the Hope of Survivors

Being a Pastor of Honor by Charles Burkeen

Charles BurkeenAn ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” At least, that’s what my Mom always told me. In our spiritual lives I find that notion present in James 4:7—“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

So you’re a pastor or church leader and you find yourself drawn down a road that you know you don’t want to travel. In those moments when the devil comes tugging at our hearts, we can choose the “ounce of prevention” route and resist and he’ll flee. Or we can fall and suffer the consequences, and require the “pound of cure.”

I see three ways that we can go in life as we learn to resist the devil:

(1) You never learn to resist and end up on skid row or death row or some other nasty row. This is not an option for Christians.

(2) You learn to resist the devil from your mistakes. This is where a lot of us often are. We’re not really dumb; we just act like it sometimes. Eventually we learn to resist one dumb thing, then we go on to the next dumb thing until we get over it too.

(3) You develop an honorable character by submitting to God. It can happen!

The Bible gives us examples of these last two. Look at Genesis chapters 37-50, especially chapters 38-39: the stories of Judah and Joseph. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these two stories are presented side by side in the Bible. Here God is giving us two examples to become honorable people who regularly resist the devil.

Joseph is considered a classic man of honor. Granted, Joseph could have been a bit smarter when he saw the visions from God.

God told him, “Joseph, you are going to rule over your older brothers. They will bow down to you and serve you.” Even though it was true, Joseph should have kept his mouth shut. You don’t tell your big brothers that they will bow down and serve you.

That still didn’t give Judah an excuse to act as he did. When Joseph came to check on his brothers out in the pastures, they said, “Here comes that dreamer. Let’s kill him and see what comes of his dreams.” Fortunately Reuben had the good sense to stop them from killing Joseph.

But when Reuben was away Judah talked the others into selling Joseph to some Midianite slave-traders. This is where our stories begin.

Genesis 38: Judah married a Canaanite woman and had three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah. Now Judah has two strikes against him: (1) He sold his brother into slavery, and (2) He married a pagan. How do you think his sons turned out?

Verses 6-7—Right off the bat, God put Er to death because he was wicked. Judah had a problem. Er left behind a widow named Tamar. Now Er and Tamar had no children, and the custom was that if a man dies without children, the man’s brother is to go and help his sister-in-law have babies. So Judah sent Onan to help Tamar have babies.

But Onan didn’t want to help Tamar have babies, so God put Onan to death too. Now Judah was left with one son, Shelah. So he told Tamar, “Go live with your family until Shelah is grown up.” But Judah had no intention of losing his last son, and here was strike three: he lied to Tamar. The course of Judah’s life was one of jealousy, idolatry, and deceit. He was a classic fool. When trouble came to Judah, he didn’t have any experience resisting the devil.

And trouble did come. Judah never kept his promise so Tamar said, “It’s payback time.” She disguised herself as a prostitute and sat along the roadway as Judah walked to town. She set him up for his fall.

We all face those moments when the devil comes knocking, moments that tell if we will be honorable or dishonorable; if we will resist or fall.

Joseph’s story is found in Genesis 39. The Midianites carried Joseph to Egypt and sold him as a slave to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. But Joseph has no strikes against him.

The Bible says “the Lord was with him.” I think that can create a misconception. The Lord didn’t choose to be with Joseph and not Judah. It was the other way around. Joseph chose to be with the Lord, but Judah didn’t.

Joseph stayed close to God even though he was kidnapped by his brothers, sold into slavery, yanked away from his loving father and his homeland, sent to a strange land filled with strange people who spoke a strange language, and put to work doing the filthiest, nastiest chores in the household. Joseph stayed close to God in the depths of despair, and God lifted him up to the heights of glory. He helped Joseph become an honest, industrious young man. That pleased Potiphar. He put Joseph in charge of everything he owned, except his wife.

God blessed him so much that my Bible says that Joseph grew up to be “well built and handsome.” That pleased Mrs. Potiphar. She wanted to get Joseph into bed, so she set him up for his fall. In both chapters we see that both Judah and Joseph are set up for a fall.

H. Richard Niebuhr was a theologian who identified 3 qualities of responsible people. He said that responsible people:

(1) Initiate action. They don’t just go with the flow. They don’t let circumstances control them. They control circumstances.

(2) Respond rather than react. They think before they act. They let reasonable, rational thoughts, rather than emotions, guide them.

(3) Are accountable for their actions. They have nothing to hide. They are willing to let the whole world see what they do.

Let’s look at #1–Initiate action.

