Joseph’s Patience – Part 2

And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren: and they hated him yet the more. Gen. 37:5

It goes without saying that in any race, the contestants endure because they are aware of the nature of the reward awaiting them. There needs to be a catalyst for one to endure any hardship. The catalyst for Joseph’s perseverance was because he had a dream. Yes, one day, Joseph dreamed a dream. In fact, he dreamed a series of dreams. I am glad to say that Joseph did not day-dream, and it is important for us to make note of that difference. Joseph dreamed an actual dream.

We all know that day-dreaming amounts to nothing. Day-dreaming, as it is popularly known, is another word for wishful thinking. But an actual dream can indicate something tangible.

In spiritual terms, we could liken day-dreaming to the desires for this material life that most believers have. Dreams like “coming to America”. “Coming to America” is like going to heaven for most people. Here in Africa, that is Dream No. 1. But going to America is a material dream and, in the Spirit, this amounts to wishful thinking for God does not reside in America. God is everywhere; but the even more important fact is that God desires to live in us, wherever we are.

On the other hand, we could liken an actual dream (under the Old Covenant) to a spiritual vision. A spiritual vision talks of having our spiritual eyes enlightened. A spiritual vision shows us the riches of God’s heavenly Kingdom – in us! Can you visualize that? Not just seeing God’s heavenly riches; but having those riches in us. Such a realization is way beyond what we can humanly imagine; it needs the hand of God to reveal these things. That is why the Apostle Paul tells the Ephesians:

“1 For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, 2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: 3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, 4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) 5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph. 3:1-5)

It is a revelation!

In other words, therefore, we can say that Joseph had a spiritual revelation. This is the same revelation that Moses had:

“24 By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; 25 Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; 26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.” Heb. 11:24-26

Yes, through the revelation that Moses received, he

“had respect unto the recompence of the reward.”

We could go on to talk of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:10:

“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”

And many other men and women of faith.

It was the spiritual vision that made all these men and women to endure suffering. They understood God’s plan for their lives and, for that, reason, they persevered. There is a worldly plan and there is a heavenly plan, for our lives. We need to choose the right plan.

We cannot wait, like Joseph, for a dream in the night to lead us to a heavenly vision of God’s plan for our lives. Such a dream may or may not come. In any case, Joseph is an Old Testament character, and there are so many things that we under the New Covenant cannot carry on in the same fashion as the Old Testament figures did.

Under the New Covenant, we have the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit in us. The Holy Spirit gives us our dream, the heavenly dream. This is what will enable us to persevere. We need that spiritual dream in order to persevere. Most believers have only a material dream. They have dreams of worldly riches, and worldly success. Such cannot persevere. When persecution comes, they easily crumble.

But a spiritual vision will have us standing tall and strong no matter how hard the winds of this world may howl.

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Perseverance

By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace. Heb. 11:31

Recently, I was watching a local Christian ad on TV. They were advertising an overnight ‘Christian disco show’. As they streamed images of people gyrating to the sounds of loud ‘Christian’ pop music, they also showed tables laden with food which the announcer said participants would be eating as they ‘danced to the Lord’.

Now, I suppose the Kingdom of God is something more serious than ‘having a good time in the Lord’ in this manner. As a matter of fact, such things are born of the flesh and they feed the flesh. People go to these concerts for one thing only: to have a good time in the flesh.

The Bible shows us exactly what the Kingdom of God is about. The Kingdom of God is about seeing into God’s plan and persevering therein. I can easily tell you the best way to have a good time in the Lord: go to Syria, preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, and risk having yourself beheaded. That is what constitutes a truly good time in the Lord. Why? Because here perseverance is involved.

But true perseverance is something that the flesh cannot take. In fact, nearly every kind of sin is conceived out of a lack of perseverance.

Rahab is undoubtedly one of the greatest women in the Bible. This is because she persevered. She persevered by risking her life for the sake of the Kingdom of God. It is not written so in the Bible, but Rahab endured for the Kingdom’s sake. The Bible says that the other residents of Jericho did not, and they were destroyed.

How did Rahab persevere? She persevered by risking her life when she welcomed the spies “with peace”. While everyone else in Jericho was searching for the spies to kill them, Rahab hid them on the roof of her house and later let them down through a window to safety (Jos. 2:6,15).

Rahab persevered because she saw God’s plan in the Spirit and she believed it. When we do not see God’s plan we unwittingly become God’s enemies. We do not live for God. We live for the flesh instead. Living for the flesh means fighting for our rights, etc. But Jesus said,

“He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad” (Mat. 12:30).

