The Great Persuader?

Victor Chininin Buele

One of the most important books that I read during the aftermath of the last presidential election was Scott Adams’ Win Bigly. Scott Adams makes the argument that Donald Trump is a master persuader. And he, trained hypnotist that he is, walks us through a plausible explanation for Donald Trump’s hold on people that resulted in his rise to the office of the President of the United States. Adams argues that everything serves a purpose: the third-grade playground “nickname” insults given to his competition, the lies (truthful hyperbole from The Art of the Deal). Some quotes to let the man himself speak:

If you have ever tried to talk someone out of their political beliefs by providing facts, you know it doesn’t work. That’s because people think they have their own facts. Better facts. And if they know they don’t have better facts, they change the subject. People are not easily switched from one political opinion to another. And facts are weak persuasion. So Trump ignores facts whenever they are inconvenient. I know you don’t want to think this works in terms of persuasion. But it does.

People are more influenced by the direction of things than the current state of things.

Facts don’t matter. What matters is how you feel. And when you watch Trump and Pence fight and scratch to keep jobs in this country, it changes how you will feel about them for their entire term. This is a big win for Trump/ Pence disguised as a small win.

If you want the audience to embrace your content, leave out any detail that is both unimportant and would give people a reason to think, That’s not me. Design into your content enough blank spaces so people can fill them in with whatever makes them happiest.

What mattered was that people saw Trump agree with them on an emotional dimension—that immigration was a big problem that needs fixing. Once he agreed with voters on an emotional level, he was free to tweak the details of his policies, and people followed him.

Whenever there is mass confusion and complexity, people automatically gravitate to the strongest, most confident voice. We humans don’t like uncertainty, so we are attracted to those who offer clarity and simple answers, even if the answers are wrong or incomplete.

Trump used his mastery of the news cycle to create the impression that he was the most important person running for president, even if you hated him.

If you are trying to get a decision from someone who is on the fence but leaning in your direction, try a “fake because” to give them “permission” to agree with you. The reason you offer doesn’t need to be a good one. Any “fake because” will work when people are looking for a reason to move your way.

Another important book I read was Amanda Carpenter’s Gaslighting America: Why We Love It When Trump Lies to Us. She shows a pattern of behavior that we can use to trace back through many of the big media events mediated by the President’s Twitter account and see the gaslighting at work. She herself was gaslighted by the campaign while live on CNN as one of Ted Cruz’s supposed extramarital affairs.

The benefit of embracing the lie ultimately outweighs the sacrifice required to cling to the truth. Sometimes, more often than we’d like to admit, lies are easier to believe than the truth. Especially in politics.

He learned that people actually love it when he lies. He loves it because he gets stories about his prowess—whether it be sexual, business, or political—in the press. The media loves it because it keeps people reading the papers, watching their shows, and clicking their links. And his enemies love it because they keep thinking that this time will really, finally, truly be the time Trump does himself in with his jaw-dropping yarns. We’re all suckers.

Questioning everything is exhausting.

You may hate his lies, but Trump sells them with unshakable confidence. He forces us to pay attention. Trump even keeps those who don’t believe, as he has said, “in suspense.” We are a captive audience, living in constant anticipation of his next move.

You see, when Trump is gaslighting, he rarely tells an outright lie. When pressed, he avoids specifics but keeps everyone chattering away with speculation on the topic.

This is the pattern Carpenter observes:

STAKE A CLAIM: Trump finds a political issue or action that competitors are unwilling to adopt and that will ensure a media frenzy. Such as: “President Obama is not a U.S. citizen.”
ADVANCE AND DENY: Trump casts the issue into the public realm without taking direct responsibility. He does this by raising questions about or discussing what other people are saying, reporting, or thinking. Tabloids, YouTube videos, tweets from unknown origins, and unverifiable Internet news stories are often used as sources.
CREATE SUSPENSE: He says evidence is forthcoming that will soon get to the truth of the matter. Trump can remain in this mode for weeks, months, or even years.
DISCREDIT THE OPPONENT: If critics gain traction, Trump attacks their motives and personal character.
WIN: Trump declares victory, no matter the circumstances. This step usually takes a long time to reveal itself, and Trump will often engage it when he is ready to drop the matter.

Can either one of them actually prove they are right? No. They can’t. This is an important point. And neither can I. And in some sort of super sick and weird way, that is precisely the point.

That’s the allure of this situation. People are super convinced that Trump is a liar and the worst scum of the earth or the most hard-working, accomplished president. Disgusting or hero. Satan or Messiah. Either he is complete trash or the King set in place by the Lord God Almighty. That’s the polarization we go through. And the thing is that somehow, as I’ve said before, if you squint your eyes and tilt your head 72 degrees counterclockwise… Confirmation bias abounds.

But either way, we follow his agenda. He controls us. We talk about what he wants us to be talking about. I find it absolutely fascinating, like a sociological experiment at a massive scale, that Democrats cannot make any headway with their agenda but are constantly responding to Trump’s tweets. Tantrums. Whatever you call them. And the Republicans have given over their platform entirely over to the President at the price of some judges, a couple of justices, and who knows what else. Trump wins. The media loves it because it fuels our interest in them through this. And don’t think I mean just CNN or Fox. There are all sorts of other opportunists there ready to capitalize in our ever-thirsty desire to engage with the crazy! It is obvious that the massive amount of content produced by trolls and bots is shaping discourse—I doubt people had a ready copy of Bill Clinton’s picture while he was holding a Bible back in the day. Some of the phrasing in what I see in people’s feeds, I know did not originate with them. It came from elsewhere.

We are facing a battle of manipulation. And we are at the center of it. And we love it! But nobody is actually talking about what we need to do to truly move forward. And that is because we are all still too enamored with our flesh.

I don’t think Trump is a master persuader, I believe he is.

