Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Life's Roller Coaster

I am going to be a little off topic this week. We have pretty much put a bow on the the Heroes from the book of Genesis and next week we will start looking at how God turned a stuttering murderer with a recurring anger issue into one of the biggest heroes in the Christian faith. This week I want to briefly recount a story from this last weekend.

Last Friday I left work about an hour early and we got on the road for a special 6 hour trip to Georgia to take the kids for their first visit to Six Flags. It was my first visit in about 25 years.  I was looking forward to the trip like a little kid. I had some great times at Six Flags when I was a teenager and I was hoping to pass along some of that same fun to my little ones. It was a weird feeling walking through Six Flags as they had completely revamped most of the park since my teenage days, but still had some of my favorite rides. We all had a blast but I came to realize something about myself. Age has changed the way I experience things.

 I will not recap every ride and every event for the entire day; but I do want to share my particular experience. I take so much joy from watching my kids experiencing the thrills and fun that I couldn’t stop smiling on the inside. I love the unbridled joy they experience everything with. Watching their faces as they came off of the thrill rides really made my day. I love seeing them embracing their fun
Other than my sense of nostalgia and the joy of watching the kids; the other takeaway for me was the change in my own experiences on some of the rides. I loved roller coasters as a teenager. My all-time favorite ride was the Mind Bender. I loved the speed and the adrenaline. When we would arrive at Six Flags we would sprint to the biggest baddest rides and ride them as many times as possible. I remember the thrill of jumping off of the rides with my heart racing cheering for more.  I was sure it would feel the same this weekend as it did back then. Not so much!

Image result for mind bender six flags
We did run straight for the roller coasters and as we got on the first one I was surprised at my internal dialogue. I climbed into the car and I found myself checking the seat belt not once or even twice; but several times. As the coaster began it’s slow ascent up the first hill I wasn’t pumping my fist shouting yes! Yes! Yes!. In fact, I noticed myself actually with a pretty tight grip on the handle bar in front of me. I wasn’t cheering for the ride to start; I was trying to determine how long the ride might last. As we crested the first hill I actually felt a sense of dread.  Once the hills and tight turns began; I enjoyed the ride, but not like I did back then.

The somewhat sad thing is; after we got off the coaster, I was no longer looking forward to all the other coasters. I was not in a big hurry to jump right back in line. There was no overwhelming thrill of adrenaline coursing through my veins. All I was feeling was relief that I made it off the coaster alive, unharmed, and without embarrassing myself.  Throughout the day on coaster after coaster I experienced the same thing. Dread as the ride started and relief as the ride ended. I enjoyed every ride; but I wasn’t getting the thrill I was expecting.

Finally, it was time for the favorite of my youth. It was 8:30 at night and my brother and I had just sprinted across the park to make sure we didn’t miss the opportunity to ride The Mind Bender.  This was going to be different, this was going to help me rediscover the thrill I had been looking for all day. We got there and got right to the front of the line. We got in our car and to my dismay I didn’t feel excited; I felt anxious. I checked the safety bar multiple times. I stared at the 2 loops and helix that waited for me and I felt this stupid sense of dread. We began our initial slow ascent and I was having to give myself a pep talk. When we were just about to the top of the hill I told myself “This is your ride; stop being stupid and embrace it”

Then it happened! We dropped from the height and started toward the first loops and I screamed "Woo hoo!” As we were turning upside down I started laughing and screaming “Yeaaahhhhh!” The coaster finally screeched to a halt; my heart was racing I was finally feeling the exuberance I had been searching for.  We found ourselves as grownups, sprinting across the park like kids on our way to the next ride. I had spent the entire day giving in to fear and dread and I had not truly embraced the thrill of the ride.

It didn’t hit me right then, but as I thought more about it, I realized we do this too often in our lives. We get to be adults and we see every problem and we think about every negative outcome. Too many times we white knuckle the safety bar and pray for the ride to just end safely. When life throws us for a sharp turn or turns us upside down we can either close our eyes and put a death grip on the safety bar, or we can put our hands in the air and enjoy the ride.

For God gave us not a spirit of fearfulness; but of power and love and discipline. 2 Timothy 2:7

I realized that if we are going to make a difference in our world. If God is going to use us to our maximum potential, we have to put away the dread and know that God is in full control of the roller coaster ride of our life. A great roller coaster has to be engineered, designed and built by experts. Every twist, every turn, and every loop have to planned and precise. We may feel like we are in the middle of chaos; but in fact we are always on a precise track.

God has not given us a spirit of fear and The Bible cautions not to give in to anxiousness Let’s trust that God has the entire ride planned to perfection, raise our hands up, and enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

