives rolled into one. The physical life, with all of its turmoil, emboldened and bolstered by the spiritual life, constant and steadfast. One of the greatest lessons men can learn from Joseph is that our physical lives should not be allowed to dictate our spiritual lives, but our spiritual lives will dictate how we live our physical lives.

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Exemplifying a Life’s Walk

On Monday, my father and I traveled to Atlanta, Georgia to see a man I had known all my life. He was a classmate of my father’s in preaching school and my brothers and I had grown up jokingly referring to him as our “big brother.” My dad and I were going to see him because we knew he was in the final stages of his battle with cancer, and we wanted the chance to visit with him one more time.

Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Brethren, be followers of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an example… For our conversation is in heaven; from whence we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Phi. 3:17, 20-21). Paul talked about the necessity of following the examples of those who walk according to the Gospel of Christ and live the truth of the Gospel in their lives.

Jimmie Hill was this type of example for many people. His work for the cause of Christ took him around the world; from Australia and New Zealand, to the pacific islands, to Iceland, to the nations of Africa: Jimmie spent his life living out the great commission. His ability to teach was both enlightening and encouraging, and his desire to reach the lost was the greatest ambition of his life.

But Jimmie did not just preach the Gospel, he lived it. He was a faithful husband and loving father. One who loved and cherished his family greatly and recognized the importance and responsibility of seeing to one’s own family first. Jimmie was always quick with a joke and a laugh, but he also knew when to be serious and always took the truth very seriously. He would not remove himself from it, nor would he allow others to propagate that which was false in his presence without a reply.

Last night, Jimmie finished his course. He lived a life that would have allowed him to make the same statement the great apostle made when he wrote, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8). In fact, in the days leading up to his death, while under hospice care at home, Jimmie did not wallow in self-pity and fear, instead he set up a Bible study with his hospice nurse: still finding ways to spread the Gospel.

In an age where fools lift up athletes, the wealthy, and people who live their lives pretending they are someone else as role models; it needs to be shown who the real role models are. Individuals need to be held up who exemplify a life’s walk in service to the Creator. Jimmie was one of many such individuals I have had the pleasure of seeing, knowing, and loving in my life. I am thankful for the years that I had to know him, the influence he exerted on the lives of so many, and I pray that the example of his life will continue to live in the lives of those with whom he worked and taught as the days go by.

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Having Biblical Patience

When the term “patience” is used, we often consider it in the context of keeping our emotions and reactions under control, thereby exerting patience instead of impulsiveness. However, within the confines of Scripture the word under consideration is used in a very different way. Consider for a moment what it means to have Biblical patience.

Most people familiar with Scripture know James’ statement in James 5:11, where it is written, “Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” James discusses the patience of Job, but he is not talking about his emotional control. In fact, if you read the book of Job, he is highly emotional throughout the ordeal.

The word translated “patience” comes from the Greek word hupomone, meaning “endurance, constancy, steadfastness.” The word is found 33 times in the New Testament and on 31 of those occasions it is translated in the King James Version as “patience.” Therefore, when considering patience from a Biblical perspective it must be understood that the attribute under discussion is endurance or steadfastness in one’s service to God.

From this perspective, Job is one of the greatest examples of endurance and steadfastness in Scripture. He lost everything from his wealth, to his family, to his health; yet with all of his losses he never lost his faith in God and his willingness to obey his commands. Job endured great hardships, but always retained his integrity before God (Job 2:9).

It is this form of patience that Christians are to have. Yes, Christians are to control their emotions and reactions: but in Scripture this attribute is described as temperance or self-control. For Christians to have patience, they must be steadfast and endure the trials of life. For just such a reason it is written, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1). Servants of God are to run the Christian race with endurance; not quitting or halting along the way, but constantly moving forward with their eyes on the prize (Phi. 3:13-14).

However, patience is not an attribute that just arrives one day. It must be cultivated and grown. This is accomplished in a number of ways, but the one most emphasized in Scripture is the acquiring of patience through trial and struggle. James wrote, “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (Jam. 1:3-4). Additionally, Paul related to the Romans this message: “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Rom. 5:3-5). Patience is strengthened by our overcoming of the trials and struggles of life. When we are able to overcome one problem it gives us the courage to face the next and relays the confidence that any issue can be overcome.

If we are to have Biblical patience we must endure to the end, whether that end be death or the second coming of Christ (2 The. 3:5; 1 Tim. 6:11). Let us move through this life with the patience of Job, endeavoring to clear the hurdles of life and steadfastly moving down the narrow way that leads to life eternal.

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The Parable of the Siblings

There once were two siblings: a brother and sister. The brother was older and, to all physical appearances, a handsome young man. The sister was pretty, but not flawlessly so. She had a birthmark underneath her chin, a mole beside one ear, and hair that always looked messy no matter what she tried to do with it; but she had a beautiful heart and worked very hard at being the best she could be.

Nevertheless, the brother was merciless toward his sister. He constantly told others, both family and strangers, about her flaws and shortcomings. She wasn’t really as pretty as people thought, according to him, for she was far too flawed for anyone to be truly pleased. The derogatory statements began as whispers behind her back, but soon became constant statements that were before the sister on a daily basis.