Being with Jesus is not easy. Nor is “gathering” with Him. It requires us to see in the Spirit first in order that we might have an anchor for our faith. Jesus came to give His life to redeem us from the power of sin. This was God’s plan for Him. If we are to be with Jesus we must be with His plan also. That means we must be willing to die to the flesh and give of our lives just as He did.

For this matter, just like Rahab, we shall be persecuted by the world and by false brethren. But we have the anchor of our faith, the revelation of the crucified Christ.

[Below: Jesus came to give His life]

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Faith!

Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. Rev. 2:10

“… be thou faithful unto death.”

Yesterday in our church service the Lord reminded us concerning faith. He taught us that our faith in Him must increase.

He reminded us that we have been saved by faith and that we must continue in that same faith. But the Lord also reminded us that our faith is based on one single fact: that Christ is risen.

Christ is risen! He is alive!

That speaks volumes. There is so much that is based on the single fact of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

One of the reasons that undergirds our faith in Christ is that He is always with us, and that nothing – absolutely nothing – can defeat or overcome us as long as we are in Him, not even death. He has triumphed over all the powers of darkness.

In Colossians 2:15 it says: “And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.”

When He confronted Satan after His death and resurrection, our Lord Jesus made a complete rout of Satan and all his powers. Absolutely nothing can triumph against against us. Nothing! Neither sin, our present dreaded enemy, nor even death, the final enemy, has any power over us. Just as He defeated death, we too will defeat death when we finally arrive at its gates.

Yet, since we are still in the world, we will be constantly assaulted by our relentless enemy, the devil, with all his spiritual machinery.

“… in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses…” – 2 Cor. 12:10

And scripture further affirms: “35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. 37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom. 8:35-39

In all these things we are to stand firm in our faith, secure in the knowledge that at that particular moment of our trial Jesus is there with us and His strength is sufficient for that particular situation, because He has triumphed over it. That is exactly what Jesus meant when He said to take up our cross and follow Him.

Colossians says He utterly spoiled Satan and all his diabolical powers! Utterly!! Then He dragged them up from whatever hole they had been residing and “he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them”!

Nothing, either in heaven or on earth has any power over us. Nothing – except the love of Christ. As long as we are denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily – the same cross through which He triumphed against Satan – we have no reason to fear; but rather, we ought to be more grounded, more confident in our faith in Him.

So yesterday we sang songs of praise to our God, and of faith in Him. And we purposed to trust Him more, for He has conquered on our behalf.

He is alive!!

Suffering and comfort for God’s people.

As God’s people, let us agree on the fact that we will suffer. This is a fundamental part of our calling: For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Phil. 1:29). We are living in difficult times. God’s people are suffering, people are hurting. Empty words will avail them nothing. People need a tangible touch of God upon their lives.

But first the question begs, Why must we suffer?

The Apostle Paul, who himself suffered much, has probably the best answer to this. It is lengthy, but clear enough. He says: “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.

And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation. For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us; Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf.” 2 Cor. 1:3-11

I believe God wants to declare His sovereignty in our lives. We must keep in mind that God is spirit and He operates in the spiritual realm. He allows us to reach the end of our physical  lives then, through the faith that is Christ Jesus, He enables us to turn to Him and look to His supernatural salvation, redemption, deliverance and provision. That is the comfort He desires to give us.

The flesh is there, of course, and it wants to follow its own, rebellious, ‘alternative’ way. If we listen to the reasoning of the flesh we will be confused, for God clearly says that His ways are not our ways.

If we are going through an incredibly impossible situation, let us look to Jesus. He alone can give true spiritual comfort. And, as we see from Paul’s words above, there are men and women of God who have gone through the pain we are going through, and who have experienced God’s comforting hand upon their lives. These are men and women who persevered because they experienced a revelation of the Cross in their hearts; and they can impart to us the comfort we need. The Cross is the wisdom and power of God, and it is men who carry this revelation who can bring life to the Church.

It was for this reason that Paul became of incalculable spiritual benefit to the suffering Church of the first century.

When we are walking the narrow road of the Cross we can be assured that whatever “tribulation” we go through we will be comforted with a comfort that comes from above.

To Paul, that comfort was of greater value than the fickle ‘comfort’ that the world affords. He says: “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” 2 Cor. 12:10

What do we say when we are tested above measure?

Naomi pt.3

The Church today appears to be turning against the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no other way to explain the fact that whereas the scriptures admonish us to Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:6-8), the majority of the Church is busy declaring themselves the “King’s Kids” and “possessing” whatever it is they can. We have been taught to “confess”, and to “possess”.

Consider this: Jesus lost; the Church is amassing. Jesus willingly let go of fame and material comfort; the Church is demanding these things, and using the crudest methods possible to obtain them. Jesus humbled Himself; the Church is proud and judgmental. What a paradox! And yet the scriptures tell us to Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus”.