Judah saw Tamar disguised as a prostitute and he walked over and said, “Come now, let me sleep with you.” Did he initiate action? I say no—he merely initiated the conversation.

Proverbs 7:22 says that a man who goes after a prostitute is like an ox led to slaughter. He’s being drug along. Instead of initiating action, he just went with the flow. Judah saw a prostitute and figured here was a good time. After all, everyone else does it. He fell for the devil’s trap.

Meanwhile, down in Egypt, Mrs. Potiphar grabbed Joseph by his coat and said “Come to bed with me!” Joseph ran away. Did he initiate action? Yes. It would have been easy to say, “Everyone else does it. Mr. Potiphar will never know. Maybe this will get her to leave me alone. It’ll be okay just this once.” But instead he did the hard thing, he ran away. He took charge of his situation and did the right thing–he resisted the devil.

Quality #2 is: Respond rather than react. Now Judah had plenty of time to think about what he was doing. He and Tamar spent a few minutes haggling over a price. “I’ll send you a young goat,” he said. “How do I know you will?” she said. “Give me your seal and your staff as a pledge.” Judah had time to have second thoughts about what he was doing. Did he respond thoughtfully to this situation, or react emotionally? He followed his emotions and went off to bed with Tamar.

Which did Joseph do with Mrs. Potiphar? He responded thoughtfully, but when? All he did was run away! That seems like an instant reaction. He responded thoughtfully every other time she propositioned him and he turned her down.

Genesis 39:10 shows that she propositioned him day after day, and day after day he refused. “My master has withheld nothing from me except you,” he said. “How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” Even though Joseph didn’t have time to think when she grabbed him, he had already thought out his response several times before. Joseph was a classic man of honor.

The third quality is: Accountability. Was Joseph accountable for his actions? Yes. His actions are listed here for all to see. He was innocent, but he went to jail anyway. There he continued to live an honorable life. He became the assistant warden. An inmate became second in command. He eventually became the assistant to the Pharaoh, second in command over all of Egypt, and the visions came true: he was the savior of his family.

Was Judah accountable for his actions? Yes. This is where we often learn from our mistakes. Tamar became pregnant and was accused of prostitution. Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death.”

Tamar held out Judah’s seal and staff and said, “I am pregnant by the man who owns these.” Busted! What do you do now Judah, lie—or fess up?

He said, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.” (Genesis 38:26) Judah finally resisted the devil. Judah took the first step toward becoming a responsible person. He confessed (accepted accountability) and began to become a man of honor.

Later, when Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt for grain, Joseph played a little game with them. Joseph held Simeon hostage and then sent the rest back to get his younger brother, Benjamin. Jacob didn’t want to lose another son, so he refused to send him.

Read what Judah says in Genesis 43:8-9. Judah accepted personal responsibility for Benjamin. Certainly the devil tempted Judah to abandon Simeon like he did Joseph, but Judah resisted the devil. Judah started down the path of becoming an honorable man.

Joseph decided to have some real fun with them, so he had his silver cup planted into Benjamin’s sack of grain. When they were caught, Joseph said, “The man who took my cup will be my slave. The rest of you go back.” Now Judah stepped forward and gave an impassioned plea in Genesis 44:18-34.

In verse 33 we see that Judah is willing to stand in the place of Benjamin. Judah, the brother who sold Joseph into slavery, is willing to sell himself into slavery to save Benjamin. He’s learned to be a man of honor. There is hope even for a classic fool.

See what happens when you practice that third quality? You may blow the first two. You may go with the flow and get into trouble. You may act before you think sometimes. But when you accept your guilt, when you are accountable for your actions, when you confess and ask forgiveness, then you begin to learn from your mistakes and begin living an honorable life.

Did it help Judah?

Genesis 49:3-4—Reuben lost his position as the firstborn son (because of a moment of indiscretion—but that’s another story).

Genesis 49:8-12—The line of Judah became the rulers of the nation of Israel, and Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, came from the tribe of Judah; all because Judah became a man of honor.

Even though God’s plan is that we’ll always live honorable lives, if you find yourself heading down the wrong path it’s never too late to turn back and “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

Chuck Burkeen is on the board of directors of The Hope of Survivors and is the Director of Member Ministries in the Oregon Conference. He and his wife, Joyce, have been married for 27 years and have two children and two grandchildren. Chuck began his ministry in the Oregon Conference in 1987, and has pastored several churches there. Joyce has assisted the conference in their child safety process, and they both have an interest in making the church a safe place for young and old.

The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart...Psalms 34:18