Joseph 4: “Haunted”

“Guilt is like the red warning light on the dashboard of the car.
You can either stop and deal with the trouble,
or break out the light.”
– Source unknown

One of the things that makes the story of Joseph so appealing and memorable is how the people in it change. In my message yesterday, we saw how Joseph’s brothers are confronted with the opportunity to do the same thing to Benjamin as they did to Joseph. Years before, Joseph’s brothers abandoned him when they sold him as a slave and now they have the opportunity to also ditch Benjamin in Egypt. This option is presented to them by the Egyptian governor as a quick and easy way to solve their problems and head back home to Canaan.

However, the guilt that has haunted the brothers has had at least one positive effect: The brothers have changed for the better. Guilt graphic found via GoogleInstead of hightailing it back to Canaan, they choose to meet with the governor and plead for Benjamin’s life.

But they aren’t the only ones who have changed: Joseph has changed, too. When we first meet him, Joseph comes off as a brat as he struts about in his ornate robe, tattles on his brothers, and indiscriminately describes his dreams of ascending to prominence. There’s no excuse for the brothers’ cruelty towards him, but he certainly knew how to make life miserable for them, too. Perhaps he’s haunted with his own sense of guilt.

Like his brothers, Joseph has also changed. As Pharaoh observed, Joseph has become “discerning and wise.” Joseph has been growing in ways that are enabling him to create reconciliation within his family, something that wasn’t even on his radar in his younger years.

The story of Joseph and his brothers inspires me to own up to my guilt, to recognize and confess the stupid things I’ve done that have hurt God, others, and myself. I see guilt as simultaneously a warning and a blessing, a call to stop doing something wrong and an invitation to experience grace. For when guilt prompts me to seek and receive forgiveness, there is healing and liberation. Do you want to join me in thinking about and responding to guilt this way? It’s not an easy process, but it’s one the Holy Spirit uses to slowly but surely make you and me more like Jesus.

Joseph 3: “In the Meantime”

What do we do when things don’t go according to plan? That’s the question Pastor Bobby addressed yesterday in the third installment ofPlan A, B, C graphic found via Google our series on Joseph at Trinity CRC (you can watch it here). Whether it’s our toast getting burnt or finding out that we didn’t get into the college of our choice, a lot of things veer off course in our day and throughout our lives.

How much of Joseph’s life didn’t go according to plan? He is sold by his brothers. He is forced into slavery in Egypt. He is thrown in prison on false charges. Finally Joseph receives some hope in Genesis 40 when he correctly interprets cupbearer’s dream: Pharaoh is going to restore the cupbearer to his position in the king’s court and Joseph asks the cupbearer to remember him once he’s free again. For how many days, weeks, or months does Joseph hold out hope until he came to the sad realization that the cupbearer has forgotten about him?

I appreciate how Bobby described the two things that can happen to me when things don’t go according to plan. This applies whether I am merely inconvenienced or suffering severely. On the one hand, the pain may keep me from recognizing or helping someone else who is suffering: I’m consumed with my predicament, leaving me with little interest or energy to observe what people around me are going through. On the other hand, the pain may make me uniquely qualified to identify with and reach out to someone else who is suffering: My troubles may increase my empathy for others who are experiencing trouble.

Jesus invites me to choose the latter, to reach out even when life is crazy. Jesus endured more pain than I’ll ever know, yet He chooses to identify with my pain. Even more than that, He reaches out, pulls me up, and gives me fresh courage and strength. That’s Jesus’ plan for me, and that remains constant even when everything else I count on falls apart.