She tried to make changes, to cover the blemishes with makeup, to keep the hair as others thought it should be, and to appear less “ugly;” but no matter what she did, the brother never changed his opinion of her. She was always going to be his ugly sister and he was not afraid to let anyone know the truth about her.  

Finally one day, after a great deal of time taking the berating words from her brother, the sister decided she could not take it anymore. One night she ran away from home, leaving a note stating that she could not take the brother’s criticism any longer. While she was on the streets a stranger found her, laid his hands on her, and killed her.

When the family was notified of her demise they found the note left by the girl. The brother then had to live the rest of his life before his family and friends knowing that it was his merciless lack of love and compassion that cost his sister her life and the beauty it could have brought into the lives of so many others.

As sad as this story is, it is played out on a regular basis within the church by those brothers and sisters whose irritable griping and merciless complaining torment the souls of Christians striving to do what is right. The objects of derision are not perfect, they have flaws and problems like everyone else, but they strive with all their might to do what is right and be what God wants them to be. Nevertheless, many “sister’s” have been driven from the church by uncaring members who are more than happy to tell anyone, Christian or not, what they think of that individual and how terrible their shortcomings are.

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!” (Mat. 18:3-7 ESV). Paul would warn against becoming those who, “Learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.” (1 Tim. 5:13)

Our speech is to always be with grace and seasoned with salt (Col. 4:6). The things that we say and the way we treat others has a deep impact on their feelings, their resolve, and their ability to continue to grow and improve. May it never be said of us that we drove a sibling away with malice, resentment, and anger; but ever tried to strengthen them with love, truth, and encouragement to always do what is right.

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“The Lord was as an Enemy”

The title phrase of this article is a quote from the prophet Jeremiah in the Lamentations. He is bemoaning the levels of destruction in Judah brought about by the judgment of God. Notice the statements made by the prophet, “The Lord hath swallowed up all the habitations of Jacob, and hath not pitied: he hath thrown down in his wrath the strong holds of the daughter of Judah; he hath brought them down to the ground: he hath polluted the kingdom and the princes thereof. He hath cut off in his fierce anger all the horn of Israel: he hath drawn back his right hand from before the enemy, and he burned against Jacob like a flaming fire, which devoureth round about. He hath bent his bow like an enemy: he stood with his right hand as an adversary, and slew all that were pleasant to the eye in the tabernacle of the daughter of Zion: he poured out his fury like fire. The Lord was as an enemy: he hath swallowed up Israel, he hath swallowed up all her palaces: he hath destroyed his strong holds, and hath increased in the daughter of Judah mourning and lamentation” (Lam. 2:2-5).

However, Jeremiah’s anguish is not directed in anger toward God, or in resentment of his judgment. Instead it is focused on the people of the land and their continuous refusal to accept God’s Word. However, this leads one to a troubling question: why would God do such a thing? Was this done without warning or with cause?

The answer is plain when looking at some of the prior writings of the very same prophet. In Jeremiah 8 God will announce to the people of Judah the reasons for his coming judgment. The reasons the nation of Judah will fall should serve as a word of warning to all nations and people. Consider his words:

Judah received God’s judgment because they would not repent. In Jeremiah 8:5-6 God said, “Why then is this people of Jerusalem slidden back by a perpetual backsliding? they hold fast deceit, they refuse to return. I hearkened and heard, but they spake not aright: no man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done? every one turned to his course, as the horse rusheth into the battle.” God had spoken many times to his people through the prophets, yet they adamantly refused to repent and acquiesce to his will. As a nation they were perpetual backsliders, refusing to return to righteousness.

Judah received God’s judgment because they did not recognize the laws of God. God continued his indictment by stating, “Yea, the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming; but my people know not the judgment of the Lord” (Jer. 8:7). This is not to say that they had never heard or did not understand the laws of God, but rather, that the Israelites refused to acknowledge God’s Law as authoritative in their lives, deciding instead that the laws of the king and popular opinion were superior.

Judah received God’s judgment because of covetousness. Yet another aspect of God’s judgment is the greed of the people. He argues, “For every one from the least even unto the greatest is given to covetousness, from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely” (Jer. 8:10b). The people of Judah were more worried about getting what their neighbor had than anything else. Nobody was content with their own possessions, lands, positions, etc.; but they all wanted more, preferably at the loss of another.

Judah received God’s judgment because she cried out “peace” when there was none. This is the classic “head stuck in the sand” case. God says, “For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.” There were those in that day who wanted to call for peace at any cost. They would stand for nothing, hold nothing as absolute, and try to pretend the problems did not exist as long as they could cry out for peace. At a time when God was judging a nation, people were claiming there wasn’t really anything wrong and they could each take their own path and everything would be fine.

Judah received God’s judgment because she could no longer blush. The sins and abominations in Judah had become so overwhelming the people could not even blush at them anymore. God relates, “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore shall they fall among them that fall: in the time of their visitation they shall be cast down, saith the Lord” (Jer. 8:12). The people of Judah did not recognize, nor were they bothered by, sin any longer. It had become so accepted in their society it was no longer a shameful thing.