God's Plan is Bigger Than Joseph's

Over the last couple of weeks, the blog has taken a different turn as it has focused more on my own brokenness and problems I have been dealing with and less on our character studies of our Biblical heroes. I thank everyone who may be reading for bearing with me. My grandmother’s health is currently stable but we have a long arduous road ahead.
Getting back to form; let’s shift our focus back to studying Joseph.  Some of what follows will be a review from a couple of weeks ago. While Joseph’s story is remarkable, many of his struggles are the same things we deal with today.
Ever been at your lowest point, not real sure how to deal with your problems and some well-meaning Christian reminds you that it’s all part of God’s plan? Those words can bite. Why is it God’s plan for me to suffer? Why is God’s plan so painful? There is simply no way to see God’s plan in your current circumstances.
A few weeks ago as we looked at Joseph’s afflictions we were able to see God’s hand of provision there for him the entire time even when he probably felt like he was all alone.  As Joseph went from favorite son, to slave, to prisoner it was probably very difficult to even think that what was going on was all part of God’s plan.  God’s plan was bigger than Joseph and his current situation. Around 200 years before Joseph was born, God had already told his great grandpa what was going to happen.
“And God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve; and afterward they will come out with many possessions” Genesis 15:13-14.
God’s larger plan was probably the furthest thing from Joseph’s mind while he was in prison.   He was sitting in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. It had been 13 years since his brothers had sold him into slavery; I am sure the last thing he wanted to hear at the time was that it was “all part of God’s plan.”
Two years prior Pharaoh had thrown 2 of his officials; a cupbearer and a baker into the prison Joseph was in.  I imagine Pharaoh had a bad meal and became sick. He had to blame either his cupbearer who had allowed him to drink poison or the baker who had cooked him a bad meal.   Neither of the officials slept well that night and both had disturbing dreams. Joseph was able to help them both understand their dreams. Joseph predicted that the baker would be put to death and the cupbearer would return to his job.  Again, using my imagination I can picture Pharaoh dealing with his food poisoning for a day or so than launching an investigation to figure out which one of his servant had tried to kill him.  I would love to see a special CSI: Ancient Egypt to see exactly what processes he used to finally determine the baker was guilty. Whatever the process, Joseph had interpreted the dream correctly, the baker was dead and the cupbearer was back on the job tasting pharaoh’s drinks.  Joseph did ask one favor in return from the cupbearer:
14 But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. 15 I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.’ Genesis 40:14-15
Despite Joseph being completely right about his fate, the cupbearer forgot about Joseph. He left him them to languish for 2 more years.  Finally, one night Pharaoh had 2 dreams that disturbed him greatly. He called for all of his magicians to help him interpret the dreams. Keep in mind we aren’t talking about Chris Angel type magicians; these were highly intelligent people who were trained in magic arts of the day but also were trained in dream interpretation. They likely had interpreted many dreams for Pharaoh.   They were completely stumped this time though.  It was then, after watching all the wise men fail and watching Pharaoh grow more and more uneasy that the cupbearer finally remembered Joseph. 
Now 30 years old with nearly half his life spent as a slave and a prisoner Joseph was getting called before Pharaoh.  I am sure I would have wanted to take this opportunity to plead my case before the ruler of the land. Let him know my circumstances. Or at least bargain with him; “Sure, I can interpret your dream, but in exchange I want my freedom.” Joseph didn’t do either of those things; in fact, he humbly interpreted the dreams, letting Pharaoh know that Egypt and the entire region could expect seven years of great prosperity followed by seven years of extreme famine.  Joseph didn’t stop just with the interpretation though; he also laid out a plan for Pharaoh.
33 ‘And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. 35 They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. 36 This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.’ Genesis 41: 33-36
The king liked the plan so much that he immediately implemented it, and chose Joseph to be the “discerning and wise man” in charge.  Pharaoh gave Joseph an Egyptian name and an Egyptian bride. He clothed him in the clothing of an Egyptian ruler and had him adorned with fine jewelry. Joseph even rode around in Pharaoh’s chariots.  He was kind of a big deal.  
The prosperous years were great! Joseph implemented his plan and the Egyptians looked like serious doomsday preppers, they put away some serious stores of food getting ready for the hard times that were to come.  When the hard times started Egypt was ready, but much of the neighboring region was not. This leads us to Joseph finally being reunited with his brothers.
 The famine had gotten bad in Canaan; Jacob and his family were feeling the effects. Word got around that there was grain to be bought in Egypt and Jacob’s boys went to go buy some. They had left their youngest brother Benjamin at home to take care of their now elderly father.  There were people there from all over the region each having to see the Viceroy (or Governor) of the land to make their purchase. That Viceroy was Joseph.
This is where the story gets intriguing to me. Here stood ten of Joseph’s brothers waiting in line to buy food from him, he recognized them immediately. These are the same brothers who had sold him into slavery a few years prior. Whether it was because of the 22 years that had passed that had turned Joseph from a boy into a man, or whether it was the Egyptian garb he was wearing the brothers did not recognize him. 
I can only imagine Joseph’s thoughts. If it was me I would be thinking; what a great opportunity to get back at these jerks.   All the years of suffering Joseph had endured: the slavery, the imprisonment, being taken away from him home and his loved ones; now he was finally going to get his chance at revenge. He was governor over all of Egypt and these jerks were now in front of him wanting to buy food. He could trump up charges and have them thrown in jail. He could have them put to death.   Look at them, they didn’t even recognize him. They had probably forgotten all about him. They would remember him now.
When we feel like someone has wronged us and caused us pain it is easy to consider revenge. It is easier still to consider celebrating when bad things happen to them. We see from the next couple of chapters that Joseph struggles with this just like we do. 
Joseph did not speak directly to his brothers; he used an interpreter. He did not want to reveal himself. He accused them of being spies and put them in prison for three days. On the third day, he same to them with an ultimatum.
“I am a God-fearing man. If you do as I say, you will live. 19 If you really are honest men, choose one of your brothers to remain in prison. The rest of you may go home with grain for your starving families. 20 But you must bring your youngest brother back to me. This will prove that you are telling the truth, and you will not die.” Genesis 42: 18-20
The brothers decide to leave Simeon behind and take the grain and supplies back home. Scholars debate Joseph’s intentions here. Some suggest he is merely testing his brothers and means no harm to come to them.  While that may be the case, knowing their history, knowing what they already did to him, what confidence can he possibly have that they will come back for Simeon?  There is little in their history to think that other nine love Simeon enough to endanger Benjamin by bringing him back to the Viceroy. 
I wonder how Simeon must have felt being left behind. Wondering if he would rot in prison or be put to death; how much confidence could he really have in his brothers?
When they returned home and told their dad about the trip to Egypt and about having to leave Simeon behind, he was distraught. He was not in favor of sending them back for more food, especially with Benjamin.
38 But Jacob replied, “My son will not go down with you. His brother Joseph is dead, and he is all I have left. If anything should happen to him on your journey, you would send this grieving, white-haired man to his grave.[b]” Genesis 42:38
It wasn’t until the family was almost out of food that Jacob would even listen to an impassioned plea by Judah to go back to Egypt, get more food, oh yeah and rescue Simeon.  When the brothers finally arrived back in Egypt they were afraid. They didn’t know if they could trust the Viceroy.
I wonder if Joseph was surprised to see his brothers come back. I wonder if he was surprised their dad had let them bring Benjamin.  Joseph didn’t want to reveal himself, he wants to remain aloof; but seeing his brothers come back and seeing the baby brother he had never met caused him to really struggle with his emotions.
24 The manager then led the men into Joseph’s palace. He gave them water to wash their feet and provided food for their donkeys. 25 They were told they would be eating there, so they prepared their gifts for Joseph’s arrival at noon.
26 When Joseph came home, they gave him the gifts they had brought him, then bowed low to the ground before him. 27 After greeting them, he asked, “How is your father, the old man you spoke about? Is he still alive?”
28 “Yes,” they replied. “Our father, your servant, is alive and well.” And they bowed low again.
29 Then Joseph looked at his brother Benjamin, the son of his own mother. “Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about?” Joseph asked. “May God be gracious to you, my son.” 30 Then Joseph hurried from the room because he was overcome with emotion for his brother. He went into his private room, where he broke down and wept. 31 After washing his face, he came back out, keeping himself under control. Then he ordered, “Bring out the food!” Genesis 43: 24-31
Joseph has now seen his little brother for the first time. He has found out his father is still alive and he is setting to dine with all of his brothers for the first time in 22 years. What a swirl of emotions he must have had; but he couldn’t show any emotions at all. He couldn’t even sit and eat with his family because Egyptians viewed Hebrews as lower class than them. 
To me, Joseph’s next move was a bit curious. As his brothers were preparing to head back home with the food they had purchased; he had his servants hide his silver cup in Benjamin’s travel bag. After giving the brothers a head start he then sent his guards after them to arrest them for stealing his silver cup. After bringing the brothers back before Joseph he decreed that whoever stole the cup would have to stay with him as his slave.
I find this curious because I am not sure how Joseph thought this would play out or what he hoped he would accomplish. Was he has still harboring anger and resentment for his brothers and this was the set up for his final payback. Was he hoping they would sulk off and leave Benjamin there with him so he could get to know his brother? Did he think they would try to fight him? Did he think this would shame them and they wouldn’t come back to Egypt? Did he consider how this would affect his father? Did he think Holding Benjamin as his slave would get his Dad to come to Egypt for a big suspenseful reunion?
I don’t understand his motives, but I can’t imagine he fathomed what would happen next. Judah, the same brother that had sold him so many years ago, the same brother who had so little regard for anyone else was now passionately pleading for Benjamin’s life and safety over his own. His long plea ended with Judah offering himself as a slave instead.
33 “So please, my lord, let me stay here as a slave instead of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers.34 For how can I return to my father if the boy is not with me? I couldn’t bear to see the anguish this would cause my father!” Genesis 44: 33-34