Joseph 2: “Run, Joseph, Run”

“I can resist everything except temptation.”
– Oscar Wilde

My second installment in our series on Joseph at Trinity CRC circled around the theme of temptation. I wonder what’s harder for Joseph in Genesis 39 – to give into the temptation to commit adultery with Mrs. Potiphar or to give into the temptation to give up on the God of his fathers? Think about it: Joseph is abandoned and sold into slavery by his own brothers. He is exiled to Egypt where his boss is the king’s chief of security (a.k.a. the country’s “Executioner General”). Who would blame Joseph for thinking, If this is how the God of my fathers treats the people of families with whom He has repeatedly made covenants, I don’t want anything to do with Him.

Yet Joseph resolutely sticks with the God of Israel, pursuing Godliness Graphic of fleeing found via Googleand fleeing from sexual temptation. Choosing to be faithful to God certainly plays a role in successfully resisting temptation. Although Joseph’s response to Mrs. Potiphar’s advances is spontaneous, it reveals serious forethought. In the moment of temptation, Joseph was prepared to do the Godly thing.

Even though I might know what the Godly thing to do is, I find ways to justify doing the opposite. I suspect that if Satan is unable to convince me that temptations don’t exist, he’ll settle for me becoming the master of exceptions. He loves for me to think, Yeah, that’s an important rule, but it doesn’t really apply to me, especially considering everything you’re going through right now.

It leaves me asking how can I be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading so that I, too, can be prepared when temptations arise. He prompts me to recognize the types of temptations to which I’m susceptible, whether it’s lust or pride or selfishness. He helps me investigate when these temptations are strongest so I can make a plan for how I can avoid those occasions, situations, and/or locations. And that says nothing about the strength I find in prayer and having an accountability partner.

Our gracious God provides us with plenty of ways to run like Joseph, fleeing from temptation. Can you and I run together?

Joseph 1: “Only in Your Dreams”

There’s no easy way to put it: Joseph’s family is a mess. His father plays favorites and remains indifferent to the jealousy created by his favoritism. His brothers’ hatred of him escalates into a plot to murder him. Joseph himself comes off as a brat as he struts about in his ornate robe, tattles on his brothers, and indiscriminately describes his dreams of ascending to prominence.

Picture from Free Bible Images

As I admitted in my message yesterday morning (available here), it makes me wonder what Joseph’s story is doing in the Bible – at least the part about him and his father and brothers. Why is so much space devoted to this dysfunctional family?

If nothing else, it shows me how our gracious God is able to work in my life and home regardless of how messy they are. God is not afraid of my brokenness and His plans are not thwarted by it. If God is able to work through Joseph and his family, then there’s hope for my family and every family!

Perhaps another reason the Bible describes Joseph’s home life is to shine some light on what’s going on in my own home. These are hard questions to ponder, but I think it’s important for me to ask them now and again…

What do I wish had been different in my family while I was growing up?

What do I wish were different in my home now?

How is love and acceptance flowing through my home instead of favoritism? How can I nurture love and acceptance more?

How am I being active in my spouse and kids’ lives, investing quantity time with them? And/Or: What are some practical ways I can honor my parents and encourage my siblings?

Those are the questions I posed in my message yesterday. Here are a few more I find myself thinking about…

Why hadn’t Jacob learned the dangers of favoritism from his own experiences with his father and brother?

Why doesn’t Jacob see the foolishness of sending Joseph to his brothers?

How could Joseph’s brothers sit down and enjoy a meal while listening to their brother cry out for help from the cistern?

By the end of Genesis 37, what word(s) accurately describe Joseph? Troublemaker? Arrogant? Lonely? Victim? How am I at least sometimes like Joseph?

Amid the fun and/or dysfunction in my home, how is God at work?

Better than fixed

I remember how in the first few years of marriage Monica and I would sometimes become aggravated with each other when she arrived home from a difficult day at work. Monica loved working at Abbotsford Christian School, but, like with every job, there were days when things just went off the rails. Whenever Monica started telling me about a bad day she’d had, I’d try to listen well and offer advice. Much to my chagrin, our conversations would regularly go downhill with both of us ending up frustrated with each other.

