(Since I don’t want to stop blogging, but am having trouble posting, I will reblog this post which I found a couple of weeks ago.) This post has staying power. I keep reflecting on it weeks later, and I think we need to adjust our worldview and faith spectacles once in a while. This post helps us do that.
A dear brother in Christ shared these thoughts with me earlier today and gave me permission to share them. His thoughts resounded with me as the number of celebrities seems to increase while the number of servants decreases. May God convict us all and bring us to the point where our life’s motto is “Not I, but Christ”. I trust you too will be convicted by these words.
“The mission of every theologian, of every Christian, of the church itself, is not to draw attention to ourselves, our ideas, or our achievements. Our job, like that of John the Baptist, is to point others toward the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Timothy George, ThD.
Most people in ministry that I know either preach themselves, politics, signs & wonders, and almost anything you can think of except for Christ and Him crucified. They only talk…
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I seem to have lost control of my blog. Major technical difficulties here. Trying to
I may not be an uptight conservative, and I definitely am not a rabid Republican, but I nonetheless view myself as conservative. I come from a long line of conservatives. My lifestyle in general is very conservative. I hold to many rather country-simple ideals which were passed down to me through a rich heritage.
But I find the meaning of “conservative” changing too.
I only mention all of that upfront so that you can feel free to dismiss out of hand everything else I have to say. Which, you are doing now, if you haven’t already.
This term “Gun Control” has a new life of its own which betrays the literal meaning of each word and especially of their coupling. I think this new life for those terms came to birth over the course of my lifetime. Not sure, really. I am no expert, but I am an old guy who has been around some.
I will not hide the fact that I have, on a number of occasions, enjoyed handling firearms of various kinds. Mostly in a target practice setting. I never actually killed a big animal, but I have shot a bird – a small sparrow. I have lined up many a prairie dog in my sights as well.
The home I grew up in did not have a lot of guns. We mostly had BB guns. I think we had a shotgun briefly and maybe a .22 rifle. But my grandpa kept guns, including a Japanese assault rifle he brought home from WWII. That was an interesting piece of hardware, for sure.
School shootings, post office shootings, and restaurant shootings (McDonalds and Luby’s) started taking off as a trend when I was a kid. The tower shooter in Austin might have kicked it off, but that was shortly before I was born. However, the shooting at Columbine High put the trend in a much higher profile. It was already bad enough, but now we talk about “active shooters situations” since they occur in so many different settings anymore.
What happened to controlling guns?
Believe it or not, when I was a kid, my view of the NRA was that they “taught gun safety” – which in English is a nice paraphrase for “gun control.” The NRA advocated for “responsible gun ownership” – likewise a nice paraphrase for “gun control.”
I never was a member of the NRA, but growing up, these are the ideas I thought characterized that group. But now, it seems the purpose, the whole reason for its existence, is to oppose “gun control.”
It’s almost a bit confusing.
But I get it. “Gun Control” is a political term. It doesn’t mean it’s own literal meaning anymore; it is something of an idiom, a political stance. It’s almost a coded language thingy. None of this is particularly hidden from anyone, but perhaps it does get a bit lost in the fray.
“Gun Control” is now something the NRA and conservatives (for the most part), Republicans and the like are opposed to while liberals and Democrats are for it. And these groups really dread each other! The NRA and conservative types feel threatened by the idea that liberals want to take away our guns. “Gun Control” to these types is thinly veiled language suggesting the stripping away of constitutionally protected rights to own and use guns. It’s a FEAR of losing guns!
I don’t want to take away anyone’s guns per se, but I do want them controlled. I think most of my liberal and Democrat friends feel this way about it. (I am sure SOME do not. I am sure that SOME actually want to rid the nation and the world of guns, but that is not my interest, nor do I think it is the interest of MOST.) But conservative types FEAR this will happen if “Gun Control” gains sway.
This is the very thing conservative types say about it.
I am not old enough to remember when taking a gun to school was acceptable for “show -n- tell” time, but I am sure there was such a time in this country not too long before I came along. I recall many friends and neighbors keeping gun racks in the back window of their pickup trucks, and keeping rifles openly visible there most everywhere they went in town – including school. But it seems that between those gun owners’ parents, grandparents, and “gun safety” taught by the NRA in the old days, those guns were plenty well controlled. I have no memory of fearing them, and I recall no instances of such gun owners shooting up schools.
We had “gun control” of another kind.
I am now thinking of how insightful it seemed when Chris Rock said, “We don’t need gun control; we need bullet control!”
Yeah… That term “Gun Control” might mean “gun control” to my way of thinking, but it means FEAR that “the government wants to take away your guns” to many conservatives. The same English words used among English speaking people with very different meanings.
Make no mistake. Everyone wants gun control. Even the most conservative people I know suddenly want a cop or a SWAT force to stop that active shooter in the grocery store. That is gun control! It’s a bit after the fact – a day late and a dollar short – but it is gun control. I don’t know any conservative worth their salt who wants North Korea or Iran to have a nuclear gun.
But we used to have controlled guns in this nation. Not perfectly controlled. No. But not rampageously out of control either.
This country is eating itself up with Hate Politics anymore. (My term for it.) I am not an expert on how that happened either, but I have some old-man observations which I use to make sense of it. But the Democrats and Republicans, the liberals and conservatives, HATE each other more and more every election. As I see it, the conservatives are the most vicious haters, while the liberals just want to hold the conservatives in contempt. But, there are liberal haters, and I sense the hate started among liberals too.
As I see it, just seething beneath the surface of our rhetoric is a desire among conservatives to shoot and kill liberals. (I worked with a man a few years ago who was a life-long member and activist in the NRA who openly told us fellow employees that he WANTED to kill someone, legally of course, in self defense. He spent everyday itching for an opportunity.) I am particularly alarmed at how the church seems aligned with this politic.
Somewhere in all this hate and fear, we have lost that old fashioned (and very conservative) ideal that “gun safety” and “responsible gun ownership” is a real social action concern. The NRA used to be all over that, but seems to me anymore, to have abandoned that ideal in favor of power plays in politics stirring up fear and hate. Now days, the NRA will tell you flat out that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” But that loses sight of the fact that back when the NRA was known as a “gun safety” organization, there were very few bad guys with guns running around needing to be stopped!