What? Precisely that. It’s a walking contradiction wrapped in an enigma. I don’t think he is smart enough or wise enough to the degree Adams gives to him. I don’t think that there is a master plan, or even a plan. But because I know how big of a sinner I am (iOS keeps autocorrecting that to winner), I know he is a master persuader because these things work. I know this stuff works on us because we, like Trump, care about ourselves the most. I find it is entirely plausible to assert that he doesn’t care about you, your faith, your religious freedom, aborted children, the second amendment, your convictions, Covid-19, Dr. Fauci, international relations, the national debt, the future of the Supreme Court, police abuses, racial tensions, polarization. He does not. He cares about himself, and that is why he takes an interest in whatever will allow him to remain seated behind the Resolute Desk, much like you or I do. He is a master persuader because the feeding of his ego demands it. And face it, facts don’t come close to changing anyone’s mind. The most frustrating job in America is to be a fact checker for Trump’s speeches. Probably the second most frustrating job is to be the one transcribing the speeches. Have you seen the poor fact checkers on TV? They are desperate to change your mind by showing you evidence.

It doesn’t work. We are facing a master provocateur, and that has unfortunately come at a time when our sin leaves us lacking critical strength not just in the area of discernment but in the area of foresight.

While we are distracted, a massive number of forces are in conflict. What is the point of taking your time to read this? There is more at play than BLM, the Coronavirus, the November election.

Cancel culture is choking us to death. We do not live as if redemption existed. We cannot possibly see how redemption is possible for someone like Trump or any of his favorite enemies of the day.

But there is redemption, and we need it. We must recognize first and daily our continued need for redemption and salvation. And that will be the only way out of cancel culture. Why share segments from the Scott Adams and Amanda Carpenter books? Because seeing is helpful. Because seeing how much we don’t see if helpful. But most importantly:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:15-17 ESV)

You, too, dear traveler, can be redeemed, forgiven, and saved. And so can even Donald Trump. Our problem is the same. The solution is the same—the real Messiah, Jesus Christ.

On the Day My Daughter and I…

Victor Chininin Buele

Shortly after moving to Johnson County, Kansas, it became clear to us that our phones were not working very well.  In the process of figuring this out, one day my daughter and I walked into a very special place.

I very soon realized I must not have looked like I fit there because nobody said hello or helped me.  My daughter and I left without buying a phone from such a slick place.  I realized what may have happened.  I was wearing a Mexican soccer jersey and old jean shorts.  She was wearing play clothes and non-matching shoes.  Her hair was unkept.

When I came to the United States, almost twenty years ago, I made two “promises” to myself in an attempt to survive the cultural change: (1) I was never going to allow myself to be homesick, and (2) I was never going to allow myself to participate in self-racisim.

You can see my delusion of godness there thinking I had more control over things than I did in reality.

Addressing homesickness came because I observed these big plans of my fellow Lojanos to go to big places, but very shortly thereafter, I would see them back in the streets of Loja with dreams unfulfilled.  My 17-year-old self was too proud, too selfish, and the wrong kind of ambitious to desire against all obstacles to avoid going back to Loja.  But what about the self-racism promise?

My 17-year-old self developed this theory that it takes two to tango.  If I would refuse to see myself as fundamentally different than the rest of the U.S. population, no matter what other people would think about me, I would not be contributing to the development, brooding, and systematization of racism.

In other words, I banked the foundation of my survival in America in this–that a white person may choose to look at me as whatever they would want to look at me, but I would not reciprocate that by acknowledging it, fearing it, acting differently because of it, living up to any stereotypes, or changing my plans because of what they may say, think, or do.  In other words, this was self-esteem on steroids.

And as one of the very, very, very few Hispanics in Nodaway County, Missouri, back then, there were far more than a handful of interesting encounters that would have crushed my soul had I not had this front up the whole time. And wearing this mask was exhausting, I must confess.

Yet, none of these encounters threatened my life. They are actually pretty comical in retrospective. Beside the usual high school mockery and sidelining, a few strange questions about whether we have cars in Ecuador, a date asking me if Ecuador was in Texas, none of these things put my life in danger.

Most of my life in the United States I have lived as a coconut, which is how they would call it in that Netflix show Gentified. Brown in the outside. White in the inside. And in God’s kindness of His providence to me, He has shown me a glimpse of another world I had always succeeded in avoiding. White/brown relations were always very simple for me because I‘ve had the means to live mostly as a white person. There are only a couple of places where I’ve really felt out of place–Monroe County, Illinois, and Johnson County, Kansas.

Yet, in the last four years, a number of strange incidents have continued to occur where I’ve been seen and treated differently. And also, in God’s kind providence, we have discovered the joys and challenges of gathering with the saints in a Spanish speaking immigrant church. We’ve edged towards a different circle of influence, and we’ve felt and seen different things than before.

I was only partly right as a teenager, imagine that—yes, I can compound the problem by responding to racism, which is a real problem, and to systemic inequality, which is a real thing, by making my identity largely a response to real and perceived racism. My identity is not founded in this, and it cannot be. If it were, it would be soul crushing. What I did not account for and what I was largely blind to as a result of living in different socioeconomic circles than the majority of Latinos is that racism dos remain a big sin in our country, a very real struggle, and a foundational roadblock for peace. And the King of Kings specializes in the solution for this sort of thing.

Donald Trump did not create racism. He is an opportunist who has leveraged sin in people’s hearts to rise to power and try to hold on to it. That’s what he does. And it is vile. But if we didn’t love it, if we didn’t desire that sin, we would not fall for it. The racism in our hearts must be put to death.

We have to deal with our sin.

There is no other way. We can keep putting it off and only make it worse. It’s time to wake up and really get woke. Not as the popular use of such a term but as in “I have my eyes open, what must I do to be awakened to this? What must I do to be saved?”

First Peter 2:11: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” We wouldn’t be racists is we didn’t have this passion inside our flesh for it. We wouldn’t be entitled looters if we didn’t have this passion for entitlement inside our flesh for it. If we don’t love it, we don’t fall for it.

