Thursday, July 28, 2016

Lord, Please Send Someone Else

“Lord. Please send someone else.”

After a couple of posts that have been somewhat off topic, I wanted to pick back up with the primary task of looking at how God uses some of the most messed up people to accomplish the most amazing things.  This week will be the first of several posts about Moses. Moses is one of the most widely known heroes of the Jewish and Christian faiths; he literally wrote most of the first five books of the Bible. His story however is one of the best examples of God’s grace and glory.

To fully understand Moses’ story, let’s take a look at some background. When we left off last time, the famine that had fallen over the land had reunited Joseph and his brothers This reunion had revealed Judah’s true heart and had resulted in the entire family relocating to a region in Egypt. They lived as Pharaoh’s guests and under Joseph’s protection. Taking the family out of Canaan kept them from any further inter marrying with the Canaanite women and allowed them a place to thrive during the famine.  Jacob’s (or Israel's) family was known in Egypt as Hebrews or Israelites.

After many years passed Joseph and all his brothers and their immediate family all died. Likewise the Pharaoh who allowed the Hebrews to stay as guests died and a new leader rose up who had no loyalty to Joseph or what he had done for Egypt.  During this time the Hebrew people were very fruitful. They had grown from a small tribe of 70 people to a large nation within a nation of several thousand. The new Pharaoh was afraid of the Hebrews. He was afraid they would take over the country or that they would side with one of Egypt’s enemies.  He became so concerned that he began to have them oppressed. They were treated as slave laborers and were subjected to very harsh treatment.
The Egyptians used the Hebrews to build their cities and they did so at the threat of a spear or a whip. Despite the harsh treatment the Hebrews continued to be fruitful and continued to grow stronger as a people. This fact frustrated the Pharaoh who eventually got to the point of ordering that all Hebrew boys who were born were to be drowned in the Nile River; while only the females were allowed to live.

It is here we pick up Moses’ story. His mother had cared for him as a new born but could no longer hide him. She took her baby to the river and placed him in a wicker basket and sent him for a ride. Some scholars think she was hoping a nice Egyptian woman would find him and care for him; others believe she planned out exactly what would happen next. Moses’ older sister apparently kept watch of her baby brother as he floated along in his basket.  Timing here is critical because he was actually discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter. When Pharaoh's daughter discovered the cute little baby in the basket she immediately recognized that he was a Hebrew baby and that she would need help taking care of him. Moses’ sister immediately volunteered to go find a Hebrew woman to tend to the baby and of course brought back the baby’s own mother.

If she planned the entire thing; she was very prescient. She had not only saved her son’s life; she had set him up for a solid future living in Pharaoh’s palace, and she got to take care of him. We don’t know a lot about Moses’ childhood; we do know he was formally adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and was raised just short of being royalty. We also know that he was raised knowing he was a Hebrew. He must have been torn seeing the family he lived with treating his blood relatives so poorly.
As he got older Moses would go around exploring the kingdom, most likely preparing for his eventual role as a ruler. It was while he was on one of these journey’s when and event happened that changed his life. Moses bore witness to an Egyptian brutally beating one of the Hebrews and he rushed in to save the day. In trying to save the Israelite, he killed the Egyptian and then buried him in the sand.

It’s easy to understand Moses’ anger. He is trying to stand up for someone who he sees is clearly being wronged; unfortunately, good intentions don’t excuse bad actions.  Moses killing the Egyptian did not endear him to the Hebrew people in fact it caused them to resent him more. His actions could have led Pharaoh to believe the Israelites could be riled up and rebel. This could have caused conditions to get even worse as he tightened his grip. Another effect of killing the Egyptian is it put Moses on Pharaoh’s radar as an enemy. He had to flee from Egypt to stay alive.

Born an Israelite and raised an Egyptian, Moses now found himself a stranger in a strange land as he settled in nearby Midian. He got along well with the Midianite priest, Jethro. Moses married Jethro’s daughter and went to work for him as a shepherd.  It seems as if Moses eventually put the past in Egypt behind him and settled into a nice comfortable life.

