The Red Words #9 Feb. 4, 2019

And He was giving orders to them, saying, ‘Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.’  Mark 8:15

Every woman who’s ever baked bread from scratch knows that without yeast, the bread will come out flatter than a pancake. Yeast is the secret to making bread rise.  Interestingly, it takes only a little yeast to make dough rise and produce a delicious, fragrant loaf of bread.  There’s nothing quite like the aroma of fresh bread in my kitchen.

In the verse above, Jesus uses this natural image to teach a spiritual lesson. It’s not surprising since He had just fed 4000 people with just 7 loaves of bread!  When the disciples first hear this warning, they misunderstand and think He wanted them to bring onto the boat enough bread for all of them.  Instead, Jesus is taking advantage of what they just witnessed to teach them an important lesson.

Since it only takes a small amount of yeast or other leavening agent to transform an entire lump of dough, Jesus warns His disciples – and us – that it takes only a little bit of what the Pharisees and Herod have to offer to ruin a person.

Ruin a person?  Isn’t that a big strong?

Well, no. The leaven of the Pharisees was hypocrisy, a rigorous religious legalism which they imposed on others but which they would not keep themselves.  Their emphasis was on external correctness regarding rituals and the traditions of men.  This emphasis emphasized a ‘works’ mentality and taught that only by keeping every rule to the extreme would a person be righteous in God’s sight.

Jesus described the Pharisees and those who were their disciples as THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.  Matt. 15:8

hypocrisy

We could say it this way: religion, defined as external performance of one’s beliefs, had become more important to them than relationship with God.  That is not to denigrate the doing of good works but rather to underscore that what God is looking at is our heart, our motivation.

Jesus made the concept very clear in the Sermon on the Mount.  Here is just one of several examples:  You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  Matt. 5:27  Sin begins in the mind and it is possible to sit in church week after week and go through the motions, but have your heart far from God.  THAT is what the leaven of the Pharisees produces in a life.  It looks good on the outside but inside is what Jesus referred to as ‘dead men’s bones.’

What was the leaven of Herod?  Herod was meticulous in keeping the laws of Rome while he, himself, lived an immoral and debauched life. The leaven of Herod involves an exalting of civil law above God’s moral law – that is, putting man’s law above God’s law.  The deeper issue is fearing man more than fearing God.

The Bible says that the fear of man is a snare but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.  Prov. 29:25

Seen through that lens, the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod have the same root – fear of what other people think and allowing that fear to dictate our behavior.  The Pharisees intimidated the people into a suffocating, legalistic rule-keeping; Herod intimidated the people by threatening them with cruel Roman reprisals for breaking Rome’s laws.  In both cases, the people were held hostage by fear – the fear of how they appeared to others and fear of what men would do to them for transgressing.

The Gospel offers a different message: LOVE, not fear, is to be the motivation of all we do – love of God first and foremost, and love of others. Jesus said, But go and learn what this means, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.  Matthew 9:13

Simply stated, hypocrisy is pretending to be something you’re not.  Hypocrisy is closely related to fear of man because that fear of what people think is often at the root of a hypocrite’s decisions and behavior.

Paul wrote to the Galatians: It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.  Gal. 5:1

Allowing the opinion of others to dictate your behavior is a form of slavery.   Brothers and sisters, we have been set free from ALL slavery to love the Lord our God with a passionate and abandoned love.

Let us ask the Lord to turn His searchlight on our souls and if He finds any hypocrisy or fear of other people’s opinions, let us ask Him to forgive us and to cleanse us from every vestige of entrapment.

 

Shadow of Things to Come Lesson #4 May 23, 2017

Traveling down a road he never wanted to explore, led by Ishmaelites who now owned him, Joseph was suddenly forced to cope with circumstances he never could have imagined. For all intents and purposes, the favored child of Jacob was now a slave with no rights, no freedoms and no hope. On reaching Egypt, the Ishmaelites turned their ‘investment’ quickly into cash for their own pockets.  They sold Joseph to a man called Potiphar, a prominent officer in Pharaoh’s army, a wealthy man of some prestige in the city.

Joseph never expected this and certainly never asked for such traumatic events to intrude on his privileged life.  I doubt that many people have experienced the level of shock that Joseph did at this radical and sudden change.  He had to start a new life when he had no desire to do so.  Has that ever happened to you?

