Tag Archives: Joseph

A Peacemaker’s Advent: the Angels

But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.  Luke 1:13a

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. Luke 1:30

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Luke 2:10

I have never seen an angel, but apparently, it is a frightening thing.  We know this because, every time an angel appears in the Christmas story, the first words he says are, “Do not be afraid…”.

Now, I am no angel.  But, as a peacemaker, I do know what it feels like for people to be frightened of me.  It is actually a fairly common response, especially in church conflicts.  When I am called in by a congregation or Christian organization to begin my work as a peacemaker, and I begin having my one-on-one meetings with the players, it is always interesting to me how frightened they seem to be to talk to me.  Maybe it is because they know I am a lawyer?  Or maybe it because they have misunderstood my role in the process?  Or maybe it is their fear of being held accountable?  I honestly do not know.

But I do know that, for peacemakers, it means we have one task that is first and foremost in every conflict…we must be a non-anxious presence.  We must develop an ability to disarm the players, reassure them that they are safe, and guarantee a process which they can trust.  We apparently share that task with the angels.  Everything about our demeanor and our words must send a clear message: “be not afraid”.

I’m glancing at some of the long strings of comments we see today on …

A Peacemaker’s Advent: Mary and Joseph

Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”… When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.  Matthew 1:19-21, 23

 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”  “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.  Luke 1:35-38

The Christmas story is filled with contrasts between those who rearranged their very lives in order to make room for the birth of the Messiah and those who either opposed His birth or were completely indifferent to it.  Mary and Joseph had their lives changed forever.  Their obedience and their ability to embrace a seemingly impossible circumstance set them apart.  Even more, it was their willingness to set aside their own pretty good plans in order to be obedient to God which makes them perfect …

The God App

Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Genesis 15:13-15

And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.” Exodus 2:9-10

God appI can only imagine the despair and hopelessness that would set in after 400 years of affliction, and generation after generation born into slavery. Even with amazing stories of God’s work among and through their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, the Hebrew slaves in Egypt had to have lost their hope in the God of their fathers. After some 400 years of virtual silence, there had to have been a strong feeling of God turning his back on them, or even abandoning them altogether. And the tiny miracle of Moses’ life being spared and being raised in Pharaoh’s palace would likely have been completely missed or overlooked by the vast majority of those slaves. It would be 80 more years of slave labor before that tiny little miracle would even begin to bear fruit. Good news: God has a plan and in another 80 years or so, He will launch it!

When we (either individually or even as a church) find ourselves in such a hard season of slavery or hard work or otherwise feeling that God is …

The Church as the Sandwich Generation

Thursday Re-mix:

When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.”

“I will do as you say,” he said.  Genesis 47:29-30

I believe it was Will Rogers who came up with these four stages of life: First we are our parents’ child, then we are our child’s parent, then we are our parents’ parent, then we are our child’s child.  Right in the middle of those stages, there is a life stage, a generation (if you will), referred to as the “sandwich generation”.  It is that life stage where you find yourself not only still parenting your children, but also being a  caregiver to aging parents.  That is where Joseph found himself in Genesis 47-50.  He was a father to two sons born to him in Egypt, while at the same time being called upon to honor his dying father’s heritage.  I am grateful to God that I have two healthy parents and have not quite arrived at that sandwich stage (and I’m not sure either of my parents would ever permit me to), but I can only imagine it is wrought with difficulties and tensions.

three generationsIt seems that having our focus divided between raising a new generation into adulthood and, at the same, honoring an older generation is a real challenge.  Then again, as a church leader you already know that.  The sandwich illustration, you see, is a perpetual life stage for every local church…always raising up new leaders and …

X-Men Origins: Joseph, the Dreamer

Thursday Re-mix:

Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more.  Genesis 37:5

Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same.God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do.” Genesis 41:25

Super HeroI know there are some theological problems with comparing our Spiritual gifts to “super powers”…no doubt even more problems than I am aware of.  Still, it makes me happy to think of them that way. So indulge me, please, for just this one post, because I believe the story of Joseph and his particular spiritual gift reads like a classic Marvel Comics super hero tale.  He was like one of the X-Men with his super power of prophetic dreams and their interpretations.

Like most classic super heros, Joseph had a rough start with his gift.  He wasn’t very polished in how he used it.  It caused others to hate him and he just mishandled it more often than not.  His fumbling of it got him sold into slavery by his spiteful brothers.  Of course, years later, he would look back and see that was God’s plan all along.  But in the meantime, his gift would cause him much pain.

As he matured, he came to understand the power and began to use it to help others (every super hero faces a crossroads early on when he/she must decide whether to use his/her power for good or for evil).  As he made that choice more and more often, great and amazing things began to happen around him and he eventually rose to extraordinary power in Egypt, not to mention saving hundreds of thousands of lives in the midst of seven years of drought.

So here is the application (maybe you already got it)……

I Want Maturity (and I Want it Now)

Thursday Re-mix:

Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind. Genesis 37:9-11

Old and youngMaybe it was youthful arrogance that made Joseph share his dreams with his family.  Or maybe it was just youthful ignorance of how it would be received by them.  Either way, it was not a problem with telling the truth; rather, it was just an ill-conceived manner of handling the truth.  In a word, it was immaturity.

Just a couple of chapters later, after some hard life experiences and some growing up, we see Joseph making much wiser decisions.  Life has a way of doing that to all of us.  When I think back to the naive and arrogant young leader I was 20-30 years ago ,well, it is a bit embarrassing.  Maturity, alas, cannot be learned from books or from classrooms.  Moreover, it almost always requires a generous measure of time and experience.