I am not so naïve as to think that the old NRA was keeping us all sane and safe. But I do think that the social service they championed in those days (which probably was buttressed more by responsible parents and grandparents than any social institutions) has been abandoned now. I wonder why liberals don’t pick up the service the NRA dropped. Why does all “Gun Control” have to be legislated? That could be seen as a liberal power play too!
Gun ownership is a constitutionally protected right in this country. That doesn’t make it morally right or even God-ordained, but it does make it a fact of life and a big part of our cultural heritage. Guns are here to stay for the foreseeable future.
But somehow they were not the scourge in years gone by as they have become in school after school, church service after church service, post office after post office, restaurant after restaurant as they have become now. SOMETHING WAS DIFFERENT about gun culture and the politics surrounding guns 50 years ago which also has changed. Something was different about the NRA. And it wasn’t the lack of “Gun Control” legislation.
I suspect the politics were not so hate-filled, and that may well play a very big role in the problem. But there used to be a lot more trust in our neighbors, and neighbors used to be a lot more trustworthy. (That used to be a conservative ideal too, and goes a long way explaining why I view myself as conservative since I hold that ideal to this day.)
I wonder if my little blog post here couldn’t find its way into some civil conversations between some liberals and some conservatives. I wonder if I couldn’t point us to a talking point OTHER than the usual ones regarding “Gun Control.”
I kid you not. I have seen rifles in rear window gun racks in unlocked pickup trucks sitting in the parking lot of my own high school in my life time and no one being the slightest bit alarmed by it. Constitutionally protected guns just sitting there harmlessly waiting for the gun owner to return to that truck and drive home with it and no one even thinking twice that someone might shoot at another human being. I don’t think the gun owner even had self protection in mind. I expect the gun owner was keeping it on hand in case there was “game” or predators (wolves, coyotes, rattlers) along the path between school/work and home. Good to always have it ready.
We used to live in THAT world. And it wasn’t the laws that controlled it.
I can’t help but wonder if liberals began providing the social service that the NRA used to provide if conservatives types won’t just get jealous for their own conservative passions about “gun safety” and “responsible gun ownership” – maybe championing the cause again. It certainly would be a real TALKING point rather than a hate point masquerading as a talking point. And who knows? It might actually contribute meaningfully to the control of guns!
Do you read God’s mind?
Do you know how he feels about you?
Does that even interest you?
Shouldn’t you desire to connect to your LOVER at the deepest levels? Or is your religion, liturgy, and relationship with God all geared to dodging that kind of intimacy? If you want more depth of sharing with God, you can hardly do better than to spend some time in the Gospel According to Joe. God will meet you there afresh.
I would be happy to arrange a meeting.
As parts of two different research projects, I find myself diving more deeply than ever before into the story of Joseph, the son of Jacob, as found in Genesis 37 – 47 (really the end of the book). In fact, I find myself more stirred by his life story now than I can relate in a blog post – maybe even more than I can fathom within my own spirit. I find Jesus bursting out from every noun, every verb, and every adjective it seems, and the multicolored tunic bursts forth with color for the whole story, whereas so many times I have sat silently looking down at my communion wafer and thimbleful of grape juice and my faith seemed so black -n- white. Thus, I want to talk a little about what I find in Joe’s story.
There is so much to say, and most of it will go unsaid here. But to help map out my discussion, I will ramble a bit in four categories of thought: 1) Surface Narrative and Deep Narrative, 2) Echoes of Baptism, 3) Echoes of Eucharist, and finally 4) a Model for Ministry. Each category, I hope, will have its own discernable thesis, and then after exploring all of them, I will attempt to draw a larger conclusion if possible. But bear in mind, like so much of my writings, there is a ramble-effect – a thought soup – from which a point (or several maybe) can be drawn about which my reader will make their own conclusions.
Surface Narrative and Deep Narrative
Narrative in general, and especially narrative done well, bridges communication gaps between senders and receivers. I can tell you that I am sad; I can demonstrate my sadness with tears on my face, and you may well get the idea. But when I share with you my story, you begin to feel sad with me. Narratives need not be extravagant to do this either. And I find in my own experience that watching sport games (football, baseball, golf etc.) generally does not excite me much, but movies about sports usually do. I have come to appreciate that die hard sports fans typically familiarize themselves with the stories of the athletes over time, and I expect that goes a very long way in making golf interesting to watch! That is the power of narrative to connect storyteller and hearer.
The story of Joseph found near the end of Genesis is an epic story which ostensibly tells of the fortunes (and misfortunes) of the young man Joe. As such, it is a straightforward narrative in its own rite, and that is plain to see just with a casual read. But it is an interesting story too – a page turner. The epic nature of it draws the reader into plot twists so powerful that it struggles to be resolved in the end, yet it ends with more grandeur than it seemed was promised at the start. But, the deep narrative plot seethes beneath the surface so palpably it cannot be ignored. This story has “levels” and “meaning” jumping off the page like a whale leaping from below the surface. This begs the reader to try and keep up, to think deeply about what massive things lurk below. This aspect needs to be acknowledged early in any discussion of the story so that we can talk coherently about its impact on faith.
I think, it is my humble and not overly skilled opinion, that Joe’s story has a look and feel very much like ancient Greek tragedies and comedies. The gods are at work moving the plot along whether in tandem with or in spite of the characters. This alone is interesting, but there is more too – so much more if you read this as a Jew or Christian (or both). For surely YHWH can out god the gods of Greece or any other pantheons, and this story has a shape and feel which puts it in a category with Oedipus or Achilles, but of course the character of YHWH is decidedly not pagan though. YHWH does not manipulate humans for sport, but he moves through them (even their sins!) like the Spirit on the Wind which we do not know where he comes from or where he goes, yet his movements ultimately prove his LOVE and SALVATION for his people – and through them for the entire world. The outcome of YHWH’s LOVE and SALVATION are as assured as Oedipus’s demise!
There may well be good reason to continue analyzing Joe’s story vis-à-vis Greek epic tales, but I am neither skilled for that nor do I find it to be the most fruitful direction. I think it is worthy of mention, for sure, but we have done that now It helps set the stage for thinking about the deep narrative. As a Christian, though, the fact that I can so plainly see the story of Jesus echoed in Joe’s life is the more compelling part.