If we are serious in our relationship with God, then we must align ourselves with His Word. We must make sure we are in plain sight so He can take good aim at us, to deal with our pride, and the various degrees of sin in our lives. This leaves little room for us to contemplate the glory of this world.

Hebrews 12:6 says: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth”.

The word “suffering” does not go down well with our pleasure- loving generation. In fact, the Church today is a rationalizing, not a believing one. We wonder aloud: “Why should we suffer?”

But we forget that the ways of God are not our ways. It “pleased” God to “bruise” His Son, and no matter how hard Jesus cried to Him God would not relent. We cannot presume to enter in through an easier door.

The saints of old knew this and they were willing and ready to take up their cross and follow Jesus in the Spirit.

In light of this I wish to end our discussion by pointing out one last aspect of Naomi’s suffering which is so important for us as born-again believers to understand. When Naomi suffered in a strange land, no doubt she actively sought to please God. But it may well be that she did not expect any reward; she just persevered out of obedience and love for her God.

We know that later on God blessed her with Ruth, who bore her Obed. (The Bible declares that Obed was reckoned to be Naomi’s son: And the women her neighbours gave it a name, saying, There is a son born to Naomi; and they called his name Obed: he is the father of Jesse, the father of David” – Ruth 4:17). Much later, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world – Naomi’s ultimate prize – was born of David’s line.

A belated blessing for Naomi? No. It could not possibly be belated since it is an eternal one.

When we surrender our lives to God, when we lose everything for the sake of Christ, there is no telling the magnitude of the blessing He has in store for us. It is a far greater reward than we could possibly imagine. The scriptures say, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). God does not promise us earthly rewards, for the Bible clearly says these are things “which none of the princes of this world knew” (v.8). I am not suggesting that God is not concerned with our earthly needs. However, we know the princes of this world control all that this world has to offer, and it is utterly foolish for us to try and compete with them. We need to have a different mindset. We should rather look to another reward, a heavenly one, which is of far greater glory than any earthly treasure!

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. 4:8).

There is no greater treasure than to have Jesus rooted firmly in our hearts and enabling us to walk that righteous and holy walk that is so invaluable in God’s sight.

I am sure we are all called to gain a reward equal to Naomi’s – the fullness of Jesus Christ in our lives – if only we are faithful enough.

Naomi pt.2

We last saw how Naomi’s perseverance in suffering caused Ruth to see into God’s Kingdom, and how she desired to cleave to Naomi. Many doctrines have come up today that deny Christians the privilege of partaking of the sufferings of Christ – and the blessing that comes with this suffering.

Chief among these is the gospel of prosperity. I have heard preachers claim that it is actually a sin to live in deprivation or even to get sick. These type of “bless me” gospels just serve to promote the flesh in the Church. Christians cheer at these gospels without realizing the seed of carnality being planted in their lives.

But when we suffer for the sake of Christ, we reap a different harvest. Our lives enrich others, and we reap a harvest for the Kingdom.

Today I would like us to look at another aspect of Naomi’s faith as we study her suffering. When Naomi went back to the land of Judah, everyone came out to receive her saying, “Is this Naomi?” to which she replied, “Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me” (1:19-21).

The saints we read about in the Old and New Testaments saw God at work in their lives. They saw the hand of God, not of Satan. We see Naomi acknowledging God in her suffering.  Yet, today we live in a generation where Satan is probably more alive in Christians’ lives than God Himself.

It is no secret that today Christians are seeing the devil behind every bush. Nearly every problem in the Church is attributed to the devil. Poverty, disease, unemployment, domestic and matrimonial problems, grievance of brother against brother, and even sin are all considered the devil’s doing. So is persecution. Christians cannot imagine God “deserting” them and leaving them in the hands of the enemy.

This belief in the devil has in turn opened the door for “sorcerers” of every sort to invade the Church. I don’t know about other countries, but in our country there are now preachers peddling every kind of sorcery within the Church: “blessed water” (and oil!), books into countless forms of “deliverance” and “lightning” prayers (against the devil) plus countless other ‘indulgences’ – all written and invented by preachers – are sold at Christian bookstores situated right at the entrance into the churches themselves. In church there are ‘apostles’ who specialize in “prospering” God’s people; and – the latest – there are preachers “cleansing” Christians’ “stars” (which is pure black magic)!

The other day, on Christian radio, I heard of a “mobile church” where, once you register (yes, you have to register, and there are 3 main conditions you have to fulfill for your membership to be confirmed) – once you are accepted into this cloud nine fellowship you will never need to tire yourself walking to some old church building; you only need turn the dial and you are on, right there on your couch!

