Israel’s Question

The texts for the Narrative Lectionary this week are Exodus 14:5-7, 10-14, 21-29 (just say Exodus 14, it’s just annoying for them to leave snippets out! Ok, got that out of my system) and the Gospel text is Matthew 2:13-15. The very familiar story of the Exodus is one of the overarching themes of the Bible. So much is happening in this text.  Dr. Cory Driver notes the many movements of the text: 

The Israelite experience of freedom was deeply confusing: 
The Israelites were freed with gifts of gold and silver. 
And then they were pursued by an army. 
And then Moses told them to be still and see what God would do. 
And then God told them to stop standing still and move forward.
And then the pillar that had been leading them moved behind them.
And then they walked through the depths of a sea on dry land.
And then the army pursued them.
And then the army was drowned.

The question that the children of Israel ask has always stood out to me. 

Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us out into the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? – Exodus 14:11

I could probably read too much of myself into this text. I’m the king of second-guessers. I can feel so sure about something one minute, then wonder if it’s the right path the next. The children of Israel were rich with the gold of the Egyptians. They were free. They were following a leader who demonstrated that God was with him through ten plagues. After 400 years of oppression, people who had only known themselves as slaves marched victoriously out of the hands of their heavy-handed master. 

But with a sea before them and an aggressive army behind them, they began to second guess this decision. 

Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert! – Exodus 14:12

I am wondering what Moses was thinking at this point. He flounders a little. What do we do? we just stay put and trust that God will deliver us. But God doesn’t intend for them to stay put. He wants them to move forward. And when his providential pathway opens up, they do.

I’ve been there, haven’t you?

When tragedy strikes we can wonder, “God, is this the best you can do?”

When we are victimized by others we can think, “Lord, I’m doing what I can on this end… but there’s so much pain to deal with and it seems like you’re just busy somewhere else.”

When our lives have fallen apart we can ponder, “Maybe I should just give up on God and live however I want. It can’t get any worse.”

God, are you there? No path forward? Going backward seems … somehow safer? More comfortable? I wonder if God is going to do anything? 

I’m sure there was that moment when the children of Israel bathed in their doubts, but then God came through when He knew it was the best time to do so. This did not stop the children of Israel from ever doubting again … by a longshot. But it did give them a clear picture. 

And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant. – Exodus 14:31

Israel’s question was answered. Moses didn’t bring them out into the desert to die, but to live. 

If you study/preach with the Narrative Lectionary you are invited to my Facebook group called Narrative Lectionarians where I’ll share resources each week.  JD

 

Shattered Dreams

The book SURRENDERING TO HOPE is a compendium of chapters by several different authors, each identifying how a relationship with God helped them through the worst of circumstances. If you think that sounds trite or easy, read through some of my posts as I have blogged through this book. I am truly stunned at the experiences of these authors and how they managed to hang on to faith when there was nothing less. When all their dreams were shattered, they still knew that God was with them.

Shattered Dreams is a chapter written by my friend Bobby Valentine. He begins his chapter by relating with enthusiasm the time he met his wife and the beautiful daughters that they enjoyed. They moved to Arizona to work with a church. They moved into a house that they had built. His wife took a class at the local college that Fall. It all seemed so perfect.

One Sunday morning in December, my wife and I went to church early so that she could email her final assignment from the office computer. Between Bible class and the worship assembly, she left. … I discovered on my computer her unclosed email to her professor with whom she had run off.

As Bobby writes, “The dream was over.” He shares vividly the painful feelings and consequences of his wife’s departure. “Shattered dreams hurt like hell. They are, in fact, hell.” Those who have suffered through the hurt of divorce can relate, I’m certain of that.

In a search for God’s wisdom grace in all of this painful experience, Bobby found that through ‘glimpses of God’ he could see the ‘gifts of grace’ that would help him move forward. These included the church.

When I literally had no place to stay, God reached out through Christ’s body to pick up my broken pieces.

Other gifts from God included Solitude and silence, friends, and the fellowship of tears.

God has not chosen to reveal to me why hell invaded my family. I have not discovered secret insights from church, solitude, or friends. What I have found is the communion of broken hearts and the fellowship of tears. My own tears are reflected in God’s pain, suffering, and tears.

Scattered throughout Bobby’s chapter are somber but helpful Scriptures that remind us that God suffers as we suffer. In many ways he discovers that after Shattered Dreams, “God raises up new dreams.”