We have to face the evil desires within ourselves. We must put that sin to death. We, minorities, must destroy the sin within our hearts. The traditionally not thought of as minorities who are becoming the minority, must destroy the sin within their hearts. We are both a very entitled people. We demand to have. We are envious. We hold grudges and are not quick to repent. We loot and set things on fire. We play the victim. We oppress, we abuse, we victimize. We do not foster opportunities for true advancement of those who don’t look like us. We do not make it a point to actually incarnate, to pitch a tent and live among those who do not look like us. We do not make any efforts to truly understand those who are different than us: What is their plight, what is their sorrow, what is their joy?

In short, by becoming more like the King of Kings, Jesus Christ, we can put to death these sins that are destroying us. This is not a mere call to “act like a Christian” or to “do Christian things.” The gospel is not about mere behavioral change, but it is about a radical transformation of the heart that only God can bring about. A man being turned into the image of Christ will be made more and more like Him every day—every day the sin within the heart that leads to murder, to abuse, to looting, to rage will be put to death a little bit more.

It is time to seek the Lord while He may be found and heal this land.

There is no other way. We keep trying what looks like other paths. And here we are again, it’s not even June of 2020, and the sad story repeats itself. George Floyd is the name today. Will you wait until it is your name to turn and seek Christ?

On Sheep and Mediators

Victor Chininin Buele 

What a season! One of the first things I ran into today was a man saying on Instagram that he wasn’t a [you can imagine what wonderful expletive was use]ing sheep.

But I am a sheep, I said to myself. I am. And so are you, “Costco Kevin.” And so is Tison.

Why should you consider what I am sharing with you? I have seen a further escalation of our polarization—new adjectives we can use to distinguish ourselves from others, I should say.  “Mask wearers” are sheep, I’ve read, since I must highlight that we don’t actually talk to one another like this. We let memes do the work. It is easier.

Living in a pluralistic society is very difficult. We have been pretending for quite some time that it isn’t, but it is. It requires listening, speaking civilly, articulating our ideas clearly, having grace when we and others aren’t clear, patience when trying to express ourselves again, grace to overlook minor offenses, and a ton of other things we do not have time to address. It requires humility, and that is not our strongest gifting in America.

On the last post, I was saying, in Spanish, that moments like this novel coronavirus pandemic crisis reveal our faith and by revealing it, this crisis clarifies the definition of our generation’s faith.  It’s not that we don’t have faith.  We have just as much faith as Fundamentalists of old or as the sun worshipers of the ancient Incan empire. We are sheep.

Our cultural faith is a very deep faith in ourselves. And that’s backfiring bigly. Or should we say big league? I am not sure anybody can agree to what it is that the President actually says anyway.  And that’s part of the point. In the post I said that we have a tendency to make an omelet with our faith. But that doesn’t translate super well. The best analogy I can find in English is a steamroller. We want a steamroller faith.

We have a profound faith in ourselves. Blind faith. Unquestionable faith. Unshakable faith. A steamroller faith. We can and will get through this.

Sometimes we hide this faith of ours in Christianity, secularism, atheism, conservative values, morality, equality,  public opinion polls, liberal values, rights. You get the point. What I’m saying is that the collective American faith is out, exposed and in shambles. We are most definitely not watching after each other. From the man behind the resolute desk watching out for his reelection to my procrastination to write this because I after all do care inordinately about what you think about me, we are all watching after ourselves. We are insufficient for this thing. We are sheep, and we keep shouting at others that we aren’t. We want what we want. We want to not wear masks. We want to wear masks. We want to be free. We want to be healthy. But before we get too far, I do see glimpses of hope here and there of some who are showing a disposition to think of others first, to think of others as more significant than themselves as Paul exhorts us to do in Philippians 2 based on the example of Jesus.

I am frankly amused that a public health matter has taken such tones. My musical brain takes me to the wonderful seats of Powell Hall in St. Louis, remembering the STL Symphony and the choir singing from Handel’s Messiah that we like sheep have gone astray, which is nothing more than Isaiah 53 put to song:

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6 ESV).

We are sheep. It is not a pleasant description. I think it’s good that it offends people because we need to understand that Holy Scripture does not show us in a very favorable light with such an accurate and appropriate description. Yes, we are also made in the image of God and are privileged with great worth and value because of that kind gift bestowed to us. But sheep are dumb, they follow the crowd, they do not think, their vision is fascinating and powerful yet they miss what’s right in front of their noses, they lack depth perception. Sheep are easily led astray by wolves. It matters infinitely if the sheep is being watched by a shepherd or by a thief:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. – John 10:1-15

Sheep find it easy to make mediators for themselves to hide the difficulty of life.  Don’t. Don’t swallow whole what your mediator of choice gives to you.  The research on masks is not straightforward, the research on COVID-19 is all over the place, government officers have been tripping all over it and making contradicting and contradictory claims and decisions. We simply don’t know. It may be that wearing a mask is a greater danger than not wearing it. Perhaps, perhaps not. I have followed the evidence closely from many sources, not just from a central mediator. I have made choices for my family and for myself. I trust in God and in His wisdom. Some Christians will think I am living in fear. Some Christians will think I am too liberal or too lose.

We want to have somebody to tell us what to do and to have that match perfectly with what we want to do. That is what going astray like sheep means.

It matters infinitely who our shepherd is. All man shepherds will ultimately fail us. Trump, scientists, pastors, talking heads, politicians, governors, the media, those who say not to be the media but are, WND, CNN, Fox.  They will all fail us.

Here is what I long for. I long for the gospel to sweep over our sick land and give us a renewal, a fresh start, the end of our sad divisions. That those who have found a love for life and a desire to defend life will let that go all the way to all it’s necessary implications even if they require a death—the death of their own self-interest. That those who have found a love for what is thought of by them as holiness but is really self-righteousness will let that go all the way and let Christ transform them with a profound sense of compassion of tireless dedication to love others well, to truly love them. That those who have a passion for freedom would work and pray ceaselessly for true freedom to be found in Jesus for themselves and those they long to make free.

There is a kingdom that cannot be shaken. We can either waste this pandemic fighting over masks and rights and shooting and shouting at each other, or we can surrender, pick up our cross, and seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and find true joy, a joy that does not require mediators through faith in a Shepherd that will never let us down and will truly protect us whether COVID-19 kills us or not, whether it came from a bat or from a lab, whether we see our false dilemmas and faulty logic or not, whether we look like we are right or not. In the end, we can know the One who is Right

It is grace. Turn your eyes to the Shepherd.