Moses stayed in Midian for many years. He had children and put together a nice comfortable life. Meanwhile in Egypt, Pharaoh and all the people who would have wanted him dead has passed away. The conditions had gotten back for the Israelites and they began to cry out for God to save them from their servitude.

It must have been just like any other day for Moses, he was out in the fields tending Jethro’s flock, minding his own business when he saw a bush on fire in the distance. This probably wasn’t that unusual as they lived in the dessert and the climate would have been very dry; a lightning strike could easily have lit a bush on fire at any time. What must have captured Moses’ attention though is that this fire wasn’t consuming the bush. This made him curious enough that he had to go take a look.

3 Moses said, “What’s going on here? I can’t believe this! Amazing! Why doesn’t the bush burn up?”

4 God saw that he had stopped to look. God called to him from out of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
He replied, “Yes? I’m right here!”

5 God said, “Don’t come any closer. Remove your sandals from your feet. You’re standing on holy ground.”

6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father: The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.”
Moses hid his face, afraid to look at God. Exodus 3:3-6- The Message

So, he ran to go check out this cool fire that wasn’t consuming the bush and then it started talking to him. I think I would do more than hide my face; I tend to think I would have run away, or at least needed a new tunic.  Moses hid his face out of awe from encountering God; but I also think he hid his face knowing he was unworthy.  God wasn’t concerned about Moses’ sinful past or about how comfortable his life was; instead it was time to give him a huge job.

7-8 God said, “I’ve taken a good, long look at the affliction of my people in Egypt. I’ve heard their cries for deliverance from their slave masters; I know all about their pain. And now I have come down to help them, pry them loose from the grip of Egypt, get them out of that country and bring them to a good land with wide-open spaces, a land lush with milk and honey, the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite.

9-10 “The Israelite cry for help has come to me, and I’ve seen for myself how cruelly they’re being treated by the Egyptians. It’s time for you to go back: I’m sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the People of Israel, out of Egypt.” Exodus 3:7-10- The Message

Whoa! That’s pretty heavy! God is wanting to uproot Moses from his comfortable life and send him back to the one place he doesn’t want to go. I can imagine Moses’ mind must have been racing. Does God know that he doesn’t really fit in Egypt not with the Egyptians or the Hebrews? Does he know about the guy Moses has killed? Surely God must be confused. Surely there was someone more qualified?

Moses answered God, “But why me? What makes you think that I could ever go to Pharaoh and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt?” Exodus 3:11- The Message

It was really a good question. Moses understood how unqualified he was, and he didn’t see any reason why Pharaoh would listen to him or why his Israelite people would follow him. He didn’t see himself as a leader. He was content to just work as a shepherd for his father-in-law. God was patient and reassuring and gave Moses an excellent reason why he would be successful..

 “I’ll be with you,” God said. “And this will be the proof that I am the one who sent you: When you have brought my people out of Egypt, you will worship God right here at this very mountain.” Exodus 3:12- The Message

Moses continued to struggle with God’s calling. He didn’t want to believe he was worthy. He was overwhelmed by the challenge that awaited him, he wasn’t sure anyone would believe him or follow him. DO any of these concerns sound like doubts and struggles we deal with today? Moses confronted with God’s presence continued to resist his calling, he continued to try to find reasons God couldn’t use him.

But Moses protested again, “What if they won’t believe me or listen to me? What if they say, ‘The Lord never appeared to you’?” Exodus 4:1- New Living Translation

With each protest God would give Moses comfort, He would reassure him. He would give him a sign. No matter how many times God told Moses He had him covered, Moses still looked for a way out. Moses even went far enough to suggest to God that his own limitations were too much for God to overcome. As if he questioned God's ability. 

10"Please, Lord, I am not a talented speaker. I have never been good with words. I wasn’t when I was younger and I haven’t gotten any better since You revealed Yourself to me. I stutter and stammer. My words get all twisted." Exodus 4:10- The Voice

God again reassured him.