I find it odd that the New Testament doesn’t make more use of this story. Thanx to the New Testament, I can easily see Jesus in David’s story, and I easily see Jesus play the “Moses card” in his ministry, and there are other echoes, and resonances with yet more Bible characters all through the Old Testament (Esther, anyone?), but Joe’s story is so epic and so in tune with Jesus that I get the sense practically all Christian readers see and feel Jesus in every twist and turn. And yet, the two stories are not the same. They are not in perfect lock step. There are points where they are completely different, and those differences stand out as important. But the likeness of both men and their lives is overwhelming, I think even to a casual reader.
In fact, I am finding that Jesus unlocks levels, colors, and depths of Joe’s story so profoundly, that we have access in Joe’s story to the very mind and heart of God.
Yeah… You read that right. Who can know the mind of God? (See I Corinthians 2 for more on that, but then come back to Joe’s story and read it with the Spirit as your guide.)
At some point (perhaps different points for different readers), the deep narrative begins to reveal what God thinks and feels about you and me within Joe’s story with Jesus as a key which unlocks doors through which the Spirit blows in and out. This story bounces sparks with other stories in the Bible both in the Old Testament and the New. We find Jesus in those stories too, and eventually, we find them all dancing together throwing color, meaning, and depth of dimension everywhere in our relationship with God.
God is LOVE.
God loves you.
You love God.
So, do you ever know his heart? His hurt? His love?
Let’s look at Joe’s story together and see if you don’t find yourself in it and find God ready to meet you there. And keep in mind, this epic story draws Genesis to a close – Genesis, the first book of Moses and the first book of the whole Bible. Joe’s story bookends with the story of Creation, of Adam and Eve, but it also encapsulates Jesus to come and Redemption is previewed in echoes all the way through Revelation.
That is a LOT of freight for a narrative to carry. This one does not disappoint!
With all that said, I want to take just a moment to point out a handful of departure points scattered throughout the surface narrative which open doors to greater depth. For starts, I note that Joe is only seventeen years old when we meet him, a favored son of his daddy, he is already dreaded by his brothers. He had dreams of grandeur though, dreams which he cannot seem to keep to himself, but in which he feels compelled to rub the noses of his brothers who dread him. These observations come from the surface narrative, but if you have ever experienced a sibling rivalry – even mildly – you should be sympathizing readily with the older brothers. This is an impossible situation. Joe is a tattletale brat, spoiled by their father, and just won’t shut up about his dreams which feature them bowing down to him! Even his own father, at one point, chafes at some of this!
So, later when the brothers contemplate murder, we readers completely “get it.” It might not be the choice you or I would make, but we certainly understand why some of them do. I would like to think that I would be like Rueben, and later Judah too, taking a more honorable approach to this problem, but I would be lying to myself and to God if I claimed Joe was just in the right for his attitude and behaviors. Joe is not humble, is not putting others first, and is stirring up needless strife. Somebody needs to put this arrogant punk in his place. Good narrative structure demands it.
I need to come to terms with this notion within myself as the reader of the story. I sympathize with the brothers’ and their jealous anger. Joe is pretty much all up in their hostile face with his hot mess self! Finding myself in sympathy with them here is going to facilitate the story’s personal and spiritual impact on me later.
But, going deeper, I also need to see Jesus in this juncture. Jesus is the favored Son of the Father! He too has dreams of grandeur, dreams which will lead him to a crucifixion/coronation. Mark 15:10 (and par.) reveal to us that even Pilate knows that Jesus has been delivered up to him for execution out of envy! Jesus’s own brothers envy and kill him. In fact, so do we sinners of today. Thus, we already see Jesus seething beneath the surface as Joe’s father favors him with a special tunic, and he dreams big dreams about his brothers bowing to him.
None of this makes Joe right. He was not holding the interests of others as more important than is own (as St. Paul instructs the Philippians). Joe was a snotty, little punk playing his daddy’s favor off against his brothers. In this sense, he surely is a departure from Jesus, and as such Joe thus points beyond himself to Jesus, but it is these surface matters opening up the depths which send us there.
Another surface element I find ripe for deep exploration is how Joe is considered to be dead – long dead. It is a lie, of course, but the lie is lived out as if true for so long and the supposed death so severely grieved that his family reunion many years later will mimic resurrection quite vividly! This is not the only instance of this in the Old Testament by a long shot, but considering how palpably Jesus seethes beneath the surface of Joe’s life and story on other grounds, we have all the spiritual license we need to see Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection in Joe’s lived experience. And if we are seeing all that in Joe, we are also seeing baptism.
Wanna know what Jesus’s experience was in the grave?
Read Joe’s experience in Egypt, for in it we find a poetic and prophetic revelation of Jesus being delivered by his brothers to death. In my view, the experience is quite dark. Joe descends into the belly of the imperial beast. He is sold into slavery, where even though he excels as a servant and is given favor and charge, he also suffers separation from home on the one hand and false accusation on the other. This leads to further descent as he goes to the king’s dungeon. As good as dead there for years on end, he seems to be doing well in the pit of hell (poetically speaking) because he finds favor there too. What was it like for Jesus to die and lie in a tomb three days? It must have felt something like this!
Each passing day of slavery and prison just hammers home the point to Joe that his dreams of grandeur are all lies. They are smashed to bits. He is not destined for greatness! His brothers will not bow down to him!! They will be happy now he is finally gone!!! Meanwhile, Joe’s dreams just rot!
And rot they do! as Joe descends deeper and deeper into the mists of time and the scorn of his brothers and into slavery and prison.
Oh… all except for the fact that while in prison, he begins interpreting the dreams of others.
I don’t know. That does seem to be a ray of hope in this hellacious existence, but I am pretty sure that if it were me living this story, I would find that this gift of dream interpretation I have even in prison is well suited for others and not me. My own dreams are just hammered down every day even as I interpret successfully the dreams of others.
Oh… and then to plead with the cupbearer to remember Joe only to be forgotten yet again… well that is more salt in the wound!