Judging the Judge

Victor Chininin Buele

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the other end of this big mess. And you have sat in the seat–you have judged the judge, now an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Since I suspect it will take you no time whatsoever to revert back to saying it’s not cool or acceptable to judge, a few words are important to consider.

Why Do You Care So Much?

When allegations like the ones we have heard take place, and when issues that are at the foundation of the religious soul of America (whether the religion of secularism or any other) are brought up, the soul cries out for the truth.  Not just for “her truth” or “his truth” or “my truth” or “your truth.”  When it truly matters, such as in times like today, we can smell the fake from a mile away, and I’m not talking about President Trump’s fake fake.  Deep inside, we know that there is an objective truth, an absolute truth, and our soul won’t rest until the truth is found.

You and I, common folks, will probably never know what actually happened.  But something did happen.

And it bothers us.

Why Is It That You Want So Badly to Protest?

Augustine is famous for having said that our souls are restless until they find rest in God.  We live in a free nation where it’s entirely acceptable for you to exercise your freedom to proclaim that there is no God, that the God of the Bible is a figment of my imagination, or that you can’t quite figure out whether there is a God or not.  We always got along just fine.  But now, people are no longer just disagreeing with one another.  Now, there is an assumption placed on the other person.  And it’s a most terrifying one: I disagree with you, and you are, quite frankly, the scum of the earth, the worst human to ever have lived.  If you believe the opposite I believe about abortion, well, you just want to kill millions of women… If you don’t agree with the same set of moral imperatives we want you to affirm, well, then you are just hateful and should lose everything you’ve got unless you reform, of course.  We no longer listen to understand.  We just want our turn to shout louder.

We want to protest because as the apostle Paul says, we groan inwardly for redemption.  This whole circus went terribly bad.  It was horrible for Dr. Ford.  It was horrible for Justice Kavanaugh.  It is probably fair to say that many were auditioning for their next seat of power in the future, whether dog catcher, senator, aspiring White House occupant, or whatever.

You are mad. I understand.  And you should stay mad.

Why Do I Want You To Stay Mad?

I want you to stay mad because pretty soon, you’ll return to your old ways.  You’ll go back to your echo chamber.  You’ll get distracted with the noise and the sound of the things you use to silence your conscience.

You are desperately broken.  You are mad quite possibly because you’ve been where Dr. Ford reports to have been.  You are mad quite possibly because the thought of you or one of your daughters being in the place where Dr. Ford reports to have been is quite frankly a major source of fear and despair.  You are mad quite possibly because you’ve been the one who has afflicted this kind of pain upon somebody.  You are mad quite possibly because deep down you know that to a lesser degree you are guilty of at least one of the things that have been thrown out there.

But you may also say you are a righteous person, a good human being, trying your best.  And this just shows you the futility of it all, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” said the old writer of Ecclesiastes giving words to your more modern “WTF?”

We Groan.  The Judge Groaned to Death.

So, we are groaning, regardless of your camp. Whether you are willing to camp outside of the Supreme Court crying out for abortion rights to remain or whether you are quietly contemplating how badly this whole thing went.  Whether you are ashamed that this happened or whether you are secretly sighing in relief.  Whether you think this is the biggest victory for the “conservative pro-life” or the destruction of that.

We are groaning.  How does this get any better?

Our legal system is based on the fundamental principle of the assumption of innocence unless somebody is found guilty.  That is a system of grace, of unmerited grace.  The criminal, the terrorist, the rapist, the man who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, the serial killer, the scapegoat, the innocent man, they all share this–we cannot call you a criminal, a terrorist, a rapist, etc., unless we have proven that beyond reasonable doubt.  That means that sometimes people get away with something…

And here is where I bring you to the gospel.

You are mad because Kavanaugh got away with something.

You are mad because the Democrats got away with something.

I honestly do not know which way it is.  And I’m not going to tell you which side is more persuasive to me because that’s beside the point I’m trying to make.

You get away with sin every day of your life and still live!

We are singing a song at church tomorrow that goes like this:

All who strayed and walked away
Unspeakable things you’ve done
Fix your eyes on the mountain
Let the past be dead and gone
Come all saints and sinners
You can’t outrun God
Whatever you’ve done can’t overcome
The power of the blood
We have all gone astray.  There is not one of us who can stand when we are placed in the  seat waiting our judgment.  And our Judge is more righteous than Chairman Grassley.  We have all sinned.  And we groan because our conscience bears witness of this, and we do not have peace.  We self-medicate.  We occupy ourselves with things to take our minds away from this.  We groan because the stain is deep and obvious, and we want to hide it.  We carry this scarlet letter in our robes, and we try everything possible from Chanel to Walmart’s George brand to try to cover it up.
Our legal system in the United States confronts us with grace.  If God calls the person who’s wronged you the deepest to Himself, and he comes in repentance to ask your forgiveness, would you give it? Can we imagine a redeemed Donald Trump sitting next to a redeemed Brett Kavanaugh sitting next to a redeemed Dr. Ford sitting next to a redeemed me?  The gospel is that powerful!  Paul closes his epistle to the Philippians in a most interesting way: [22] All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.[23] The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. (Philippians 4:22–23 ESV)

Got that?  Let me write it in modern English.  “All the redeemed sinners of this part of the world known as the United States, made holy through the sacrifice of Christ, greet you, especially the Trumps and the Clintons.  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

God can change those who are the farthest from Him.

You know you fail the judgement.  Do you want to be free? Do you want to be clean?

This all bothers you because the thing that’s happened confronts you with the fact that you are guilty until made innocent.  And only Jesus can make you clean.  And that’s grace.  You will get away with it because Jesus didn’t.  He took it all–your worst filth, your worst sin–it was all nailed to His cross.

It can only happen when you take off your stained robes and take Christ’s as your own.

Turn to Him and be saved.  Don’t delay.