This outpouring was more than Joseph could bear.  If he had a diabolical plan still in store for revenge on his jerk brothers watching Judah’s heart break in front of him had put it to rest. Judah was revealing his heart in a way Joseph couldn’t have imagined. 
I think Joseph knew God had a bigger plan the entire time, I believe in this moment he was finally sure of it. I believe that until this moment Joseph had doubts. He doubted he would ever see his family again. He doubted sometimes if God was there in his suffering. He questioned if God really had a bigger plan for him. I imagine he questioned right up to that moment what he would do to his brothers.  I firmly believe that in that moment Joseph’s doubts and questions ended. I believe he knew at that point that everything prior to that had been to prepare him to keep his family through the famine.  In that moment, Joseph understood that everything that had happened to him had all been ordained by God.

Joseph could stand it no longer. There were many people in the room, and he said to his attendants, “Out, all of you!” So he was alone with his brothers when he told them who he was. Then he broke down and wept. He wept so loudly the Egyptians could hear him, and word of it quickly carried to Pharaoh’s palace.
“I am Joseph!” he said to his brothers. “Is my father still alive?” But his brothers were speechless! They were stunned to realize that Joseph was standing there in front of them. “Please, come closer,” he said to them. So they came closer. And he said again, “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors.[a] So it was God who sent me here, not you!  Genesis 45: 1-8

The brothers would return to Canaan and bring their entire family back to live in Egypt even their dad, Jacob. Because of Joseph’s relationship with Pharaoh the family was given a prime spot to live and flourish in Egypt. They were safe from the famine and free to grow into the mighty nation God had promised they would be. God’s Plan was bigger than anyone could see.

Joseph didn’t want to hear about God’s plan when he was a slave or a prisoner. We don’t always want to hear about it when we are going through our tough times. His plan is always bigger and greater than we can possibly understand. Though Joseph finally grasped part of it, he still didn’t understand that his family would become slaves in Egypt. He didn’t know they would grow while serving in Egypt into a great nation. He didn’t know that one day through his family lineage a Savior would come and change our lives these thousands of years later.  Like Joseph it isn’t easy for us to see God in our current suffering, but it is important to know he is there and that he his plans are so much bigger than we could ever imagine.

The other lesson we can learn from Joseph in this encounter is about how to treat those who have wronged us. I have been wronged many times, but I have never been sold into slavery.  Joseph would have been totally justified in the modern eye to just totally go all savage on his brothers. If we were watching on TV we would even cheer for him as he trounced them.  We will never know where his plan was taking him; he may have trounced them and reveled in their destruction. Fortunately, God had worked in Judah’s heart and never allowed Joseph’s to grow hard. Instead of a great revenge story we get a great redemption and restoration story It is important that we have our hearts open to forgive our brothers and sisters too, no matter how difficult. No matter what others try to do to us; God’s plan is bigger.