I invite you to get a copy of Surrendering to Hope and read in much greater detail Bobby’s journey through the pain of divorce. Especially if you have been left behind by someone you once loved, I believe it will bless you.

Bobby Valentine is the minister for the Eastside Church of Christ in Anitoch, California. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter. You can follow his blog Stoned-Campbell Disciple. 

Surrendering to Hope is published by Leafwood Books and is edited by John Mark Hicks, Christine Fox Parker, and Bobby Valentine.

 

Joseph’s Run

The Narrative Lectionary leads us farther into the Old Testament story this week by pointing us to Genesis 39. If there is an ancient story with more contemporary ties, I don’t know what it would be.

Bible students are familiar with the long arc of the story of Joseph. He was the 11th son of Jacob and a favorite son. It was upon Joseph that the coat of many colors was bestowed. Joseph had dreams of his brothers bowing down before him. As unlikely as this was (from a human perspective), Joseph showed little discretion in telling his brothers about it. They hated him for his favored status and his delusions of grandeur. Sibling rivalry, it appears, is an ancient reality. So they sold him to some Ishmaelite traders (Thankfully, Reuben talked them out of killing him. That’s what big brothers are for!). They dipped his colorful coat in animal’s blood and cold-heartedly told their father that Joseph was dead. I guess they learned deception from the master of it. Uncle Esau almost killed their father over a lie and the loss of a blessing, but that’s another story. Our text finds Joseph in the next chapter of his life, a slave in Potiphar’s house.

No one would think Joseph was a lucky guy, but he did get taken down to Egypt where one of Pharoah’s officials bought him. It became obvious to Potiphar that the Lord was with Joseph and he gave him the keys to his house and business to oversee everything.  It became obvious to Potiphar’s wife that “Joseph was well-built and handsome” (vs. 6) and that she wanted to seduce him. He did refuse, out of loyalty to Potiphar. But Mrs. Potiphar continued “day after day” … until she cooked up a plan to bribe him into sleeping with her.  He didn’t give in, and she put her plan into motion. She produced “evidence” that he had tried to sexually assault her.  For this, he was put into prison. In prison, by the way, the warden could see that the Lord was with him and he gave him responsibilities. 

This story is epic. We won’t cover the ascension to a powerful position as a ruler Egypt. We can’t get to the reunion with his brothers and father. We can’t talk about the offer for Israel and his people to come to the land of Goshen. And how that all led to 400 years of slavery and the Exodus. We are anchored in this one episode – an episode that many times we read over quickly to get to the exciting part of the story. But we shouldn’t move too quickly, for there are some important things here in our text. 

*Joseph suffered several injustices that we often see today.

– He was a victim of human trafficking, being sold by those who had power over him.

– He was a victim of human slavery. Although he was treated well and given responsibility, we cannot lose sight that he was a slave against his will.

– He is a victim of racism, as he is typecast here as a slave because of his background. Potiphar’s wife exclaimed, “This Hebrew…”

– He was a victim of sexual harassment. There was someone with power over him demanding sexual favor. 

– He was a victim of wrongful accusation. He was not believed. 

– He was a victim of incarceration because of false circumstances.

– He was a man of integrity, running away from temptation.

Human trafficking, slavery, sexual assault, wrongful accusation, false imprisonment – did this story come from this week’s headlines? The injustices this Hebrew young man faced would leave anyone bitter, resentful, and disinterested in a God who would let this happen. But that is not his attitude. 

*The Lord was with Joseph. Four times in this text the Scripture says that the Lord was with Joseph. From a human perspective, that’s not quite evident, is it? We generally believe that when life is good the Lord is with us. How many times when misfortune or injustice strikes do we say ‘the Lord is with us’? 

Our text leaves us with Joseph in jail and his life story unresolved. In a way, that is good, because that describes our own situations. We don’t know how everything is going to turn out. What do we do when life has given us one hurt after another? Not just general unhappiness, but the kind of hurts that leave scars and make us wonder if we’re going to survive. A few overall observations about considering that ‘the Lord is with us’ in our times of pain…

*The Lord is with us if we are with Him. Many ungodly people wonder why bad things happen and God doesn’t do anything about it. While I do believe God hears every prayer, for those who have rejected God in their lives we shouldn’t wonder if the Lord is with them. In light of what we know, He allows us to wander away and go out on our own and be prodigal children. So everyone who suffers and injustice does not do so as one who is with the Lord.