I get no sense from this narrative on either the surface or the depths that Joe is being encouraged to hold fast to his dreams. I get, on the contrary, the notion that his dreams are ever bit as dead as his daddy thinks he is. I get the idea that when his own dreams come true, later, that the dreams are resurrected after having been mercilessly killed by the brothers who he had dreamed would bow down to him. And that is the way I see Jesus – completely not encouraged by anyone as he is handed over for crucifixion. All is lost.
But there is another point of interest in the surface narrative which opens us up to depths we might need to consider carefully. The king’s officials who meet Joe in prison and whose dreams Joe interprets are none other than the “cupbearer” and the “baker.”
Can you see Eucharist in that?
Yeah. Just seething beneath the surface we have wine and bread here, and make no mistake, food will quickly become the point of this story by the time the epic twists and turns the plot into worldwide starvation! But the Spirit who knows the mind of God is already setting us up to find communion in this story! We will get more into these depths next, but for now I need only gather a few of them (and there are more) into some introductory remarks and set them up side by side like this so that you can see what I see: The Gospel According to Joe!
So, with that, let us get into the other bits. The depths. Go there with me now for just SOME of that.
Echoes of Baptism
Well, I have already pretty much played this hand, I think. I have said enough that surely I don’t need to convince you to find baptism in Joe’s story, but perhaps I could still offer a few thoughts on the depths to which we might explore baptism here anyway.
Joe’s brothers return to Jake, their daddy, with the very multicolored, celebratory tunic Jake had made for Joe, only now it is ripped to shreds and dipped in blood. The brothers present Jake with a story, a lie. It is a false version of reality. If they would only come clean with Jake, they could presumably confess their sin, take their lumps, and mount a rescue mission where they seek out Joe in Egypt and buy him back. Most assuredly, Jake would mount such a mission for his favorite son!
But here we have a symbolic interplay between Jake vis-à-vis God and Joe vis-à-vis Jesus. God honors Jesus with special favor among his brothers who hate and envy him, and who will kill him, but to whom God will, in the end, have them bow the knee. Jake is not in one-to-one correspondence with God all down the line. There are differences, but the similarities are not diminished by this. Joe is as good as dead, and his reunion with his family will be as good as resurrection. Those things point to Jesus, the one and only who fully experiences this before the Age to Come. But even that, then points us to baptism which is our undergoing of death, burial, and resurrection with Jesus (Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:4).
Just to read this story in faith is to undergo baptism – an immersion into the heart of God!
God is willing to work through Joe and his brothers in their fear and trembling. His ways are beyond their ways. Joe enjoys all this favor, and unlike Jesus, he seems to grasp at it and to subject his brothers to himself in it. He is not, therefore, sinless – only God is that. But he comes so close to a Christ figure despite that, and God wills to work through these flaws anyway to achieve so much more than they will dare to imagine! While Joe is having petty dreams of grandeur, God is having bigger dreams of even bigger grandeur – dreams so big that Joe’s dreams will pale by comparison. God’s bigger dreams will destroy Joe’s little dreams on his way to their fulfillment.
The brothers are wanting some relief from this pesky little brother and go to some extraordinary lengths and some very dark places in their own hearts to get it. But God is thinking long before this epic even hints at it, that there is a whole world to save, to feed, to make himself known to through these wayward chosen people and their petty squabbles.
It would seem there is life, and then there is LIFE! These ignorant, wayward, willful people are dreaming of the good life while God is maneuvering them into his plans to bestow LIFE ABUNDANT beyond measure!
There is a death to all the little dreams in which God gives birth to his big dreams. A death that leads to life. In fact, there is a sense in which the death is the lie and LIFE is too big, to bright, to heavy for mere human dreams and schemes!
Perhaps this is why Jesus will speak of the dead as though sleeping (Mark 5:39 and par.). Death does not belong in God’s world, not permanently. The death of your wayward dreams and the birth of God’s dreams in you and for you is the only place for death, and you will suffer it. That sure sounds a lot like baptism to me. And it is exactly what I find in Joe’s story.
Echoes of Eucharist
Like the apocalypse of baptism before this one, I have already tipped my hand, I think. But only partially. The dreams of the royal cupbearer and the royal baker reveal wine and bread in this story. I can’t help but imagine that the wine and the bread yearn for me to interpret their dreams! So here we have young Joe, his dreams of grandeur crushed by the very brothers who were supposed to bow down to him, then ground down to the nub by the slavery he endures in a foreign land, the false accusation, and finally the unjust punishment of prison, and here God’s wine and bread come and minister to him as he ministers to them.
There is so much to unpack in that notion alone that a preacher could fill a year of Sunday lessons exploring it, I think.
What prison are you in? What accusations do you suffer? Is your life darkened by clouds of despair?
Come to the table!
Jesus’s own body and blood are there with Joe in prison. Moses (ostensibly the writer of Genesis) tells us already in 39:2, 3, 21, and 23 that YHWH was with Joe in his slavery and imprisonment, but now we are seeing it with our literary eyes too!
Just imagine if all we had was the surface reading. This would still be an amazing story, for surely we see Joe put in charge of the prison and running things on behalf of the jailer. We see two court officials get their dreams accurately interpreted, one leading to release and restoration and the other to death, and we see that setting Joe up for the real encounter with dream interpretation with Pharaoh soon enough. But if we let the deep narrative have its plot twists too, we see Jesus himself come in bread and wine where both dream interpretations come true for him at the cross and resurrection, and in the meantime in them he minsters to Joe in his hour of need. We see that the presence of Jesus in this way does not wave some magic wand and just make Joe live happily ever after, but we see now a flesh -n- blood picture of how counting trials as joy (James 1:2-3) fits into God’s will. Jesus is there with Joe in his darkest hour and is preparing the way for Joe even though there will be need for much more patience since his ordeal is still a long way from over.
But there is a LOT more Eucharist at work in Joe’s story than just this dungeon seen. A LOT! In fact, we have a chance to see right into the mind and heart of God as we join Joe and his brothers at table chapter 43.
This scene, a continuation of course of the brother’s first trip to Egypt in search of food (where they met and bowed down to Joe but did not recognize him), carries all the echoes of Jesus meeting us in communion today. Jesus, our brother who we sold for 30 pieces of silver into a death sentence, meets us in the wine and bread where he is revealed to us too (see Luke 24:30-31). But Joe’s story gives us much more insight into the heart of God as Joe must withdraw to weep at the sight of his brothers, as he sets them up to struggle with their own conscience (as if to wrestle the Angel of the Lord) by putting their money back into their luggage (thus making all food free) and inquiring endlessly about his other brother and father and accusing them of being spies!
