Tag Archives: Joseph

Both/And Family

Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the person who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground.
Genesis 42:6 (NIV)

There was a period of time in my twenties and early thirties when I did a deep dive into my family history. I investigated both my father’s and mother’s family lines. I talked to my parents, grandparents, great aunts, and great uncles. I asked many questions about relatives I knew nothing about. I heard many fascinating stories, and I learned a great deal. I was led to the conclusion that family is messy. My family, like almost every family, always put our good foot forward for public perception. In both my paternal and maternal families going back several generations, I found plenty of skeletons hidden in the closets.

Divorce
Broken relationships and members refusing to speak to one another
Deceit
Suicide (more than one)
Depression
Alcoholics (more than one)
Illegitimate children
Children sold into servitude
Secret marriages
Sexual harassment
Attempted sexual assault
Public scandal
Lawsuits
Court hearings
Prison sentences…

I also found multiple examples of…

Deep love
Intense devotion
Genuine faith
Sacrificial generosity
Honorable character
Faithfulness to duty
Unquenchable hope
Inner strength

One of the lessons my family history adventure taught me is that family is not either/or “good” or “bad,” but rather it is both/and good things and bad things. Yes, I am a product of a loving family. Yes, my family has failings and dysfunctions like every other family system. I endeavor to do my best to be a healthy cog in my family system. I’d like to think I’ve succeeded in some ways. I must confess I’ve tragically failed in others.

I thought about these things as I read today’s chapter. The dramatic story of Joseph is drawing to its climax. Everything begins to “work together” for Joseph. Israel and his sons are starving in Caanan because of the severe famine that was predicted by Joseph in interpreting Pharaoh’s dream. The same brothers who almost killed Joseph and sold him into slavery because Joseph told them of a dream in which they bowed down to him, now arrive in Egypt to buy food and they bow down to him. The dream is fulfilled just as Joseph described thirteen years earlier.

I thought it fascinating that Israel would not allow Benjamin to travel with the brothers. With Joseph presumed dead, Benjamin was the only son that Israel had left who was born of Rachel, his first love. It would seem that when Israel thought Joseph was dead, he replaced his “favorite” with the only other son of Rachel in the tribe. Joseph, longing to see Benjamin, uses his brother’s ignorance of his true identity to force them to bring Benjamin back to Egypt. Israel balks. Having lost Joseph, he fears that the same will happen to Benjamin.

In the quiet this morning, I found myself thinking about the very human family drama of Israel and his many sons, including the lost son Joseph. Yes, it’s a tragic story fraught with flawed characters, tragic choices, and dreadful circumstances. And, it’s also a beautiful story of redemption, salvation, and God weaving these flawed human beings into a larger story, the Great Story, of God’s redemption of all things.

This gives me hope for my own family story which, when I really dug in to look at it objectively, I found to have its own flawed characters, tragic choices, and dreadful circumstances. Along my journey, I’ve discovered that God has redemptive purposes for me/us as well. On this eve of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for that.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Circumstances I Don’t Control

Circumstances I Don't Control (CaD Gen 40) Wayfarer

The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.
Genesis 40:23 (NIV)

This Sunday, I am giving the final message in a series on the sage words of Ecclesiastes among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. One of the themes of the ancient book of wisdom is that the notion we have any control in this life is an illusion. In fact, the Sage has a Hebrew word for it: hevel (or hebel). It gets translated into English as “vanity” or “meaningless” but its meaning is really more like “smoke” or “vapor.” I can see it. It looks like I should be able to touch it, grab it, or contain it but I can’t.

The continued story of Joseph in today’s chapter is a prime example of life and circumstance being out of our control. Life is not turning out to look anything like he expected. He thought things were comfortable at home being his father’s favorite. Then his brothers sold him into slavery and told their father Joseph was dead. Joseph then became a successful house manager for a powerful Egyptian official, only to be falsely accused of attempted rape and thrown into prison. In today’s chapter, Joseph successfully interprets the dreams of Pharaoh’s cupbearer who is reinstated to his position. Joseph asks the man to “remember him” and it appears that circumstances are finally in Joseph’s favor.

Alas, no…the restored cupbearer completely forgets Joseph. He continues to languish in the Egyptian prison for a crime he didn’t commit. His circumstances are out of his own control.