The day my late husband passed away is the closest I’ve ever come to what Joseph experienced. I was faced with having to start a new life I didn’t want, even as I coped with the grief and emptiness that followed his departure.  Any of you who have likewise gone through the loss of a loved one know what I’m talking about. You’ve been there. You’ve grappled with the emptiness, the confusion, the uncertainty and the ever present question: What do I do now?  There’s no turning back when your spouse departs this life. You can’t daydream, like the wife of a soldier gone to war, about the longed for day of his return from the battlefield.  Neither could Joseph. God had so ordained the events he had just endured in such a way that there was no going back.

Whenever God generates a sudden break with our past, He will always bring something new for which we will eventually thank  Him.  And the new thing He ordains makes the transition bearable, and in time, even pleasant.

I notice three things about Joseph’s new situation.

First of all, Joseph had a respite from the hostility of his brothers.  He was free of the hateful and bitter words and behaviors prompted by their jealousy. Though a slave, he no doubt had a pleasant room to live in for Potiphar’s home would have been luxurious.  History tells us that in ancient times those who were slaves in the homes of the wealthy and powerful were generally well treated in every way.

Secondly he had the presence of the Lord with him.  We read: And the LORD was with Joseph. Gen. 39:2  Surely the Lord was with Joseph in his earlier life but he also had his doting father to whom he could turn for anything he wanted or needed.  When his brothers annoyed him, he knew his father loved him and he could depend on Jacob to stand by him.  For the first time in his life, all he had was God.

Perhaps you’ve never been to the place when all you needed was God and God alone.  If you have, and the proverbial rug has been pulled out from underneath you, then you understand what this means. God doesn’t do that to you because He’s upset with you or displeased with you.  Rather, when God turns your life upside down there’s only one fundamental reason in His heart: He wants you to depend totally and unequivocally on Him. He wants you to know that He is enough; that He will NEVER leave you nor forsake you.

Potiphar

The third thing that strikes me is that in his new position, Joseph quickly finds favor with his ‘owner’, Potiphar.  Joseph is highly successful! He prospers in his new ‘career’ as a slave and is entrusted with increasing authority until he is in a short time in charge of all of Potiphar’s household! Potiphar was apparently an insightful man.  He recognized Joseph’s abilities and his integrity and therefore trusted him with his estate. And even more importantly, he did so because His master saw that the LORD was with him.  Gen. 39:3  The evidence of the presence of the LORD with Joseph was powerful enough that a pagan idolater acknowledged it.  Now there’s something to think about!

God didn’t have to give Joseph such impressive success but I see the immense love and grace of God at work.  The LORD knew that another betrayal was brewing and that Joseph’s success in Potiphar’s house would be short-lived.  Perhaps the Lord blessed him so in this first stage of his slavery to encourage him.

God is not in the business of demoralizing us.  He knows, as the psalmist wrote, that ‘we are but dust.’  Psalm 103:14  He is generous with His love and kindness; and amazingly sensitive towards our needs.  Yes, the day was coming when Joseph would be thrown into prison, but not yet.  First, God have him comfort and encouragement – a breather, so to speak.  Only later, would the next trial of his faith come upon him as suddenly as the last one.

God, I believe, was up to something else as well.  Joseph knew he was gifted in dreams and their interpretation.  What he didn’t know was that in a few years he would be prime minister of Egypt, required to administer an empire, deal with a staff and render just decisions for a nation.  At this point in his life, he may have thought that his gifting in dreams was all that he was created for.  But God…knowing how He would use Joseph in more ways than interpreting dreams in the future, provided the experience he never would have had in his father’s tent.  In the routine of his duties in Potiphar’s house, Joseph discovered – perhaps as a surprise to himself – that he had administrative talent and he had the opportunity to develop that talent.  He did so with excellence as is confirmed by Potiphar’s complete trust in the Hebrew slave.

Application:

There’s a popular saying: ‘Life happens.’  I prefer to say, ‘God happens.’  For the Bible believing person nothing is a coincidence.  Everything that comes our way is another opportunity to draw closer to God or to turn away from him because of our own self-centered inclinations.  You and I are most likely not destined to be Prime Ministers of any country, but the LORD does have a purpose for your life – He’s not through with you yet, for if He was, you’d be gone already! Therefore, what we take away from this week’s lesson is the exhortation to seek God with all our heart and soul for His wisdom and guidance in whatever life throws at us, that not one trauma, not one pain, not one sudden change and not one apparent disaster would ever rob us of the spiritual growth that is hiding within the situation you experience.

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