11-12 God said, “And who do you think made the human mouth? And who makes some mute, some deaf, some sighted, some blind? Isn’t it I, God? So, get going. I’ll be right there with you—with your mouth! I’ll be right there to teach you what to say.” Exodus 4: 11-12 The Message

Over and over Moses has tried to talk God out of this calling. He has pointed out every weakness he has, he has tried to hide behind his fear. He has tried to reason with God. “Surely you can find someone else that would be better equipped, right God? I mean C’mon you are God, you remember I killed that guy, and I stutter. C’mon God, surely someone better than me is available?”
Moses Finally reached the point where he was begging.

 He said, “Oh, Master, please! Send somebody else!” Exodus 4:13 The Message. 

God didn’t send someone else. God had a specific calling in mind for Moses; just like he does for each of us. We can try to negotiate with him, we can try to bargain and even beg. We can look at all of our weaknesses and think we aren’t a suitable vessel. God has put a calling on us and wants to use us. He wants us to know we are not capable of doing the mighty things he is calling us to without him He wants us to know, he is with us the entire time.

Moses is lionized as a great hero of our faith; but he resisted God’s calling just like we do,

“Master, please have someone else serve as a greeter”

“Master, Please have someone else go on this mission trip”

“Lord, Please let someone help feed the hungry”

“Lord, I won’t know what to say, Please have someone else pray for that hurting person”

He is with us! He will be glorified through us. We can’t hide in our comfort or in our fears; He can redeem our past and gain glory from our failures. He will give us strength to overcome our weaknesses.

Next week we will look at what happens when your calling runs into resistance.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

5110 Days

I will have the normal weekly post up tomorrow. we are moving ahead a few hundred years and talking about Moses. However, today marks 5110 days since the happiest day of my life and I want to talk just a little bit about my favorite love story.

It was sometime in May of 2001; I worked closing shift for a local TV station and often didn’t get home until 2:00am or later. I was never usually able to fall right to sleep, so I would stay up and kill time on the Internet until my eyes were glazed over. There was no Facebook or Twitter, so I would usually play online games or search aimlessly. One particular evening, as I was killing time on the Internet, I discovered some local online personal ads and I was really getting a kick out of them. Some were very cheesy; some were clearly designed to be seductive, while a few I actually found to be intriguing. I decided I would respond to some of the more intriguing ads; c’mon what’s the worst that could happen…

Alas, Yahoo did not allow you to respond to any ads unless you had posted one yourself. So, that’s what I did. I spent the next few minutes trying to put together a clever but not super cheesy online personal ad, once it was finally done, I was tired and I went to bed.  Several days passed and I gave no more thought to the ad I had placed that night, nor did I ever contact any of the other people who had posted ads. Finally one night I was up late again, and I remembered the personal ads. I laughed and thought let me go see if I can find someone I want to respond to. To my surprise, someone had actually responded to my ad.

There was only one response and it was not super cheesy, nor did it seem provocative.  I could almost read the nervousness in the response as I read it. The words were kind, and funny, but they were laced with a lack of confidence. She claimed she had responded because of a bet with her roommate but that I seemed nice.  We wound up sending messages back and forth for a couple of weeks, sometimes multiple times per day. I began checking my Yahoo account almost constantly. I couldn’t wait for the next sweet, funny email from this young lady that I had not yet met. We got to know each other pretty well. We discussed our hopes, dreams and our lives up to that point. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know.

Finally, after about a month, we exchanged phone numbers. I was a little nervous the first time she called me. I wasn’t sure if I would hear some high-pitched shrill birdcall or some deep voiced man who had been tricking me this entire time.  To my pleasant surprise, the voice I heard on the other end was sweet and soft and music to my ears.  The first time I heard her laugh my heart skipped. I think we spent half of our days on the phone with each other. When we weren’t talking, I was looking forward to the next time that we would.