As I look back on my own earthly journey, I have so many examples in my own life. A grandmother was run over and was killed by a distracted teen driver. Getting unexpectedly fired. The “perfect job” turned out to be a year of purgatory within a dysfunctionally chaotic system. My marriage fell apart. I was scandalized by wrongful accusations. Family members were diagnosed with cancer. Mom developed Alzheimer’s. And these are just the big items. There as countless small experiences that have affected my circumstances and my life; Circumstances that were unexpected, unforeseen, and completely out of my control.

Meditating on the reality of control being an illusion leads right to where the Sage ends up. It’s futile. It’s like trying to chase the wind or contain the morning fog. It’s all hevel.

But there’s another layer that I have to consider as a follower of Jesus, and this layer redeems the hevel. It’s a parallel reality that we are part of the Great Story, and the Author of Life is a sovereign storyteller.

Once again, Joseph is a prime example. Prior to his life being hijacked by circumstances out of his control, Joseph had a dream. That dream was a foreshadowing of the end of Joseph’s story. Joseph couldn’t see it in the moment. Every hevelish circumstance in Joseph’s experience is leading somewhere that’s known and has been foreshadowed. In the next chapters of the Great Story, God will lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and to the Promised Land. He chooses to appear to them each day as a cloud. What is a cloud? It’s water vapor. It’s hevel.

God is in the hevel. That’s good news within the out-of-control circumstances of my life.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself recalling hevelish moments along my life journey that seemed out of control. Looking back from my present waypoint on Life’s road, I can see how God used each one to grow me up, teach me, hone me, and lead me to another waypoint a little further up the road and further in my own story. God has always been in the hevel.

I have to believe that Joseph was frustrated, angry, and depressed that the cupbearer forgot him rotting away in his cell. I imagine he felt the futility of his circumstances. He might have even whispered, “It’s all hevel.” What he doesn’t recognize is that he is part of a larger story. The cupbearer will remember him at just the right moment. The rest of the story has yet to be told.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Messy

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
Matthew 1:18-19 (NIV)

I had a great aunt, my grandmother’s sister, whom I adored as a child. There is no doubt, however, that Aunt Nita was an uppity-priss and a prude. I wasn’t around her often, and she was always kind to me, so I was always quick to find her eccentricities charming and silly. For my grandmother and her sister, their eldest sister could be downright intolerable. Aunt Nita presented an air of sophisticated aristocracy which belied the humble, very messy truth of her family’s story. Interestingly, she nevertheless researched and shared those messy family stories in writing, for which I am forever grateful.

I have come to appreciate that life is commonly messy. Even for those like Aunt Nita who enjoy projecting the image of spit-shine propriety, the truth behind the facade is rarely that clean or polished.

Joseph was a good man. He was a hard working carpenter. He was faithful, upstanding and lived life by the book. Then his betrothed comes to him with a wild story about an angel and a positive pregnancy test. Joseph had not signed up for this kind of mess. There would be the public scandal of his girlfriend pregnant before the wedding. And what about that pregnancy? Joseph was a rule follower. He knew he’d not slept with Mary. And, while Mary was not the kind of girl to make up fantasies to cover her mistakes, this story was a little hard to swallow.

And then the angel visits Joseph. “You’re a good man, Joseph. You’re faithful, and you live life by the book. That’s why you’ve been chosen, and blessed, to walk with Mary through messy. That child in Mary’s womb? He’s here to address messy at its core.”

Along life’s journey I’ve noticed that many who claim to follow Jesus are a lot like my great Aunt Nita. We love to present a spit-shine image of perfection and propriety. I confess that I lived much of my own life that way. I was a lot like Joseph. Then I found out life is really messy and the polished, projected image melted in very public ways. Jesus gets that. In fact, that’s why Jesus came in the first place. Jesus’ very conception created its own messiness. If I’m not willing to be honest about my mess, I don’t ever come to fully know and appreciate the fullness of Jesus’ love and grace.

Scattered Seeds

the sower after millet detail 1

Stephen replied, “Brothers and fathers, listen to me. The God of glory appeared to our ancestor Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you.'” Acts 7:2-3 (NSRV)

Last week I gave a message at our local group of Jesus followers entitled Scattered Seeds which came from a verse in tomorrow’s chapter. The message in one sentence was this: “We are saved to be scattered.” In the message, I talked about the fact that God’s modus operandi throughout history has been to save people and scatter them so that they might accomplish their roles in the Great Story.