*The Lord is with us but that doesn’t remove suffering.  Joseph suffered in multiple, dehumanizing, painful ways. The idea that living for God only results in good things happening in life is false. One only has to look to Christ on the cross to know that godly living does not remove suffering. In some ways, people can suffer because they live for God.

*The Lord is with us so we can act in godly ways during distress. When faced with a crisis many people abandon the Lord, others seek him more deeply. Joseph continued to serve God and he was ultimately rewarded to be in a place of power. It was during this time of power that his brothers came and bowed before him and begged him for help (not knowing he was their brother). This is the perfect time for revenge. Everyone in a position of power over him had sought to harm or treat him in inhumane ways. It was during this time he used his power for good. Although Joseph doesn’t know what the future brings as we read our text, we do not see him mistreating others. 

*The Lord is with us and in His presence tells us….

– He knows our hurts.

– He hears our prayers.

– He gives us strength and grace for endurance.

– He empowers us to make a difference. 

– He will never leave us.

– He ultimately will rescue.

In our day Joseph could have used a #metoo hashtag and could have spoken out against sexual harassment. He could have named the one who attempted to molest him. He could remind us of the destructive practice of human trafikking. He could have spoken out against slavery.  In these ways Joseph is very real in our world. Whatever hurts you have experienced, whether we named them this morning or not, I encourage you to find your hope in the Lord who is with you.

 

Grace Beyond the Curse

We only have a few more chapters to share from SURRENDERING TO HOPE.  It is my prayer that these sketches will give you an idea of the scope of pain and struggle that the authors of this book relate, and how each one finds guidance and hope in Jesus.  That same hope is available to you, dear friend. In your pain, you are not alone.

This is certainly a message that Jim Holway needed. His story contains many elements of painful experience that might have defeated many men. Jim was born in Seoul, South Korea. His mother was Korean, his father was a U. S. Soldier who had no intentions of raising a family. Before he was a year old he contracted polio. Because he was mixed race, he was treated with contempt by his culture. Ultimately, unable to provide the kind of care and help he needed, his mother put he and his brother up for adoption. In the orphanage, his half-brother contracted tuberculosis of the spine.

While it might have seemed like the end of the world, this was one of the first demonstrations of grace in my life … At every turn, when things could have gone quite badly, God found a way to break through the gloom and darkness to provide a ray of light and hope. But it was a ray I would not be able to see for half a lifetime.

The two hurting brothers were adopted by John Holway and his Japanese wife, Motoko, and raised in Manassas, Virginia. Multiple health problems continued to plague Jim, the resulting complications of polio. But that was not the only painful problem Jim faced. His parents were not Christians, and his mother was “physically, emotionally, and verbally abusive”. This and the effects of the divorce of his parents led him down a path of drug and alcohol abuse.  Further risky behavior ended with an arrest.

When Jim was nineteen a group of college students fro Freed-Hardeman College came to Manassas on an evangelistic outreach mission.

Their warmth, love, and acceptance led me to the healthy relationships for which had longed my entire life. In Jesus and his family, I found the belonging for which I had been searching. I followed the campaign group to Freed to attend school.

It as there that he met Kathryn and they moved to Argentina to do mission work. They had two children and adopted a third. The painful problem with polio seemed in the far distance and he was able to do all he wanted to do.  Upon moving back to the States, however, post-polio syndrome struck.

I hope you’ll pick up a copy of SURRENDERING TO HOPE to find out how Jim faced yet again the physical debilitating challenges in front of him. After noting the pain he now lives with he writes:

God has been watching over my life, and every time Satan made a move against me, God countered that move with divine grace. I can’t choose the pain or discomfort I feel, but I can choose my perspective in response to that pain.

I don’t know what pain you are facing today, but reading about Jim’s struggles and how he turned to God to find grace is truly inspirational.

Jim and Kathryn Holway

 

Jim Holway is Field Coordinator for Latin American Mission Project (LAMP), and Minister, Sunset Church of Christ, Miami, Florida.

 

 

 

 

In the next post about Surrendering to Hope, we meet a minister who manages to find gifts from God in the midst of his shattered dreams when divorce becomes his reality.