20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. Genesis 50:20

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Thoughts During a Hotel Breakfast

I am typing this on my phone from the hotel breakfast bar,  so please forgive me if it's not as well edited as usual.  My editor and theological advisor are both in cabins in the woods leading the children of our church at summer camp.  I am very excited to hear all about their experiences. 

I worked part of the day yesterday than drove the 200 miles to Yazoo County to see my grandmother. I know for a fact I could not be an over the road truck driver,  I get bored and like to constantly have something to eat and drink at hand.  Anyway,  the trip was mostly uneventful,  which is always good.

When I got here my grandmother had been given some medicine to help her sleep.  Because I know she has a rough day ahead today I wanted to make sure she got some rest,  so I drove a mile up the road and checked into a hotel.  She is scheduled to have a heart cath this morning and I have to drive her from here to Jackson.  I am not sure how long she will be there or how she will react to the procedure,  but she is scared.  She has talked about her funeral more than once.  Please keep her in your prayers.

I still have not finished the next scheduled blog about Joseph.  I have just had too much else on my mind.  I do have another thought on my heart.  I want to share some thoughts on one of my favorite broken vessels.

I have focused a lot in this blog on God using those of us who are broken,  those of us who are flawed.  I talk a lot about redemption and a lot about grace. 

While grace is all powerful we can not see it as a free pass. Throughout the Gospel when Jesus would encounter sin he would forgive it; however he would also charge the sinner to "sin no more"

Our sins have consequences; they can hurt others and mostly they separate us from God. His forgiveness is always available to us, there is however a restorative process we go through.

Peter was a fisherman when Jesus called him to follow Him. Peter spent  the next several years by Jesus's side. He heard every lesson Jesus ever taught. He saw every miracle Jesus ever performed. He even walked on water with Jesus.

One of the reasons why Peter is one of my favorites is because despite how closely he was with Jesus he still never failed to show his human flaws. Moment after he's walking on water we see him fall under because he has a brief moment of doubt.

Even though he spent three years by Jesus's side the night they took Jesus to be tried and later crucified Peter denied knowing him. Peter didn't just deny him once he denied him three times and even cursed at the little girl asking him the question.

A lot of you already know Peter's failing did not disqualify him from future service. He went on to lead the early church gave an amazing message the first day of Pentecost that led thousands of people to follow Christ. However, Peter did not rise to become a church leader until after he had been forgiven in restored.

In John chapter 21 we see Peter and his crew had been out fishing when he a resurrected Jesus on the bank. When Peter finally and counters Jesus Jesus asks him three separate times "Peter do you love me"

Why did he ask him three times? Was it once for every time Peter had )my b n him?

My contention is this encounter these three questions were all part of Peters restoration. Peter had to come back under Jesus's Authority he had to acknowledge Him He had to confess his sins and he had to be restored if he was going to be a leader for Christ.

The amazing thing is Jesus's grace and Peter's  restoration was complete and completely free. The entire price had already been paid.  Christ's forgiveness is always there and easy to obtain.

The restoration can take a little longer,  it can be a process but it is a necessary encounter. We have to put Jesus back in authority of our lives and he will draw us ball to him.

Got to refill this tiny cup of hotel cofee and go do this medical transport.. maybe next week we will talk Joseph.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Unable to Focus

If you are a regular reader you know for the last several weeks I have tried to have a a regular blog post up early each Wednesday. This week I was not able to get that done. My intentions this week were to further discuss Joseph. I have written about a page and a half about his circumstances and was transitioning into explaining his reunion with his family and how he seemed to have to fight the urge to seek revenge. I was hoping to also going to point out how Joseph’s situation led directly to the fulfillment of one of God’s promises to Abraham a couple of hundred years earlier.

The problem is I am having a very difficult time focusing on the typical character study like we do each week. I have a lot of things pressing on my mind and my emotions that are really breaking my focus.   I mentioned last week that I had a pretty tough early childhood. This is not a subject I broach often. It’s not that I am embarrassed by it; I just have never wanted it to define me. So, it’s kind of a big deal for me to mention it again in this space.

When I was born my mom was only 17 years old. She was thrust into a position of trying to raise a kid, when she was still a kid. Her parents were over the road truck drivers and weren’t around a lot, so she was forced to try to be responsible not just for herself, but also for me. As you may already know, 17 year olds aren’t known for making the best decisions and my mom was no exception. From as long as I remember she had always battled addictions to alcohol and to narcotics. She also was diagnosed as manic depressive and battled that as well. She tried to do right in raising me and 2 of my brothers, but she never could seem to get out of her own way.

As a kid, it seemed whenever mom would fall my grandmother was there to pick up the pieces and try to make things whole. My grandmother has her own issues, but as a kid I couldn’t see those. I put her on a pedestal because she presented this image of stability to me that my mom never presented. She didn’t seem to struggle with addictions nor did she seem to struggle for money. I Could eat as much as I wanted at Grandma’s house because she always had plenty.  Looking back now I know some of my perceptions were faulty, but that’s the way I saw things as a kid.  In my eyes my grandmother was a somehow a beacon of strength when everything was chaos.

It’s been 10 years ago that my mom passed away. While we weren’t as close in the end as I wish we were, it still was a hard blow to take and it still hurts sometimes now when I think of her.  I still miss the good times and I admire that she always tried her best to overcome her demons. I wish she would have succeeded and my daughters could have gotten to know her. When she was clean and sober she was a remarkable woman she was smart, pretty, and very talented.

Over the last few years I have began to see my grandmother’s health deteriorate. I have seen her once sharp mind now fail her.  I have begun to notice her telling me the same things repeatedly. I also began to notice her stories were seeming to get more confused and the details were a little different each time.  It sometimes seemed like she was more ornery and cranky than she had been before. It was hard for me to accept that she wasn’t just getting older but that her mental health was starting to fail her.

