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Posts Tagged ‘Joseph’

make a wayWe all were. Sent ahead. In some cases, that is more obvious than in others, but if you think about it, we can each lay a path or new ground for our descendants and loved ones.

But God sent me [Joseph] ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. [Genesis 45:7, NIV]

My mother and father left Europe and came to America and worked hard for the sake of their children and a new life. My mother’s mother left her village in Lithuania to go to Riga to experience city life. In my own life, bouncing from city to city, I eventually landed with a husband and a home here in Maryland and drew three orphaned children to us from Latvia and St. Petersburg, Russia, their lives forever changed.

We can each make a way. We can cut the brambles to the best of our ability so that others can walk behind.

But of course, some people refuse. The road ahead seems too difficult, too overwhelming. And so they sit in what small space they can carve out and wait. Reminds me of the parable of the “talents.” Three servants were entrusted with wealth to invest for the Master while he journeyed away. Two took risks and plunged ahead. But the one merely buried what he was given and although he returned it all, he had made not change or increase.

Humans are given gifts as well as challenges that make us who we are but also help make us what God intends. It is not about the money but about the attitude, the response to life’s events, accepting the truth of what is and making the very best of what that truth can contribute.

This process is true for organizations as well as individuals. Churches, in particular, have a mission to reach out to those stagnant souls who have lost their will or hope toward the next step. The Church, the Body of Christ, can do corporately what cannot always be done by the one. But it must be done in unity and love.

Look back: who is following you? Whose steps are landing in your footprints?

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dream and forgivenessIt’s not like Joseph had one God dream after another. He had a couple of foretelling dreams as a teen and no other dreams of his are shared through his time in Egypt. Instead, he turned to dream interpretation, but again, only a few. He known for being an honorable man, but not necessarily a diviner. Yet, God used him in this way at a point of need.

[Joseph said:] And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt . . . Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.” . . .  Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt.  [Genesis 41:33, 39-40, 46a; NIV]

After twelve years of servitude, Joseph is raised up to one of the highest positions in that world, second only to Pharaoh at the age of thirty, all because of a dream, an interpretation, a vision, and twelve years of leading in lower positions. Every year of his captivity was actually a year of practice and preparation for the big leap. He had no way of knowing that such a day would come.

What we don’t see is any record of built up resentments toward his half-brothers. The only hint that memories cause him pain comes in the naming of his sons: Manasseh (which appears to mean “forget” and Joseph writes that his son has been born to help him forget his father’s household) and Ephraim (which seems to mean “twice fruitful,” and Joseph writes that this birth symbolizes a new life of fruitfulness in the place of suffering). Suffering? Interesting.

By the time the brothers finally come from Canaan to ask Egypt for grain, Joseph has been away at least twenty years. He has a new name, a new life, and his own family. And yet, the moment of reckoning arrives–the moment of payback, the moment when he could, at a word, destroy all ten of his brothers for their betrayal. During this first visit, he is tempted but there is also his integrity fighting against it.

Resentments build fast in my world. I know it. I see it. I feel it. People will say, “oh, I forgave, but I will never forget.” I think it was my old friend, Mma Precious Ramotswe, from the mystery series The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, who said (more or less), “If we don’t choose to forget as well, the memory may very well erase the forgiveness.”

I can choose drama or I can choose dream. I can choose to forgive and forget. I can allow God’s dream to build a life or I can fight the way. I can complain of the time and the disappointments or I can trust in the preparation.

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prisonThe story of Joseph and how he was sold into slavery by his brothers is a popular Sunday School tale. This, along with his “technicolor dreamcoat,” have been repeated over and over again. Joseph was wonderful; his brother were not so wonderful, but God blessed Joseph and the paybacks were sweet. But is that all of the story?

But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. [Genesis 40:14, NIV]

Despite Joseph’s favor with God and being the favorite of his own birth father, he was sold, enslaved, raised up, imprisoned, and raised up with the prison walls, and forgotten (again and again). Yes, Joseph received favor in his circumstances and yes, apparently Joseph had a great work ethic, but Joseph also knew he was captive to the whims and control of others.

He was not his own man. He was dependent and I believe this is the lesson he needed to learn.

Joseph may have been a man of integrity and all of that, but until he walked the challenges of being in the lowest place could he be elevated to the highest.

Jesus tells a parable with a similar message in Luke 14:7-11.
“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”Minolta DSC

This is the message of the old Joseph story for me today. Joseph was proud of his many dreams that showed his family bowing down to him. He inadvertently, through a bit of gloating, set a major set of circumstances into motion.

