Changed: A New Rep

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints.” (Colossians 1:3-4)

If you’re a Christian — someone who has trusted in Jesus as the only way to be forgiven of your sins and spend forever in heaven with God — how has that changed you? I mean, how are you different inside and out than before you believed in Jesus?

changed_350This week, we’ll read someone else’s mail to find out. Paul will describe a few of the ways the Christians in a town called Colosse have changed — and how they can expect to continue to be transformed. If we don’t recognize some of these changes in ourselves, we should wonder why not.

The first thing Paul writes is that these Christians have a new rep. They’re known as people who trust Jesus and love other Christians. Those two qualities are obvious in their lives.

Think: Is it obvious to anyone in your life that you trust Jesus and love other Christians? Do you think your your church has that reputation?

Pray: Ask God to help you to have a reputation as someone who trusts in Jesus and loves other believers.

Do: Write a quick list of 5 or so people you know who have a reputation for trusting Jesus and loving other Christians.

Bad to Worse: God in Prison

“But while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there . . . because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.” (Genesis 39:20-23)

Some of us do carry around that unspoken contract with God in our back pockets, the one mentioned in yesterday’s devo: “If I follow God, God is obligated to make sure nothing rotten happens to me.”

btw_350The problem with that contract is that God never made any promises about keeping hard things from coming our way. What did he promise us in Christ? To be with us. To never leave or forsake us. And to use up our willing lives accomplishing his good plan for the universe.

God’s best use of Joseph’s life involved allowing him to be stuck for years in an Egyptian prison. But did you notice that God went there with him? That God was kind to Joseph in prison? That he gave Joseph success there?

Sometimes God wants a loyal servant in a hard place for a very specific purpose. Joseph was willing to be that person (though he wanted out). Are we willing?

Think: When hard things come into your life, do you resent God or do you thank him for sticking with you and being kind to you even in the roughest moments?

Pray: Ask God to help you have accurate expectations of him and to be enormously grateful that he is with you even when the worst happens.

Do: Make a quick list of five bad things that happened in your life this year. Put a check mark next to each one God walked through with you.

Bad to Worse: Is God Good on Bad Days?

“When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, ‘This is how your slave treated me,’ he burned with anger. Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined.” (Genesis 39:19-20)

Do you have an unspoken contract with God? “God, I’ll serve you the best I possibly can. In exchange, you’ll bless me with good relationships, general success, and freedom from very much icky stuff. You’ll make sure nobody does anything really bad to me. And I’ll keep telling people how great you are. Deal?”

btw_350Joseph did a hard thing. He chose to serve God even after being betrayed by his family, sold to slave traders, and abandoned in a foreign country. He could have rejected God at that moment for letting him suffer like that, but he didn’t. Instead, Joseph obeyed, and God blessed him for a while. Joseph told people all about the God of the Hebrews.

But what is Joseph’s big reward for refusing to do evil with Potiphar’s wife? Does God strike her dead? Vindicate Joseph’s rep? Send in the calvary to get him out of town? Nope. Joseph goes to jail. The king’s prison. The dungeon. For years. Would a good God let that happen to a good person like Joseph?

Think: Are you ever guilty of judging God’s character based on today’s circumstances? Do hard days mean that God is less “with you” than on good days? Does God ever promise only good days for Jesus-followers on this side of heaven? Why not?

Pray: Ask God for the wisdom and faith not to judge his goodness based on the amount of pain in your life.

Do: Come back for tomorrow’s devo.

Bad to Worse: Scorned Sex Lies

“She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. Then she told him this story: ‘That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.’ ” (Genesis 39:16-18)

Rejection always hurts, but there’s a special sting involved with being rejected by someone who refuses to go along with an invitation to do wrong. Not only does the seducer feel unwanted, he or she ends up feeling judged by the do-gooder’s integrity.

btw_350Mrs. Potiphar felt that way. She was furious this slave in her husband’s house would reject her personally and morally. How could he possibly think he is better than her? He’s a slave! She’s the wife of a rich and powerful man! With one lie, she proved she still had the upper hand.

Two lessons for those who stubbornly refuse to do wrong. 1) Sometimes it will make you vicious enemies. 2) Sometimes it will cost you everything. Think about it ahead of time: What is your integrity worth?