I found it fascinating this morning to read through Stephen’s words to his Hebrews executioners, because he uses three of the very examples I used in the message last week: Abraham, Joseph, and Moses. I added a few examples in Noah, David, and threw in a more contemporary reference that was audience specific.

In wrapping up, I summarized with three key observations:

  1. A faith journey always begins with a single step. What are you waiting for?
  2. A faith journey always requires that you leave something behind. Let it go.
  3. In a faith journey you can’t always see where the road leads. Trust. Don’t be afraid. That’s why it’s called a “faith” journey. God’s message is a foot lamp to reveal the next step, not a headlight to see the road ahead.

I’ve embedded the message for any who are interested in listening.

The embedded audio file is presented with the gracious permission of Third Church in Pella, Iowa who holds the copyright. All rightsreserved. It is intended for personal listening only and may not  be used for any other reason without permission. 

In God’s Economy, Less is More & the Least is the Greatest

Pope Francis Day OneBut Joseph was upset when he saw that his father placed his right hand on Ephraim’s head. So Joseph lifted it to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. “No, my father,” he said. “This one is the firstborn. Put your right hand on his head.”

But his father refused. “I know, my son; I know,” he replied. “Manasseh will also become a great people, but his younger brother will become even greater. And his descendants will become a multitude of nations.” Genesis 48:17-19 (NLT)

One of the things I find fascinating about reading through God’s Message again and again is the discovery of themes and patterns throughout. The fact that we are reading through a compilation of disparate books, writings and letters that cover hundreds and thousands of years it is amazing to find themes emerge.

“…but his younger brother will become greater.”

In the ancient days of Jacob, the culture and the laws greatly favored the first born son. Yet even in Genesis we find a pattern of the younger son being blessed in God’s economy:

  • Joseph was blessed over his older brothers
  • Jacob was blessed over Esau
  • Isaac was blessed over Ishmael
  • Abel’s sacrifice was accepted over Cain’s

Time and time again, God uses the weaker, lesser, less powerful and prestigious for His divine purposes:

  • Peter, a headstrong fisherman became the “rock” on which Jesus’ church was founded
  • Jesus chose simple, uneducated men from the sticks to be his disciples
  • God’s messenger, John the Baptist, lived like a hermit in the wilderness
  • God’s own Son was born to a poor girl from a backwater town inside a stable
  • Solomon, Israel’s greatest king was a younger son of David’s
  • David was the youngest of his father’s sons, but called “a man after God’s heart” and God chose the boy David over the strapping, handsome choice of the people: Saul.

I could go on. The point is this: God continually chooses the foolish people of this world to confound the wise; He uses the powerless to shame the powerful. Not one of us should think for a second that God could not or would not desire to use us to further His kingdom’s work on Earth.

I am not a Roman Catholic. Nevertheless, I love my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters and have a deep appreciation for the beauty of the Roman Catholic mass along with a fascination of its history. I, with the rest of the world, was enthralled to watch as the College of Cardinals chose their new leader this week. When I began to read and hear about the life story of Pope Francis I, I thought to myself that he sounded like a choice Jesus himself would have made. It was confirmed when I read the on the front page of the Wall Street Journal this morning:

Pope Francis Day One: In his first hours as leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, the pope paid his own hotel bill, took a bus, and called for renewal in the church.

The Long Road

from odieguru via Flickr
from odieguru via Flickr

“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. Genesis 45:4-5 (NLT)

Hindsight is always 20/20,” they say, and so I’ve found it to be true along life’s journey. There are many times I have not understood why it was my lot to wander through a dark valley until I was much further down the road. From my vantage point standing atop the next mountain I could look back to see where I had been and where the road had taken me. Then, it all came into focus.

As a young man, God gave Joseph dreams of the pinnacle he would some day reach. His older brothers would all bow down before him. There was, however, a long road  which wound through some deep, dark valleys that stood between his present and the future God had ordained for Him. I can only imagine how many times Joseph questioned why God would give him such a dream only to have him thrown into a well, sold into slavery, unjustly thrown into prison, and forgotten by those he selflessly helped. All along the way Joseph had every reason to question and complain about his life being unfair and the unjust way he’d been treated. Yet, he eventually learned that there is purpose in our pain.

