“Can’t You Hear Your Brother Crying?

And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. Then they sat down to eat. Genesis 37:25-25a

A group of grown men seized their own flesh and blood brother, stripped him, threw him into a pit, and then commenced to sit down and eat a meal. They were immune to the despair they inflicted. It’s unconscionable, or is it?

Consider how callousness starts. Brothers and sisters, even very young, reach out to hit their sibling and discover a surprising sense of glee when they realize they can make them cry. Good parents come and try to instill empathy. “What you did hurt your sister. Tell her you’re sorry!” And yet, the apology is hard to muster. Cruelty is in our fallen nature.

 

How will I develop keen sensitivity to others’ pain? How will I feel anothers sadness when I see pools of tears in their eyes? How will I feel enough remorse when my need for revenge caused me to injure someone beyond human repair? How will I come to regret an angry outburst against my child when I hear him whimpering in his room? Without God, callouses of my heart grow thicker with the years. I can hear weeping and still walk away unmoved.

But with God, I am affected and changed by His Spirit that lives inside. When I see someone’s pain, His compassion rises up and challenges me to express it. When I wound another with my angry words, His Spirit convicts me and opens my eyes to see the damage. In this life, I will continue to sin but when I do, I will feel how God feels about it and try to quickly make things right.

 

As I’m writing this, I’m suddenly aware that I can be callous to God’s tears. Does knowing that I will hurt Him cause me to sin less? Or do I avoid sin because I hate the consequences? That should be a side issue. What should deter me is knowing that my sin hurts my relationship with Jesus.

So, how difficult is it to apologize to Jesus when I’ve hurt Him? Excusing or rationalizing my behavior creates spiritual callouses. The cure is to spend time in the presence of God. Being near Him will sharpen my recognition of good and evil and give me the tender, teachable spirit of a toddler. Spiritual regeneration is when God turns back the clock to transform the person with a hardened heart of stone into a person with childlike sensitivities. At rebirth, I am putty in His hands as He begins to awaken my heart to beat like His.

Keep nudging me, Jesus. Keep asking, “Do you see it? Do You feel it?” Make me more aware of what moves you. In Jesus’ name, Amen

You Are Now Who You Are In Heaven

So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. Genesis 37:23

 

Joseph was stripped of his robe of honor. Jesus was stripped of his robe, too. The momentary humiliation didn’t change the destiny or the spiritual identity of either. Jesus stayed in touch with His divine favor but I suspect that Joseph did not. History would prove that the brother’s destruction of the robe of many colors impacted him greatly but, ultimately, it did nothing to stop Joseph’s ascension to a royal position in Egypt.  Their sin against him only propelled him to an exile that led to glory.

Jesus was God’s Son whether anyone acknowledged it or not. If the accusation flew that he was only the illegitimate son of Mary, Jesus was still God. When the crowd publicly humiliated him by accusing him of demonic possession, Jesus was still God. When His family eventually turned on Him and believed Him to be mentally unstable, Jesus was still God. When He hung on a Roman cross and died the most degrading death in the Roman culture, His spiritual status did not change. Jesus was still God.

 

If ever there were a time I needed to settle my spiritual identity, it’s now. This world is  growing more and more unfriendly to the name of Jesus Christ and anyone who is associated with Him will experience discrimination. If a barb from a parent can lay me low for four decades, how will I survive if a community ostracizes me? I will remember that I’m a much loved, cherished child of God.  If unfair criticism from a local spiritual leader sends me into hiding, how will I sustain the intentional diatribe of non-Christians who are salivating to misjudge?  I will remember that I’m a much loved, cherished child of God.

 

No ill treatment in this world can change my status in heaven nor will it change my status on earth as far as how God sees me.  His opinion and conferred status is eternal and the only honor that matters.  It trumps all dis-honor.  The degradation of others should be discounted; it will pass away.  While earth bestows the basest kind of shame, God bestows the heavenliest kind of honor.

 

The only way to stay in touch with these beautiful realities is to read a Word that is eternal, not temporary. Whatever it says, I can stake on it being true forever and ever. Today, I may be Joseph in a pit. Tomorrow, I will be reigning with Christ.

Every time Jesus was crushed, He looked up until He felt Your favor. I lock my eyes on You today. In Jesus’ name, Amen

Doing The Same Things My Father Did

Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father. Genesis 37:20-22

 

There is a father who will take out his anger on his children today. He will cut them to shreds with a sharp rebuke and they will shrink and go into hiding. He’s done it before. He even saw the damage in their eyes but that did not deter him.