Think: Are you strong enough to risk making people mad at you because you refuse to participate in sin? How important is it to you NOT to make people mad at you?

Pray: Ask God for the courage to care more about obeying and honoring him than having other people like you or treat you well.

Do: Think of a situation in which someone has lied about you or you’ve lied about someone else. Either way, ask God to help that person know how much he loves them.

Bad to Worse: Relentless Seduction

“And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.” (Genesis 39:10-12)

Joseph faced one of the first documented cases of sexual harassment in the workplace. His boss’ wife would not let go of her lust for this “well-built and handsome” foreigner – and he had to be around her every day! He was running Potiphar’s estate, after all, and she lived there.

btw_350We still don’t really know if Joseph was fighting any real temptation or if he was repulsed by the woman. We do know he absolutely refused to violate Potiphar’s trust or God’s blessing by doing such a “wicked thing.”

Notice his strategy for avoiding sin (and Mrs. Potiphar): 1) Don’t linger; Joseph never spent any more time than was absolutely necessary around the opportunity to sin. 2) Don’t be alone with the temptation/opportunity. 3) Be willing to sacrifice something you care about to avoid doing wrong. (Joseph sacrificed his coat.) 4) Run! Don’t protect your dignity when your integrity is on the line.

Think: How could you use Joseph’s strategy to deal with some temptation/seduction in your own life?

Pray: Ask God to help you take opportunities to sin as seriously as Joseph did here.

Do: Write out the 4 steps listed above for dealing with temptation (and hide the list somewhere you’ll find it again): 1) Don’t linger. 2) Don’t be alone with it. 3) Be ready to sacrifice something good to do what’s best. 4) Run!

Bad to Worse: “Come to bed with me!”

“Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’

“But he refused. ‘With me in charge,’ he told her, ‘my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?’ ” (Genesis 39:6-9)

btw_350Is this story really about temptation? Teachers the world over (including me) have used Mrs. Potiphar’s attempted seduction of Joseph to talk about sexual temptation and how to deal with it. (Hint: Say no and run!) But honestly, we don’t even know if Joseph was attracted to Mrs. Potiphar in the first place. She might have been way older than him or, you know, icky.

For him, the issue wasn’t sex, at all. The reason he gave for turning her down had to do with integrity, not saving himself for marriage. Joseph saw his position in Potiphar’s house both as a gift from God and something he had earned with lots of hard work. He refused to take advantage of his master’s trust or God’s grace by doing something cheap, easy, and wrong.

I’m afraid some of us who would never think its okay to have sex outside of marriage might not be so careful about violating our integrity in other ways. Lie to your boss? Your parents? Steal a little time or money because you “earned” it? Joseph refused to compromise.

Think: Do you ever think about your position in your family or a job as a gift from God? What are some other ways we can misuse the positions God sets us in?

Pray: Ask God to help you to be as stubborn about integrity as Joseph was.

Do: Make a quick list of 5 “trust relationships” you have that you could potentially abuse to get something you want without the other person maybe finding out.

Bad to Worse: The Servant Olympics

“From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the LORD blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. So he left in Joseph’s care everything he had; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.” (Genesis 39:5-6)

Looking to be a great servant? I mean, did you ever have a goal to be in the top five in your class in servanthood? Seriously, would you love it if every person had written in your yearbook, “Nobody was a better servant than you, dude!”?

btw_350Yeah, me neither. I wish I was that ambitious about being a servant. I wish my attitude was more like Jesus’ thinking. Remember what he said to the disciples when he caught them playing “who’s the greatest”? He said the greatest in God’s kingdom will be the servant of all. Much later, Paul wrote that Jesus nailed that attitude when he “made himself nothing” even though he was God.

Joseph, too, destroyed the servant competition. Okay, he was a slave, but he didn’t let that stop him from also out-serving everyone in his weight class. How? He did everything he was asked to do better than expected. If you gave it to Joseph, it always got done on time, on budget, and improved upon. He was so reliable, his boss gave up keeping tabs on Joseph completely. What was the point? That’s the quality of a great servant.

Think: Have you ever wished your were better at being a servant? Do you think there’s much competition for “best servant”?

Pray: Ask God to give you the desire to serve him and the people he puts in your life with excellence and dependability.

Do: Make a list of the top 5 most selfless and reliable servants you know.