Fed Up With “Thoughts and Prayers”? I’m Glad!

Victor Chininin Buele

We develop these platitudes that mean nothing. Let’s be honest. We want to be nice or to comfort somebody, but we have no clue whatsoever about what we should say or do. It happens. We are fallen humans.

Every time a mass shooting has happened, I observe my friends growing more and more fed up with the standard “thoughts and prayer” response. You may assume that I would say that being fed up with that is wrong. I’m actually quite glad this is happening. But obviously, most likely this is not for the reasons you think. It is not wrong to see another mass shooting and say, “Hey, these ‘thoughts and prayers’ thing is a bill of goods.”

Thoughts. For many years now, Americans have lived this practical theology of wishful thinking, or the power of positive thinking. We have at the White House a representative of this. We’ve started to see the folly of this notion that we can wish things with our thinking. That if we speak positively into our life things will happen. That our words have power to create reality. You can see that because Trump says something is the largest inauguration crowd in history doesn’t change the fact that it wasn’t. We can’t change reality with our thoughts.  Three hundred million people thinking that massive shootings need to stop has not changed the reality that these things keep happening.  Thinking about something is not enough.

Prayers. This is a perfect storm. In our secularist society, it is intellectually suspect to think that God exists. Even if you do think that God exists, it is almost a necessary conclusion to think that he is useless and powerless or bad. Then, when this narrative comes back to the news cycle—people say that they pray, and the shootings keep happening—our suspicions appear to be confirmed. There is no God. Or prayers are useless. What a big effin’ waste of time.

—So, Mr. Theologian Aficionado, what are you trying to get at? That you also believe that God is puny? Are you ready to come to your senses and step into the light, forsaking your dogmatic infancy of believing in God at all?

Not at all.

I would instead ask you, “Can’t you see that we are getting closer and closer to the moment where prayer for national repentance is the only way forward?”

Allow me to explain myself.

There is another possible conclusion here. We are not thinking the right thoughts to prompt us to the right actions through righteous prayer. That would also explain why “thoughts and prayers” have not resulted in an end to mass shootings.

We think too highly of ourselves. An underlying assumption to all the discussion about mass shootings goes around the idea that if there were the right controls and legislation, shootings wouldn’t happen. Cain killed his brother with a very low tech weapon. It’s part of our fallen nature. Jesus said that it is not just murder that is sin, but that which is just as much murder as murder itself—anger. My “losing it” at a poor clerk who has to inform me that a flight has been cancelled is just as sinful as the grabbing of an automated weapon to murder her. Both are reprehensible in the sight of a holy God. We must, therefore, spend our lives working on ways to govern life in this fallen world as to preserve life knowing full well that no matter what degree of deterrents are put in place, we have murderous hearts inside of us. We quarrel and fight, and that in due time arises to murder.  Whether it’s flipping the middle finger at the guy who cut you off (perhaps by accident) or by pushing him off the bridge with your car. This does not mean that we should not pursue deterrents and that we should not have vigorous discussion about what deterrents have the potential to save the most lives. We just can’t leave the discussion at that, thinking that legislation can change the human heart.

We don’t really pray. When people say, “You are in my thoughts and prayers,” most likely they walk away and never pray for you. Why do I say that? Because I’m a judgmental jerk? Not entirely. Because I know my weakness. I have to have lists of things I’m praying for because otherwise I’ll forget about them. I’m a weak human with a weak mind. I need lots of reminders. My prayers are often derailed by the smallest distractions. And that’s for the stuff I’m aware I need to be praying for. I wasn’t praying for Broward County, Florida, yesterday, or the day before, or even when I was working in Ft. Lauderdale several years ago, or when I was driving around the county looking for a wheelchair for my grandmother. I’m not that good of a person. And I’m a finite person.

We have this “I’m in the doghouse, save me,” theology of prayer.  We pray when we are in trouble. We don’t seem to really be much for prayer when things are going well.  A few years ago, our van started shaking up to about 50 mph. I remember that I had never been more aware in my life about the wonder of God allowing such a machine to move one revolution of the tires. I remember the wonder of praying and giving thanks for every rotation of the tires. All of a sudden, every mile was filled with miracles. Were the miracles not there before? I was just foolish to suppress my acknowledgement of them and my thanksgiving for them. When my mechanic fixed it, it didn’t take long for things to go back to the way they were before. Soon enough I wasn’t thanking God for holding this thing together when performing miraculous trips down I-70. We must have a more expansive theology of prayer.

If we don’t get what we want, we conclude that prayer does not workWhat do you want? Do you want people to stop shooting others? I suspect yes. Have you given thanks for the family who welcomed this broken human being who held the gun in this incident? They welcomed this troubled young man after he lost even his mother. Have you considered praying for them? I can’t quite relate to the type of hurt they may be going through right now.  Do you want peace and harmony? Do you want safety? Do you want to be able to send your child to school and not feel like your treasure could be snatched away from you at any moment?

What do you want?

I want people to be convicted of their sin, to repent of it, and to turn to the Lord. We are all murderers, or do you presume to tell me that you have never sinned against anyone in your anger? I once had a terrible manager. This man was worse than the pointed-hair boss from Dilbert. My wife was in terrible pain, and he demanded that I be in his office immediately regardless of the difficult time we were going through. That day I had a clear choice. Would I look at this man and do what my flesh wanted? Would I murder this man in my heart and see my every subsequent day destroyed and tainted by my hatred and the grudges I was holding against him? Or would I pray for this man, as Jesus taught me to do? Would I pray for this man and bless him? Not just say a blessing upon him but actually bless him? Do my best work for him? Treat him with utmost respect? This changed my heart about him over time. I can look at him in the eye now and have no hatred of him. That was not ME, that was the work of God in me. Imagine the implications of national repentance! Imagine if our sad divisions do indeed cease. You are right about something, platitudes, empty thinking, and pretend prayers won’t get us there.  But prayers of repentance, prayers that push aside the sin that has eaten away so much good from our lives, families, homes, neighborhoods, schools, places of business, churches, cities, states…

I want people who seek God’s wisdom and guidance for all of life. What is God’s best for us to discern for how to best protect life this side of eternity? How do we genuinely care for those in the fringes? How do we care for those with depression and anxiety? How do we care for those who return from serving this nation with profound brokenness? How do we care for those struggling with mental illnesses? How do we care for the practical orphans raised in this culture of broken promises and broken families?