Last fall I found out she had fallen victim to a sweepstakes scam that cost her and her thousands of dollars. Relunctantly I began to see more evidence that both mentally and physically she is simply unable to take care of herself. For months now My brothers and I have tried to convince her to move in with one of us or into an assisted living facility. For months she has found every reason to refuse.

She has been in a swing bed medical facility now for about 3 weeks. I have talked to her daily and I have talked to her nurses almost every other day. Her descriptions of what is going on have gotten more and more confusing. Finally this morning I got a call from her case manager at the facility telling me she isn’t showing the improvement that she needs to show to stay in the swing bed facility. She also confirmed what I already knew; that my grandmother can no longer take care of herself at home. What she needs is the level of care that can only be provided at a nursing home.

This is a tough pill to swallow. It’s going to be an even tougher pill to get this proud stubborn lady to swallow. I am dreading the next several weeks and months of trying to  help her get everything in order and get moved into a place she doesn’t want to move in to.  Emotionally I am already a wreck just thinking about what’s to come.  I know a nursing home is the only alternative that allows her to get the level of care she needs, I also know that she views a nursing home as a place to send old people to die alone. She views going to a nursing home as giving up.

I know none of this is why any of you read this blog, but I just can’t get my mind or my heart to focus on Joseph’s story right now.  The one thing I can take away from joseph is that no matter how bad things got as a slave or as a prisoner; he knew God was in control. That is a my biggest comfort to remember right now.

As we will continue to see once I pick Joseph’s story back up next week,  God’s plan is bigger and his grace is all we can ever need.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:6-7

Monday, June 27, 2016

It's Not Too Much for God to Handle

There is an old saying: God won't put more on you than you can handle. I have come to believe that's not necessarily true.  There is a lot of things that happen in our life that are probably too much for us to handle.

I think a better saying is that God won't put more on you than He can handle.  As stress and circumstances mount up, it's important that we not wallow in stress and anxiety but instead that we take all of our needs and all our our desires to God.

It is through Prayer that he will bring us peace that eases our hearts and our minds.

Philippians 4:6-7 is one of my favorite passages in the Bible and it's one I needed to be reminded of tonight. I have about a million things on my mind and I just need to remember it's not my job to stress out and try to solve all my problems. It is my job to pray and seek God's will.

Just thought I would share because maybe some of you need the same reminder that i did.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Finding God's Glory: Slave, Prisoner, Dreamer, Ruler

Sometimes God’s glory is easy to see. Sometimes we are sitting on top of the mountain watching the most breathtaking sunrise and the entire world is going our way. More often than that, we find ourselves mired in sin, suffering or other circumstances that make God’s glory seem miles away.  As we have progressed through our Biblical heroes we have seen a lot of sin but we have also seen God’s amazing, redemptive power still uses sinners for His glory.  This week’s story, the focus isn’t about sin as much as it is suffering and circumstance and how God’s grace and His glory are still there even in the midst of it all.

I have been asked to share my testimony before and I have always said it wasn’t remarkable. I was about 7 years old when I walked down the aisle of an old country Baptist church. I read John 3:16 and accepted Jesus as my savior.  So, if you fast forward 30 something years, I guess you would expect everything from that point on to have been all smiles with nothing but peace and prosperity. If that’s what you expect you would be wrong. My testimony doesn’t necessarily speak to salvation as it does to God’s protection and provision.  My parents were probably too young to have kids when I was born, both of them had addiction issues at the time and both would spend time behind bars. I was passed around from grandparents to aunts and uncles, returning to my mom’s care every time she would “get her life together”.   I didn’t really know my dad until I was older. I remember having no food in the house at all. I distinctly remember the beginning of the month when we would get our WIC basket with off brand cereal, some fine yellow cheese, powdered milk, and that disgusting generic peanut butter. I witnessed more domestic violence and substance abuse than any kid should have to witness.  I truly believe everyone involved in raising me did the best they could at the time; however through no real sin of my own and despite putting my trust in God at a young age I often times found it very hard to see His glory. 

As I begin preparing for this week’s post looking at Joseph, I started to wonder if, because of his circumstances, he too didn’t often find it difficult to see God’s glory.  In looking at Judah in a previous post I talked a little bit about Joseph’s story, but nowhere near enough to do it justice.  In today’s post we are going to discuss some key events and how God’s hand of providence was there even when Joseph felt like it was miles away.

As far as background, Joseph was Jacob’s 11th son and his first son with Rachel, the woman he really loved. All of his other children had been born to Rachel’s sister Leah or to one of his concubines. Because of his love for Rachel, and because he had waited so long for Joseph, Jacob preferred him to all of his brothers.   Jacob’s favoring of Joseph was not a secret; all of his brothers could see it.  Even though he was the youngest, scholars believe at the age of 17 he was already put in a position of authority over his brothers. His dad had also made him a special coat that wasn’t just fancy to look at but also was likely a symbol of the authority he had over his brothers. 

“Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them”. Genesis 37:2b

When the Bible mentioned that Jacob brought back a bad report about his brothers some people immediately think this is referring to some type of childish tattle telling.  More likely this is more of a supervisor reporting back to the “big boss” about workers who were not behaving as they should be. Perhaps Jacob had put Joseph in the authority role, but his older more experienced brothers didn’t respect him or recognize his authority.  In any case between knowing their dad favored Joseph, being put under his authority, having to look at his special coat their dad made for him, the animosity grew between all the brothers to the point that they didn’t even speak to Joseph.