Beware, I say to myself, beware of pride and judgment. God will teach in a variety of ways. In God’s time, there is no time, only the lesson that must be learned.

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Art by Little-LadyBee

Art by Little-LadyBee

Reuben, eldest son of Jacob and Leah, has quite a sin in his past. There may be scholarly argument about it, but the NIV clearly states that Reuben slept with Bilhah, who was Rachel’s handmaid and concubine to Jacob and who bore two of the twelve tribal leaders of Israel (Jacob). What Reuben did was a slap in the face to his own father, and somehow, I think he intended it. For it was Reuben who also found the mandrakes for his mother (Leah) in hopes of helping her carve a more loving relationship with Jacob. It never happened. Reuben had some issues with his father.

And yet, it was also Reuben who tried to save his brother Joseph and his many-colored coat, despite his father’s favoritism.

When Reuben heard the plan, he tried to help Joseph.
Reuben: Let’s not kill him. We don’t need to shed any blood to be free of him. Let’s just toss him into some pit here in the wilderness. We don’t need to lay a hand on him.
Reuben thought perhaps he could secretly come back later and get Joseph out of the pit and take him home to their father before any more harm came to him.  The brothers agreed. [Genesis 32:21-22, The Voice]

Reuben had a bit of righteous indignation, whether toward his father, for the way he treated Leah or, in this case, about the impulsive decision of his brothers to kill Joseph. And yet, whether for good or for ill, Reuben was blinded by his own point of view.

This is a good warning for me. It’s a good warning for us all.

hero or villainWe have all sinned or made bad judgments/decisions along the way. That doesn’t mean we can’t choose rightly today or do a courageous and honorable thing. That thing in our past does work to keep us humble. And that’s not a bad thing really.

The hero act does not erase the past but it does give hope that we can change. All have a potential for good. But we must also take care how we view others: villain or hero?

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mandrakeIn case you don’t know the story, mandrakes supposedly have fertility enhancing properties (along with possible euphoria and hallucinations). All the same, Reuben, oldest son of Leah (the wife Jacob didn’t want), finds some in a field and he gives them to Mama Leah to use on Jacob (knowing of her longing to be loved by the man who wouldn’t or couldn’t care less). Rachel (the sister that Jacob did love but who was barren) makes a deal with sister Leah: give me the mandrakes and I’ll “let” you have another go at the man. Great story for “sister-wives;” they should be on TV.

So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. “You must sleep with me,” she said. “I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he slept with her that night.God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son.Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. Then Leah said, “God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons.” [Genesis 30:16-20, NIV]

Of course, it didn’t work. Despite Leah having her own babies again, those two more sons (and a daughter – Dinah – barely worth mentioning), only later that did Rachel have a child and apparently, not from the power of the mandrake root.

These women were operating in a world of baby competition. Children were essential to the future of the family, and in particular, to the woman in a household. And, with the promises of God doled out to the line of Jacob, these women were the brokers of their husband’s descendants. In the end, Rachel only produced two of the patriarchs of the twelve tribes, her maidservant Bilhah birthed two sons, Leah birthed six sons, and Leah’s maidservant Zilpah also birthed two sons. And yet, despite the numbers being on Leah’s side, Jacob never did come around, and loved Rachel’s boys (Joseph – famed for the multi-colored dreamcoat and Benjamin) the most, playing favorites throughout their lives.

tribemapIt’s not like Leah’s boys weren’t important in their own right: Judah’s birthright, for instance, was foundational to the Jewish nation or Levi, whose descendants ruled the Temple and interceded with God as priests. They were all on the map.

Each son had his own future and each child born had a destiny.

The mandrakes were a tool that two women tried to use to manipulate their futures, their love lives, and their progeny. It didn’t work; it doesn’t work today either.

As the mother of three adopted children and no biological children, I know the mandrake game. I tried the same thing. I could not fathom that God would actually put two Christian people together and not create offspring from them. I became a sort of Rachel, trying all kinds of tests and suggestions to make babies happen. But God doesn’t act from my mandrakes or my plans. God is sovereign.

in this houseEven when our story changed and we adopted children, I tried to control their outcomes. Oh, I know, it was all in the name of giving them the best, giving them opportunities I never had, building arenas of success, layering on the expectations. I am ashamed to confess these things for my plans created many disappointments. But, my disappointments were self-inflicted. My plans were not God’s plans [Isaiah 55:8].

My children are still God’s masterpieces [Ephesians 2:10, NLT]. And my job should have been to plow the ground and provide nutrients, but allow them to grow into themselves, into the people God intended.