I want us to understand that there is a gospel that is more powerful than behavior modification.  If we seek to change our behavior, sooner or later we will crack, and our final lash will be worse than any of the little lashes.  Only the gospel has the power to arrest our mind, our soul, our heart, our lives, and to push us upward through the process.  Have you ever genuinely been in a true Christian community? If God has gifted you with that privilege you will know what I’m talking about.  There is a mingling of souls that could never come together apart from the Spirit of God rescuing them from their filth and binding them together into the image of Christ.

America, we can mourn together. We can grow together. We can understand one another. We can pray together. We can think together.

Think what you ask? “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8 ESV)

I’m glad you’re done with the platitude of “thoughts and prayers.”

Will you repent? Change has to start somewhere.  Let it start with you.

Donald Trump and the Salvation of the World

Victor Chininin Buele

This is not a pro-Trump article. I’m not a fan. This is not a “Trump is our Savior” article either.

I cannot properly describe 2017. It has been an emotional rollercoaster. To put it mildly.

But I can describe my excitement at seeing the world move forward in a number of very important and massive ways. A simple perusal of a year-end magazine retelling the headlines could, in your eyes, prove this excitement quite wrong. But bear with me.

Relative arguments are not so relative after all. For years, we have been indoctrinated and indoctrinating the world on the “fact” that there is no truth. Well, except the truth that there is no truth, if you follow that rabbit hole down its crazy path. For years, we have been saying that there is no normative standard of what is right and wrong. And then, Donald Trump comes into the picture and shows us all to have never been relativists at all. I have heard no one say credibly, “Donald Trump is right for them.” “Donald Trump’s actions are acceptable to him.” “Donald Trump’s ideas are true to them.” All arguments have been absolute.  The headlines speak loud and clear.

This is an apple, not a banana.  CNN has spent a significant amount of air time assuring us that facts matter. Thank you. Sincerely. I’ve been trying to do that for years. Facts matter. They have an ad that shows us an apple on the screen and tells us the ways people will try to persuade us that it is in reality a banana. (They even say banana in a very Trumpesque voice). Yet they’ll turn and righty honor as the Hero of the Year a wonderful person who works with those with Down syndrome.  The first line in CNN’s story? “‘My children are not broken,’ Amy Wright insists.” This is straight from the CNN site even as they in parallel radically voice opposition to legislation protecting the unborn with Down syndrome. Thanks to Donald Trump, people are now all of a sudden concerned about fact checking, even though they can’t quite always see their own redefinitions of facts.

We worship sex. It took an incredible amount of filth for people to start taking sexual abuse seriously. When a society makes sex its idol and defines the core of a human being’s identity the way sexuality is practiced, the metaphysical power of the sexual union is vilified and when that is lost, as it has in 21st century America, the beauty, wonder, and blessing of sex is tragically lost.  Thank you, Mr. President, for clearly highlighting to the world that the powerful have always abused the weak. So-called locker room talk included. Jesus said that all lewd locker room talk is adultery and worse even if it didn’t become physical abuse. I may be paraphrasing.

We seem to care about life after all.  We are now seeing the practical effects of Roe v. Wade. For decades now we have cheapened human life, and we have sold congressional seats, senate seats, even the presidency, to normalize, magnify, and exalt our national act of human sacrifice to the god of sex. If we are saying every day that a little girl is not a human being at all, why are we surprised when a grown woman is treated as a disposable artifact of personal use by the rich and powerful? We daily condone and affirm the less famous Matt Lauers who drop off their former objects of pleasure with a few hundred bucks to “get it taken care of.”

The love of money is the root of all evil.  We have seen a lot–cabinet secretaries abusing their power by using taxpayer money for what looked like extravagant trips, millions of taxpayer dollars used to secure the Winter White House and pay rent at Trump Tower for the Secret Service.  But if you are honest, aren’t you thankful that it’s at least clear now that money is indeed the root of all evil? The love of money is the appropriate label for things like not being transparent when it comes to taxes, the stretching of US law to maximize profit, the giving of what appears to many to be tax breaks only to the rich while eventually betraying the poor. It’s greed. The thing you hate in Trump is greed. And you hate it because you see its seedlings inside your own heart. Secretly perhaps you long to hear Trump say to you, “You all just got a lot richer.”

Humility wins every time.  Aren’t you a little Donald Trump as well?  Perhaps more cleaned up and respectable in the eyes of others. But don’t you see in you the same things you hate in him?  After all, in part that’s what got him elected. Don’t you love to “one up” people at parties? Don’t you embellish stories? Don’t you #humblebrag your life every time it’s possible? Don’t you loudly boast of your accomplishments to others? I’m convinced that the reason Trump’s ego and pride hit you so hard in the gut is because you know deep inside that you long for the humility of Jesus. And this is as far from that as you have ever imagined.

Bid Thou Our Sad Divisions Cease. For years, I have been on the receiving and the giving end of inequality. I became a US citizen just this year after a long story that included 15 days as an official undocumented immigrant thanks to the laziness of a lawyer and a very overwhelmed government system. I have been humiliated in interviews where I was assumed guilty of immigration fraud even though I have followed the law at every step of the way. I have also seen a generation of white Americans struggle with my mere presence and apparent success in this land. It hasn’t been pretty. But because of that ridiculous idea of the big, big wall, we at least are talking about it now. We weren’t before. For years, politicians hid the immigration challenges because it was politically and economically advantageous to ignore the problem. The dreamers didn’t become an issue during the Obama administration. This was brewing for a while. And we refused to listen. We are guilty, too.