These false teachers are promising God’s people all kinds of placebos, all of which are geared to convince the Christian that he does not need to suffer. “Promises” have been dug up from every tip of the Bible to prop up the desperate belief that a lack of suffering and a materialistically prosperous and comfortable life was the promise given to Abraham by God. But all this  ‘revelation’ is of the flesh, really, for the flesh does not contemplate suffering of any sort. And these gospels ultimately lead to disillusionment for the believer, to live in fear and defeat.

What the Bible actually says about our father Abraham is that he received the promise when he was “as good as dead”! (Heb. 11:12). In other words, Abraham never received that promise in the flesh! (We would have to remove a whole load of scriptures from the Bible to agree with these new age preachers).

Naomi did not say, “The devil has afflicted me.” She said “God has afflicted me.” Though she was sorrowful, yet she realized God was at work in her life, and she was ready to let Him have His way in her life.

Let me tell you that due to the nature and magnitude of her problems, Naomi could have consulted the Moabite sorcerers of her day. But she did not. She bound herself to her God – for good and for evil! At no one moment did she lose sight of the vision of the one living God who is in control over the affairs of men.

At Ruth’s marriage to Boaz and the subsequent birth of Obed, God would begin rewarding Naomi for her patient suffering and her trust in Him. But many, many years later, Naomi’s true reward was realized at the birth of the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Naomi pt.1

Some days ago my fellow pastor Joshua and I went to visit a couple who had recently been blessed with a baby girl. When we inquired what the new baby’s name was, the mother replied, “Naomi!” I looked at Joshua and we exchanged broad smiles. The story of Naomi had been featuring prominently in our conversations lately, and we were both struck by the coincidence of it all.

When we told the couple the source of our rejoicing, they were exceedingly happy. We took time to thank God for His grace, for we felt His hand was upon this child.

We are living in a time when the Book of Ruth, and particularly the life of Naomi, is so very relevant for the Church. I would like to take some time this week to meditate on some of the lessons that we learn from this great book. To begin with, let me point out that the Biblical Book of Ruth is actually the story of Naomi. Without Naomi there would have been no Ruth. It is also a story about perseverance. Through her perseverance Naomi caused Ruth to live another life and come into the line of bringing our Savior Jesus Christ into the world.

Naomi lost her husband and her two only children in the land of Moab. She was left with nothing. There is nothing remarkable about Naomi losing her entire family. Misfortunes of this sort affect people in every generation. But, you see, when we take up our cross in circumstances that God allows into our lives, God is able to move on many different fronts. Nothing is written about Naomi’s lifestyle, but I am convinced the Godly life that she lived in the sight of her two Moabite daughters-in-law is central to the message in the Book of Ruth.

Ruth must have watched closely Naomi’s lifestyle. She must have watched as she lost, first her husband, then her two sons, one after the other. During these times of tragedy, many things must have happened. Maybe words were discreetly spoken behind her back. Questioning glances thrown her way. After each burial, her Moabite neighbors would no doubt go back home wondering about this “cursed” woman.

The pain and sorrow in Naomi’s life must have been plain for Orpah and Ruth to see.

And yet, Ruth must have seen something else in Naomi’s life as she struggled with her misfortunes: faith in a living God. Most likely Naomi did not react in the natural, like other people. She probably sang songs of praise to God like Paul and Silas would do much later in prison. She probably called in her two daughters-in-laws after every tragedy, and consoled them, and told them of hope in God, and of life after death.

Through her resoluteness Naomi proved her faith in a living God. Her beautiful faith was clear to all. Probably Orpah did not look hard enough, and when the opportunity came to separate from Naomi, she quickly exited the scene.

For Ruth, however, when that moment arrived, her decision was firm. She would follow Naomi. “And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me” (1:16-17). 

When we take up our Cross and follow Jesus, God works miracles. Through that living faith we allow others into God’s Kingdom. Evangelizing, preaching and witnessing for Jesus are all vital components in bringing people to Christ, but what will get people firmly rooted and attain to the full realization of God’s purpose in their Christian lives is the divine power that can only come from lives that are totally surrendered to the Lord; lives that are suffering and dying daily with Christ.

The Apostle Paul explains it this way: “So then death worketh in us, but life in you” (2 Cor. 4:12). We all have our share of worldly tribulations, tests, trials and temptations. But these all occur so we may learn to take up our cross and follow Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 4:12-13 Paul says: “…being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: being defamed, we entreat.” Why would the early apostles go into all this trouble? The answer is: to bring life to others. There is no other means to achieve this other than to lose our lives through the revelation of the Cross. Had there been an easier way, Jesus would most definitely have taken it.

Are we living for ourselves, or for others? We cannot have our cake and eat it. If we are to live for others then we must die; and when we die, we reap a glorious, heavenly reward far beyond our wildest dreams.