Forgive me for the mandrakes in my life, Lord. And do what you will with our children, now young adults, looking for a way. Perhaps the road could have been easier if I hadn’t littered it with so many calculations.

But, just like Rachel & Leah, the one thing I gave without mitigation was my love. And I am thankful that love covers a multitude of sins [I Peter 4:8].

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nativity scene with childrenIf you went to church as a kid, you know that the Baby Jesus was born in a manger because there was no room for them at the inn. Many of us have been in those Christmas pageants, where one of the girls got to play Mary (coveted role) while another girl had to play Joseph  with a fake beard and they walked across the stage from inn to inn asking for a place to stay because, after all, Mary was preggers. All the innkeepers shook their heads no until one nice one agreed to put them up in the stable (or was it a cave–biblical scholarship is mixed on this minor point).  But then, voila, baby appears in a soft bed of hay with a pretty blue blanket.

While in Bethlehem, she went into labor and gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped the baby in a blanket and laid Him in a feeding trough because the inn had no room for them. [Luke 2:6b-7, The Voice]

But really, don’t we all know, having a baby in a stable could not have been a picnic. And don’t we wonder, did Joseph help Mary through her labor, telling her to breathe rhythmically? I doubt it. There may have been a midwife, but we will never know this part of the story. It’s been sanitized over the years and honestly, by the men who wrote it. Back in those days, having babies was woman’s work.

Did Mary wonder? First a bright, slightly overwhelming Angel comes to her with the big news that she’s having a baby by the touch of God and then, her world begins a slow crumbling until her ends up in a strange city, pregnant, with not even a bed to give birth to this wunderkind. Oh yes, Mary had lots to ponder in her heart [Luke 2:19].

I can imagine that throughout the time of her pregnancy and the birth of her son, she was feeling ostracized from her community and her family. I doubt very seriously that anyone around her (except for Elizabeth who lived in a different city altogether), believed Mary was the anointed mother of the Messiah.

There was no room for this story as it was happening.

All she had was a prophecy, a promise, a supernatural appearance, and a dream to hold on to through their trials. They were homeless and alone. They were poor and without many resources.

soylent greenWhen the phrase “no room” came to me, outside of the Bethlehem story, I remembered the science fiction movie, Soylent Green, a film that was loosely based on Harry Harrison’s novel, “Make Room! Make Room!” :  a civilization gone mad, over-populated and consuming green wafers made from– (well, you should watch the movie or read the book). There was little room for anything or anyone. No room for human caring, no room for individualism, no room for random acts of kindness. Nothing, just survival: food, shelter & clothing. Is it too much to ask?

But are we doing much better? Have we such busy lives that there is no room? Have I? Is my schedule so packed that there’s no room for the unexpected need, the human soul in distress, the unforeseen incident or meeting? Am I turning away a Mary or a Joseph because I am too busy? Am I turning them away because I am protecting my own little half acre? Really? No room?

Who am I in the real Christmas story played out every day?

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Once Johnson & Johnson took over the word Pledge, it’s lost some of its power. Despite the fact that children and adults “pledge” allegiance to our flag, sometimes as often as daily, its meaning has been lost. The word is actually in the “vow” family, but that too has lost much of its significance, in an age of quick no-contest divorces. Most folks think of a pledge (perhaps it’s all those non-profits and churches) as a good-natured “I will if I can” kind of thing. But honestly, the definition is much more binding, a legal relationship, a solemn promise. I’m thinking that when we break a pledge, it sets all kinds of sowing/reaping and karma into motion.

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. [Matthew 1:18, NIV]

pledged to marryThe word pledged in this passage is the NIV version of course, most standard translations render mnēsteuō  as “betrothed” and more reader friendly versions translate the Greek word to “engaged.” In our day and age, we treat this relationship equally lightly. Give back the ring, shed many tears, post it on Facebook, remove one’s relationship status, and we’re done.

But in the day of Mary and Joseph, the betrothal was virtually equal to the marriage vow itself. To break a pledge of this type required a formal divorce. And the only way a man could divorce a woman in those times was for the cause of infidelity (a one-sided benefit by the way, since a woman could not divorce a man). Joseph was within his rights to have Mary stoned.

It has been said that the church is the bride of Christ (see Revelation 19-7-9) and upon Christ’s return (whatever that might really mean), a great wedding will take place. So, if the wedding is yet to come, we, who have accepted Christ are actually betrothed or pledged to Christ. Will we take this role lightly then or consider it in its most serious form: a vow, a sacred promise to be faithful?

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