Reconciliation…

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Genesis 45:3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. 4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt….13 You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery many years before. And now, after Joseph had become second only to Pharaoh in Egypt, they were openly reunited. It’s a lovely scene of forgiveness and reconciliation. Two things strike me about this passage.

First, this is one troubled family. Jacob the father openly favored his young son Joseph over his older brothers. Joseph was an immature brat who didn’t mind flaunting his favored status in front of his brothers – who hated him. Then his brothers sold him into slavery in retribution. There is more here, but you get the picture. This is not a “Leave it to Beaver” family. It’s messed up.

Secondly, despite all the bad blood and difficult history, reconciliation takes place. Yes, it took a long time to happen, but it happened.

Every family has problems and issues and baggage accumulated over the decades. Most families find ways to deal with the conflicts and remain mostly together. But sometimes the difficulties are so great a family breaks apart. People do and say things they can’t take back. People get cut off from the rest of the family. Others choose to leave, never to return.

Today’s story reminds me that, with the power of God and a commitment to forgiveness, dividing walls can come down and relationships restored. This morning I’m thinking of places where restoration is needed in my own family. How about yours?

Dear Lord, families are precious things as well as fragile things. Where there is trauma, bring healing. Where there is division, bring unity. Where there is resentment, bring forgiveness. In our own power we cannot do it. The scars are too deep, the wounds too severe. Give us grace to be agents of peace in our families. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Dogs? Really?

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Matthew 15:21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Wow. We’re told Jesus ventured into Gentile territory (Tyre and Sidon), presumably to get relief from the Jewish crowds following him everywhere. But it doesn’t work. Gentiles have heard about Jesus’ miraculous healing power and pursue him as the Jews did. Then we’re told about a particular “Canaanite woman”. She is desperate for healing for her demon-possessed daughter and cries out to Jesus. Again and again (v.22). Jesus’ response is shocking to me.

First, he ignores the woman. Okay, I understand Jesus didn’t heal everyone all the time. But then he goes on to insult her, referring to her kind as “dogs”. Dang! What’s that about? It has been said that Jesus reflected the heart of God the Father – but in this case I don’t think he did. Jesus was both truly God – and truly human (perhaps with all the resentments and prejudices humans typically engender). He was brought up in a culture that viewed Canaanites as ancient enemies of Israel and a people inferior to Jews. It’s my estimation that, in this case, Jesus’ humanity shows through in a rather unflattering way. He unfairly demeans this woman who is desperate to save her daughter.

Also notice this woman refer to Jesus as “Lord, son of David”. Unlike many Jews who rejected Jesus, this Canaanite woman readily acknowledges Jesus’ identity and, therefore, his power to heal. She’s even willing to swallow her pride and play along with Jesus’ characterization of her people as “dogs”. Whatever it takes to get the help she seeks.

“Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”

In yesterday’s blog post I expressed disappointment with God the Father. Today I’m a bit disappointed in Jesus. Whatever his cultural conditioning, it was just plain wrong to demean a woman desperate to help her daughter. Yes I know times have changed and, in ancient times, such a response to a Canaanite woman would have been expected. But that doesn’t make it right. Nor, in my opinion, did Jesus’ initial indifference reflect the heart of God who sent Jesus for the sake of ALL people, not just the Jews.

Heavenly Father, I realize it may not be my place to be critical of you and Jesus. To suggest that your understanding far exceeds mine is a massive understatement. Give me insight that I might better understand things in scripture that don’t add up for me. I ask this in all humility, in the name of Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.

Who is responsible for this mess?

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Matthew 15:10 Then (Jesus) called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”…17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

The Pharisees questioned Jesus because his disciples did not follow the “tradition of the elders” to wash their hands before they ate. The rules around washing, and many other practices, governed the life of God’s people. If you read the Old Testament you will see how the people were help accountable for following these rules closely, sometimes on pain of death. The Pharisees were entrusted by the people to teach the rules and hold people accountable. This is why they are distressed by Jesus and his disciples. Jesus clearly demonstrated the power of God, yet he did not follow all the rules. In the worldview of the Pharisees that is not supposed to happen. It is beyond explanation.