I was baffled. I thought I was being helpful and that my suggestions might begin resolving the issues with which Monica was dealing that day. Yet these conversations routinely stirred up conflict between us.

Calvin & Hobbes cartoon found via Google

Finally one day when a post-work debriefing once again turned argumentative, Monica yelled (full disclosure: I doubt she actually yelled, but what she said had such an impact that it still echoes in my mind): “I don’t want you to fix it! I just want you to listen!”


I know Monica is a very intelligent woman. However, my trying to solve her problems communicated that I didn’t think she was smart or capable enough to handle what was going on at work. She didn’t want me to fix anything; she was simply looking for a listening ear. Monica just wanted to know that I loved her and was in her corner.

This was an epiphany for me, and I’d like to think that learning something from this incident has made me a better husband and maybe even a better dad, friend, and pastor.

Monica and I regularly tell this story from our early days of marriage when we’re doing premarital counseling with couples. (I hope they learn quicker than I did!) It came to mind again as Chuck De Groat spoke at Day of Encouragement earlier this month at Dordt College. His keynote address was titled “Pulled in a Hundred Different Directions” and near the start he said, “We feel we need to be fixed when in reality we desire and need to be found.”

I can get so busy and become so distracted from what’s truly important. It’s frustrating and easily leads to conflict with others and within myself. And when that begins to frustrate me, I look for a way to fix it.

Ironically, I cannot fix it. And God would have me know that a fix isn’t even the solution. What I ultimately need is to be found by Him. To recognize again that my primary identity is not rooted in what I’ve done or what I own, but rather in whose I am. My primary identity is that I’m a child of my loving heavenly Father.

Chuck De Groat also said something to this effect: It’s tempting to picture God as someone who’s waiting for me to make my report to Him of what I’ve done. Instead God invites me to come to Him with open, empty hands, confessing that I’m not my own and I’m not defined by what I’ve done.

In many circumstances – including processing with Monica a tough day one of us has just been through – it’s not so critical that things get fixed. It’s knowing I am found – known and loved by family and friends and (even more so) by God Himself.

The difference between fishing and catching

At Dordt College’s Day of Encouragement at the beginning of the month, local blogger and author Jennifer Dukes Lee spoke about her favorite childhood vacation memories with her parents which regularly included going fishing with her dad. Her dad always said there’s a difference between “fishing” and “catching.” Sure, actually Father and daughter fishing picture found via Googlecatching some fish is nice, but Jennifer’s dad insisted that he loved just spending time fishing with his daughter. He wanted to spend time with her regardless of how many fish she caught.

That time spent fishing with her loving dad taught Jennifer a good deal about her heavenly Father: God loves for us to spend time with Him and He loves us before we have anything to prove to Him. As Philip Yancey says, “There is nothing we can do to make God love us more… and nothing we can do to make God love us less.”

Jennifer shared how she began to understand that the good life is not so much about productivity as it is about presence – presence with others, in the presence of God Himself. When it came to her dad, the catching was not nearly as significant as the time just spent fishing. When it comes to our heavenly Father, we don’t need to work hard to get His approval – Jesus takes care of that.

So life isn’t so much about counting fish, counting calories, accolades, or the money in my bank account. Life is counting on God and His grace.

Growing through success and failure

It’s so easy to let a little praise go to my head and to allow a little criticism to break my heart. God, on the other hand, invites me to experience growth through success and failure, even though it’s easy to miss (to avoid?) in both cases. Here’s a fresh way to see and work through the joys and challenges of life – words easily turned into a God-directed prayer…

Let me use disappointment as material for patience.
Let me use success as material for thankfulness.
Let me use suspense as material for perseverance.
Let me use danger as material for courage.
Let me use reproach as material for longsuffering.
Let me use praise as material for humility.
Let me use pleasures as material for temperance.
Let me use pains as material for endurance.

– John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer,
quoted by Dale Vander Veen in his daily e-devotions last week

Quote from