Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO on 8/18/02
"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (II Cor. 3:17, RSV).
Freedom is dear to the hearts and minds of people all over the world, and no where more than here in America. Our fighting men and women have bled and died in far flung corners of the globe, not just for our own freedom, but for the rights of others as well. Most of the thrilling and inspiring stories to be found in the bible are about men and women in captivity, whom God set free, which is His job description. Joseph is the hero of one such story, which begins with deceit and betrayal by his brothers. They threw him into a pit, told his aging father he was dead, and sold him to a band of Ishmaelites (Gen. 37:13-35), who took him to Egypt and sold him to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh's guard (Gen. 39:1). He was handsome and good-looking (Gen. 39:6), and in a plot that Hollywood writers could not improve upon, his plight took a turn for the worse when Potiphar's wife falsely accused him of attempted rape (Gen. 39:10-20). This ugly situation developed AFTER the Genesis writer had said that "The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man" (Gen. 39:2). Have you ever noticed that people who have the LORD's favor, the elect, often do experience a bumpy ride through life? I concluded years ago, that being the elect of God is nothing to be puffed up about, because it means that you will be dragged through the cactus patch first (Amos 3:1-2). If Jesus learned obedience by the things He suffered, can we expect anything else? (Heb. 5:8).
Joseph was God's chosen in that hour, and like all the elect, his calling was not for his personal comfort and/or honor, but for the benefit of the rest of God's children. For his crime, he was thrown into the Egyptian slammer, and put in charge of serving Pharaoh's chief butler and chief baker who had "offended their lord the king of Egypt" (Gen. 40:1). In time, the two men each had a dream, which God interpreted for them through Joseph. The butler was restored to his former position and the baker was hanged, just as Joseph had said, but the butler forgot his promise to remember Joseph when he was set free and so God's man of the hour languished in prison for two more years, for a crime he did not commit (Gen. 40:20-23). Again, God meant it to him for good, because sometime later, Pharaoh had two troubling dreams. In one, "the gaunt and thin cows ate up the seven sleek and fat cows" (Gen. 41:4), and in the other one, "seven ears of grain, plump and good, were growing on one stalk. And behold, after them sprouted seven ears, thin and blighted by the east wind. And the thin ears swallowed up the seven plump and full ears" (Gen. 41:5-7). Pharaoh called in his top seers and wise men for help, but they all failed to tell him what it meant. At long last, the chief butler remembered his promise to Joseph and told Pharaoh about the young Hebrew who was in jail with him, who had accurately and quickly interpreted his own dream (Gen. 41: 9-13).
Pharaoh sent for Joseph, who assured the monarch that the interpretation was not from him, but from God (Gen. 41:16). The interpretation God gave him was that the seven fat cows and fat ears of corn were seven good years of plenty; the seven scrawny cows and thin ears of corn were seven years of famine, which "...will consume the land, and the plenty will be unknown in the land by reason of that famine which will follow, for it will be very grievous. And the doubling of Pharaoh's dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass" (Gen. 41:30-32). God gave Pharaoh ears to hear and accordingly he served as the instrument which the Lord used to save all of Jacob's family. "So Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discreet and wise as you are; you shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command; only as regards the throne will I be greater than you." And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Behold, I have set you over all the land of Egypt" (Gen. 41:39-41). In this way, "all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth" (Gen. 41:57). God provided for all the people in that part of the world, including His chosen, Jacob and his family, who came to Egypt to buy grain, and in the process, found the missing son whose death he had sworn to mourn until he passed from this life (Gen. 37:35).
The reconciliation of Joseph with his brothers who had done such wickedness to him is one of the sweetest passages to be found anywhere. He said to them, "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; and he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt" (Gen. 45:4-8). Notice that Joseph was clear that God sent misfortune to him in order to preserve the life of his family. Knowing this helped him to forgive his brothers. Realizing that God is the author of everything that happens to us has helped me to endure the bad times in my own life, though I have had nothing like what Joseph experienced. He instructed his brothers to return home and bring his father Jacob to Goshen in Egypt so that the entire family would be spared starvation. In this way, by this means, God initiated His relocation program for His children, transferring them from the land of Canaan where they were dwelling at the time, to Egypt.
This wonderful account shows without doubt that every thing, good and bad, which happens in our lives, was sent to us by God, not just ALLOWED to happen, but SENT to us by God for our good or the good of someone else, and for His glory. There are those who say that bad things only happen to bad people, but look around and search the scriptures and you will quickly find that God is the author of ALL things for everyone! "'See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand" (Deut. 32:39, RSV). Job knew it, for he asked, "Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" (Job 2:10). And the Apostle Paul knew it, for He said, "In Christ we have been given an inheritance, since we were destined for this, by the One who works out A-L-L his purposes according to the design of his own will" (Eph. 1:11, Phil). God works out ALL things, not some, not just the good things, but ALL things according to his own will for our lives. It may not look good to us at the time, and in fact, as Joseph's apparent death appeared to Jacob, may seem to be a tragedy, but God is in it and He works out everything according to the plan He initiated before the foundation of the world.
God used Joseph to provide food and sustenance and a new place to live where they enjoyed protection under Pharaoh's hand. That ended when Pharaoh died, and then began another awful period of captivity, deprivation, hardship and slavery for God's children. For 400 long years, they groaned in Egyptian captivity, until in God's good time, according to the plan, He raised up a deliverer. Reared in Pharaoh's palace, Moses was a shy man who stammered, but under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit and the power of almighty God, he changed the course of history. Through him, God set the captives free, took them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. Moses himself was not allowed to enter, because he struck the rock at Meribah (Num. 20:7-13), but his punishment did not extend beyond the grave, as evidenced by the fact that he was on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus (Matt. 17:1-4). This proves that death is NOT the end of the story.
