Snapshots: Day 34

Snapshots: Day 34

The Snapshot: “Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt.” (Ex 1:8) The truth is that the world changes and not always for the better. For Israel it meant a period of slavery but that was not their destiny, just a pathway to an event that would stand out in their history revealing the incredible power and glory of God. Sometimes the path leading to glory is not easy but we always have the assurance that ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him.’ (Rom 8:28) The hard path is the opportunity to grow, to reveal who we really are. On this path we chose whether we will become jaded and cynical, ever demanding our good, or glorious demonstrations of the power and presence of God in the midst of this Fallen World.

Further Consideration: Eternal glory is our end goal, our hope, a place in heaven with Christ. Perhaps much of the time we forget that as we get caught up in the daily affairs of life, but it is our end goal and it will be wonderful: no more tears, no more sickness, no more fears, no more doubts, no more anxieties. What a wonderful life to be looked forward to, and this is our inheritance.

But before we get there we have to live out this life on earth and I have often realised that I am grateful that I don’t know what turn things will take tomorrow. Today has got enough worries of its own! (Mt 6:34) If we knew the things that are coming in the next ten years, say, we would be filled with worries and anxieties; how will I cope?

But the bad things that come – like a new national leader who is not for us, we feel – we only see as bad, but the Bible shows, as in this present case he/it can be a motivating force for change, sometimes good, sometimes not so good – but we have to handle it!

This new king is going to bring bad; he is going to turn the Hebrews into slaves, but the bigger truth is that they have become complacent in living here and have no thought of moving back to Canaan. Now don’t expect things to move quickly. Moses is yet to be born, he will be forty before he leaves Egypt and eighty before he returns to free his people. Now we cannot understand the measuring stick in the Lord’s mind that deemed four hundred years the right period to tell Abraham, before He set Israel free from Egypt (see Gen 15:13), but remember if He hadn’t called Moses and then moved in judgment upon the new Pharaoh, the people of Israel would have remained there and perhaps even been wiped out there.

So when the changes come, we simply need the  grace to handle them, but don’t jump to conclusions about them. Only the Lord knows the truth about them; ask Him.

Snapshots: Day 33

Snapshots: Day 33

The Snapshot: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20) What incredible insight the spoilt-brat-cum-savior Joseph now has. Just like Peter: “God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death.” God using the wickedness of man to bring good. You could never have dreamed that up! I sometimes think that this is one of the most powerful reasons to believe – we could never have dreamed this up – Joseph becoming a slave to come the second most powerful man in the Middle East to bring salvation. The death of a ‘man’ on a cross to bring justice to eternity and forgiveness to you and me. No, I never saw that coming – until it did!

Further Consideration: Approaching the end of Genesis, we find ourselves with a revelation from the mouth of Joseph that is without doubt, awe-inspiring. Here is this relatively young man who had been sold as a slave by his brothers, put in prison for fourteen years before being released into a position of immense power. That power means that he could give one order and his brothers would be dead, but he doesn’t, he makes provision for them in Egypt and they settle and grow into a nation.

What is fascinating about this is that Joseph has the wisdom and insight to be able to look back and see that what took place, the Lord had allowed to bring him eventually into this place of power whereby, with the wisdom and revelation of God, he could ensure millions would be saved from starvation. Time and again God had intervened in the sinful affairs of this sinful world – that enslaved and imprisoned Joseph – and blessed him in such a manner that that wisdom and later that revelation would bless him, even as a slave, even in prison, and cause him to be brought out to become ruler. A lesson there surely has to be that God can still bless us in less than ideal circumstances!

But the other side of this, that doesn’t come out at this point, is that there is a future dimension to them being in Egypt. As God has told Abraham, four hundred years (a long time!) would pass before they would leave and return to the land God had given Abram. Here Joseph gave the family grasslands in the north where they could continue to raise their sheep, (even disliked by the Egyptians) and so this grassland acted as a womb in which they would grow and become a nation. They could have left at any time, remembering the promises to Abraham about Canaan, but they didn’t. They settled in this comfortable land until it became less comfortable, but they would have to wait for a few generations to pass before that came about.


Snapshots: Day 31

Snapshots: Day 31

The Snapshot: “Israel loved Joseph more.”  So often we cannot foresee the consequences of our attitudes and our actions, but when we look down from above (Eph 2:6) we see something incredible, the hidden hand of God moving to fulfill His purposes, taking even our folly and using it for good. But for the moment, all is quiet and the drama has not been unfolded and so we do not know what is to come. We think we understand it (Mt 16:22), we think we can handle it (Mt 26:33) but we don’t and we can’t. But that does not deter Him, He knows what He is doing and, before the end, salvation will be poured out to Israel – and to us. Israel, Peter, me, we’re all a bit clueless and have just got to learn to trust Him, for He is not. In the quiet before the storm and in the storm.

Further Consideration: We need to unpack Jacob’s (Israel’s) feelings about Joseph. Jacob had been tricked into marrying both of Laban’s daughters but his love had really only been for Rachel. Then there was the expectation of children. Leah the other wife had four sons, Rachel none. In desperation she gave her servant girl to Jacob, and she bore two sons. Leah joined the competition and gave her servant girl and she bore two sons. Leah then had two more sons and a daughter. There are ten sons and a daughter and only then did Rachel conceive and Joseph was born. Later she gave birth to Benjamin and died in childbirth. It is no wonder, therefore that Joseph, the child of his beloved wife, should have been special to him. So much for the background, but next the consequences.