Jesus’ teaching in this passage indicated a sort of disdain for the Pharisees, and perhaps rightly so. Yes they followed the letter of the law, but their hearts were hard. That too was not supposed to happen. The purpose of the law was to mold the hearts of God’s people to reflect God’s love for people and creation. Jesus called them out because they fell far short of that ideal. Okay, I get that.

However, it also occurs to me – who is the One who set up this system in the first place? Who is the One who created the heavens and the earth and all that dwells within it? Who designed the covenant of the law in the first place? The answer is obvious. It is God.

Part of being at the top of the org chart is taking responsibility for what occurs in that organization. If I am the organization’s founder, setting up the entire thing top to bottom, hiring all the people, designing all the processes, giving everyone their assignments – and the organization creates a great big mess, who bears the responsibility for that? The Founder, that’s who. If I’m the Founder I don’t get to point the finger somewhere else. The buck stops with me. Sometimes I wish God would do the same.

Heavenly Father, I love you dearly but sometimes you don’t make any sense. Help me to understand. Amen.

Faith and healing…

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Matthew 14:34 When (Jesus and the twelve disciples) had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35 After the people of that place recognized him, they sent word throughout the region and brought all who were sick to him, 36 and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

This morning I’m struck by the totality of the healing recorded in this passage, It says people throughout the region “brought all who were sick” and “all who touched (the fringe of his cloak) were healed”. This wasn’t a healing for one or two people – but for EVERYONE who sought healing.

Now compare the passage above with a passage we read a few days ago in Matthew 13:

54 He came to his hometown and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son?…57 And they took offense at him… 58 And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief. 

Why were so few people healed in Jesus’ hometown? “Because of their unbelief”. In several places in the gospels Jesus says to one who has been healed, “Your faith has made you well”. It’s sort of the opposite of what happened in Jesus’ hometown. Faith appears to be a key element in Jesus’ healing. What is that about? Well, I’m not sure, but here’s my take on it this morning.

While the power of God present in Jesus is the source of healing, there is a receptivity to that power that is important. There is a submission, a humility, a posture of need that appears to open the door for God to act. In our first passage that posture of humility is present in spades. In Jesus’ hometown? Not so much. In his hometown people are actually offended by him rather than receptive to him.

The potential problem in connecting faith with healing is that we can make a sick person the culprit rather than a victim of illness. We might think if the person TRULY believed, the Lord would heal them. So if they remain sick it’s their own fault for lack of faith. This is simply not true. I’ve known many, many incredibly faithful people who prayed for healing but were not healed. We have to be careful not to make the acts of God too formulaic.

In the end God seems to resist our attempts to domesticate him. God is not a genie we rub in the right way, at the right time, with the right words and get what we want. Sometimes God acts, sometimes not. Why? I don’t know, but that’s simply how it is.

Heavenly Father, today I pray for the many, many people who are sick right now. Schools and homes and workplaces are being decimated as the flu runs rampant. Included among the sick are many believers who, no doubt, pray for healing. Many of us who are not sick also pray for their healing. Let your grace abound among those suffering today. Confer faith where faith is needed. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

No shortcuts…

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Genesis 41:17 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “In my dream I was standing on the banks of the Nile; 18 and seven cows, fat and sleek, came up out of the Nile and fed in the reed grass. 19 Then seven other cows came up after them, poor, very ugly, and thin. Never had I seen such ugly ones in all the land of Egypt…(Joseph said) God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26 The seven good cows are seven (plentiful) years, and the …seven lean and ugly cows …are seven years (of famine)… 34 Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land, and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plenteous years. 35 Let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and lay up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. 36 That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to befall the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.” 37 The proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. 38 Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find anyone else like this—one in whom is the spirit of God?”… 40 (Pharaoh said to Joseph) You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command; only with regard to the throne will I be greater than you.”

Later in the chapter we’re told that Joseph was 30 years old when he became second in command of all Egypt. He was 17 years old when he was initially sold into slavery by his brothers, which means he spent 13 long, difficult years being prepared for this purpose. That’s a long time. Moreover, there’s no indication in the narrative that Joseph was aware of WHY he was going through that difficult season.