After about a month of talking on the phone, we finally agreed to meet. I am sure she was just as nervous as I was, if not more so. I had never met anyone like this before. What if she is grotesque? Seriously, I think I had already fallen for her before I ever saw her, but what if it had all been a ruse.
She lived on the coast. I lived in Hattiesburg. We were about 1.5 hours away from each other. We made a plan to meet on the coast for our first date.  Our story isn’t typical… It was the day before we were supposed to meet and I found myself with a day off. We were talking on the phone, as usual, when I jokingly made an offer to move our date up by a day.

“So, I know we are supposed to meet tomorrow night, but you should go ahead and come up here tonight. I am off work, Senor Frogs has quarter drinks all night and I have $2.00 with your name on it”

Yes, it was super cheesy! No, I didn’t think she would actually go for it. Somehow, I must have been a good salesman, because she said yes!  I was so nervous the rest of the afternoon. I was hoping she was half as cute as I had imagined her being and I was hoping she wouldn’t see me and be repulsed.  There was also this weird nagging fear in the back of my mind that she could actually be a psycho killer.

We agreed to meet at a restaurant. I made a loop around hoping to catch a glimpse of her before we actually met. To my surprise, she was not as cute as I was hoping; she was in fact breathtakingly beautiful!  She had these beautiful kind eyes and the most wonderful smile I had ever seen.
It was July when we met. The next few months were a whirlwind. We went to museums, theatres, and football games. We got to know each other’s families and friends. We even donated blood together after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. I remember our first movie, our first song and always our first kiss. It didn’t take me long to know I was in love!

A few months later, it was November of 2001 and I had come to realize that I absolutely had to spend the rest of my life with this incredible woman. She made me laugh, she made me smile, she made me want to be a better person. While I worked at the TV station, I worked behind the scenes. I sat in a dark room and pushed buttons to make sure the right thing was on TV when it was supposed to be. I decided that if I wanted this amazing woman to spend the rest of her life with me, I needed to be bold!

I approached the sports director and I asked him for a favor. I visited a local jeweler and placed a custom order.  I called her mother, told her my plan, and I asked for her blessing.  On a Saturday night, during a local football show called Sports Journal, the sports director allowed me to sit in front of the camera like a deer in headlights. I had written a very romantic statement, but I couldn’t remember any of it. All I know is I asked her to marry me.  Somehow I must have been a good salesman, because she said yes!   She said YES!

In January of 2002, I found another job; I moved to Yazoo County and worked in Jackson. She stayed behind in Hattiesburg, but we made plans to see each other often. We began planning our wedding. I even introduced her to all the crazies in my family.  The next six months were pretty tough for me. I wanted to see her every day. I wanted to hold her every day. We would talk every day, but I missed her like crazy! Finally, in May, school was out and she began to spend more time close to me. I cherished every moment.

It was July when we got all of our family together for the first time. We wanted them to all know each other and know they would be spending the next 100 years as part of our ridiculous love story. We had planned a big wedding, but we changed our minds.  Arkansas had no waiting period and it wasn’t that far away. After a little bit of an Internet search, we found the quaintest little wedding chapel in the mountains and it was only 20 Minutes from Branson Missouri, so we decided to forego all the hoopla, took off one weekend, and got married.

It was July 27, 2002. We drove all the way to Harrison, Arkansas and got checked in to the “Honeymoon Suite” of the Holiday Inn Express. We then had to drive several miles out of town to get our premarital counseling from the preacher that was to perform the ceremony. He agreed that we were ok to get married and he sent us about 20 miles into the mountain to have the county clerk sign our marriage license. When we arrived back at the little chapel, the minister asked us what color we wanted and if we had a song preference. He provided both.  He then slipped a robe on over his Hawaiian shirt and we were getting married. The ceremony was sweet and unique, but it was certainly not anything extraordinary. In all honesty, it didn’t matter. I didn’t care about the flowers, or the mountains, or the colors, or the song, or what the preacher was wearing; all I cared about was that I was marrying and getting to spend the rest of my life with the most wonderful person I had ever met.  My wife was the only person that I had ever met that made me smile every time I thought of her; and I couldn’t stop thinking about her.