They all, Jesus, God, and the guilty brothers, come to the table of reckoning where SALVATION is enjoyed, but getting real with each other also happens.
Suddenly, I have insight into the heart of God! I come to the table a betrayer too. Remember, I sympathized with these brothers in their envy when they got rid of Joe and started living a lie of death and deception. Jesus withdraws, disguised and unknown to me, to weep about our reunion. How can I revere this properly?
By coming to this insight through Joe. That is how.
And Jesus reveals himself to me at the table as we work our differences, and I dine at the kings table free of charge.
BUT WAIT; THERE’S MORE!
This whole deep reckoning that Joe is having with his brothers, that I am having with Jesus, is set within a larger epic. God is feeding the world! The whole world has fallen into starvation and despair, and on the grandest of all epic stages, Joe/Jesus is now the feeder, the grand man who feeds the world, and in the midst of this massive soup kitchen scene, the very personal and deeply spiritual connection God wants with me is unfolding as part of all of that.
Joe’s wildest dreams do in fact come true. But only after they have died a thousand times over. There is resurrection and nourishment here that his original dreams never imagined – great as they were. God’s ways are mystifying to us, bigger than ours, and crush us as they give us LIFE.
Joe’s story is filled to the brim with Eucharist. Though Joe in no way imagined Eucharist when he first dreamed of greatness, and though his dreams of greatness were surely dashed, thrashed, and trashed, they found fulfillment in the end, and found it amid Eucharist, both personal and worldwide Eucharist.
You gotta go below the surface narrative to get here, but it is all seething there just beneath.
We know Joe finds some kind of relief even before his brothers return and bow low before him. We know this because the storyteller informs us that a couple of years before the famine sets in, he starts his own family as second in command of the whole known world. He names his kids after God’s care for him, and it appears his faith is refreshed. But, like you and I today come to the table for refreshment in the wine and bread, there is a future before us which the wine and bread point us to which we cannot fathom and which we cannot imagine. We meet Joe there too. Thus, we are all the more assured of our future when we find his life so poetically completed in God’s plans.
My own heart breaks with his as I come through this journey with Joe, through the despair and dashed dreams to the point where he confronts his brothers with his true identity. “I am Joe, your brother!”
This is ironic, I think, for whereas Jesus comes to us as a peasant we find revealed to have been our king, Joe comes to his brothers as the king revealed to have been their brother. But after so much heartbreak, Joe is not rubbing their noses in his old dreams of grandeur anymore. He too has been humbled by now. But instead he tells them, “Do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.”
This was God’s story all along. It wasn’t the brothers who dashed his dreams by selling him into slavery, it was God, the One who first gave him those dreams! And God gave, and God took away. And God replaced what was taken with something even bigger. (Almost sounds like yet another Bible hero I know.)
All these characters came to God’s story and took up bit parts trying to improvise their own story in his, but despite themselves, God willed to work his good pleasure in them and through them and to bring SALVATION to a hurting and starving world!
That’s an awful lot to pack into a pinch of cracker and a thimble full of grape juice, but when I read the Gospel According to Joe, I find every ounce of it bursting out!
(I can’t believe I am going to stop there, but I am writing a blog post here, and so we must move on.)
You have heard it said, “Let go and let God,” but I tell you, if Joe had let go of his dreams of grandeur and not rubbed his brothers’ noses in them way back when he was seventeen, we would not have this story.
Perhaps instead we should say: Don’t worry. God’s got this – even despite you.
That might be the better sentiment.
Joe is a punk brat in chapter 37. He is “asking for it.”
And yet, I don’t doubt for a moment that his dreams were from God. In fact, I don’t doubt for a moment that grandeur was promised him by God. He was right to believe it. And though we are never told he gave up on that dream, there is every reason to believe that dream suffered the death of Christ before it was resurrected like Christ.
One thing I am sure of: Joe could not have planned for this. This was orchestrated from Above. God gets all the glory here.
And yet, Joe’s life is so deeply congruent with the life of Jesus that even a casual reader sees Jesus seething beneath the surface! All that suffering, living a lie, lost in slavery and prison in the belly of the imperial beast… All of that bears the marks of Jesus all over his life. Yet none of that makes for planning sessions in any missions committee meetings that I know of. We shoot for success and the wise use of money and time and expertise like we might just ask God to bless it all and then take the credit when we are done letting go and letting him at the end of it. Joe, on the other hand, has great ideas about his own greatness, but finds them all obliterated, ground down to the nub, and then fulfilled beyond his imagining. Then he finds God having sent him to Egypt ahead of his brothers to preserve life.
How do you devise that model?
Say… take nothing with you for the journey? Not even an extra coat? Stay with the people who you minister to when you get there? (I might have read that somewhere…)
On the other hand, if you are a minister for Jesus and things are not working out so well, like you dreamed, perhaps you should take heart and interpret the bread and wine. Wait on God and see where that takes your ministry.
I am extremely cognizant of the fact that repeatedly Joe is humbled and humiliated in a living death, a life of utter sacrifice, and yet he is also repeatedly put in charge of whatever domain (however humble and sad) with the exception of God almighty and the one superior who appoints him. Potiphar the slave owning captain of the army puts him in charge of his whole house! Joe answers only to Potiphar. When he goes to prison, he likewise rises to be in charge of all the other prisoners and answers only to the jailer. When he comes out of that hell hole, he rises to the very top of Egyptian power and glory except for Pharaoh’s superiority (and even then it is said he becomes like a father to Pharaoh!). There is always a profound measure of humility put upon Joe at every level of his life except before his epic adventure begins, and his brothers hate him. Thus, God gets the glory!
But even more intriguing to me, it is the one thought dead, the one left to suffer, who bears the movement of God. God is with Joe in the midst of overwhelming despair and oppression. That despair and oppression is real. There is nothing easy or light about it. He is LOST in every sense of the word except for God’s most mysterious and beloved intervention. And in all of that, he is the tip of God’s spear.
What do these things say for ministry?