We can’t keep riding on borrowed capital forever.  Of course I am not a proponent of the “America is a Christian nation” theology, but a significant bit of our public law and practice did originate with natural law and Christian theology (what has been called Judeo-Christian values) — in the embodiment of the joy of Christians by the power of the Holy Spirit into cultural artifacts, widespread blessing, lasting institutions, and orderly structures.  The appointment of insanity into such institutions and the ways that these systems have been tricked and abused has been another way in which President Trump has shown to us that the day of reckoning is going to come soon.  These cultural artifacts and governmental structures can’t really exist without the joy of Christ actually being present behind them.  If you don’t believe it, just wait until the victories that you think you have won are turned on you one day.  The oppressed always have a great temptation to become the oppressors of tomorrow.

So, we have much to be thankful for in this age of disarray.  Economically it may result in a massive success, “so much winning,” or it can be the biggest disaster yet, compounding our already dire and declining economy and society with crazy decisions and legislation. If the CBO estimates are right (which they often aren’t), we are in for quite a ride in 2018.  It could be worse than the estimates assume. It could be better.

Sure, the man Donald Trump is quite something.

But aren’t you as well?

The main question is, will you turn? Will you turn away from your sin and trust in Christ? Will you be in him? Will you receive the one who humbled himself to enter this earth to save you?

Surrender.  The best is yet to come.

The God of Life Overcomes All Evil

As we come to the close of the book of Genesis, we see all of the natural outworking of just about any family reunion: some descendants are blessed, others are rebuked, some family members meet for the very first time, and others confront one another under the weight of great interpersonal conflict.

That is all part of natural family interactions, but before leaving Canaan, Jacob/Israel received a visitation and blessing from the Lord.  “Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession,” God told him.  This is the same promise God made to Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Isaac – all of whom were sinners.

There are a few things you should remember when you evaluate all that takes place in the book of Genesis: First, God shaped the people He chose, He didn’t choose well-shaped people.  Second, He did it this way to show how utterly broken we humans are without the constant care and kingship of God.  And, finally, God is not defeated by the sins and failures of His people.  We don’t stain or tarnish God’s character or reputation in the same way you cannot stain a ray of light by flinging mud right at it.  God overcomes all of the evil this world spews forth.  In fact, it’s His very presence that allows us to recognize evil for the filth it is.

If this is the first time (or the first time in a long time) that you have read (and thought and fought) through Genesis, I hope you didn’t miss that God does not change or follow along with current trends.  His wants to see people blessed as they work purposefully and spread out to share that blessing with all the people of the earth.  God is the beginning, middle, and end of that mission.  All imaginings of a Utopia can’t hold a candle to God’s great and original command to “be fruitful and multiply.”

The God of Life is not outdated, cruel, or chauvinistic.  He is the only good God.  He is worthy today of all glory, honor, and praise.  He will come again as Judge.  My friend, I encourage you to turn yourself in and seek mercy now.  He is merciful, but He is not blind.  If you cling to evil, He will overcome you on that day, too.

The text referenced in this entry can be found in Genesis chapters 48-50.

The God of Life Enables And Requires Us to Forgive

Who has hurt you most?  Do you see him or her at home, work, or in the community?  Do you find that the very sight of this person sends you into a tailspin of revenge fantasies?  I will tell you that is a common response, but I will caution you that it is not a good response.  Many times people who hurt us are in some sort of authority over us, which is how they have the power to “get away with” hurting us.  Because of this, we might think that, if only we were able to gain authority over the one who caused us harm, we would have the opportunity to exact revenge – to make them pay.  Again, this is common, but this is not good – for you, actually.

I know of at least two people who were mistreated by people in authority over them, who suffered quite a bit because of the mistreatment, who were strongly tempted to exact revenge when the tables were turned, and who were given grace by God to fear God and to forgive those who did them harm.  The first person is named Joseph, and the other is me.  We’ll address Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers today, but if you want to hear my story, well, that will have to wait for another day.

Joseph’s brothers left him for dead in a pit, then sold him into slavery.  He later was falsely accused of rape and sent to prison.  When God prompted Pharaoh to pluck Joseph out of prison and set him as Governor over all of Egypt, he was overwhelmed with praise for God.  For a number of years, he enjoyed privileges that must have been hyperbolic relief from the previous decade plus of great difficulty.  Then, when the famine hit, Joseph began to receive desperate visitors who pleaded to buy grain for survival.  Imagine the moment when Joseph saw the faces of the very brothers who sold him into slavery appear before him, ready to beg.

We can imagine that Joseph was tempted to forget God’s continuous mercy to him and try to make his brothers pay for what they had done.  We see in the text that he spoke roughly to his brothers after he recognized them.  He certainly could have been “playing the part” as they did not know with whom they were dealing.  However, we later see that he accuses them of being spies and incarcerates them for three days.  His demeanor changes abruptly when he observes the brothers lamenting mournfully among themselves in their own language.  God softened Joseph’s heart, and he wept at their confession of guilt toward him.  He later secretly blessed his brothers by returning their money to them after granting them the food they requested.

All acts of kindness and mercy are powered by grace from God, not by the human heart.  The human heart cannot love the person who has harmed them, but God’s heart is different.  God is love.  God’s own Son, Jesus pleaded with the Father to forgive his murderers before they had even completed their violent act.  You can both be forgiven of your sins, and you can forgive those who have sinned against you, but this is only possible through the fear of Holy God who has the right to invoke wrath and yet continually shows patience and mercy to His people.

“When Jacob learned that there was grain for sale in Egypt, he said to his sons, ‘Why do you look at one another?’  And he said, ‘Behold, I have heard that there is grain for sale in Egypt.  Go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die.’  So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt.  But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with his brothers, for he feared that harm might happen to him.  Thus the sons of Israel came to buy among the others who came, for the famine was in the land of Canaan.

“Now Joseph was governor over the land.  He was the one who sold to all the people of the land.  And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground.  Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them.  ‘Where do you come from?’  he said.  They said, ‘From the land of Canaan, to buy food.’  And Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.  And Joseph remembered the dreams that he had dreamed of them.  And he said to them, ‘You are spies:  you have come to see the nakedness of the land.’  They said to him, ‘No, my lord, your servants have come to buy food.  We are all sons of one man.  We are honest me.  Your servants have never been spies.’