God's children struggled to be free from their enemies throughout the Old Testament, and I submit to you that the New Testament is a journal of their efforts to be free from law. In spite of the fact that many loudly proclaim they are living by grace, nevertheless, most Christians today still struggle to be free from law. I had a personal experience just this week which brought this struggle home to me. While food shopping at Walmart Super Center, I noticed two female members of a religious sect, about which I know little, except it requires women to wear pale gray, look alike dresses, cut from the same pattern, long sleeves, high neckline, bodice set on a waist band over a gathered skirt. They had plain dark shoes with stockings, and wore their hair in a bun, on which a little white cap sitting on top of their heads, with ribbons hanging down on each side. I instantly thought about the legalism which would require a woman to dress in long sleeves and stockings in this hot muggy climate, and I groaned within myself, "Lord, those poor women." Instantly, He said to me, "They are happier than you are." Startled, I asked Him what He meant; He continued, "They are comfortable within the confines of their religion. You have been struggling all your life to get out of the structure into which you were born."
Of course, He nailed it on the head, and at once, I had a "vision," of a butterfly pupa in a chrysalis. I saw it trying to get out, struggling and fighting and seeking the outside world, where it would be free to fly through the air on beautiful wings, flitting from flower to flower. I found a site on the Internet, with pictures of each stage of a butterfly's development, which I found to be a fascinating metaphor for our spiritual growth (See link at end). First, the adult female butterfly lays the eggs on plants, and from them, hatch larvae or caterpillars. Their job is to eat until they grow 100 times their original size. "A monarch butterfly egg is the size of a pinhead, but the larva that hatches from this tiny egg will grow to 2" long in several weeks." Next, comes the pupal or transition state, "When the caterpillar is full grown and stops eating, it attaches itself to a place to 'rest.' It forms a chrysalis and goes into a type of hibernation. On the outside, it looks like nothing is going on, but changes are occurring inside the pupa that we can't see. The internal systems are reorganizing and transforming into adult structures. Pupae can be inside a cocoon from a few weeks to a month." I have read somewhere that if you were to cut open the chrysalis before the pupa is ready, it will die, a parable for why you cannot speed up someone else's physical or spiritual development.
From these images, I saw that the sons of God are at this point in time, at rest, attached to the bosom of the Lord, drawing nourishment from His life and His Spirit, being transformed into His image and likeness. You cannot see anything happening on the outside, because as Jesus stated, "the kingdom of God does not come with observation" (Luke 17:20). This is another reference to the barren woman that both Isaiah and Paul wrote about: "Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in travail! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her that is married, says the LORD" (Isa. 54:1, RSV. See also Gal. 4:25-29). And then there is this promise, "He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!" (Psalms 113:9, RSV). The point of these verses is that we cannot judge by appearances how much we are growing in Spirit, or see the end result, because like the pupa in the cocoon, the changes in us cannot be seen on the outside. God has promised to make the barren woman a joyous mother of many children, even as He has promised to manifest us, His own sons (Rom. 8:19; I John 3:1).
As a result of this experience, I realized again how subtle the flesh is, for even as we are whipping ourselves up to do more, be more, say more, or whatever it is our particular neurosis calls for, God is quietly doing His transformation on the INSIDE, in SPIRIT. I acknowledged the Counselor's assessment of me and my personality. I long to be free, to fly unfettered through the kingdom of heaven on Earth, but my thrashing about gives evidence that some parts of me have still not entered into rest. I repented of this and asked the Lord to do whatever it takes to open my eyes to see that the work of His hands in my life was finished before the world began (II Tim. 1:9-10). I was led to run the scriptures on the phrase, "book of life," and was reminded again of a beautiful and powerful truth: our names were written there, "before the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8). That verse came to me right after God showed me that I am still struggling. It was His way to say to me, "Relax. Don't sweat it. I have it all in hand. Everything is taken care of. I have arranged for everything. There's nothing you have to do to bring it to pass."
In Rev. 3:5, Jesus says about those clad in white garments, "I will not blot his name out of the book of life; I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels." Some say, "See, you CAN be blotted from the book of life. You have to be ever vigilant or else." This is NOT what the verse says. Jesus is promising NOT to blot them and us out of the book of life. Can't you see that when our names were written there before the foundation of the world, we had NOTHING whatsoever to do with it? Likewise, He who called us will bring it to pass in our lives, for Jesus declared, "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one" (John 10:28-30, RSV). Be nourished and comforted by knowing that no one can take us out of our Father's hand. Seeing God's omnipotence every where, Isaiah asked on God's behalf, "Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem? Or have I no power to deliver?" (Isa. 50:2-3, RSV).
The only way to quit struggling to be free is for God to open our eyes to see that we ARE free. Trying to get free by our own efforts, when we already ARE free in Christ, is what Paul was talking about in this passage: "I will ask you one simple question: did you receive the Spirit by trying to keep the Law or by believing the message of the gospel? Surely you can't be so stupid as to think that you begin your spiritual life in the Spirit and then complete it by reverting to physical observances? Has all your painful experience brought you nowhere? I simply cannot believe it! Does God, who gives you his Spirit and works miracles among you, do these things because you have obeyed the Law or because you have believed the gospel?" (Gal. 3:2-5, Phil). I have turned my struggles over to the Father and await His good pleasure in my life, "But thou, O LORD, art a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head" (Ps. 3:3, RSV). Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
To View the Four Stages of a Butterfly's Life, Click Here!
"Transformation, Struggling to get free II,"
"Armageddon, final victory, Struggling to get free, III"
The Glory Road
We're always glad to hear from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 8/16/02
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/07/08