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him. Genesis 37:3-4

Joseph didn’t ask his dad to love him more, he didn’t ask his brothers to hate him, but also didn’t help things either. I can see this 17 year old man-child relishing his role as favorite son. I can see him taking advantage of the authority he was given. His biggest issue though may have been he didn’t understand how much his brothers hated him.  Joseph had a dream, in the dream it indicated that he would reign over all of his brothers. Even after all the animosity was already present, Joseph excitedly shared his dream with them.

His brothers said to him, ‘Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?’ And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said. Genesis 37:8

Perhaps Joseph was young and naive and thought his brothers would be super excited about his dream, maybe he was an arrogant jerk who wanted to rub their noses in it, or perhaps he just had no concept of how much jealousy and resentment they had for him; either way, he shared not just the one dream, but also a second dream that included his parents bowing down to him as well. This dream was enough to not just get an angry response from his brothers but also a rebuke from his dad as well. 

The next time the brothers took the livestock to graze, Jacob sent Joseph to go check on them. As a kid I think I envisioned Joseph just kind of bounding up full of teenage energy just kind of wanting to hang out. In truth the brothers were close to 70 miles away from home and Joseph was most likely being sent as a supervisor to check on them. He was to make sure they were grazing the sheep the right way and that they weren’t misbehaving. As we noted in some previous posts, based on some of their actions, they probably needed someone to check on them; however they didn’t want it to be Joseph.

As they saw him approaching all their hatred boiled over; I am sure they thought “here comes daddy’s little boy in his fancy little jacket to tell us how to do our jobs.” As we discussed in Judah’s story, the brothers first wanted to kill Joseph but eventually decided to sell him into slavery instead.  So now Joseph is stripped of his special coat and of his position of authority; he is taken from the home where he is loved and now becomes someone else’s property. That must be a pretty hard place from which to see God’s glory.

The traders who bought Joseph took him on to Egypt where they sold him to one of Pharaoh’s officials where he had become a household servant. On a side note I have not found any accounts where slave traders or slave owners in that time treated their slaves with any type of kindness or dignity. 

God’s providence was still covering Joseph because he rose quickly to a place of trust in his Egyptian Master’s home. Joseph worked hard and took care of everything his master wanted him to take care of. The household flourished and the master gave Joseph more and more trust and responsibility.  Joseph had again ascended to a position of authority and even though he was now a slave, he was treated well and given dominion over the other slaves. That is until once again circumstances turned against him as his master’s wife began trying to seduce him.

Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’
But he refused. ‘With me in charge,’ he told her, ‘my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?’ 10 And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even to be with her.” Genesis 39: 6-10

Like with his brothers Joseph tried to do the best he could with the authority he had been given; but again things seemed to happen to him that he couldn’t prepare for. After rebuffing her advances many times Joseph again found himself alone with his Master’s wife. This time she was more persistent, insisting he go to bed with her right then. In a moment of panic, Joseph ran away; but he left his cloak behind.

One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. 12 She caught him by his cloak and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house Genesis 39: 11-12

I am sure there is probably some theological thought about him leaving his coat/cloak behind every time something bad happens, but I am not smart enough to know what it is.  Angered about being rebuffed yet again and probably scared that someone would find her with Joseph’s cloak, the Master’s wife began to scream that Joseph had raped her. She claimed that he had left his cloak behind when she started to scream and resist him. Of course this made the Egyptian master extremely angry. He had trusted Joseph with his household and now he is being told Joseph raped his wife.
Surely one of Pharaoh’s officials could have had Joseph put to death. He was nothing more than a Hebrew slave who had disrespected him and defiled his wife. Some scholars believe the Egyptians actually believed Joseph, others believe he was embarrassed by the entire situation. For whatever the reason instead of having Joseph killed he threw him in prison.

Now through no real fault of his own, Joseph has gone from the favorite son of a rich man in Canaan to a slave and now to a prisoner in an Egyptian prison. Again these are tough circumstances from which to see God’s glory and provision. Joseph remarkably still wasn’t broken; he continued to always do his best and continued to serve the God of his father.

But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21 the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22 So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. 23 The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did. Genesis 39:20-23

Joseph had once again made the most of his circumstances and had risen to a position of authority even amongst the prisoners.  Even being in a position of authority, he was still a foreigner in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, a place he wound up staying for many years. It must have been very difficult, but Joseph never lost sight of God’s glory and His provision, even though it would have been very easy to. 

While in prison, Joseph interpreted a dream from Pharaoh’s chief baker and his cupbearer. It was good news for the cupbearer, not so much for the baker.  The cupbearer promised Jacob he would remember him when he got out of jail, but he didn’t, not for another 2 years. Finally, when Pharaoh had a dream no one else could interpret, the cupbearer remembered Joseph.  After languishing in prison for many years, Joseph was called to interpret the dream.

So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh.
15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.’
16 ‘I cannot do it,’ Joseph replied to Pharaoh, ‘but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.’ Genesis 41:14-16

Joseph had not lost sight of God’s power and glory despite his circumstances. He was able to interpret Pharaoh’s dream and was not only granted his release from prison, but was also granted a position working as an official second only to Pharaoh himself.

39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40 You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.’ Genesis 41:39-40

This is a seminal moment in history for the Egyptians, and the Israelites. With Joseph having such a high position of power, he was eventually able to move his father and his brothers to Egypt. This was important for a few reasons. First it helped them survive the great famine that occurred at the time. Secondly because of their status as foreigners the Egyptians would not marry and procreate with the Israelites. This was important to help them build their faith in God and hopefully turn away from some of the behavior they had fallen into in their homeland. While living in Egypt, even though they eventually became servants Jacob’s family, the Israelites grew to be a mighty nation with a rich history and a deep culture. When Jacob and his family arrived in Egypt there were 70 in there party. A couple hundred years later the Bible says when the Israelites left Egyptian captivity there were more than 600,000.

