VBS 2020 – S.T.A.Y. (Gen. 39)
2020 VBS: S.T.A.Y.
When we were living in Romania, in the summer of 2004, Rachel and I were by ourselves - our other two mission team members were in the States. One Friday morning, I was walking to the building where we worshipped to do some studying. You could go one direction, walking around the little playground (the direction we normally would go), or you could go the other direction and go by a grocery store. For whatever reason, that morning, I went by the grocery store. The women at the store would feed a stray dog in the mornings, just outside the grocery store.
As I went by, the dog was eating and she must have thought I was trying to steal her food, so she attacked me and she bit me in the back of the leg, ripping a hole in my pants’ leg. I went on into the building and washed off the wound with soap and water and went ahead and did my studying.
Sometime after the lunch hour, around 1 PM, I went home but I had to stop off and pay the electric bill for one of our team members. As I was in there, several people saw my torn pants’ leg and asked me what happened. So, I told them the story and they all said, “Oh, you better get the rabies shot!” Well, I just brushed them off.
I went on home and Rachel and the girls and I ate lunch together. I told Rachel the story and what happened when I was paying the electric bill. We decided that I would go talk to our family doctor, who happened to be in the same building where I paid the electric bill. So, I went back over there to the doctor.
I waited for a little while and then the doctor’s assistant came out, got me, and I went in to the examination room. The doctor was out of the office so I told the PA what had happened and asked about the rabies vaccine. He told me he could not give it but said I would have to go to the Hospital of Infectious Diseases to get the vaccine. Well, I had been in several hospitals in Iasi, as a part of our humanitarian work and I knew that it was notoriously difficult to find your way around in a Romanian hospital. I knew where the hospital was but I had never been inside it. I told him that.
The PA looked at his watch and told me that he had to take care of some errands in that part of the city so if I waited on him, he would take me to the hospital. So, I agreed. He gave me a prescription for some pain reliever and something to reduce the swelling and I went and filled the script, came back and waited for him to finish. About 4:00 PM, he was finished and we walked to the place to wait for the trolley.
When we arrived at the Hospital of Infectious Diseases, it was almost a compound with a cement wall all around the place. We go in through the back entrance, to a small building that was attached to the outside of the hospital. We go into a short hallway and the PA tells me to sit and wait. He disappears behind a door and is gone for 5-6 minutes. He comes back out, tells me that they will see me shortly and he disappears to handle his errands. He does not come back to check on me.
After a wait of about 10 minutes, a woman in a white lab coat comes out and asks me to come in. I go in and sit on a hospital bed and three women in white lab coats stand around me and I tell them the story. The one who was the speaker then tells me that she cannot give me the rabies vaccine but I would have to come back Saturday morning to get it. And she emphasized that I needed to be there at 9:00 AM sharp.
I went home and Rachel and I talked a lot about it and wondered what was going on. The next morning, I awoke early and took a taxi to the hospital. When I walked through the back entrance, the building was locked and I did not see anyone around anywhere! I stood there for a few minutes, wondering what to do when I saw someone come out of a smaller building across the parking lot. So, I went over there, stuck my head in the door and a woman told me to wait outside.
After a brief wait, maybe 10 minutes, a woman in a white lab coat came out and got me. I went in, sat on a hospital bed and three women, in white lab coats stood around. None of them were the same three women I had seen Friday night. So, I told them my story.
When I finished, one of the individuals (I don’t know if she was a doctor or a nurse) told me, “We can’t give you the shot; you’ll have to come back Monday to get the vaccine.” I said, “Why?” She said, “Well, I don’t know how to charge you since you are a foreigner.” I interrupted her and said, “I am an American; I’ll pay cash.” Then she said, “Well, there are two series of vaccines and I don’t know which one to give you. You’ll have to come back Monday.”
I left that day asking myself if anyone in Iasi really cared whether I had the rabies virus or not. When I got home, I decided to do my own research. I am so thankful that Al Gore developed the internet. I “googled” “rabies in Iasi, Romania” and started reading. I learned that the most recent case of rabies in Romania was back in the late 70s, in a bear, in Brasov, about 6 hours away. Armed with an education now, I decided not to go back to the Hospital of Infectious Diseases. I went to our family doctor Monday morning.
She was in and we had a good discussion. She told me that rabies were not a serious threat in Iasi and told me that if I could keep an eye on the dog, and nothing happened to her within 10 days, then I would be okay. She also said that if I decided for any reason that I wanted to get the vaccine, let her know and she would order it from the pharmacy.
During those following two weeks, I was the most thoughtful and conscious of my health I had ever been. I often thought what it would be like to die of the rabies virus and leave Rachel a young widow and leave Jewell and Ana without a dad. One time, I was sitting at my desk, trying to get work done but not able to get my mind off that potential virus floating around inside of me. Then I started sweating. My heart rate quickened as my heart started pounding! I thought, “Oh no! I’ve got the virus!”