Surrendering to Hope is edited by John Mark Hicks, Christine Fox Parker, and Bobby Valentine. It is published by Leafwood Publishing.

Disaster Relief

UPDATED 9.16.18

It is unfortunate that over the years there has been a need to keep a list like this handy. Not only for hurricanes but fires, floods, and twisters. We live in an ecosystem that produces this kind of turbulent weather. Disaster is an opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ. God bless all volunteers/professionals and givers who help make what they do possible. 

There are many many wonderful relief agencies that will be doing all they can to reach out to the communities suffering from devastation. The following is a list of those that I have experience with and that I can recommend. I appreciate greatly those relief agencies that work through local churches because of the contacts these churches already have in the community. All of these (AND MORE) came to our rescue after Hurricane Katrina.

One Kingdom: Whites Ferry Road Relief Ministry

Disaster Assistance COC

Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort

Churches of Christ Disaster Response Team

International Disaster Emergency Service

Operation Nehemiah

Convoy of Hope

Samaritan’s Purse

From The Christian Chronicle:

Article from last year about Harvey Disaster Relief.

Advice for Churches in the path of storms from those who have been there.

East Coast Christians Prepare for Hurricane Florence.

I thank God for those who give so much of themselves to bless strangers who are suffering.

Thanks for reading, John

 

Restored Identity

I think one of the great values of a book like SURRENDERING TO HOPE is to gain insight into the struggles of others. This can lead to greater compassion as well as an ability to understand, to some degree, the depth of pain that someone is going through.

In Lee Ann Foster’s chapter, Restored Identity, a painful path of abuse, trauma, and recovery is revealed. At the center of this story is the fact that Lee Ann was adopted at two weeks of age. When she was eight years old, her adoptive mother died. Her adoptive father remarried quickly. But she was already living in a cycle of abuse began that had a significant impact on the rest of her life. She writes, “...I endured physical, emotional, and sexual abuse at the hands of many different people from the time I was four years of age until my early teen years.” Living in this hostile world of abuse and distrust had a significant effect on Lee Ann’s life.

…I chose another identity. I would become the invisible one. I would live life under the radar. And it worked! Well, it worked some of the time. … I never felt safe.

After some turbulent experiences in college and graduate school, she met Jesus and her husband! “...I experienced several years of spiritual and emotional growth. I dove into the Scriptures and grew in my ability to enjoy human relationships. We had two children...”

This could be the end of the story, but we should know that surviving traumatic abuse isn’t solved in a few easy steps. As Lee Ann’s daughters grew older, she began to suffer from ‘invasive visions of violence and tragedy overtaking’ her girls. I can only imagine how her childhood experiences were repeating themselves mentally. Only someone who has been through it can truly understand.

Using the trauma of childhood abuse is one of the enemy’s most prized strategies for disempowering God’s kingdom on earth. 

This is not a hopeless story at all, but in keeping with our theme of SURRENDERING TO HOPE, Lee Ann experienced some profound healing. I hope you will buy the book and read about how she found hope and healing through counselors, mentors, retreats … and an amazing blessing from God when she found her birth mother. That wasn’t the end of her struggles, but ultimately hope has found its way into Lee Ann’s heart.

I wish I could say I’m completely healed now, but I am not. There seem to be layers of healing that the Lord reveals as I journey through the seasons of life … What I have now that I did not have before I addressed my trauma is a deepening, conversational relationship with Jesus … What I have now is a better sense of my true identity.

In our next chapter, we meet a Korean-born son of a soldier who was stricken with polio, given up for adoption into an abusive family. Then one day he met a student from a Christian University.

______

Lee Ann Foster is co-owner of Neurosource. Lee Ann’s passion is to help people learn how to live the healthiest, happiest, most fulfilling lives possible. As a Master’s level psychologist, counselor, a Wellness & Epigenetics Coach, a Neurofeedback provider, a Stress Resilience expert, a Psych-K Facilitator, and a lover of God and people, Lee Ann gives her clients the type of care that is well rounded, holistic, and evidence based. Even more importantly, she helps people learn how to take care of themselves and become their own healers.

SURRENDERING TO HOPE: GUIDANCE FOR THE BROKEN is Edited by John Mark Hicks, Christine Fox Parker, and Bobby Valentine. It was published this year by Leafwood Publishers.