Judah was destroyed and sent into captivity by God because of their wickedness. They serve as an example for all nations of the demise that will follow those that take their path, and throughout history nation after nation has evinced the truth of this fact. As we look around our country, it is not difficult to see each point of the Lord’s indictment against Judah clearly present in our supposedly “God blessed” society. While we love and cherish our country and the freedoms it affords, we need to also be thoughtful and careful to recognize how God sees our country. Maybe instead of asking God to bless America, we should instead be praying that God would bless America as America turns to God. For there is no doubt one will not occur without the other.

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Poem: Breaking the Water Line

As I went down into the water one day I was bearing the bruises of life.
I’d been trying for years to find my own way and often it led only to strife.
I was at the end of my rope,
Without any hope,
With a life that I could not rewind.

As I went down into the water one day I knew I would not be the same.
For from that moment on a new day had dawned and I’d carry with me a new name.
I was looking ahead,
For all that I’d read,
And amazed at the peace I could find.

As I went down into the water one day its drops were soon joined by mine.
I could not restrain the emotions that came when breaking the water line.
My immersion complete,
I left on my feet,
With many a weight left behind.

As I came up out of the water that day my life changed in every respect.
I no longer cared to find my own way; it was his path I would not neglect.
My transformation complete,
This new man is meet,
And walking with renewal of mind.

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Defining Fellowship

It is unfortunate that many in the church today view the Biblical doctrine of fellowship under one of two umbrellas: either it regards eating or withdrawing. However, the Scriptures dictate a much broader importance to fellowship as God defines it. Fellowship is the central theme of every facet of the Christian life.

The Greek term that is translated “fellowship” in the New Testament is koinonia. It is defined by Thayer as “fellowship, association, communion, community, joint participation.” It is a mutual association from one person to another based upon any number of factors. Though the word translated “fellowship” is only used 20 times in the New Testament, the principles of godly fellowship are found on every page of the Scriptures. Therefore, for one to whittle down fellowship to the question “to eat or not to eat” is a misnomer. Consider what the Bible teaches us pertaining to the definition of fellowship.

Fellowship is between God and man. This is the foundational element of the fellowship necessary for a godly life. If an individual is not in association with God, none of the rest of the statements made in this article is of any value. We gain that fellowship by being obedient to the Gospel and coming in contact with the blood of Jesus Christ through baptism. John wrote, “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).

When we obey the Gospel we begin a life of association with God. That fellowship, if it is as it should be, will have an impact on every corner of our lives. That fellowship is manifested in a number of areas. The worship which we offer before God, as he has commanded, is an avenue of fellowship, the Lord’s Supper itself often being described as communion (1 Cor. 10:16).

It also extends itself into our everyday lives through prayer and study. Through prayer, we have an avenue by which we can come before the throne of God with anything and everything (1 Tim. 2:1-8). Through his Word, God has extended to man everything he needs to endure the trials and tests of life on this earth (2 Pet. 1:3). However, we must take the time to read and listen to what God has laid before us if our fellowship is going to truly benefit our lives. Hence, the fellowship between God and man is a very powerful thing that can only be broken if we leave God, for he will never leave us (1 Cor. 15:57-58).

Fellowship is between man and man. One of the greatest assets available to the Christian in this life is to have others of like faith surrounding them as they journey. John also places an emphasis on that aspect of Christianity when he says, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

There is an association available to those who love and serve the Lord that is able to encourage, uplift, and strengthen the heart of every follower of Christ. This fellowship is manifested in many ways. Our worship and Bible study together as members of the body of Christ is a joint-participation beyond compare. How uplifting it is to be with those who serve the same God by obedience to the same commands! The encouragement to be gained from such cannot be overstated.

Fellowship is found in the time we spend together as friends and loved ones. Unfortunately, this has been left to the side of the road by many Christians, feeling that they do not need the company of Christians to make it through life. Then they wonder why every day is a struggle and life seems so miserable. A conscious effort must be made to assemble Christians for fellowship at every possible opportunity.

The nature of Biblical fellowship is powerful and rewarding. As we keep our fellowship with God, we gain fellowship with the greatest group of people on the face of the earth. Though no man is perfect, when he seeks to serve God as commanded that individual’s life and the lives of those around him will be truly blessed.

Oftentimes, when the withdrawal of fellowship toward a sinning Christian does not work, it is because the levels of fellowship God expects to exist among his people have been missing. Some erring Christians do not miss anything with the withdrawal of fellowship because the only “fellowship” they have ever seen is sitting in a pew on Sunday and eating an occasional potluck supper. Biblical fellowship is far more and far greater. It must be preached, exemplified, and lived as such.

When fellowship is appropriately defined, it is evident that it is one of the most powerful tools at the disposal of the Christian. The ability to work together, support one another, and grow together should be the desire of every child of God; and the absence of these things should be considered shameful to the servant of God and bring an ache of emptiness to the one who has left God. Let us never underestimate the power of fellowship.

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