But then my logical side kicked in and I said, “No, no. That’s just me reacting to the virus.” I went to the building every day for two weeks, looking for that dog. There was a day or two that I did not see the dog, which made me start worrying, but then I would see her and, obviously, I did not get the rabies virus. I did decide one time when I was brushing my teeth to let the spit foam up and then drool out of my mouth and I had Rachel take a picture of me and I sent it to our family and close friends and told them my story.
I’ve had my own personal experience with a deadly virus - or at least I thought I might have an experience with a deadly virus. Since the middle of March, we have been dealing with another deadly virus - Covid-19. There have been 3.37 million cases of Covid-19 as of Monday and 137,000 deaths attributed to the virus. In Michigan, we have 6,317 deaths attributed to the virus.
It has, obviously, changed our lives in some big ways and some small ways. There surely is not a single person in the US or the world who has not been impacted in some way by the virus. We were supposed to have taken three mission trips to Romania this year but they were all cancelled. How many people could have had their lives impacted by the gospel if it weren’t for this virus? How many Christians could have been taught and encouraged if it weren’t for this virus?
As a church, practically every activity we normally did has been stopped, except for Sunday morning worship and Wednesday night Bible study with only the bare minimum of people here to broadcast the study and worship online. We even had to cancel our in-person VBS.
But, in all the discussion our VBS committee has had, Megan LeBlanc came up with the idea of a “Stay-cation Bible School” - a virtual VBS - which then changed into having our teenagers perform skits and puppet plays to act out four Bible stories to impress on our children’s minds and hearts how important it is to stay focused even as we have had to stay home in this quarantine.
So, beginning tomorrow, our Teen Leadership Training Camp week will start working on Bible stories for our “Stay-cation Bible School” and then the videos will be edited and made public on our website by the first week of August. We are going to advertise our “Stay-cation Bible School” through the church’s Facebook page, our Food Pantry, as well as here at church. The four lessons are:
Stay Strong - A Study of Job
Stay Christ-Centered - A Study of Stephen
Stay Joyful - A Study of Paul
Stay Hopeful - A Study of Jesus
The sermon I give the Sunday before VBS starts always ties into the VBS theme in some way. It is the one sermon I can’t plan the fall before; I have to wait until the theme is chosen and the Bible stories are selected so that I won’t overlap too much with the lessons for the VBS. So, as I thought about the “Stay Home. Stay Safe” mantra our governor has been using for the past four months, I finally thought about Joseph when he was thrown into prison, “quarantine” of sorts, and what lessons we might learn from him.
So, turn in your copy of God’s word to Genesis 39 and let’s take a look at the life of Joseph as we get a snap-shot of it in this chapter.
THE BACKGROUND - Joseph is sold by his brothers into slavery:
Genesis 37 sets the stage for what happens in chapter 39. Joseph is 17 years old when chapter 37 starts. He is his dad’s favorite son, which causes his brothers to envy him. His dad gives him a nice coat and his brothers envy him even more.
God gives Joseph a dream which suggests that Joseph’s brothers will one day bow down to him. Joseph, whether he is bragging or naive we do not know - shares that dream with his brothers and they grow to hate him.
God gives Joseph a second dream which pictures his dad, Jacob and his mom and all his brothers bowing down to him. Again, we do not know Joseph’s motivation but he shares this dream with his brothers and dad (his mom has actually long since died) and his brothers hate him even more. His dad hardly believes it.
Well, the brothers are out taking care of their sheep and Jacob sends Joseph to see how things are going with the brothers - I wonder if Jacob is also naive about how the brothers feel about Joseph! Then, the brothers take advantage of the opportunity and sell Joseph into the slave trade for twenty pieces of silver and Joseph ends up a slave of the man named Potiphar in Egypt.
That brings us to chapter 39…
GOD BLESSES JOSEPH - 39:1-6:
Let’s read the text. Notice how the text emphasizes three things:
1. God blessed Joseph in all that he did.
2. Potiphar then trusts Joseph with all that he had. The text says Potiphar was an “officer” of Pharaoh of Egypt. The word “officer” literally means a “eunuch,” but we do not know if it literally meant that in this case or not since the word came to mean an officer. He was the “captain” of Pharaoh’s bodyguard which meant it was his job to keep Pharaoh alive, away from would-be assassins.
3. Joseph was a handsome man.
SATAN TEMPTS JOSEPH - 39:7-20:
This is the largest section of the chapter. First, we see the temptation itself: 39:7-9.
Potiphar’s wife is a seductress. She has no respect for her marriage relationship to her husband. Everyone recognized that adultery was a sin against God, even non-Hebrews knew that to be the case (20:9).
