For the week of December 1, 2007 / 21 Kislev 5768
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 37:1 - 40:23
Haftarah: Amos 2:6 - 3:8

True Spirituality - Part 2

Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. (Bereshit / Genesis 39:1)

Last week we looked at an episode from the life of Jacob to demonstrate that true spirituality is not necessarily what most people think, even among those who claim to believe the Bible. The Scriptures give us understanding as to what life is really all about, but too often the words of the Bible are manipulated to create a false spirituality. It doesn't take great scholars to realize this. While we can benefit from good, careful scholarship, the essence of the Bible's spirituality is easily found within its pages.

Much of the Bible is straightforward, yet one of the reasons we fail to catch its message is that we are not always willing to allow it to correct our misconceptions. For example, we often prefer to stick to age-old traditions just because they are traditions. Or perhaps we may have at one time been significantly impacted by concepts wrapped in Biblical guise, but are now too scared to face what the Bible actually says about those concepts. Sometimes we don't want to accept the true teaching of Scripture because of how it might affect our relationships with others. Whatever the reason, our hearts and minds are not always as open to God's Word as we claim.

I have been finding that the kind of life esteemed by many Bible believers does not match the lifestyles of godly people in the Bible. This is what I sought to address last week with Jacob. In the midst of his blessed encounter with God, God crippled him. This dramatic spiritual encounter demonstrates how truly godly people are often broken by God at some point in their lives. It is in that brokenness that the reality of God and of life is at times found.

This was Joseph's experience as well. Joseph was set aside by God for a grand purpose, but his life's journey was anything but pleasant. He was hated by his brothers, most of whom wanted to kill him. In the end they sold him into slavery. While serving as a slave, he was falsely accused of making advances towards his master's wife and sent to prison as a result. It was only after a significant amount of time that he was released.

It is true that God's favor was upon him and God's presence was with him all that time. This is evident by how his father regarded him and by the dreams God entrusted to him. We see this in the level of responsibility given him in his master's house and then later in prison. It is most evident in his interpreting of Pharaoh's dreams and his administration of food before and during the famine.

I don't know if we are quick to accept that both the negative and positive aspects of Joseph's life are part of one package. The blessing and the suffering go hand in hand. The Bible has example after example of this. Abraham leaving familiar surroundings to live as a foreigner in his old age, yet being the father of faith. Moses left to die in the Nile, but saved by the daughter of the very one who wanted him dead; chosen by God as our Deliverer, but living 40 years in the wilderness before reluctantly returning to Egypt to lead us out of bondage; then spending another 40 years in the same wilderness leading a stubborn and unbelieving people, yet receiving the Torah from God. David, called the man after God's own heart, chosen to be king, finds himself first favored by the existing king, but eventually running for his life from that same king and living in the desert until God established his rule. Then there is the Messiah himself, whom Joseph so wonderfully foreshadows, living a godly life unequalled by anyone before or since, yet misunderstood by all, forsaken by his closest friends, given over to Roman execution by the leaders of his own people due to fear and jealousy, doing this all in order to conquer sin and death on our behalf.

The Bible is clear that godly living is lonely, difficult, and painful. It is a life lived contrary to the values of the world around us, and that world is cruel to those who do not cooperate with it. Yet it is those who live this life who really know the God of the Universe, who really make a difference, and are the ones who really live.

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