A Shot at Redemption

redeemed2Genesis 42

Not sure what he is singing about but Paul Simon’s lyrics in Call Me Al declare:  “I want a photo-opportunity.  I want a shot at redemption.  Don’t want to wind up a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard.”  Can’t tell you when someone will take your picture or how to avoid the fate of a dead ‘toon, but a “shot at redemption?”  That is more than possible.

In Joseph’s story so far, we see a man that has had his ups and downs… who is now on a roll.  He has always been a source of blessing to those around him, and now he is a blessing to the whole world.  He is in charge of a massive food bank with the desperate from all the surrounding nations at his door.

A few years ago I was leading a Bible study on Joseph and we came to this morning’s passage. One of the Bible study participants asked an interesting question: After Joseph became Second in Command of Egypt… why didn’t he go seek out his family in the land of Canaan. Why indeed? I didn’t have an adequate answer… I had never thought about it I guess. One would expect that Joseph would have at least paid a call on them… to promote reconciliation or to enact revenge. And yet at least 7 or 8 years pass without even a postcard sent back to the family… why?

After looking into it, I think we are provided a clue to the answer during the years of Joseph’s prosperity.

Genesis 41:50-52 –  Before the years of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. [51] Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” [52] The second son he named Ephraim and said, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”

Two sons were born to Joseph and as he called them to supper it reminded him of two things: Forget the Past…. Focus on the Prosperous Present.   Excellent Strategy… only one problem… it was doomed to failure.

  1. Avoiding the Past Doesn’t Keep It From Knocking On Your Door.

Jacob hears that there is grain in Egypt and sends his sons to buy some… “before [they] all starve to death.”  And so they went.  Now that morning Joseph got up to get ready for work and as he headed out he might have caught sight of his first born and said: “Good Morning my son that reminds me to forget my past and the treacherous brothers I grew up with. Have a great day at school. Love ya, bye.”

Was he ever in for a surprise at the Job site.   There are his brothers, that he has spent years trying to forget… kneeling before him.   Verse six says: “They bowed low before him, with their faces to the ground.”

Now Joseph recognized them instantly, but pretends to be a stranger.  This day was the day that God had appointed to Joseph to begin to deal with his past.

I’m not sure when that day will come for some of you. It has to be God’s timing. But usually the past eventually comes knocking. How you deal with it could change your life.

  1. Avoiding the Past Can Keep You From the Blessings of Confession and Guilt.

Genesis 42:21-24 –    They said to one another, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come upon us.”  [22] Reuben replied, “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood.” [23] They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter.  [24] He turned away from them and began to weep, …

Two groups both need the blessings that dealing with the past can bring.

For the brothers the occasion spawns a confession of their sins of almost a decade ago. Notice how fresh the event was in their minds: Their ears still ring with the sounds of Joseph’s bleeding.  Reuben says: I told you not to SIN against the boy.

Rueben calls it what it is… not a misunderstanding… or a business opportunity they couldn’t pass up… or a punishment that Joseph had coming… it was a sin against him.  Joseph tells his brothers that he thinks they are spies.  He tells them to bring back their younger brother to prove they were who they said they were.  He keeps Simeon in prison for insurance that they will do just that.  Joseph is testing his brothers repentance here in a very hard way.

But while Joseph’s brothers needed to confess, Joseph, himself, needed to grieve. Did you catch that? As the brothers bring up that dark day… that day that had filled Joseph’s nights with terror… Joseph’s eyes began to fill up with tears. He’s reliving the moment… And he’s coming to grips with his loss.

3.  Another reason to resist avoiding the past is that it can keep you at odds with God.

Genesis 42:27-28 –  At the place where they stopped for the night one of them opened his sack to get feed for his donkey, and he saw his silver in the mouth of his sack. [28] “My silver has been returned,” he said to his brothers. “Here it is in my sack.”  Their hearts sank and they turned to each other trembling and said, “What is this that God has done to us?”

This is an unusual thing.

Say you just paid someone for cleaning your gutters with your last $50. An hour later you look in your wallet and your $50 is back. Now you KNOW you paid the worker. You mentally can see the $50 leaving your hand and entering his. So how would you interpret this new $50. “Hallelujah! It’s a miracle. Get the kids we’re going to Long Horn’s.”

That should have been the reaction of the brothers, but it wasn’t. Why?

Quick: Draw a mental picture of God.

What do you see in your mind’s eye? A Mean Overbearing Ogre or a Happy Loving Father? Now I’m not asking you what your theology teaches you He is… or even what you believe Him to be… what does your heart feel about Him?  Guilt has twisted the brother’s view of their God.

Papa Jacob isn’t much better.  When the brothers return home and tell him what has happened he declares:  “Everything is against me!”

What is your heart’s cry today?   Guess what?  With God you have a shot at redemption.  “If God is for us, who could be against us!” (Romans 8:31)  God could be bringing up your past today so that he can take those ugly things… that happened to you or that you have done to another… and turn them into a glorious future!

What do you do when the past comes calling?  Know that you have a shot at redeeming that past.  If you are in the place of Joseph’s brothers… you own up to it and repent of it.  If you are in the position of Joseph… you face the pain and forgive.

God longs to heal your deepest wounds.  Would that today be when your healing process begins.

Do you have a hurt from the past that God seems to be bring up again and again in your life?  Isn’t it time to face it with Him?

Blessings!

 

 

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Heated Debate

fightActs 15: 36-41

37 Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. 38 But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.

