Tuesday, February 1, 2022

A Man Named Joseph

Our church has been going through Genesis and recently covered the story of Joseph. Even though I have written about him before, I thought I would revisit his story. Joseph's father was Jacob and his family, well they were one big hot mess. To start with Jacob 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 Jacob had worked so hard for. So, Jacob had to work another seven years for the one he loved and ended up with two wives. For several years the loved wife was barren while the unloved wife was birthing sons. Eventually there were twelve sons in all--two from the loved one and 10 from the unloved one and the concubines the wives had given Jacob, each hoping to increase their family size in an effort to find favor with Jacob. 

So, our man Joseph grew up in a family with two mother figures vying for his dad's affection. And his dad was a man who made some pretty serious parenting mistakes. First, he loved Joseph more than his other sons and he gifted him with a colorful coat, conveying his favoritism to the whole family of boys who were all longing for their father's favor. Second, when Jacob sent his older sons out to tend sheep, he sent Joseph out to check on them and the reports he gave Jacob were not always favorable. Needless to say, the brothers didn't grow any fonder of the tattle tale. 

Then there was a matter of dreams. God gave Joseph dreams that indicated his brothers would all bow in submission to him. Being 17, he did what teens would do--he bragged to the fam. 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 begam smoldering as they longed for their father's favor. 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 had been killed by an animal. But one brother with a smidgen of integrity left suggested they throw Joseph in a cistern instead. When Joseph arrived, they stripped him of his identity as the favored one by stealing his coat. They threw him into a pit and calmly sat down to eat, which showed just how hard their hearts had become and how deeply rooted their hatred for Joseph was. By getting rid of him, they believed they might get what they craved the most--Jacob's favor. When a caravan traveling to Egypt came near, they pulled Joseph from the pit and sold him as a slave. They then showed his bloodied coat to their dad and Jacob grieved the deep grief parents grieve when they lose a child they love. 

That seems like enough hurt for one person to go through for a lifetime. But there was more suffering in the story God penned for Joseph to live. Joseph was bought by Potiphar and Potiphar realized God was with Joseph and put him over his whole house. Then Potiphar's wife tried to seduce Joseph, and he ran away as she grabbed his outer garment. Angered by Joseph's rejection, she claimed Joseph had attacked her and the lie she told landed Joseph in prison. 

Joseph rose to leadership within the prison population and despite his own circumstances he ruled with integrity over other prisoners. Two prisoners dreamed dreams that Joseph interpreted. One was released and promised to remember Joseph, but he did not and the other lost his life. It was not until Pharaoh dreamed dreams that no one in Egypt could interpret that Joseph was remembered by the freed prisoner. He told the Pharoah about Joseph and Joseph was summoned to interpret the dream that revealed seven years of plenty would be followed by seven years of famine. Pharaoh made Joseph a ruler and told him to prepare Egypt for the famine and he did.

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 initially the story makes Joseph seem almost superhuman. At first, we aren't told about the grief Joseph experienced and I wondered if it was because his grief was overshadowed by his need to survive. We also aren't told about the anger that would kindle in his human heart that had been betrayed by his own flesh and blood, the anger fueled by being falsely accused of rape and imprisoned, and the anger added by being forgotten and left in prison. Maybe he was in denial of the pain he felt or maybe he was doing his best to stay focused on the steadfast love of God and His blessings that were poured out on him in each circumstance he faced. 

Just like us, Joseph had choices to make. He could put his eyes on the injustices he had experienced and the suffering he had endured, or He could put them on God who was at work in His life. He could choose to focus on the people who did him wrong and grow a hatred in his own heart or he could focus on the God who was blessing him in a foreign land. He could choose to lie in bed at night and plot the revenge his brothers deserved or allow God to work in their hearts as He filled him with peace and grace. 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 God's grace and the dreams that He let him interpret and grow humility that dissipated the pride that had once dwelled in his young heart. 

We eventually do get a glimpse of the pain Joseph endured. During the famine his hungry brothers came knocking on his door to buy grain. He recognized them, but they did not know it was 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 that he 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 did end up bowing to the very brother they sold. A modern story that also reflects this same 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 He sent their wives and their families back to the tribes and used them and their grace to win the people's hearts. 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 pains us so much, off the jobs we unfairly lost, and put them on God we will be able to see God's blessings, too.  

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 shares the pictures she began drawing during that dark time of their lives and her journaling has gone viral. More and more people are being blessed by their story. 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. I believe God brought those brothers at just the right time to force Joseph to face the facts of what had been done to Him. And it was then that he grieved long and hard right in front of his brothers. I have a hunch his pain did a lot more convicting than his anger could have ever done. His pain, the grief their father experienced, and their fear of retaliation may well have been the chisels God used to soften the stone-cold hearts of his brothers. 

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 to be sold as a slave. Joseph was taken to a foreign land where he was falsely accused of rape, cast into prison, and forgotten by someone he had helped. Yet, he worked hard, rose to power, and saved lives, including his own family which was the blood 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 produces endurance, which produces hope. I want to be like the man named Joseph, who learned to walk humbly with his God whose favor mattered the most. 

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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!