Revenge and Vindication?

And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. Genesis 45:5

Under what conditions would we say to the one who betrayed us, “Don’t be upset with yourself because you hurt me. God’s wonderful plan eclipsed all of it.” Oftentimes, we can see some good that God has brought out of betrayal, but we still want the one who inflicted harm to live with regret!

For many years, I didn’t really understand what it meant when God promises that all things will work together for my good. My good is supposed to be synonymous with His good. I have been called according to His purpose. Joseph wasn’t brought to power to compensate for the pain he suffered. The story wasn’t so much about him but about God’s plan to save His people. Joseph was privileged to play a part in God’s redemptive story.

I am considering the largest wounds of my life. God has definitely worked things together for good but the ‘good’ wasn’t revenge and vindication.  God brought about a larger plan of redemption.  I was to learn more from Jesus about His own suffering and how grace carried Him through to the cross.  From that place, I am to strengthen the church.  I am to bring wisdom to the next generation in my family so they can secure their spiritual calling. These are some of the possibilities that comprise ‘being called according to His purpose’.

The miracle of Joseph’s story was not that he was promoted to power in Egypt. It was the stunning work of grace, humility, and wisdom brought about as he waited for redemption. Not visible to human eyes, Joseph and God dialogued, wrestled, communed, and birthed a faith that not only forgave a family of wrongdoing but also made it possible for them to live in the joy of God’s extravagant mercy.

Lord, all over again I offer You my story for the expansion of the kingdom. Amen

When It’s Safe To Show My Heart

Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Genesis 45:1-2

Joseph tested his brothers severely. It might have appeared that he had no mercy when he kept Simeon back, then imprisoned him, and gave the remaining brothers the stiff terms of his release. Joseph’s heart was unreadable, safely concealed, until such time as the nature of their hearts would be revealed. Once they showed the agony of true remorse, his heart would be accessible. He would weep so loudly that the sound of it would permeate the grounds of his vast residence.

What is my response to a sincere apology? If I’ve been in a relationship that turned treacherous, one that required that I prudently step back for time, it might have appeared to the other person that my heart was cold. But, in fact, I was praying for us both. I was praying that their hardened heart would eventually soften because of the conviction of the Spirit, and I was also praying that mine would not become hardened because of unforgiveness. The only reason Joseph was able to handle his brothers with such wisdom was because he had many thousands of hours alone with God.  As a Hebrew, he lived as an outsider among the Egyptians. Loneliness was God’s gift in disguise, the perfect training ground for impartial leadership.

Who has offered what appears to be a sincere apology? If God shows me that true remorse is present, will I keep my heart imprisoned in my tower of self-protection? Or, like Joseph, will I be willing to pour out the tears that have been hidden?  Offering my heart is a beautiful response, but only prudent when pride has been put aside.

The story of Joseph offers me wise counsel in matters of the heart. He, like Jesus, had vast emotional capacities. He had many faces as he related to others. There were moments when he would have been called stoic, but underneath was a well of tears that revealed a broken heart.

There’s a time and a season for everything. There’s a time to conceal and a time to reveal. I must be careful that I don’t live a life of concealment; ever protecting a heart that has been hurt one too many times. I also must be careful that I don’t allow anyone, and everyone, access to every thought and emotion. Real maturity is knowing what Jesus would do amid complicated and ever shifting relationships.

Without instruction of whispers from You, I’m chaff in the wind and continual prey. Amen

Generalizations Are Unacceptable

We said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ Then you said to your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall not see my face again.’ Genesis 44:22-23

When I want peace badly enough, it’s easy to abandon God’s way to get it. I’ll take shortcuts to protect my pride. I’m much like Joseph’s brothers who wanted to do anything Joseph asked ~ except to go get Benjamin. They knew that if they agreed to do that, the sins of their past would be unearthed.

Joseph modeled the character of God as He required full and honest confession from his brothers. He was like God at that moment because it is a steep requirement for us as well as we go to great lengths to self-preserve our fragile egos. God will not settle for a watered down, generalized, admission of sin.  “Lord, I’ve done some things I regret,” does not suffice. “What specifically have you done,” He asks.Unless I’m humble enough to give a full disclosure, peace will elude me.  Sins are always specific ~ so must be my confessions.  For an unbeliever, eternity is at stake while they play with His terms.

God’s pathway to peace is through the cross. The way is steep – as evidenced by the fact that it cost Jesus His life. He asks for something steep in return. I’m required to face the full extent of my sin, own it, and ask for forgiveness. Prideful excuses abound in my heart but shouldn’t the One I’ve offended be the One who decides what it will require to make peace? God is the only One trustworthy to make this weighty decision. The terms are based on holiness and yet, they are driven by perfect love as well.