Over those 13 years we see a change in Joseph – a maturing if you will. He was no longer the boastful, spoiled boy who was his father’s favorite. He was humble and wise and ready for the challenge of saving his people from famine, along with many others.

This past weekend some friends and I smoked some chickens in preparation for a couple of church events. There is something special about the flavor and tenderness of chicken that is slow cooked for several hours at relatively low temperatures while bathed in flavorful wood smoke. We could have baked the chickens or fried them or prepared them some other way that would have been much faster (it was cold outside!), but it’s just not the same. There are some things which take time. There are no shortcuts.

The grooming of people is similar. It takes time to learn, to mature, to grow, to be prepared for the purposes of God. What makes it doubly difficult is that we often don’t know that’s what’s happening while we’re experiencing it. To us it can just seem like some hard years. It’s often not until later, after we begin walking in the purposes for which we were prepared, that hindsight gives us understanding. I’m thinking this was true of Joseph. When Pharaoh appointed him as second in command, the hardships he endured all those years began to make sense.

Some of you are in that space, by the way. You’ve been in a difficult season for some time for no apparent reason. If only God would tell you in advance what he is up to it might be easier – but that’s not generally how it works. It’s often only in hindsight that the meaning of hardship becomes known; when we see the lessons learned in difficult times bearing fruit.

Is it possible that you? Could there be purpose in your struggle?

If so, take heart dear brother/sister. God is up to something in you. Through you. Don’t give up now.

Lord, give us grace to endure that we might serve you well. Amen.

Giving of ourselves for the sake of others…

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Matthew 14:13 Now when Jesus heard (that John the Baptist had been beheaded), he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 

It strikes me that Jesus didn’t have time to grieve the loss of John the Baptist. He tried to retreat, but the people just followed him. Why? Because they were desperate. So Jesus set aside his own needs and ministered to the people.

If you’re a leader, this has probably happened to you. Whether you lead a family or a team at work or even a church, sometimes we sacrifice our own needs for the sake of others. One family in the church I lead had ongoing illness in the house for weeks. The two parents were up many nights caring for sick children, getting close to exhaustion themselves.

I see others caring for aging spouses or family members. In these cases the issue isn’t one of growing tired in days or weeks, but more like months or years. I see this happening with a number of people in my own family. I wonder if one day my loved ones will have to care for me that way, I don’t know.

However this situation unfolds, when we give of ourselves for the sake of others we are following in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus. We are giving what the bible refers to as “agape” – the Greek word describing love that sacrifices for another. It’s the kind of love Jesus has shown to us in dying and rising, so that we too might become children of God.

Lord Jesus, thank you for your grace, your care, your love for us. Give us strength that we too might give of ourselves for the sake of others. Amen.

The Lord was with Joseph? Really?

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Genesis 39:1 Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt (as a slave). Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there. 2 The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did, 4 Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. 5 From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the LORD blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph.

There are two things connected here that challenge our notion of how things should be. On one hand Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers – a terrible thing. And it would get worse before it got better. On the other hand, v.2 says “The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered…”. If God were truly with Joseph we would expect Joseph to be free, not a slave. Yet as we shall find out later, God had a particular purpose in mind for Joseph, which required Joseph to endure hardship.

Sometimes there is purpose in the difficult seasons of life.

I don’t want to suggest that every time we find ourselves in difficult places it’s God’s will – but sometimes it is. In Joseph’s case he needed to cultivate a greater sense of humility (among other things) before he could be of real use to the Lord. He eventually got there, as we shall see later in Genesis, but it wasn’t pretty.

I expect most of us are going through some form of struggle or difficulty in life right now. What might the Lord be trying to teach you via this hard time? How might it change your perception of hardship if you believed it was ultimately for your good?

Heavenly Father, you use all kinds of experiences to mold and shape us for your service. Sometimes we experience those things as painful and difficult. Give us grace to embrace the hard things so that we might serve you well. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.