Monday, February 1, 2021

February 1 - Genesis 39, Matthew 22

 Key verse: Genesis 39:23

Big idea: In the beginning, God blessed Joseph in his suffering. 

In the US, we generally spend 13 years in school. Two-thirds of high school seniors go on to some form of college or trade school in the fall, with a few of their peers joining them later. As of 2019, 62% of Americans age 25 and older have at least some college, and 46% have at least an associate's degree [Table 2]. Unless something radical changes, the generational trend is clear: we will soon have more Americans with a college degree than without. There are a lot of possible explanations for this, some more charitable than others. But one undeniable element is that there is a lot we need to learn to function in modern life. Typing and computer literacy are not luxuries for a handful of students, but basic skills needed to be productive members of the workforce. If it takes 15 years or more to train someone to be useful to America, what is the course load like at Jesus U? Joseph seems to be the model student. He entered a spoiled brat and left the valedictorian. He took some electives in dreams and leadership, but his major? Trusting God through suffering. 

The slave traders who had purchased Joseph sold him to a high ranking official named Potiphar in the court of Pharaoh (Pharaoh is just the Egyptian word for "king," like Caesar in Greek). Although Joseph was a slave in a foreign country with a different language, a different culture, and its own set of gods, he learned to trust God. He grew in integrity and faithfulness until his Egyptian master trusted him with everything in his household. so that when he was eventually* tempted by Potiphar's wife, Joseph simply ran away. He did not give in and try to cover it up. He removed himself from the situation and let God deal with the consequences. Obedience meant that he was arrested and thrown into more suffering, but in that greater suffering, God prepared him for even greater blessings. We never know how we will respond in a crisis until we are in it, and never know what God is teaching us through it until we are past it (and sometimes not even then). There is no classroom instruction in obeying when obedience is hard. Even for Jesus, there was no substitute for the hands-on experience of suffering (Hebrews 5:8). Whatever you are going through, know that life is rarely all roses or all thorns. God gives us blessings both in and through suffering, to teach us to trust Him and equip us for the road ahead.

One other point cannot be missed: For Joseph's sake, God blessed Potiphar's whole family. We have seen that principle many times: Noah's sons were saved from the flood because of Noah's faith and all of Sodom and Gomorrah would have been saved if there had been ten righteous there. Even though there were not, God still rescued Lot's daughters for Lot's sake alone. Isaac, Joseph's own father, had brought a blessing to his father-in-law Laban's flocks, despite Laban's sin. Of course, the ultimate example is Jesus! We are blessed because of His righteousness in the midst of suffering, no matter what we have done (Ephesians 2:6). 

* We do not know how long he was in Potiphar's house, just that he was 17 when he first entered slavery and 28 when he was already imprisoned in the next chapter. If I were guessing, I would say Joseph was in his early 20s. Long enough in Potiphar's house to earn his trust, and long enough in the prison to earn the warden's trust before he turned 28.
Discussion idea: Is suffering a uniquely effective tool for shaping someone's heart? Why or why not?
Prayer focus: Lord, help me to recognize the gifts in the suffering, and be grateful for whatever comes that points me to You.

Key verse: Matthew 22:40
Big Idea: The Law of God’s Kingdom is to love.
One of the best inventions in the history of the world is dulce de leche. For the uninitiated, it is made by slowly cooking sweetened milk until you have a beautiful, light brown candy similar to caramel. All of the delicious flavors intensify and concentrate as the water simmers out, leaving something rich and delightful. Of course, concentration has many uses. The essential oils so popular for candles and diffusers are hundreds of times more potent than anything found in nature. A beef stew is slowly simmered for several hours to allow the juices to concentrate and meld. There is something powerful about encountering the essence of something so intensely.  
What would you have if you concentrated the Bible? It wouldn’t be animal sacrifices or elaborate rituals; the New Testament tells us those could never get to the heart of the problem. It would not be holidays, which point to future events or remember past ones. So what is the essence? An expert in the religious law decided to try and trap Jesus by asking Him a version of this question: What is the most important commandment in the Law? Jesus told Him that the first is to love God with all of your heart, soul, and mind. The second is of the same essence: love your neighbor as yourself. Boiled down, the spirit of the Bible is love.
Once we know what to look for, we can see this clearly. The massive historical sweeps of the Bible tell the story of how we rebelled against God, but He never stopped pursuing us, ultimately to a cross. On the other hand, the legal codes of the Bible will be carried out by someone who loves. We do not murder those we love or steal from them, and we will not blaspheme or worship idols if we love God. In fact, these commandments are fundamentally the same, because it is not possible to love God without loving our neighbor made in His image, and it is impossible for us to love our neighbor truly until we have experienced the love of God.
For those of us in ministry, there is a convicting truth here. We can do the right things organizationally, in leadership, in teaching, and in any other area which you could choose to name. But if we do not love, we have missed the whole point. The Kingdom is based on the idea that God has loved us, so we ought to love Him and love each other. Everything good and holy is a manifestation of that truth.
Discussion Idea: How do you find it hardest to love God: with your heart, your soul, or your mind?
Prayer Focus: Thank God for His love and ask Him to help you let that love permeate everything you do. 

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