“He said to them, ‘No, it is the nakedness of the land that you have come to see.’  And they said, ‘We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan, and behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is no more.’  But Joseph said to them, ‘It is as I said to you.  You are spies.  By this you shall be tested: by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother comes here.  Send one of you, and let him bring your brother, while you remained confined that your works may be tested, whether there is truth in you.  Or else, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies.’  And he put them all together in custody for three days.

“On the third day Joseph said to them, ‘Do this and you will live, for I fear God: if you are honest men, let one of your brothers remain confined where you are in custody, and let the rest go and carry grain for the famine of your households, and bring your youngest brother to me.  So your words will be verified, and you shall not die.’  And they did so.  Then they said to one another, ‘In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen.  That is why this distress has come upon us.’  And Reuben answered them, ‘Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy?  But you did not listen.  So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.’ They did not know that Joseph understood them, for there was an interpreter between them.  Then he turned away from them and wept.  And he turned to them and spoke to them.  And he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes.  And Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, and to replace every man’s money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey.  This was done for them.” – Genesis 42:1-25

 

 

The God of Life is The Answer to Man’s Need

After Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, revealing a seven year period of abundance to be followed by another seven years of famine, he also advised Pharaoh how to navigate the coming devastation.  He directed the ruler of Egypt to appoint a manager over the whole land to prepare for the collections and distributions that would be required to survive the years to come.

This unsolicited, yet vital, counsel that Joseph offers is the last piece of the puzzle that brings to fruition the dream from Joseph’s youth.  The boy who told his brothers that he would one day rule over them, was about to do just that.  Pharaoh, upon hearing Joseph’s advice, realizes that a man in such a position would need to have the Spirit of God.  Since Pharaoh has never seen a more clear example of the work of the Spirit of God than the interaction he just had with Joseph, Pharaoh understood that Joseph was the man for the job.  With that, Joseph went from despised little brother, to slave, to prisoner, to Pharaoh’s right hand man.

I want to make sure you understand how that happened.  There are no bootstraps here.  This was not Joseph’s success.  God showered Joseph with grace in the midst of great trials, and it was God who led Joseph where he needed to be–who empowered him to face those challenges with peace and faithfulness.  While the world cries, “self-made-man,” Joseph knows he is God’s grace-carried man.  Are you being carried by grace or are you strangling yourself by trying to pull yourself up by the bootstraps?

“This proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants.  And Pharaoh said to his servants, ‘Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?’  Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning 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, ‘See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.'”  – Genesis 41:37-41

“Before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph.  Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore them to him.  Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh.  ‘For,’ he said, ‘God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.’  The name of the second he called Ephraim, ‘For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.'”  – Genesis 41:50-52

 

 

 

The God of Life Is Not Silent in Human Suffering

We’ve all surely heard it asked or asked it ourselves: “If God is good, why does He allow massive tragedies to happen?”  It’s a valid question, but it also misses the point.  Because we have already seen that the darkness of the sin in each human heart is brought about by disobedience to God, we know that sin (and pain and brokenness) are constantly present in this world.  We see heartache and it upsets us because we were made to enjoy rightness in the world.  However, the rebel soul wants to enjoy that rightness in all things without being subject to the King of Righteousness, Jesus.

So whether the question of God’s goodness arises from true curiosity or from a heart of resentment, the answer is the same.  God will allow the painful consequences of sin to affect us (some admittedly more than others), but we must remember three things.  First, God shows mercy, and we do not suffer all that we possibly could suffer.  When Pharaoh had the dream, God did not have to have Joseph on hand to give warning of the coming famine.  If he had dismissed the dream when his magicians couldn’t help him interpret it, he would have had no preparation for the massive loss of life to follow.  Did God prevent the famine?  No.  But he gave warning of it, and that was mercy.

Another thing to remember is that when we do suffer, we are being given the opportunity to see the big picture in a way we can’t when we coast along through life.  Crisis puts us on high alert, and that is what often saves our lives in an emergency.  What if the same is true of heartbreak putting us in a state of alertness to God that our souls might be saved?

Finally, God sometimes allows us to suffer great pain, but He never enjoys our pain.  That’s not the way God works.  God doesn’t create so that He can destroy.  Destruction is Satan’s area of expertise and delight.  If you or someone you know is suffering, God knows about it, and He is an ever-present help in times of need.  He takes no joy in either seeing His faithful persecuted or in seeing the fool persist in rebellion.

So if you want a new question to ponder, maybe it should be: Why does Satan insist on destroying everything that God creates as beautiful?

“After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing my the Nile, and behold, there came up out of the Nile seven cows attractive and plump, and they fed in the reed grass.  And behold, seven other cows, ugly and thin, came up out of the Nile after them, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile.  And the ugly, thin cows ate up the seven attractive, plump cows.  And Pharaoh awoke.  And he fell asleep and dreamed a second time.  And behold, 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, full ears.  And Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream.  So in the morning his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men.  Pharaoh told them  his dreams, but there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh.

“Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, ‘I remember my offenses today.  When Pharaoh was angry with his servants and put me and the chief baker in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, we dreamed on the same night, he and I , each having a dream with its own interpretation.  A young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard.  When we told him, he interpreted our dreams to us, giving an interpretation to each man according to his dream.  And as he interpreted to us, so it came about.  I was restored to my office, and the baker was hanged.’

“Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit.  And when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh.  and Pharaoh said to Joseph, I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it.  I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream, you can interpret it.’  Joseph answered Pharaoh, ‘It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.’  – Genesis 41:1-16

Pharaoh proceeds to retell the dream to Joseph.

“Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, ‘The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do.  the seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one.  The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears  blighted by the east wind are also seven years of famine.  It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do.  There will come seven years of great plenty through all the land of Egypt, but after them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt.  The famine will consume the land, and the plenty will be unknown in the land by reason of the famine that will follow, for it will be very severe.  And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God , and God will shortly bring it about.  Now therefore let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt.  Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plentiful years.  And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it.  That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.” – Genesis 41:25-36