Despite every negative circumstance, despite how easy it might have been to take his eyes off of God, Joseph was always under God’s grace and provision. When his brothers hated him, when he was a slave, when he was falsely accused of rape, and when he was a prisoner God was providing for him in ways he couldn’t even imagine.  In our lives we encounter so much hardship every day; it’s so easy to lose sight that God is still at work in our lives. It wasn’t easy for me to think God could use me when I was growing up as a poor son of an addicted mom and a broken family. It also isn’t easy to imagine He would want to use a slave that became a prisoner from a family that didn’t even want him.

He can use us regardless of our circumstances. His grace is always more than sufficient

Joseph dealt with a lot of circumstances but kept his eyes on God. We will look more at his life next week including how he sought to get a little payback at his jerky brothers.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Judah: Son, Brother, Father In Law

Our families are our first examples of how to live. They are our closest confidants and they can also be our greatest source of frustration. This has been true for as long as families have existed. Our families bring us so much joy, but also so much baggage. 

Over the last few weeks we have looked at the lives of some of the biggest heroes in the Bible. We have looked at the family that started with  Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob. Last week we looked at the failings of a few of Jacob's sons. Unfortunately this was the first time we have seen pride and lack of repentance get in the way of God using someone. This week we will be looking at another of Jacob's sons, Judah. 

Like  I have mentioned in previous posts, sometimes the stories in the Bible are a bit more lurid than we might expect. They are not as safe and sanitized as we might believe. Again this week, I will do everything  I can to make sure to keep this post family friendly, but I will not enhance or take away from the what the Bible has to say.

Judah's story can't be told without a little bleed over from some of his family's stories. Judah was Jacob's fourth son with Leah. His name meant praise and his birth seemed pivotal in the jealousy between the sister wives, Leah and Rachel. During his young life he would have witnessed the conflict and schemes between his dad and uncle, the hostility between his mom and stepmom/aunt, and I imagine he would have seen a lot dysfunction.   His three older brothers were all prone to rash decisions and violence and he had a younger brother, Joseph, who  his dad seemed to prefer over all the siblings. While Joseph is our primary subject next week; much of Judah's Story is wrapped up in Joseph's story as well, so we will be bumping into him a good bit throughout. 

Joseph was Jacob's first and at the time only son with his wife Rachel, who he truly loved.  He was favored by his dad and seemed to like to gloat about it. His dad even gave him a special coat that was multi colored. This didn't settle well with his brothers. At one point Joseph seems to relish in telling all of his brothers about  dream he had in which they were bowing down to him. Growing up with four younger brothers I can almost guarantee if the youngest would have told me about a dream of me bowing down to him he would have wound up with a wedgie or worse. In this case Joseph probably should have known his audience because he wound up with more than a wedgie!

The brothers felt like they had witnessed their dad favor Joseph long enough. They were tired of the little twerp walking around in his fancy multicolored coat and bragging about his dreams. So they decided to do something about it.  As we have already discussed the older brothers were hot heads and were not afraid to get blood on their hands. They were cool with going ahead and killing little Joseph.
[l]Here comes this dreamer! 20 Now then, come and let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; and we will say, ‘A wild beast devoured him.’ Then let us see what will become of his dreams!” Genesis 37:19-20.
Judah however thought of an even more sinister plan. A plan that would keep his hands clean, still get rid of his pesky little brother forever and put a little silver in his pocket. As some traders approached heading towards Egypt, Judah shared his plan.

  26 What profit will it be for us if we just kill our brother and conceal the crime? 27 Come on, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites instead. We won’t have to lay a hand on him then. He is, after all, our brother, our own flesh and blood. Genesis 37: 26-27
Judah convinced his brothers this was the plan to go with and just like that they sold Joseph into slavery for 20 pieces of silver. They also stripped him of his fancy coat, dipped it in goat's blood and took it back to their dad to trick him and tell him what a horrible death Joseph had suffered. 

Do we look at Judah here as a villain or a hero? In theory he saved his brother's life, but he only did it to keep his conscience clear and to make a profit. We know at this point Joseph was around 17, so we can imagine that Judah is likely in his early 30's.  It's hard to write this off as a stupid, youthful decision. Seems more like a calculated decision based on jealousy and greed. 

The questionable decisions for Judah don't stop there though. The next event is a little unsettling, but it's historically pivotal. Let's set the scene. A few years have past, Judah is now a successful shepherd who is married with 3 sons. He arranges a marriage for his oldest so, Er, to a young woman named Tamar.  All we know about Er is the Bible describes him as a "wretched human" and that God took his life. Not sure what that's all about but doesn't sound like Er was a good dude to hang out with.

Custom at the time, later becoming Mosaic law, was that if your brother had a wife and no children when he passed away it was your responsibility to marry his wife and provide a child. This was a custom that ensured the wife an inheritance and ensured your brother a legacy. With that in mind, after Er passed away Tamar had to marry Judah's next son Onan.  I don't know if Onan was greedy and didn't want to share his inheritance, if he didn't want to create a child that wouldn't be considered his,  or if he had some other issue, but when it came time for him to complete his husbandry duties...well, let's just go with the Biblical description and say he purposely "spilled his seed." This was a disrespectful act to his brother, his father, Tamar, and to local customs. The Bible said because of this, he died. 

So, now Tamar has lost 2 husbands and Judah has lost 2 sons. Judah's youngest son was too young to  marry and provide children so, Judah sent Tamar back to her hom until his son became old enough.  Judah let several years go by; He thought a lot about how both of his sons had died after marrying Tamar and begin to doubt whether he wanted to let her marry his third son. He had an obligation to Tamar. When he sent her home, he promised her he would send for her as soon as his son was old enough, but he didn't.  Judah decided he didn't want to risk his third son; to protect his son, he lied and deceived Tamar. 