I think they quicken our faith and call us to count our trials a joy. That lostness you feel? Well, is this where God was pointing you when you started? I don’t mean your sin got in the way and caused God not to care anymore. I mean, if he put you here, it is his plans working toward greatness you have yet to imagine.
Are you baptized with Christ? Read this story. I got dipped in cold water when I was fourteen, but I am only just now discovering the depths of those waters all these years later.
Do you commune with Christ and the brotherhood?
If so, God is doing business with you down where it hurts. But, he is revealing to you that even he must withdraw to weep, and in Joe’s story you can see why! You can see how! You can see into his very heart.
And so as your ministry seems dashed, thrashed, and trashed, perhaps you can come to the wine and bread and find sustenance pointing you to hope beyond the imagination. Suffer this life on your way to LIFE and see how many people are saved for your trouble.
Thanx for reading here.
Please share with me your reading both surface and deep. I have not even begun to exhaust this passage of Scripture. But perhaps the little I share with you will open up something you need to share, and together maybe, just maybe, we will see even deeper into the mind and heart of God and into the glory he holds out for us to share with him in the Age to Come.
It turns out that it is incredibly easy to be wrong about … about stuff… and not even know it. I mean dead wrong, partially wrong, everything in between… about all kinds of … STUFF.
Easy. Did I mention it’s easy?
Basically, we believe what we WANT to believe. That desire-factor is a lot bigger than we realize, I think. I mean you can and do believe some stuff you don’t want to believe. But that WANT filter is quite a filter, and impacts what you believe far more than you are apt to realize. Thus you might be wrong about some stuff and quite resistant to facing up to it!
Thus, there are levels and layers and complexities to this that make it so you can just get along in life a very long way down the road being dead wrong and not know it.
Take babies for instance:
I love babies. I spend a LOT of time taking care of babies. A LOT. I am more skilled than most of you mama’s out there at this point. I don’t know everything, and I have a lot to learn still, but I tend to babies A LOT! I have changed more diapers before 8 am over the last five years than most parents change their whole lives! And I do it because I love babies.
Now… I see one of FOUR (count ’em FOUR – 1, 2, 3, 4) babies running around like the Soggy Bottom Boys from that movie, and I think, “I just changed that diaper ten minutes ago.” I don’t WANT to believe that diaper needs changed. I resist the notion. T-I-M-E goes by as I cling for all I am worth to the belief that that diaper is still clean!
But I am wrong. And if I don’t get right with it soon, that baby’s bootie is gonna suffer for my dead wrong belief about that diaper. And that ain’t love.
Yeah… so how do you think this stuff translates to our love for the poor and needy, the homeless in our midst?
Do you LOVE the poor? Do you tend to the poor? How? Send a check to the poverty ministry and let THEM take care of the poor for you?
I bet the poverty ministry you send your money to never throws the poor out to the cold of night arbitrarily. Right?
And you know this … how? Because that is what you WANT to believe???
Feel me yet???
How do you think this translates to issues of theology, liturgy, beliefs about the Bible?
How do you think this translates to issues of politics, news sources, or being neighborly?
Wanna talk about it?
I am quite sure SOMEBODY is dead wrong about SOME stuff. We can’t all be right! Somebody got something wrong somewhere. Could it be you?
You have heard it said, “… a waste of time…” or “…a waste of money…” and to the extent these phrases are deemed accurate, they shut down further devotion to whatever activity they describe. It’s a fairly universal axiom that “wasting” time or money is a bad thing, and hardly gets questioned. (When was the last time you questioned either?)
But no one ever, to my knowledge, critiques a waste of God’s Kingdom.
Maybe that is a good thing, but shouldn’t it come up for review at least? How would we know if we don’t consider the idea?
Well, all of that is just a broad-strokes introduction to my real complaint: Ministry books and ministry classes.
This first became an issue for me in school, and I didn’t quite know why for a long time. And at first, I called it a waste of time and a waste of money – which as far as money or time were mine personally, they did waste! But it finally occurs to me that far more value is wasted than just time or money, and yet I don’t think hardly anyone notices.
Hmmm… How do I frame this so it makes sense?
After all, I am almost, literally, the only person I know who speaks of this stuff and finds fault with it.
Starting with my experience in academia, as a Bible/Ministry student particularly, I quickly became disillusioned with ministry courses and the books they tended to feature. I absolutely LOVED my Bible classes, both the textual coursework and the research. We explored Jesus, God, The Spirit, all the Bible narratives and all the mysteries of the universe therein, and I couldn’t get enough. But when it came to ministry classes, all that changed.
Ministry, not the Bible and not Bible study books so much, but the “practical” side of the educational thrust seemed to quietly, and almost imperceptibly, set Jesus aside as if he were just powerless for our purposes. No doubt there were sentences, chapters, even whole books dealing with Bible text that I found objectionable, unhelpful, even useless, but those were the exceptions, not the rule. Nearly every scholar who actually attended to God’s Word offered something worthwhile. However, when it came to ministry, I found them to be almost completely the opposite. I might find a book, more likely a paragraph, and most likely just a sentence or two in those books which seemed important and helpful. The ministry books were all corrupt.
(I must say, though, the one glaring exception to all of this was my homiletics courses, but actually, the more I think on those, the more I wonder if the problem was still there, but somehow flew beneath my radar. I will get that that later.)*
Let’s put it like this: Ministry is the intersection of Bible and Life. (I am sure that won’t fly as a definition, but it surely functions as a good description for our vantage point.)
This notion presumes the two are not already joined together, and it is the job of the minister to join them. And no doubt there is a sense where that is true. The world is full of sin and rebellion and darkness. People at large do not know Jesus. Introductions are in order! And in those simplified terms, it all makes sense.
However, consider my father’s experience: Trained first as an evangelist/minister, he went back to grad school and majored in Marriage and Family Therapy. There at the Christian university, he learned basically all the secular tools of the trade with prayer added to the mix like season salts. This somehow SEEMED better than calling a married couple into the pastor’s office and quoting I Peter 3:7 or Ephesians 5:25 at them, talking about “What does this passage mean to you?” and ending with a quick prayer. AND, it probably was better than that too.