Wise King Solomon said “wounds from a friend can be trusted.”

Jesus said, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

If we believe that God is truly good and if we believe that Jesus is our friend, then we can trust that there is a plan for the road we are on and there is a purpose for the place on life’s road in which we find ourselves. It may feel like God is unnecessarily wounding us or allowing us to be wounded. We just don’t have the perspective to fully see it or understand it from where we are standing.

That’s why we call it a “faith journey.” Faith is the evidence of what we do not see in our momentary, finite perspective and the assurance of the pinnacle we hope to reach.

Old Patterns of Thought & Behavior

Genesis
Reflecting on Genesis (Photo credit: cajaygle)

Now Joseph gave these instructions to the steward of his house: “Fill the men’s sacks with as much food as they can carry, and put each man’s silver in the mouth of his sack.Then put my cup, the silver one, in the mouth of the youngest one’s sack, along with the silver for his grain.” And he did as Joseph said. Genesis 44:1 (NLT)

As I’ve been reading through the stories of Genesis once again, I’ve been tracking this pattern of deceit revealed through the generations of Abraham’s family. When we first meet Abraham’s great grandson Joseph, he is revealed to be a boy who speaks to truth simply and plainly (seemingly to his detriment). As a result, he’s sold into slavery and has not been a part of the family for years and years.

How fascinating that as soon as his brothers show up in Egypt, Joseph begins to deal with them deceitfully. He does not immediately reveal who he is. He has things snuck into their sacks. He schemes to have his brother Benjamin brought back to Egypt and now schemes to keep Benjamin in Egypt when the rest of the brothers go home.

Roles and patterns in the way a family systemically operates and behaves is very powerful. I’ve known people who have spent years apart from their unhealthy family system working to understand and change their own behaviors, but once they return to their familial home for a visit they fall right back into their old role within the system. It’s a fascinating thing about the way we broken human beings live and behave in our fallen world.

One of the reasons that I have been and remain a follower of Jesus is because of His promise and provision of divine forgiveness and undeserved favor in spite of my many failings. I’m no different than Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Lamech, Rachel, Leah, Joseph or his brothers. Despite my best efforts to live honestly and truthfully as God would have me do, like Joseph I find myself getting sucked back into old negative patterns of thought and behavior again and again. I need copious doses of God’s forgiveness, mercy and grace.

A second reason I remain a follower of Jesus is because of His promise and provision to bring lasting positive change into my life. Despite my failings I can look back across the years and see the many ways that God’s grown me up, honed me, humbled me, and made me into a better human being. Were it not for God’s non-stop work of convicting, prodding, pushing, guiding and molding me over 30 plus years, I hate to think of the person I would have become.

Today, I’m reminded that no one is immune from falling off the path and back into destructive old patterns and behaviors. I’m equally reminded that God is faithful to both forgive us our failures and empower us towards getting back on the road which leads toward Life.

Real Men Weep

from destinme via Flickr
from destinme via Flickr

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. Genesis 43:30 (NLT)

“Big boys don’t cry,” many of us were told when we were young. Boys are supposed to be strong and fearless. We’re supposed to hold our emotions in check. At least, I know that has been the generalized sentiment I’ve both experienced and witnessed. I’m not even sure that it’s a conscious and overt message for many. It’s just the message our culture has sent and believed. I can still remember seeing my dad cry for the first time. It made such an impression on me I can recall almost every detail of the moment.

I find it interesting that Joseph hurried from the room each time he became emotional. Of course, he did not want to tip his hand and reveal himself to his brothers before he had a chance to work his plan. Nevertheless, I would tend to believe that the culture of Egypt was not that much different than our own in that regard. It would likely be seen as a sign of weakness.

The further I get on life’s road and the the deeper I grow in my relationship with Jesus, the more I feel, identify and express my emotions. When I was younger I would brood and act out in all sorts of ways, completely unaware of the emotions that were seeping to the surface in my words and actions. I can recall going through a period of time in my thirties when I literally experienced Ezekiel 36:26:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

God took me through a stretch of the journey in which there was an uncorking of emotions that I’d been stuffing my whole life. I learned to feel, identify and express things like anger, disappointment, fear, joy, contentment, and satisfaction in meaningful and healthy ways. In the midst of it, I learned to weep and to experience the healing of spirit, soul and body that comes when you can feel strong emotion and let the tears roll.