A few years later, Judah's wife had passed away and he was traveling for business. He was feeling a bit lonely. Tamar had grown tired of waiting and wanted her rightful inheritance. She heard that Judah was traveling to the city for business and decided to take action. Tamar wore a veil and dressed like a prostitute and waited for Judah to show up.

It had been a long time since Judah had seen Tamar and apparently with the veil on he didn't recognize his daughter in law. He agreed to give her one of his finest goats for a night together. He didn't have the goat with him so he left his "lady of the night" with his staff and seal as identification and as a promise to pay.

Judah tried to send the goat back, but no one had every seen that particular prostitute before. So, Judah thought he had gotten his night of pleasure for free. Well, he had left behind his seal and staff, but those can be replaced.  As time went on, word got to Judah that his daughter in law was pregnant.  This was a huge problem, even though he hadn't done his part by sending his son to her, she had not done hers and stayed pure. Now she was carrying someone else's child. That's considered adultery and she should be put to death! Judah was outraged, he commanded that she be captured and burnt to death. 

Imagine Judah's surprise when Tamar presented the staff and seal of the man who had impregnated her. Here he was about to have his daughter in law put to death for a sin that he committed with her. There is a lot to wrap his brain around; he had deceived Tamar and never sent his youngest son, now she had deceived him and was carrying his child. Not only that, she had the proof of what he had done. With all the new information, Judah had to admit he was wrong and Tamar escaped any punishment.

25 It was while she was being brought out that she sent to her father-in-law, saying, “I am with child by the man to whom these things belong.” And she said, “Please examine and see, whose signet ring and cords and staff are these?” 26 Judah recognized them, and said, “She is more righteous than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not [w]have relations with her again. Genesis 38:25-26.

We don't see Judah let his pride get the better of him. He was well regarded in the community and could have fought to maintain his pride instead of humbling himself and admitting he was wrong. We don't see Judah seek redemption per se; but we do see a small glimpse into his heart here. The next time the Bible mentions Judah by name he and his brothers have found themselves in a tough spot. 

A famine has hit the land and they have gone into Egypt to try to buy food. They did not know the brother they had previously sold into slavery had risen to become a powerful viceroy in Egypt.  It was  Joseph , their brother, who was responsible for disbursing the food. He recognized his brothers but they did not recognize him. Whatever his motives, he accused them of being spies. Joseph made them leave one of the brothers behind, saying he would only release him if they would bring back their youngest brother Benjamin who had not traveled with them.  

Benjamin had grown exceptionally close to Jacob since Joseph's alleged death. He had stayed behind to take care of his dad, also so his dad could make sure he was safe.  When Jacob heard about the viceroy in Egypt holding one of his other son's hostage he was still not convinced that he trusted the other sons with his youngest and closest son, Benjamin. The famine however grew worse and times became desperate.We see Judah step up as a leader here and we start to see how far his heart has changed since the day he agreed to sell his brother for  silver.

Judah said to his father Israel, “Send the lad with me and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, we as well as you and our little ones. I myself will be surety for him; [d]you may hold me responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then [e]let me bear the blame before you forever. Genesis 43:8-9
At first Joseph seemed like he was going to uphold his end of the bargain. Once he saw the brothers return with Benjamin, he released their other brother; he fed them and he allowed them to take provisions back home to Canaan with them. However, as they were leaving, he set them up. He had one of his workers hide his special silver cup in Benjamin's belongings.  As the brothers began to make their way back home with the food Joseph's people stopped them. He accused them of stealing his cup and told them if he found the cup on one of them, that brother would become Joseph's slave. 

Of course they found the cup with Benjamin, since Joseph had planted it there to begin with. Judah knew he could not return home without his youngest brother. He knew what that would do to his father.  This is when we see Judah's true character shine through. He gives a long plea, humbling himself before Joseph and putting his own life on the line. He explains how much Benjamin means to his father and begs Joseph to keep him as a slave instead.
32 For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then let me bear the blame before my father forever.’ 33 Now, therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers. 34 For how shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me—for fear that I see the evil that would[k]overtake my father?” Genesis 44:32-34
This is a long way from the same guy who had once sold his own brother without any regards to how that would effect anyone else. Now he was thinking of everyone but himself.  He knew how important Benjamin was to his father and he was willing to make the sacrifice of staying behind himself, as a slave, to avoid causing his father any more pain, Judah's pleas did not fall on deaf ears. In fact they led to Joseph finally revealing to his brothers who he was and it led to the family finally being reunited. 

Like his brothers we looked at last week, Judah had some serious flaws happening; unlike them, he had a humble heart and found God's redemption. When his brothers inheritance was taken away and their descendants were scattered, Judah was given a huge blessing by his father and his descendants became royalty. 

 8   But Judah, your brothers will praise you.
        Your hand will firmly grasp the neck of your enemy,
        and your brothers will bow down before you in respect.
    Judah is a lion cub;
        my son, who rises from the prey,
    Who crouches down and stretches out like a lion,
        and like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
10     The scepter will not depart from Judah;
        the ruler’s staff will rest securely between his feet.
    Until the One comes to whom true royalty belongs,
        all people will honor and obey him. Genesis 49:8-10

Judah's family would become the most successful of all the tribes of Israel. It is through Judah's descendants,and his one night with his daughter in law, that lead to King David's birth and all the kings who would follow him. It is also through Judah's line that we can trace the ancestors of both Mary and Joseph, the earthly parents of Jesus.

God used a man,who out of jealousy and greed,sold his own brother into slavery. The same man,who out of lust,slept with his daughter in law when he thought she was a prostitute. Neither of those failures were big enough to keep God from using Judah.  While we aren't shown the specific "wrestling with God" moment, we do see Judah gradually mature and we do see his heart transformed. 

God's grace can transform all of us. He can change our entire family tree. None of our failings are too much for Him to bear if we will give Him our heart first.