But at some point, Dad began to ask what Jesus was doing in this mix that you couldn’t get from a secular approach, and why wasn’t our Counseling and Therapy Department researching and teaching THAT? Don’t we want the healing touch of Jesus and the hope of redemption? Is all that to be had by taking direction from the secularists and peppering their teachings with a few prayers?
I found variations on this theme in the actual ministry courses too. My problem became particularly apparent as an undergraduate in the year-long ministry prep series – an intro course in the Spring, followed by and internship through the Summer, and a debriefing course in the Fall. The very first thing I was hit with was a psych evaluation via the Myers-Briggs Personality profile. This was to be scheduled outside of class during a semester when I had a particularly heavy load of difficult classes and a desire to manage my GPA. When I missed my appointment a couple of times, I heard about it from my instructors.
It was then I realized that I had actually taken this profile assessment about a year and a half before, when I sought counseling through the Therapy Department which was free to students. As soon as I put that together, I called the Therapy Department and asked them to use my previous results for the file, thus I would not need to be bothered with it any further. After that, I dismissed the exercise expecting I was done with it.
A few weeks later, my instructors approached me again. This time when I rebutted claiming I had already done the profile a couple years prior, they informed me that the assessment results are not intended to be trusted that long. They needed an updated assessment after as little is two or three months!
At this point, I was getting more than a little frustrated. But my instructors were insistent and claimed this was a very important part of my curriculum. Everyone had to do it, and I should be no exception. And after grilling them on its import, I learned, though they would never have put it in these words, that the assessment ultimately provided the school with a shield from liability in case a real weirdo were to get sent to a church’s youth group.
This assessment was weeding out the weirdos! It was protecting the school from liabilities!
At that point I asked, “Did Jesus put The Twelve through a Myers-Briggs assessment? Or did he just spend some T-I-M-E with his flock, getting to know them, helping them get to know him? And did that screen out Judas the betrayer? And is that something Jesus would have wanted?”
In one fell swoop, I had called the whole course into question and found it wanting. Even more, I had called the whole ministerial curriculum into question. And without even realizing it at the time, I had called the whole school into question. To this day, I think that series of coursework has added NOTHING of real value to my life or ministry. I certainly wasted a lot of time and money on it though.
I went on to say, “If you want to know my darkest thoughts, my masturbatory habits, my sins and secret desires, try spending time with me! Maybe ask! Build some TRUST!”
At the time I failed to point out that as an institution serving the church, liabilities are NOT our real concern. Anyone who has taken up a cross following Jesus, who also cares about “liabilities” is surely an anomaly at best and likely not carrying a cross and following Jesus at all.
But if I wanted to graduate with my Bible/Ministry degree, I needed to go take the test.
So I did.
And I was out of there in ten minutes having filled in the dots without reading the questions at all. (Passive/aggressive, I know, but also returning the favor and putting the school on MY test.) I think I even reduced that poor grad student administering it to me to tears with my contempt for the hoop I was jumping through.
Funny thing: I passed the class, and in fact all my classes, with straight A’s. Including the one requiring me to take this assessment. (I wonder if my results – which I did NOT express any interest in – determined me to be a gay, cocaine addicted serial killer or what.) I am sure that it said I was a weirdo. But then I went to work in the prison for my internship where no one REALLY cares for the flock rather than a youth group whose parents pay us to play, so apparently all that talk about how it really mattered wasn’t actually true.
One of the next things I encountered in that class was prep work for job hunting skills. We learned to be prompt and not late, how to write resumes and how to dress for interviews. We practiced interviews, and prepared for professional life “AS MINISTERS,” and I began then, thanx largely to my experience with the Myers-Briggs thingy, to notice that Jesus was late to Jairus’s house, to Lazarus’s house, and treated like a criminal rather than a good job prospect for Messiah. All of that “ministry” stuff they were teaching us had practically NOTHING to do with Jesus, yet it was part of the core curriculum for the degree plan – for any of the degree plans leading to ministry!
Eventually, I took a pastoral counseling class – FROM THE PSYCH DEPARTMENT! The books were all secular in nature. I was experiencing a taste of the same thing my father had complained of a generation before! Over time, I took a “Ministry to Fathers” course where we read Gordon MacDonald’s When Men Think Private Thoughts. It was a fun class and a decent book. It even made me think about things more seriously than I had before. But MacDonald’s book wasn’t required reading for “The Twelve” when Jesus was rabbi. I wondered if Jesus’s school of ministry was deficient! Wouldn’t the world be a better place if they had?
I might be Catholic, but I am also Protestant. And the faith heritage I come from once prided itself far more than Luther or the Reformers on being “people of the Book”! Where are the ministry books that either first explore the Bible in-depth and THEN explore how the meaning therein relates to ministry? What if someone wrote ministry books which functioned as addendums to major theological works from the great scholars like Calvin, Spurgeon, Schweitzer, Wesley, or Barth – among many others? Why were we so willing to dispense with the Bible when it came to ministry? Too eager to embrace psychology, economics, and politics instead???
And every ministry, it seems, is a niche! Prison ministry, youth ministry, preaching, foreign missions, ministry to fathers, to mothers, to minorities, to the poor, to truckers, bikers, and cowboys… and on and on and on it goes. Each niche requiring some psych analysis, some political analysis, some history lesson, some socio-economic consideration – the bulk of which is found in secular teachings.
When Jesus sent out The Twelve on their first mission trip, he told them to take nothing with them! He stripped them down of all pretense, it seems, and sent them out to preach and cast out demons! He was training them to lose their lives in order to gain them.
I recall now that I interviewed for two different positions when I took that internship as an undergrad. One in the county jail and the other in the state prison. Both chaplaincies accepted my application, putting the ball in my court, so to speak. I had to decide.
What was my deciding factor?
Casting out demons!
I went with the prison because the chaplain there described to me how an inmate had made a special request for chaplaincy to cast out a demon from his cell. The chaplain, having NEVER been asked for that before, went back to his office and consulted his books, made a few phone calls to fellow ministers and a couple scholars, and ultimately went with THE BIBLE where he read in Mark 9, “This kind comes out only with prayer.”
He went back to that cell and prayed with the inmate asking God to cast the demon out. After they were done praying, the chaplain asked the man who reported that the demon was gone.
I was told this story during the interview!
I asked if I could visit the inmate. I was led to him, and he confirmed the chaplains story to me, claiming the demons were still gone!