I read a recent article on a Christian website titled:  “10 Honest Observations from a Former Church Insider.”  The author of the article had been a pastor for many years and then at a relatively young age (for reasons not cited) had to step down.  He mentioned what it was like to now be an “outsider” in church.  He listed 10 things that he saw were problems that perhaps someone so close to the heartbeat of a church might be blinded to.  I agreed with him on just about everything and appreciated his insights… and was about to move on.  Then I read the comments from pastors that read the article before me.  Many were not kind!  They didn’t like much of what the author had to say, but sometimes it bordered on people not liking him personally.  One critic wrote:  “I will gladly take advice from anyone willing to get in there and do the work. Not just leave when things are not going their own way.”  Another wrote:  “I became bored with hearing the same “complaints” from yet another disenchanted church goer.”   The idea of hearing ideas from a “quitter” was too much for some.

Just when I was completely discouraged… a number of Barnabas people stepped in and saved the day… offering encouragement and peace.   Some were among bloggers that I trust David I. Guinn and Joe McKeever.

I call these men Barnabas people because the comment page appeared to me at times to be a retelling of the sharp disagreement Paul and Barnabas had over Mark way back in the book of Acts.  It was a “sharp” disagreement… as the Greek will bear out.  Barnabas wanted to give his cousin another chance.  Paul wanted to show him the door.

The Bible does not tell us who was right or wrong,  just that the debate was heated and the result was a split of the Apostolic Missionary Super Team.   NT Scholar A.T. Robertson remarked:  “No one can rightly blame Barnabas for giving his cousin John Mark a second chance nor Paul for fearing to risk him again.  One’s judgment may go with Paul, but one’s heart goes with Barnabas.”

There is so much irony in this passage.  the second missionary journey began with the idea of checking up on people and churches from the first journey and seeing how they were doing spiritually .   Yet Paul is ready to give John Mark the boot before he even takes the young man’s spiritual temperature!  The second ironic thing is that Paul should have known by now the heart of his friend, Barnabas.  It wasn’t too long ago that Barnabas pulled a snot nosed kid out of the gutter and offered that young man a chance when no one else would even trust him… I refer, of course, to Paul himself.

My heart goes out to those who wrote out of concerned for this young man and his quest to find God… and to all Barnabas types that may face some rough criticism, but are still willing to extend a hand to “quitters” in an effort to help.

More on this… and a story too… later this week.

I Regret That – Part Two

Philippians 3:12-14

In my last blog post I shared some responses to a NY Times inquiry into regrets.  Blog readers of the newspaper’s website sent responses ranging from funny to tragic.  One pulled on my heart-strings:

“I dreadfully regret my adultery with a young wife and mother of an (unplanned) toddler in 1973.  I wish I had never met her, and gave in to her importuning. I do penance at church every week, and on six pilgrimages to Catholic shrines in France and Spain and Portugal, for that grievous sin.”  — Carlos

He travelled far and wide and was unable to procure forgiveness to heal his weary heart. As I mentioned last time, regret is natural, even necessary when we sin.  But what do we do when we can’t let go of regret and the pain from our past actions?

Pastor Joe McKeever shared this story on his blog:    “Pastor,” Thea said, “One of these days, I need to talk to you about something.” I was the new, fresh-from-seminary pastor of Thea’s church and had already heard the gossip about her. Before I knew what was happening, my secretary had blurted out that a year earlier, Thea had had an affair with a man she worked with at the department store. “She doesn’t think anyone knows,” the secretary assured me. I thought to myself, “Leave it to you and soon everyone will know.”  “Anytime,” I said, “I’m here to do anything I can for you.”

Thea was in the hospital with a bleeding ulcer and was in great pain. I pulled a chair up to her bed and made small talk until she decided to pour out her heart and tell me the awful tale of her sin. She would have died had she known I already knew about it.  At the end, I said, “Has God forgiven you for this?” She said, “I really believe He has.” She hesitated a moment and said, “I just can’t forgive myself.” I said, “You have higher standards than God, is that it?” She reacted quickly. “The very idea–why would you say such a thing?”

I said, “Sure sounds like it to me. Oh, sure, God can forgive me. But I have higher standards. I can’t let myself off that easy.”  She said, “Then tell me what to do.” I said, “Believe that Jesus Christ paid the penalty for that sin on the cross, the same way He did all the rest of our sins and failures. And He says, ‘Their sins and iniquities I will remember no more.’ He says, ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far have I removed their transgressions.’ So, now, it’s time you started believing Him and got up off the floor and got on with your life.”  One year later, I received a note in the mail. “It was a year ago,” Thea wrote, “that you told me just exactly what I needed to hear. I am a   healthy person today. Thank you.”  Repent of it. Learn from it. Then put it behind you and go forward.  Everyone fails. Just don’t park there. (Joe McKeever  (http://www.joemckeever.com/mt/archives/000591.html)

I like pastor McKeever’s advice:  Repent of it.  Learn from it.  Then put it behind you and go forward.  Paul was a man that could have had regret consume him.  He had persecuted Christians to death before his conversion.  He learned to forget what was behind and strained forward for what God had for him.  How does one press on?  By helping others caught in the same temptation… by volunteering time to help victims of similar circumstances… by discovering your calling and pursuing it with everything you have.

You can chase forgiveness around the globe or you can find it stretched out to you where you are… from a nailed scarred hand.  Take it.  Then put regret behind you and go forward.