I’ve come to embrace the truth of Ecclesiastes 3, that there is a time for everything. I believe for all men there is a time and place for utilizing our God given bent towards controlling emotions in order to accomplish a difficult task and persevere through certain circumstances. But this does not mean that it’s necessary or particularly healthy to dam up our emotions all of the time. There is time for controlling emotion, and there is a time for expressing them. Maturity comes with the wisdom to know the difference.

Do a keyword search for the word “wept” in God’s Message and you’ll find a long list of manly men throughout antiquity who wept openly as Joseph did in today’s chapter. Jesus Himself is among them. I’ve come to learn in this life: Real men weep.

Hollywood Moments of Decision

Hollywood momentBut when they stopped for the night and one of them opened his sack to get grain for his donkey, he found his money in the top of his sack. “Look!” he exclaimed to his brothers. “My money has been returned; it’s here in my sack!” Then their hearts sank. Trembling, they said to each other, “What has God done to us?” Genesis 42:27-28 (NLT)

What a Hollywood moment when the brothers who beat-up Joseph, plotted to kill him, then sold him into slavery arrive in Egypt hungry and desperate. Joseph had every reason to feel resentful, angry and to get even with his brothers. At that moment he had all the power and could easily have exacted his revenge. His initial reaction to throw them all in prison and send only one brother back home leads me to believe that he was at least struggling with some of those old feelings of resentment. But, after three days of mulling it over, Joseph changes tactics and extends undeserved favor to his brothers at every turn.

Human nature being what it is, most of us have individuals in our lives with whom there are ill-feelings, bad blood, or old resentment built up around ancient wounds. It may not be as grand a Hollywood moment, but from time to time we are all faced with the ironic opportunity to bless or curse those who have wronged us. We all stand in Joseph’s sandals now and then. Joseph chose against his initial instincts and blessed his brothers rather than curse them.

I found the reaction of the brothers fascinating. Rather than feeling as though they got away with something when they discovered their payment returned, their feelings of guilt and shame multiplied. Had Joseph responded with curses and followed through with his initial inklings of retribution, they might have eventually felt justified in their youthful assessment and actions toward their little brother. “You see,” I can hear some of them saying, “I knew that kid was bad news! We should have killed the runt when we had the chance.”

Joseph’s blessing, however, added fuel to the fire of the guilt and shame that God was already stirring in their hearts. King Solomon hit the nail on the proverbial head when he observed the same truth:

If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat.
    If they are thirsty, give them water to drink.
You will heap burning coals of shame on their heads,
    and the Lord will reward you. Proverbs 25:21-22 (NLT)

God, the next time I have a little Hollywood moment and the opportunity to “get even” with someone I don’t like, please remind me what Joseph did when he had his own Hollywood moment of decision. Thanks.

The Freeing Power of Humility & Trust

English: Depiction of Joseph reading to the Ph...
English: Depiction of Joseph reading to the Pharaoh. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“It is beyond my power to do this,” Joseph replied. “But God can tell you what it means and set you at ease.” Genesis 41:16 (NLT)

There are two of things that I observe about Joseph as I read through his story this morning.

One is that we never hear Joseph complaining about his circumstances. The fact that it is not mentioned doesn’t necessarily mean he didn’t go through periods of discouragement nor does it mean he never lamented his lot in life. Nevertheless, we certainly don’t see or hear Joseph complaining, claiming victim status, or demanding anything of anyone.

The second observation is the verse I’ve pasted above from today’s chapter. Joseph recognized and acknowledged that the power was not in him, but in God alone. For me, it points to an attitude of humility within Joseph’s heart and an acceptance of God’s sovereignty in his life.

I believe that these two observations are linked. When I humbly acknowledge, accept and trust God’s sovereignty in my life along with my dependence on God’s power to accomplish anything, then I am free to find contentment – even joy – in my present circumstances. As I mulled this over, a parallel came to mind from Paul’s letter to Jesus’ followers in the city of Philippi:

Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.