Bad to Worse: Still With Me?

“Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there. The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master.” (Genesis 39:1-2)

“A good and powerful God would never have let such a terrible thing happen in my life!” Ever hear anyone say that? Maybe it was the divorce of her parents or some other personal betrayal. Maybe it was a physical attack, an illness, or a death. Maybe it didn’t even happen to that person but to someone she loved.

btw_350We understand the feeling. What’s the good of belonging to the most powerful being in the universe if he won’t act to keep tragedy from falling on our heads? Joseph could have asked that question. He’d just been attacked, robbed, and then sold to slave traders with little hope of ever seeing his dad and little brother again — and all of this by his 10 older brothers!

Instead of deciding that the God who would allow such a thing wasn’t worth following, Joseph seems to have made a choice to believe the truth — that God was still with him. He made a choice to continue to serve God. We’re not told about any of his feelings, but God blessed Joseph — and kept blessing him — even though God chose not to keep Joseph from experiencing terrible circumstances.

Think: Do you judge God’s goodness or power by your own personal circumstances? What’s wrong with that idea?

Pray: Ask God for the courage to keep trusting him even when hard things come into your life.

Do: Read Genesis 37:12-36 to find out exactly what Joseph’s brothers did to him.

Bad to Worse: Who Knows You Know God?

“When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned.” (Genesis 39:3-4)

We saw yesterday that Joseph made a choice that would have been hard for some of us. He chose to continue to trust that God was with him even though his personal circumstances were devastating. He also chose to believe his God was still powerful and good. So Joseph chose to keep serving God with everything he had.

btw_350Today’s passage gives us some new evidence that Joseph still had confidence in his God: He talked about him. Joseph told his slave-owning master about the God he served. In a land famous for the open worship of many kinds of gods, Joseph was clear that his allegiance was to the one true God.

So when Joseph turned out to be the best slave Potiphar ever bought — when every area Joseph took charge of showed improvement — who did Potiphar give the credit to? He gave credit to the Lord, to Joseph’s Lord, to the only true God.

Think: When you do really well at something, who gets the credit? Do the people in your life know you well enough to give credit to God for your successes? Do you give him credit?

Pray: Ask God to give you the courage to let other people know you serve him.

Do: Make a quick list of your five greatest achievements during the last year or two. Put a check mark beside the ones you gave God some or all of the credit for. Put a star next to the ones anyone else gave God some or all of the credit for.

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.

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: 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: 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: 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.