Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Suffering Well-- Part 2: A Man Like Joseph

There is a man named Jacob whose family was one hot mess. To start with he had fallen in love with a woman and worked seven years to marry her. But his father-in-law substituted his older daughter for the bride and he had to work another seven years for the one he loved. For several years the loved was barren and the unloved wife was birthing sons to earn love. Eventually there were twelve sons in all--two from the loved and 10 from the unloved.

So the family had two wives vying for one man's affection and Jacob who himself made some serious parenting mistakes. He loved one son, Joseph, more than his other sons and he made him a colorful coat, conveying his favoritism. Second, when Jacob sent his older sons out to tend sheep, he sent
Joseph to check on them and the reports he gave Jacob weren't always favorable and who likes a  tattle tale?.

Then there was a matter of dreams. God gave Joseph dreams, indicating his brothers would all bow in submission to him. Being 17, he did what teens would do--he bragged. In the midst of a family with two wives competing, a dad with rotten parenting skills, a son prone to bragging, and slew of sinful natures smoldering, the sibling rivalry grew into a great big, ugly hatred. 

After the coat giving, the dream bragging, and the hatred growing, Jacob sent Joseph once again to check on his brothers. When they saw him coming, they plotted to kill him and planned to tell their dad he was killed by an animal. But one brother with a smidgen  of integrity left suggested they  throw him in a pit instead. When Joseph arrived, they stripped him of his identity as the favored one when they stole his coat. They threw him into a pit and sat down to eat, which showed just how hard their hearts had become and how deeply rooted their hatred was When a caravan traveling to Egypt came, they pulled Joseph from the pit and sold him as a slave, showing his bloodied coat to their dad and Jacob grieved the grief parents grieve on losing a child.

That seems like enough hurt for one person to go through for a lifetime. But, there was more suffering in the story God penned. Joseph was bought by Potiphar, the captain of the guard and  Potiphar realized God was with Joseph and put him over his whole house. Potiphar's wife tries to seduce him and he runs away as she grabs his outer garment. Angered by  rejection,  she claimed he  attacked her and her lie lands Joseph in prison. He rose to leadership in the prison and ruled with integrity over other prisoners. Two prisoners dreamed dreams Joseph interpreted. One was released and promised to remember him, but didn't. Not until Pharaoh dreamed dreams no one in Egypt could  interpret. The freed prisoner tells about Joseph and Joseph is summoned to interprets the dreams that revealed seven years of plenty would be followed by seven years of famine. Pharaoh makes Joseph a ruler and tells him to prepare Egypt for the famine and he does.

As I read, I wished the story were written by a woman because a woman would have told us what Joseph thought and what he felt. But the story makes Joseph seem super human. Initially, we aren't told about his grief and I wonder if his grief  was overshadowed by his need to survive. We aren't told about anger that would kindle in a human heart betrayed by one's own flesh, that was falsely accused of rape, and that was forgotten and left in prison. Maybe it was because he focused on the steadfast love of God and His blessings that were poured out on him in each circumstance he faced.

As a human, Joseph had choices to make. He could put his eyes on the injustices he experienced and the suffering he endured or He could put them on God who was at work in His life. He could choose to focus on people who did him wrong and grow a hatred of his own or he could focus on God who is sovereign and in control of what appeared a mess. He could choose to lie in bed at night and plot the revenge his brothers deserved or allow God to fill him with peace and grace freeing him to be who God created him to be. He could focus on the mistakes his dad made, showing favoritism and asking him to tattle or he could choose to forgive. He could focus on his dream-bragging ways and hate himself or he could focus on Gods grace and allow Him to grow humility that could dissipate the pride that had dwelled in his young heart. 

We eventually get a glimpse of the pain Joseph endured. During the famine his brothers knocked on his  door to buy grain. He recognized them, but they didn't know him. Joseph devised a plan to get them to bring his youngest brother to him. When they returned he invited them to a feast. When Joseph saw Benjamin, he was overcome by emotion and ran from the room to weep. When he decided to tell his brothers, he was so overcome with emotion that he wept so loud the whole household of pharaoh heard him. He revealed his identity and his brothers returned home to bring their dad and their families to live in Egypt under Joseph's rule. Joseph extended them grace, telling them what they meant for evil, God meant for good.  

There are several things we can  take from Joseph's story. First, God's plans will not be thwarted by man's schemes. The brothers bowed to the bother they sold. A modern story that also reflects this truth  is the Jim Elliot and Steve Saint story. God sent them to people as His witness and the people  murdered them. But God wanted these people's hearts and sent their wives and families back and  used them and their grace to win the people's heart. That abuser. That user. That slanderer. That betrayer. That murderer. They cannot stop God's plans.

Second, no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in God is a God who blesses. God blessed Joseph in Egypt. He blessed him in Potiphar's house. He blessed him in prison. When we take our eyes off of our circumstances, off those who wrong us, off those who hate us, off of the disease we have, off the broken relationship that stings, off the job we lost, and put them on God we will be able to see God's blessings.  

Third, God may take us to some places we don't want to go, so He can bless people as He blesses us. Potiphar was blessed. The jailor was blessed. Joseph's family was blessed--all because God blessed Joseph. My friend Mary Esther was taken through a cancer battle with her two year old son and she kept her eyes on Jesus and experienced His blessings daily. As they sat with their son after surgery and through chemo, the medical staff, their friends, their church family also experienced the blessings with which God was blessing them. In addition, someone gave her a journaling Bible and she share the pictures she began drawing during that dark time and her journaling has gone viral. More and more people are being blessed by their story and just as Joseph's trust in God saved people, her trust is showing people the way they can be saved.    

Fourth, there is nothing wrong with grieving losses and expressing pain. Joseph held his pain close until he could contain it no more and he grieved long and hard right in front of this brothers. I have a hunch his pain did a lot more convicting than anger ever could have. His pain, the grief their father experienced, and their fear of retaliation may well have been the chisels God used to soften their stone cold hearts. 

Finally, there is  no offense so big that a heart in the hand of God can't forgive it. Joseph was hated. Joseph was thrown into a pit. Joseph was stripped of his identity. Joseph was taken from the pit only to be sold as a slave. Joseph taken to a foreign land, falsely accused of rape, cast into prison, and forgotten by someone he helped. Yet, he worked hard, rose to power, and saved lives, preserving the line of Jesus.

Suffering well allows God to do his work in us, in our families, in our church, in our community, and even in our nation. Suffering well allows us to experience God's love and blessing even in the hard. Suffering well allows us to see how God works in and through us. Suffering well produces patience, which endurance, which produces hope.

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!