When I come on Your terms, it’s good for me.  And surprisingly, it’s healing. Amen

Parents and Children Can Eventually Be Friends

And we said to my lord, ‘We have a father, an old man, and a young brother, the child of his old age. His brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother’s children, and his father loves him.’ Genesis 44:20

Oh, a child’s painful journey to finally become his parent’s friend. To a child, parents are god-like, by divine intention. It takes a good chunk of adulthood for that child to see a parent’s humanity, to forgive the imperfections, and then to embrace friendship.

And oh, a parent must travel the painful journey to become their child’s friend. True friendship will be impossible without a willingness to adapt from being a parent to a peer. Parents will always see their child as a child, even in their 60’s and 70’s. Humility is necessary if parents want to learn from grown children, to be taught by them.

It took two decades for Judah to talk respectfully of his father and his father’s affections.  Though he had despised his father’s love for Joseph when he was a younger man, his words in today’s scripture are full of admiration, respect, and acceptance for who his father is and who his father loves.

Jaime, my daughter, and I work together in this ministry. Our relationship has evolved over the years. A mother/daughter relationship is wonderful and complicated. We will be the first to admit that. But it can become a work of glory when both are committed to grow amidst the challenges of getting older together. When people learn that we work together, most are surprised. “Really? And you get along?” We laugh but we also understand the question.

What is the secret of true fellowship in a relationship, whether friend or family?  Both must love God more than the other person. Under God’s wings, relationships thrive.

Your work of grace creates relational masterpieces. Amen

What Happens With A Disclosure

Then Judah went up to him and said, “Oh, my lord, please let your servant speak a word in my lord’s ears, and let not your anger burn against your servant, for you are like Pharaoh himself. Genesis 44:18

The brothers were cornered. Joseph planted treasure in Benjamin’s sack, knowing that he would have the legal right to claim Benjamin as his servant upon discovery. This brought his brothers to the breaking point. Judah repented for himself and his brothers, confessing the guilt which had only compounded over the years.

Oh, the power of confession. Not only am I to confess my sins to God, but I’m commanded to confess my sins to a brother or sister in Christ. This is hard. Instead, I’ll choose to carry the guilt of what I did long ago.  I’ll rationalize that I’ve asked God to forgive me, but the weight of my story presses in on me in ways I can’t measure. Not until I tell it and feel the release do I understand how much of a burden it really was.

Speaking my story to a safe person adds years to my life. Until I tell it, it isn’t real and has little clarity. The narrative is trapped in my own head and swirls around like a pool of sludge. Speaking what has been unspeakable gives it form. I am lighter. I am free as love and reminders of God’s forgiveness are returned from the one who is listening.

I think of the things I’ve said after talking about something private. “I never knew I felt this strongly about it.” “I’m surprised by how much I’m crying about this.” “Things make sense for the first time!”  Burdens of the heart crush us, and it need not be so.

For the one who is crying reading this, the one who cannot live another day in silence, give them the grace to tell their story. And show them who should be the ears of Joseph. Amen

What A Setup!

Then he commanded the steward of his house, “Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack, and put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, with his money for the grain.” And he did as Joseph told him.     Genesis 44:1-2

Just about the time the brothers believed all was well, the fires of testing increased. They finished eating a sumptuous meal at Joseph’s table and, all the while, did not know that he was their brother. They felt blessed, but Joseph didn’t intend to leave unresolved past issues alone. Hidden sins would be brought into the open. If his brothers were to experience mercy, they must suffer again.

To accomplish this, Joseph set them up to fail. Before they left on their journey home, he had his servant place a royal, silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. When the cup would be discovered, the brothers would understand that Benjamin, the other favorite son of their old father, would go to prison for stealing. Like Joseph, he would not return home, but it would not be their fault.  Not this time.  However, Jacob’s fear and grief would be identical to what happened so long ago when Joseph vanished.  History appeared to be repeating itself, and it would prove to be too much for these brothers. 

Joseph did what God often does to bring sinners home. What we think we can hide away will be revealed easily when He shapes a set of circumstances in our life. He concocts the perfect storm, for our good, to bring about a cleansing. Though it is ultimately a lifesaving wound, it feels like our demise. God does not appear kind, but cruel. We can be so angry that we vow never to draw close to Him again. We do not understand, at least at first, that this is the path to our blessing, not a curse-filled future.

The brothers will have to face Joseph again as criminals under arrest. Their future will be at the mercy of a leader they do not yet know. Prosperity, reconciliation, and blessing are all waiting for them but for now, they faint under the burden of their past sins.  To experience the mercy of Christ, each of us must know this moment. If we have no need of a Savior, we will not cherish salvation and the God who extends it.

 Your parenting is not vindictive but is entirely driven by perfect love. Amen