But Joseph responded with four different points: Joseph acknowledges, first, his responsibility to his master who has given everything into his hand. Joseph needs to be faithful to his master’s trust. Second, Joseph states that the one “thing” which is withheld from Joseph is his master’s own wife. That makes her special, too special for Joseph to “touch.” Third, Joseph acknowledges that adultery is a “great sin,” just as Abimelech recognized (20:9). Fourth, this act would be a sin “against God.” Joseph could not sin against his God, the One who was blessing Joseph is visible ways.
We see Potiphar’s wife’s persistence and how she lies about Joseph in 39:10-12. The apostle Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 6:18 that we need to “flee immorality” and that’s exactly what Joseph does here. He flees! But, unfortunately, he leaves his garment behind and we do not know what type of garment this was since the word is too generic.
So, next we see Potiphar’s wife tell a lie about Joseph to the other servants in 39:13-18.
The verb “to make sport” is the same verb “to laugh” that Isaac’s name is related to. But, the word has a broad range of meanings. It can mean to “mock” or the “act sexually toward someone.” That ambiguity is clearly evident in Potiphar’s wife’s words here. She accuses Joseph of attempted rape.
Finally, the wife left Joseph’s garment there beside her so that when the boss, her husband comes home, he’ll see it, get mad at Joseph and do something. Her words to Potiphar are in verse 18: “The Hebrew slave, whom you brought to us [notice how she blames Potiphar for Joseph’s presence], he came in to me to make sport of me; and as I raised my voice and screamed, he left his garment beside me and fled outside.” Notice that in this speech, the wife does not accuse Joseph of want to sleep with her, as she had said to the other servants (contrast verse 14). Clearly her words imply attempted rape and her use of the word “to mock” could carry that idea.
I don’t know what was in her mind. I wonder if she wanted Potiphar to throw Joseph into prison so that that experience would break Joseph and motivate him to sleep with her.
JOSEPH IS UNFAIRLY QUARANTINED - 39:19-23:
Verse 19 says that Potiphar’s “anger burned” but it doesn’t say against whom his anger burned! Was it against Joseph, or was it against his wife for some reason? It is extremely odd that Potiphar did not kill Joseph immediately for attempted rape or adultery. That was certainly the normal punishment in many societies at that time. Instead, Potiphar throws Joseph into prison.
But even quarantined, God blesses Joseph. Joseph prospers, and things go well for Joseph. Joseph will stay quarantined for 24 months (41:1) but during that period of time, God is working in Joseph’s life to prepare him for what God knows is coming.
Now, let’s take a moment to reflect on this story in the context of our own recent quarantine and the “Stay-cation Bible School” we will be putting together.
Each of our lessons will build off the idea of “Stay Home. Stay Safe:” Stay strong (Job), Stay Christ-Centered (Stephen), Stay Joyful (Paul), and Stay Hopeful (Christ).
Let me build an acronym off the word “Stay” as we think about Joseph and his quarantine:
Stay selfless - When Joseph was in prison, he did everything he could to serve Potiphar. He was selfless. He served his master even though it was not fair to be where he was. He knew he could not change it, so he served his master. He was selfless. Let us continue being selfless and putting other’s needs ahead of our own desires. If people wish us to wear a mask or to keep 6’ away from them, not to shake hands, hug, or whatever, let’s be selfless. Just because we may not be concerned about the virus does not mean others are not concerned. Be selfless.
#2 - Stay thankful - Count your blessings. Appreciate what you have. I do not know what was going on in the mind of Joseph during those two years of quarantine, but I know - because he said so - that at the end of his life, he was able to thank God for putting him in the position he was in so that he could save his people and the world from those seven years of drought and famine. Joseph told his brothers, when they repented of selling him into slavery, he said, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (50:20). Joseph was thankful.
#3 - Stay active. The worst part of this quarantine, as far as the church is concerned, seems to be that it gets us away from being active in our church activities. We have cancelled a number of activities, evangelism activities and fellowship activities and Bible-teaching activities. You know, only God Himself knows if that was the right choice to make or not. There is not a single person on this earth who can say, “Yes, it was the right choice to make” or “No, it was not the right choice to make.” I’ve heard a lot of people express their opinions but that’s all it is, is just an opinion. We need to stay active in doing good, in keeping relationships strong, and being active in worship and service to Jesus Christ. Joseph was active while he was in prison and that’s how God prepared Joseph for what was coming in the near future.
#4 - Finally, Stay yielding. Submit to Jehovah God. Joseph accepted what God had given him and he continued to serve God, to yield to God. We need to continue yielding ourselves to God, to His guidance, to the future that He has set out for us. Submit to God and He will exalt you at the right time.
Take home message: As we continue, to some degree, in this quarantine: Stay Selfless. Stay Thankful. Stay Active. Stay Yielding.