 

There is a middle-aged woman who will see dreaded circumstances repeat themselves. She will say, “Oh no, not again!” but she will make the same disastrous choice she made the last time. She does not see that God is giving her another chance in order to do something different.

 

Reuben, for all his faults, did make a different choice. (Although not one that was drastic enough.) He had sinned against his father many times throughout his youth and had experienced the stab in his own heart as he saw his father’s pain. The last offense he committed was sleeping with Bilhah, his father’s concubine. With that fresh in his memory, he will not agree to take the life of Joseph, his father’s favored son. He could not bear the thought of Jacob’s grief yet again.

 

Do I really learn from my mistakes? The magical answer is ‘yes’. Who is going to repeatedly put their hand over an open flame? That is naive. When bad behavior is generational, thoughts of stopping the pattern don’t come easily. By default, we live as our fathers did.

 

Jesus told Nicodemus two critical things. 1.) ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh.’ We are like whom we came from. I am a product of a mother and father and will possess not only their physical characteristics but their holy and sinful bents as well. I will not deviate without spiritual transformation. And, 2.) ‘That which is born of the Spirit is Spirit.’ I am to be like by new Father because I was born of His Word and His Spirit. So here’s the question that replays in my mind? Am I more like my new Father than my earthly parents? I should be if the new birth and the things of the Spirit are nurtured.

 

How does this relate to learning from my mistakes? When I repeat the foolishness of my youth, the Spirit of God calls to me. “Why are you doing that? You’re now my own daughter and I’m calling you out to be like me, not them.” Past mistakes are a mirror. I see the reflection of my former self against the reflection of my brother, Jesus, standing next to me. With just a glance, I walk away and have no appetite for the former things.

Forget my last name today, Lord. I am Christine – of God’s heart. In Jesus’ name, Amen

Making Others Listen

Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” Genesis 37:9-10

When Joseph shared his first dream with his brothers, it didn’t go well. They despised him for it.  So why in the world would he go ahead and tell them his second dream? Perhaps, in his enthusiasm, he just couldn’t help himself. Maybe his strong desire for their respect drove him to it.  He was young after all and obviously impetuous. He wanted their love, the same kind that his father felt for him.

I can be so much like Joseph and make the same mistake.  When I’m excited about something, I want to tell someone. I hope others close to me will share my joy but when I open up indiscriminately, rejection is often the outcome.  Chances are, this has played out poorly before.  It’s a family pattern.  So, why do I put myself through this over and over again?  Maybe my need for approval is so strong that discretion goes out the door. Or, I suffer from magical thinking. “This time will be different.  I know they’ll listen!”

Sharing my passion with the same group of unreceptive people, believing they’ll eventually get it, is unwise. While I’m talking, they may be rolling their eyes. That never feels good.  For whatever reasons, they are simply closed-minded and it would be wise for me to acknowledge that.  I need divine restraint.  I need to stop talking out of personal need rather than holy mission.

A season of quietness and prayerfulness is needed. God needs to heal the rejection my soul suffers. He also needs to show me if my words are framed by a need to be right. When I’ve been mis-judged, I just want to fix it. I want to be vindicated but maybe their own brokenness will prevent them from ever really hearing me.

So, what do I do with my need to be liked, respected, validated and accepted? I take my needs to the One who makes me whole in His presence.

Healer of my soul, mend the ragged edges of my soul. Amen

Taunting Of The Brothers

He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us?” Genesis 37:6-8

Can you hear the brothers’ outrage? They were incredulous as they asked the question, “Are you indeed to reign over us?” Time gave them their answer with more than a touch of irony.  At the end of the book of Genesis, Pharaoh set Joseph in the chariot behind him, announcing him as 2nd in command of all of Egypt.

This prompts me to think of others who were incredulous as they posed their rhetorical questions.  Some time in the future, the Philistines laughed as they questioned Saul about the absurdity of a small unarmed boy taking on their Goliath.  Much later than that, chief priests, Pharisees, and the likes of Pilate posed similar questions to Jesus about His claim to be a King.  All these questions were answered by a God who reminds us that He is not predictable and nothing is impossible when He is behind it. He uses the foolish, the uneducated, the weak, the stuttering, the outnumbered, the shamed, the forgotten, the underdog, and the smallest…to glorify His name.