It is worth noting that Joseph was actually wise beyond his years.  By most standards, he is the model character in God’s story.  He is, from the beginning, a young man of integrity and high character.  His gift of interpreting dreams elevated him to leadership heights at a reasonably young age.  But his youthful faux pas were glaring and ended up costing him years of heartache and hard knocks.  In short, for leaders among …

Terrorists, Christians and the Walls that Divide Us

Tuesday Re-mix:

Do not withhold your mercy from me, Lord;
    may your love and faithfulness always protect me.
For troubles without number surround me;
    my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.
They are more than the hairs of my head,
    and my heart fails within me.
Be pleased to save me, Lord;
    come quickly, Lord, to help me.  Psalm 40:11-13

It was one year ago today that the Boston Marathon reached a horrifying and premature conclusion. When the bombs went off, I was right there with you in my response: “Who would do such a thing?”  “How could anyone just kill and maim innocent people like that?”  With those questions and so many others like them, we begin trying to re-order our world by categorizing the good people and the bad people.  It brings us some comfort.  It is how we deal with otherwise “inexplicable evil”.  We find some solace in drawing those distinctions and in placing ourselves on one side and “those kinds of people” on the other side.  Honestly, it helps us sleep at night, doesn’t it?  We feel better about ourselves and about our world when we can identify evil, point it out as clearly “other” than us, and come to terms with the comforting reality that we are, in fact, better than those kinds of people.

brick wallBut scripture does not help us with that worldview.

Scripture does not paint a picture of a world divided.  If we go to our Bibles and read the stories of our heroes and heroines and hope to be able to place David and Joseph and Moses and Peter and Paul and you and me all on the side of “good”, and then place the murderers and adulterers and rapists and terrorists all on the side of “evil”, we …

The (Sometimes LONG) Journey to Forgiveness

Tuesday Re-mix –

True confession: when I teach forgiveness, I often oversimplify it, making it appear much easier than it is.  I do that, I think, because God’s Word to us about forgiveness is clear: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Eph. 4:32.  God’s forgiveness of us became immediate 2,000 years ago, with Christ’s proclamation on the cross: “It is finished.”  Therefore, our forgiveness of others is likewise supposed to be immediate.  But in reality, “supposed to” and “is” are two very different concepts.

That’s why I am so very encouraged to see one of my heroes, Joseph, struggle with the journey to forgiveness.

When Joseph sent his brothers back home to get their youngest brother (Benjamin) and return with him, Joseph kept one of his brothers in prison.  We don’t know for sure how long it took for them to return, but we know it was at least “seasons”, more likely years.  Think about that… for that entire period of time, while Joseph pondered how he would respond when he next saw his brothers, one of those brothers sat in his prison.  Every day, day after day after day, Joseph went to work knowing that his brother was sitting in his prison.  And every night, Joseph slept in the comfort of his own home, knowing that his brother was sleeping in his prison.  That went on for at least months, more likely years.

He could have “made himself known” to that brother at any time, the way he would eventually “make himself known” to all of the brothers together.  But he did not.  His brother sat in prison all the time Joseph pondered forgiveness.  For Joseph, getting to forgiveness was a long, long journey filled with suffering and …

There is Nothing Natural About Reconciliation

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

I am pretty sure there is nothing at all natural about confession and forgiveness.  I think that, among the Spiritual ramifications of the fall of man, there is this part of the human condition which makes saying “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” difficult words for us to form.  It feels almost counter intuitive.  It doesn’t come naturally to anyone.

So, I’m reading the story of Joseph and his brothers and how they sold him into slavery and then told his father he had been killed.  He eventually got resold into the house of Pharaoh and later would rise to become second in command for all of Egypt (o.k., I skipped some of the story).  It is now many years later when he sees his brothers for the first time.  An ironic twist in the story is that they do not recognize him.  He sends them back home without disclosing his true identity and keeps one of them in prison while he awaits their return.  We don’t know how long they’re gone, but it is at least “seasons”, all the while he is keeping one of his brothers in prison.  Eventually, after they return to him, he discloses his true identity and he forgives them.  It is an awesome moment in the scriptures, one of my favorite stories.

Joseph is such a lovable and nearly perfect character, one might easily miss the fact that it took him a pretty long time to choose forgiveness.  He kept one poor brother in his prison the entire time he pondered his options.  It was not a choice that came naturally for him.  He had to draw upon something else to come to that conclusion.  …

Forgiveness is Not Foregoing the Consequences

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

I once consulted with a church where a deacon was caught sexually molesting a little girl in the children’s department. He was the only adult (1st mistake) in a children’s Sunday School room with no windows (2nd mistake) and the church had never run any kind of background check on him (or any of their other volunteer workers…3rd mistake). The man fully confessed to the authorities and to the parents of the little girl, and then even more fully confessed to both a problem and a history in this area. He stood before his church and confessed as well. There was actually reconciliation between him and the injured family and there was spiritual restoration of this brother. It was a pretty extraordinary situation in that regard. All of this happened before the church ended up calling me for mediation.

Why then the need for mediation if there was reconciliation all the way around? It was because of what happened in his criminal prosecution and what happened in the church after his release from prison.

A dispute arose in the church about whether the injured family, who said they had fully forgiven him, should have nonetheless testified in the criminal prosecution. Another dispute arose after that, when the man asked to return to work in the children’s Sunday School department, but this time under strict supervision. There was a dispute about how to respond to this request. The argument in both instances centered around the meaning of forgiveness. “If we have forgiven him, shouldn’t we forego testifying at his trial and shouldn’t we trust him again with our children?” Eventually, the church concluded (rightly, I believe) that the correct answer to these …