Our wedding dinner was pizza from a gas station and Dr. Pepper. We spent our honeymoon as the youngest people in Branson. I could not imagine ever loving anyone more than I loved her at that moment!

Over the next few years, we had our first child – a sweet girl with a big heart. We moved from Mississippi to Lubbock, Texas, then from there to Little Rock, Arkansas. Every morning I woke up and I thanked God he was so generous to bless me with such a wonderful woman. Even on days when the world wasn’t right, I still felt that I was more blessed than I deserved.  Through a confluence of events, I did one of the craziest things I have ever done; I quit a very good job. Hurricane Katrina had just happened and my wife needed to be in Mississippi helping her family recover, while I stayed behind to work.  At work, I was in a tiny little office that I shared with a boss I couldn’t stand.  Miserable at work, lonely at home, I quit my job with no plan in mind other than, we are going to move to Mississippi; it’s where my wife wanted to be.

I packed 3 suits into a rental car and spent 3 weeks plastering south Mississippi with resumes; however, so soon after Katrina there just were not a lot of jobs available. I took a job selling phone and internet service and decided we would make the most of it. Nine moths later, since I wasn’t making any sales, the company decided to let me go.  I was 32 years old, I had an MA degree, and I took a job stocking groceries at Winn Dixie.  You would think I would have gotten down on the situation, but my wife’s sweet smiling face kept me going. Every time I would get down, she would support me and lift me up. She was the primary breadwinner for a few months and she never openly complained at least not to me.  I was getting to know not just her sweet kindness but also her strong resolution.

During this same time, my mom passed away. I tried to stay strong. I had to be strong for my brothers, my grandmother, and for my daughter. I couldn’t have been as strong as I needed to be without my wife holding me up.

Doctors told us to be grateful that we had one child; we would never have another. In August of 2009 they were proved very wrong. The sweetest most spirited little girl you ever met arrived on the scene.  She struggled at first and spent 8 excruciatingly long days in the NICU. It was a very hard week. We paced, we cried, then finally we rejoiced!

After the new baby was born, we decided it made more financial sense for my wife to stay home to take care of our 2 precious little girls. We also made the decision that she would homeschool the girls. On top of all of her other amazing traits, my wife is a leader. Seeing a need in the homeschool community, she started a Christian based home school support group that is still thriving nearly 6 years later.

Being a one-income family meant we had to make some sacrifices, but my sweet, smart, funny, resolute wife was also resourceful. She became an expert couponer and even began showing others how to save hundreds and thousands of dollars using coupons. She was even featured on the local news!

When I got a promotion and we no longer had to be as dependent on coupons, she discovered another way she could help provide income for the family while still being able to stay home with the girls.
She started out baking cakes for family and friends and has turned into one of the most requested bakers in the area.  She is extremely talented!

It’s been 15 years since I met her. It’s been 14 years since she officially became my wife. The night we got married, I thought there is no way I can ever love anyone more than I love this woman right now, but I was wrong. Reagan Collum, you are the most wonderful person I have ever met. I still call home, just to hear your sweet voice, I still crack stupid jokes just to hear your amazing laugh, my heart still skips a beat every time I see you, I still love to look into those big brown eyes, and I still thank God every day that I get to wake up next to you. I love you more today than I did 14 years ago and I am quite sure that I will love you more tomorrow.

I sometimes forget to let you know I much I admire you, how special you are, and thank you for being so amazing, but you truly are a great wife, an awesome mom, and your love and support means the world to me. You are kind, caring, smart, strong, resolute, resourceful and quite simply amazing!

I loved you before I ever saw you, I love you even more now! I will love you with all my heart for the rest of my life!

Thank you for 5110 Incredible Days! Here's to at least 20,000 more!

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.