I immediately decided right then that I wanted to be involved with THAT ministry. I figured that while all the other students would return to the debriefing course in the fall with tales of ball games and pizza parties with youth groups, I hoped to return with stories of casting out demons!
(I didn’t get the chance to cast out a demon, by the way, but not for lack of trying!)
It seems to me now that I need to write a post like this on this subject as part of my overall discussion of books like When Helping Hurts and Toxic Charity. These are ministry books. They both have a few sentences and maybe even a few paragraphs worthy of note, but overall, they fail Jesus, fail the Bible and thus fail ministry. They both seek advice from economic developers, psychology, and politics at the expense of God’s Word.
And they are not alone.
I am currently reading another book (on a different subject) which actually is a pretty good book (at least in some parts) but which concedes way too much in throw away lines on page after page. And I am just sick reading it. Like I say, it’s got its good points! Some of it flat out inspirational! Helpful. But other parts are just sickening in either its lack of Bible or antithetical position vis-à-vis the Bible.
I think I would rather just read the secular approach. Somehow it’s more honest, I think.
I am not at all sure of myself with regards to posting this time. I sense I should “say it better” somehow. I sense I should know better what I am talking about than I actually do. I have been coming to this for many years, really. I didn’t see all of this nearly as clearly when I was in school as I do now, and I don’t sense I see it clearly enough yet.
But I will wrap up like I started and say, wasting time and money are problems for those IN BUSINESS. I am very clear now, far more clear now than when I was in school, that my school is a business IN BUSINESS to make money. My school was so closely associated with the church that to speak that way when I was there just seemed cynical. But after a couple decades in prison and street ministry, I see that my church is a business IN BUSINESS too. And I think being IN BUSINESS is a waste of God’s Kingdom.
*Homiletics, or preaching classes, also fall under the “ministry” category. I did not seek any ministry classes when I was in school, and that was true of homiletics too. However, I actually enjoyed the homiletics courses that I took. I still think I learned a lot from them. I will never forget that intro class that warned us against developing sermons with “points.” If you develop a sermon with three points, a poem, and a prayer, you are bound to open by telling your hearers what your points are and then putting them to sleep as you describe them in the “body” of your sermon. On the other hand, the instructor said, “Your sermon should of course ‘have a point.'”
All of that is good stuff, too, I think. But completely extrabiblical. Where is the text in the Bible teaching us how to preach? Some preachers are better skilled at convincing, convicting, moving, stirring, inspiring, edifying, and equipping hearers than others, and I will not deny that at all. But God uses both Moses and Paul, men who we know from the Bible are not good at preaching. And as my dear old dad is apt to point out, God even uses Balaam’s ass to speak his Word! None of these preachers ever studied the fine arts of homiletics, actually have a track record (at least St. Paul does) of putting hearers to sleep, and their stuff was good enough to make it into the Bible!
But who does all this fancy preaching serve? and for what?
Is the church of American in the business of Making America Great Again or of Making America Christian Actually?
Jesus loves me.
This I know, for the babies tell me so.
The Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners is full of orphans. We never have been full of widows, though a number of them have, on occasion, come to rock and hold a baby over the years. It’s been a few years since this home was full of sojourners too. But we are currently overwhelmed with orphans.
But maybe “orphans” doesn’t quite cover it accurately. Some of these urchins are adopted. This is now their “forever home.” But they started out as orphans… orphans transformed. Troubled babies with damage from addiction and no home transformed into loved kids with a home! (The number 1 thing a homeless person needs is a home, btw. Why not check with the (land) Lord in charge where you live and see if there is room at your inn?)
They are my kids now!
My kids love me. We are very close. Around here, I am Pops. My kids tell me they love me. They tell me they miss me when I am gone. I get celebrated like a rock star when I return home.
I am not in the running for the best parent of the world award. Not at all. I will lose that contest in a landslide! I barely know what I am doing. I make mistakes – lots of them, and plenty too. In fact, I am pretty sure they will grow up with afflictions the would not have had if they had not come here (as I see them pick up my mannerisms, my speech, my attitudes, and react to my mistakes). They mirror every defect in me, I think. Sometimes, I even worry about some of that.
My kids are a challenge. (As am I.) For starts, they are gifts from God, and he seems to take the gifts other people didn’t want and re-gift them to me. (One man’s trash is another man’s treasure; one parent’s baggage is another parent’s very heart and deepest joy!) They arrived with extra challenges, challenges that average kids from “good homes” typically never face, and the older they get the more challenging some of that gets. And in the midst of all that challenge, God is changing me. He is breaking me down, taking from me all I have to give, and giving me his love.
(This White, middle-class, American man is behind the curve learning to love people of color and sort through everything THAT means too.)
The Fat Beggars Home is not part of the American Dream. Well, not entirely separate, but the farther we go through time and growing up, the less American and selfish our dream is. The American Dream is being broke down and dismantled bit by bit and then replaced in the midst of all this too. Our lives are not our own; our home is not our own. And they look less and less like the brochure my high school guidance counselor or my college admissions and academic advisors ever helped me imagine. Instead, our home looks more and more as if Jesus entered and turned over all the tables and drove out all the money changers with a whip!
(There is a lot of pain and bewilderment packed up in that!)
My kids are sweet people. Beautiful people. Loving people. And their presence here tells me that Jesus loves me.
I look at the scars on the walls and windows and appliances (some literal scars, and some cosmetically updated with Crayola or Sharpie), and I see where God is changing me and everything I even thought I wanted.
I love my kids.
I love Jesus.
Jesus loves me.
This I know, for the babies tell me so.
Thank You, Jesus for Your love!
Doin’ my part, y’all to keep you safe and to help my community.
Wish I coulda got the one-n-done, but beggars can’t always be choosers.
I am amazed at how FAST the line moved! Lubbock is efficient, for sure.
And I thank those volunteers and workers out there saving the world one shot at a time (not with a gun), and taking care of all of the rest of us.
Wow! And it didn’t cost me a dime out of pocket. Quite an operation. A massive and fast redistribution of wealth that boggles the mind.
(It lets me know that such things ARE possible, despite our rhetoric to the contrary.)
I sure want to encourage BOTH of my readers and whatever random eyes pass by here to go get yours too.