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.

Hope Renewed

When the book SURRENDERING TO HOPE came out, I started blogging through the chapters. There were a few reasons for that. One, I wanted to share the diversity of subjects and authors found in this book. Also, I wanted to reach out to those who were going through various experiences so they would know that there are Christians who understand…they are going through them as well.  Somehow, I got sidetracked and didn’t blog for a bit, but I did want to get back to making my way through this book. 

Hope Renewed is the appropriately titled chapter by my friend Paula Harrington. She begins by sharing, “I’m drawn to the survivor stories of the Bible.” When you read her chapter, you won’t wonder why: Paula is a survivor. Her dad was a preacher who died at a too-young 30 years old, a victim of the terrible disease known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Paula remembers that this was a catalyst for very dark times in her family. In her struggle to cope, Paula’s bi-polar mother wrestled with addiction that spiraled out of control. The death of Paula’s mother created more difficult situations that she outlines in this chapter. Eventually, she writes…

“I had a two-year-old and a two-week-old when I became a single mother. I was twenty-two with no place to live, no car, no job, no money, and no parents.”

Did I mention that Paula is a survivor? Through her disappointments and discouragements, she remembered her childhood spent listening to her father talk about his faith. Like many others in SURRENDERING TO HOPE, she ultimately found hope in the One who offers it to all. By turning to Christ she found she had the power to rebuild her broken life.

“Every time I see myself as a failure, I remind myself that God calls me chosen. Every time I remember a sin, God whispers ‘You are forgiven.’ When I dwell on my faults and weaknesses, God covers me in grace and calls me beloved.”

Looking back over the circumstances that defined her young life, Paula can see that God was at work in unexpected ways. Because of her specific struggles, she can identify with others who are going through the same things.  Paula has used her survival skills to bless in a personal way those who suffer through the hardships of life.

“I finally appreciate that there is peace, joy, and hope in the midst of turmoil and dysfunction. I learned firsthand that God is the father of the fatherless and will not leave us as orphans … Hope has a name and its name is Jesus.”

I hope you’ll pick up a copy of SURRENDERING TO HOPE in either paperback or ebook for your Kindle. I know I was blessed to read through Paula’s story, especially when I notice how she continues to amazingly extend herself to the impoverished, imprisoned, and those in impossible situations. 

Paula is a public school teacher in Paducah, Kentucky.  She writes a column for the Marshall County Daily. Paula and her husband, John, are the parents of five children. She is compiler and editor of the books, Once Upon a Bible ClassA Common Bond, and Sunday Afternoon with the Preachers’ Wives. Her work has appeared in Christian Woman magazine, the Christian Chronicle newspaper, and numerous other sites and websites. A preacher’s kid, grand-kid, niece, and sister, she enjoys speaking at ladies events, workshops, and lectureships. You can connect to Paula on Facebook. Read her BLOG.  Follow her on Twitter (@paulaharington).

Surrendering to Hope is edited by John Mark Hicks, Christine Fox Parker, and Bobby Valentine and is available from Leafwood Publishers and other booksellers.

Abram’s Choice

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will  make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. – Genesis 12:1-3 NRSV

Abram, as I see it, has kind of a sudden prominence in the Genesis story. There’s not much lead up to God’s amazing promise in this text. With Adam, we knew he was God’s first created human. With Noah, we knew that he stood out among all the people of his generation. With Abram? All we know about him is that he is the son of Terah. Terah gathered up his family in Ur of the Chaldeans and headed to Canaan. But he never got there. He stopped off in Haran and settled in there. Terah died without ever moving to Canaan. He left behind two sons (one had died) and their families. Abram was one of those sons. And he had a message from God to uproot from Haran and make his way to an undisclosed location. It’s not only undisclosed to us, it was undisclosed to Abram.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. – Hebrews 11:8

I suppose when one hears the voice of God there is some motivation to do whatever that voice says. Noah built an ark, indicating there was no doubt in his mind about what God wanted him to do. On one hand, we might say Abram had no choice in the matter. On the other hand, it seems to me that Abram’s choice was to obey this message from God – a God one wouldn’t think Abram knew. 

As I read it, Abram kept getting messages from God with affirmations of amazing promises. In response, Abram kept on responding in the belief that God would do what He said he would do. 

Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” – Roman s 4:18

And that promise (spoiler alert) was fulfilled, but it took a long time. In the meantime, Abram tried to make it come about by figuring out how to help God keep his promise. It was, after all, in his best interest for those promises to come true. When the promised son became a reality, the truth was demonstrated once again that our timing and God’s timing aren’t often in sync. But that’s another text. So much of the story of Abram depends on his answer to this call. Abram’s decision. I know the matter of ‘choice’ has vast theological turbulence among Christian thinkers. But I don’t only think Abram decided to follow God in this instance, but over and over throughout his life.  Abram’s choice to follow God …

Cost him everything.

Gave him everything.

Complicated his life.

Simplified his life.

Challenged his thinking.

Enabled his faith.

No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  – Romans 4:20-21

There’s a reason Abram is the father of the faithful. It’s not because he was perfect, flawless, without failures. It’s not because he was a charismatic leader. It’s not because he figured out how to give God what he wanted. 

He believed God. He believed God above the idols of his youth. He believed God when he took the first steps in a direction toward an unknown destination. He believed God before he ever received one of the promised blessings. He believed God when his body was dead but a promised son was still on the horizon. He believed God when he took Isaac to the mountain in Moriah. 

Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. – James 2:23

To have that kind of faith, to just believe God, in this age of skepticism is an amazement. How many ‘friends of God’ are there today? What decision do you need to make so that you can demonstrate that you believe God? What choices are in front of you? Where will that lead you?

The life of faith is not a life of mounting up with wings, but a life of walking and not fainting. It is not a question of sanctification; but of something infinitely further on than sanctification, of faith that has been tried and proved and has stood the test. Abraham is not a type of sanctification, but a type of the life of faith, a tried faith built on a real God. “Abraham believed God.” – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

One more thought. By the end of our text, Abram pitches his tent. He chooses a spot between Ai and Bethel. Ai means “heap of ruins” and Bethel means “House of God”. So we leave our hero someplace between ruin and riches, defeat and victory. I think this is where we all live. But where we go next is a choice. 

What thoughts do you have as you read Genesis 12:1-9?

Narrative Lectionary for this week is Genesis 12:1-9. Gospel Reading is Matthew 28:19-20.