Who is laughing at you? Perhaps you’ve heard a rhetorical question already today. “Who do you think you are!” When God’s child knows that he is called, loved, blessed, and empowered by the Spirit of God, such confidence offends others even if clothed with humility.  It can even rub against the grain of those in the family of God.

For each who has been taunted today, know you are in good company. Do not let any man steal your confidence. Time will write your story and silence the voice of every accuser. Walk humbly with your God and without apology.

Do not let accusers undo me. In Jesus’ name, Amen

Favoritism. It’s Complicated.

Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. Genesis 37:2-3

Favoritism can be complicated. Take Jacob and his son, Joseph. Jacob didn’t make Joseph his favorite to spite other righteous sons. Many of the others had proven themselves to be troublemakers, bound up in foolishness. They had spurned their father’s ways and had left a trail of disappointment and hurt. Jacob didn’t spoil Joseph either by giving him a life of ease. He trained him to work hard and to do so with godly ethics.

I’m not defending the fact that Jacob showed favoritism. It wasn’t right. He acted unwisely and set things up for the other sons to hate their brother. From a sibling’s perspective, favoritism never works out well.

But from a parent’s perspective, the heart is a complicated thing. It can be difficult to have the same affection for each of your children. If one is bent toward evil, disrespects authority, and has no regard for family, isn’t it difficult to love that one as much as another whose heart clearly belongs to God? It can be hard to disguise the pleasure you feel over the one that is righteous. It’s equally hard to hide the pain the other one inflicts when they act out against members of your family.

This is where each mother and father needs Jesus desperately. Only He can daily heal the hurts caused by a wayward child. Only He can give the spiritual fuel necessary to love the renegade wisely. Only He can show parents how to bestow unconditional love to two kinds of children. How will the child who loves rebellion not see the delight in his parent’s eyes over the ‘good’ sibling? God is the only one who can write the relational roadmap for these dynamics.

In the long run, Jacob should have learned from his own troubled childhood. Favoritism didn’t work out well between he and Esau. Now, he repeats it again by failing to disguise his deep affection for Joseph. He will give him a coat, the kind of coat only a royal child would wear. This will fuel the other’s hatred for their brother. In spite of Jacob’s mistakes, God’s purpose for Joseph and the future of Israel will not be thwarted. That is comforting, isn’t it?

You are the God of grace and redemption. Bind our families together in righteousness so that we still stand in the last day. In Jesus’ name, Amen

He Knew How His Words Affected Others

Brothers and sisters, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation.  Hebrews 13:22

It’s the end of Hebrews ~  and it bears the author’s last words.  This book is far from being lightweight in content.  The hard times for Jewish believers called for weightiness but with strong encouragement comes the risk of offense.

Though we’re not told who the author is of the book of Hebrews, he calls his writing ‘an exhortation.’  In just this last chapter, there are many ‘exhortations’ that could easily offend.

  • Submit to your leaders.
  • Continually offer up praises to God.
  • Take the time to do good to others.
  • Imitate the life of your leaders.
  • Don’t be carried away by strange teachings.

With each, it’s easy to bristle.

  • Have you seen who my leader is? I should submit to the likes of him?
  • You haven’t seen my life lately. You are asking me to praise now?
  • Like I haven’t already done good to others?!
  • What’s wrong with the way I am living?
  • I’m far more stable than that!  How little do you respect me?!

An exhorter often has a tough time in the family of God.  Their Spirit-empowered gift enables them to perceive spiritual immaturity.  This person is driven to point out opportunities for spiritual growth.  Trials are met with encouragements rather than words of compassion.  Exhorters see conversations as opportunities to give spiritual help, to offer biblical perspectives on things, but with such compulsions, there can be a lot of resistance.  Rejection is continually a threat for this servant of God.

The whole book is a mouthful.  While it is beautiful in its exposition of Christ as the supreme One, it is not a book we encourage a new believer to read.  I recall New Year’s Eve – 1 year ago – when I felt God was leading me to teach this book through these daily writings.  I trembled with the responsibility.  I am no seminarian.  Yet here we are.

Thank you, God, for leading me.  Thank you, Jesus, for invading history as my perfect High Priest.  Thank you, Holy Spirit, for faithfully unveiling these scriptures so that my pen could engage with the paper.  To You be all glory.  Amen

And thank you, my dear devotional friends, for the privilege of sharing this last year’s journey with you.  May His Word always tremble with wonder in our hands.

Christine