The Truth About Being Successful

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The LORD was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. (Gen 39:2, NKJV)

Gold Finch

Gold Finch

What do we say to people when they question our religion based on what they see in “the church?” We can likely all name one thing or the other where someone in some church, is being racist, or evil, or hypocritical. There’s no shortage of proof for the faults of others. As one author puts it in his book”

“The central problem for the church is the church. The central theological problem of our age is the justification of the church. How is it possible to call the church “holy?”

(taken from (Heaney, Robert S.. Post-Colonial Theology: Finding God and Each Other Amidst the Hate . Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.)

Why is the church’s biggest problem, the church?

Almost sounds like a pun, yet its the truth that many are faced with today. We busy ourselves stigmatizing many different kinds of people, be they LGBTQ, Catholics, Protestants, certain races, religions, or cultures, why they must fit in perfectly or they wont fit in at all. They have to be just like us, and see it just as we do, before they can be called “saved,” or “holy;” or in order to be “authorized” to be “one of us.”  Our stigmatizing, bullying religious tirades have assaulted many innocent people who are just like us and want to know God; but we are too busy poisoning the world with our imperialized, racist hate and division.

The religious oppression and church instigated trails of marginalized and beaten-down voices, over of all manner of dogma, has been noticed. And all many Christians choose to do is to say they are being “persecuted;” and crying in their soup (or on the news) about their “rights.”

Today, some people are asking: “How do we hear the voice of others, or the Voice of God, in the midst of our clouds of fear, deception, and hatred? Why are we so stuck on how our “sin” is so much “better” than the “sin” of certain others, who we marginalized or stigmatized into the sidelines of our ecclesial command posts?

Truer words have never been said: “The Church’s biggest problem is the church!”

The Church is portrayed in Scripture as a people called, and animated by God to a higher life, in The Spirit that draws in people from “every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.” The work and the people of God’s Church on earth are united in their praises to God; and Christ assures the nations of the world that He will come again when they are ready. Scripture also tells us in many places about how people living in very perilous times, amongst dangerous and wicked people, completely surrounded by evil, but they still managed to become known for their “deeds of loyal love.” (see Josiah in 2 Chron 35:26).

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In the Scripture I chose for this devotional, the story brings us into the time when Joeseph was a slave in the house of Potiphar, and had been captive there, by this time for 20 years. And yet, the scripture says: “The Lord was with Joseph; and He was a successful man.” Really? Joseph, a slave for the last 20 years, is “successful?” When Joseph was just a kid, his Dad, Jacob, played favorites with Joseph, as seen in the story of Judah and Tamar; yet even there we see a definite connection between God’s presence, and a person’s “success.” How could Joseph be viewed as “successful” when he was a slave?

“Success” is never described in Scripture in the context of a person’s orientation, or experiences of trouble, trials, or disasters. The Bible does not call one “successful” because they are “being good,” or because they act better than certain others. The tower of Siloam did not fall on those people because they were “worse sinners), It did not matter that Joseph’s circumstances were good or bad. God was still there. God was present with Joseph, even then and God was always there in his slavery.

God’s express desire to “create in us a clean heart,” (Psalms 51:10), had obviously already happened with Joseph, as God declared “He was a successful man.” Joseph was called a success, even though over 20 years of his life was wasted away as a slave in Potiphar’s house. Success, in the Bible, is not described according to any suffering or trials that we may be called upon to endure.

In fact, it wasn’t just God who thought of Joseph as “successful;” but Potiphar himself also saw Joseph in this way: “And his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD made all he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favour in his sight, and served him. Then he made him overseer of his house, and all that he had he put under his authority.” (Gen 39:3-4).

The question about being “successful” for anyone simply becomes the fact of “is God with you, or is He not?”  This is a refrain that everyone can eagerly sing  “The Lord God is with…” (put your name here).

When Jacob was trying to run away from God, God let Jacob see the ladder going up into heaven, and the gateway that was up there. What an assurance that must have been for him! Those angels going up and down the ladder were keeping the lines of communication going between God and people on the earth, some of them running from Him, some of them calling out for Him.

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As a Church; as God’s people, we should be telling everyone, regardless of how we see their life and conduct, this wonderful news about how much God loves us and wants to communicate with us personally. God promises to be with each of us; this is the special blessing of Abraham, that God’s people, even today, still benefit from. And why are we not sharing this blessing with others, regardless of their life-styles, instead of stigmatizing and marginalizing them? Why aren’t all those people rushing through our church doors to be with us in fellowship?

People today, need to hear this particular view of the gospel, about God’s presence making them “successful,” and just as it was The Lord being present  with him, bringing Jacob a pre-destinated blessing; making him a “successful” person, we too, and all the people we know can join us. What a wonderful song that would be to sing in church this Sabbath!

Even Potiphar knew what it was to work with excellence. This non-Christian, slave-driving master recognized “success” when he saw it; and in making the longer story shorter, Scripture reveals this “blessing of the Lord,” (Gen 39:4-5), to be, apparently, quite contagious to all those around us! The very God that Jacob, some thousands of years ago, could rely upon and call upon, even if he had been running from God at the time, was still blessed by God, and counted as “successful” by God and other people. It doesnt always matter exactly how one is connected with God; but if one is connected, they are; in His eyes, very “successful.” 

God blessed Laban, because of Joseph’s presence in his home: (Gen 30:27), and the Bible tells us that Joseph was well-built and handsome; but none of that was what made Joseph “successful.” Potiphar entrusted everything in his house to this young slave Joseph, much to the chagrin of many others. But Potiphar could see that God was with Joseph, and that everything Joseph did was well done and brought unity and happiness to his troubled home, and all because God was with him and people could see that.

Now-a-days it is considered a major cultural issue most of the time to try to share the gospel with certain cultural back grounds.  We have normalized saying “its no use to try to reach certain types.”

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Admittedly, I might get into trouble if I try to say I was “successful” or perhaps “perfect” or even as “receiving the blessing” back then, but   a person from such a  marginalized and very stigmatized culture approached me one day in the nursing home where we both worked together. Now I had hardly talked to her during the course of our previous working together, over a period of about a year; but she quickly ushered me into a linen supply closet to ask me a “private question”.  Yes I was married, and she was too. But we went into the linen closet.

But perhaps like Potiphar I recognized some element or promise of hope as she called me to come in for a minute. She said it exactly like this:

“You look like a Christian. Can you please come out and read the Bible to my Mom because she has cancer, and is dying.And she is very scared.

(could it be that what she saw was this very “success” pictured in our text for today?).

Now back then I was a church Evangelist; and so of course, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. In fact, it seemed to me that something Like Potifar; they did see something in me, and thats what “the Lord is with you” means and thats why others recognize some of us as “successful.” Because they can see that “the Lord is with us.” We dont have to tell them in some crusade. We dont need to connive some doctrine with them. Telling our personal testimony happens in our daily lives. (1 John 1:1-3)

I am pleased to report that the Mom of this family died totally unafraid; I annointed her, just before she passed. We prayed and sang hymns around the bed side with a couple dozen family members, and at the end of each prayer & song, I would read something about the resurrection
(1 Thes 4:13,14,15,16,17,18)

Can you imagine, trying to preach about “the mark of the beast” to such a person in any similar situation? Is it possibly time for us to model the true “success” that our ancestors did? Can you truthfully say “The LORD was with [your name goes here], and he/she was a successful man, [woman/person]?

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