Because he favored Joseph so much, the other ten brothers hated him. (Gen 37:4) Jacob, with a lack of awareness of the family dynamics, sends Joseph out to the brothers caring for sheep, with the result that they sell Joseph to slave traders, who take him to Egypt and sell him on. Cutting a long story short he is imprisoned for fourteen years but is then released because of his powers to interpret dreams and is eventually made second most important man in Egypt, overseeing the next fourteen years of abundance of harvest and then famine. As a result of this Jacob and his family end up living in Egypt. Four hundred years later they need delivering from slavery – because they stayed on there not having returned home – by a prince-cum-shepherd called Moses, resulting in both an opportunity to clean up a dissolute land (Canaan) while revealing the immense power of God and His good intentions towards what now becomes a nation.

Favoritism may not have been the only factor in bringing all this about, but it was certainly one of them. Who knows what God can achieve despite our bumbling attempts at being good humans?

6. Threads

The Impossibilities of God in a Broken World, the story of Christmas, Meditations:

6. Threads

Lk 2:1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.

Mt 2:1  during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem

International: Perhaps one of the things we miss in the Christmas story is the truly international flavour that is there in it.  There were things going on that were not in Israel that would have a real impact on the main players of this wonderful little story. As we have seen so far things have been happening in Israel, first in the Temple as Zachariah encounters the angel, and then further north in Nazareth as Mary encounters an angel and Joseph gets a dream. Meanwhile, in the background so to speak, something is happening of mind-blowing proportions, something that still leaves us wondering, was this just the vanity of man on his own or was God in the background nudging this vain emperor into action. Whatever it was, we find in the Christmas accounts of Matthew and Luke’s Gospels, threads coming together to form a tapestry, a tableau, a montage, a picture that used to appear on Christmas cards in so many forms.

Consequences: Whichever it was, these actions of men from afar, they had consequences. We live in a world where there are consequences, one thing following on from another. In modern chaos theory the butterfly effect, put most simply, means that a small change in one place can cause a greater changer somewhere else. Just why Caesar Augustus decided to call that a census should be taken across the whole of the Roman Empire is uncertain. We may assume it was pride of an arrogant dictator who liked boasting about how big the Empire was. However, it is said that in his latter years he became a great administrator and so, perhaps to overcome a sense of chaos in the administration of the Empire, he called for a census. The truth is that we just don’t know but decisions by such ‘top men’ can often have far reaching consequences for the ‘small people’.

Fulfilment: As far as the Christmas story is concerned it simply meant that Mic 5:2 would be fulfilled, that Bethlehem would be the place where the Messiah, the Christ, was born, a “ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” At the time there was probably no one taking in the significance of this. Perhaps it would not be until after he was born and the Wise Men turn up that the scribes would observe, In Bethlehem in Judea …for this is what the prophet has written.” (Mt 2:5) So the consequence of this emperor’s whim was, “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born.” (Lk 2:4-6) It was left to Matthew who so often picks up on prophetic significance to make the link; Luke simply records what actually happened.

The Hand of God? I couldn’t help wondering earlier if it was God who nudged Caesar to call for a census, God who knows what His prophets have declared in bygone centuries, and what the scribes down through the years have spotted, God who wants to give any onlooker with an open heart, a heads-up of what He is doing. Some of us are a bit chary of attributing the actions of pagans to the moving of God, but Scripture is not so wary. Centuries before the event, probably somewhere between 700 and 680BC Isaiah had prophesied and written and in the midst of his writings, apparently without any present significance we read, speaking of the Lord, “who says of Cyrus, “He is my shepherd  and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, ‘Let it be rebuilt,’ and of the temple, ‘Let its foundations be laid.” (Isa 44:28)

It is left to one of the scribes recording the history of 2 Chronicles, to conclude the book by speaking of how Jeremiah’s word about the restoration of Jerusalem and Israel would follow the Exile, was fulfilled and we find: “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfil the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing: ‘This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: ‘“The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up, and may the Lord their God be with them.” (2 Chron 36:22,23) Can you imagine that king, egged on by the faithfulness of Daniel in the court in Babylon, perusing the documents, the scrolls that had been taken decades before from Jerusalem, and he comes across the Isaiah prophecy and is astounded to find his name there, and the Spirit convicts him and he sees it is his role to send Israel back to their land to start rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. Oh yes, God speaks to pagans!

Magi: Meanwhile, sometime during the time of Mary’s impending confinement, possibly nearly a thousand miles away, some other interesting characters are starting to talk together, but in order not to reduce our reflections upon them down to an unworthy brevity, we will consider them in the next study – yet they very clearly are ‘distant threads’ worthy of our consideration.

Life in General: There is a big lesson in the midst of all this speculation and it goes back to what we were saying earlier. Yes, we live in a world of consequences. The lives we live we live because of what has happened before us. When we come to national histories there is always a mixture of good and bad. This is not the place to give a history lesson but few countries fare well under the microscope of history because ultimately every history is a history of sinful, fallen men. Most of us have things about which we can feel proud about our nationhood, but the wise man does not elevate one nation above another for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God!

Stuck with the Consequences? Some of us may feel bad about our background. Our histories may be littered with misdeeds, wrong-doings, unfaithfulness, adultery, out of wedlock children, and so on. Some of these histories may be very recent and that leaves us feeling damaged. Do we have to remain like that? No, every day is a new day with God and we are what He wants to make us and that is always something more glorious than before.  Perhaps we can look back on miscarriages of justice and other unfairness, of unkind words spoken over us, of situations that have come about because of the thoughtless action of ‘top people’ that have left us feeling abandoned, or feeling we are on our own, wondering what tomorrow will hold. Our answers are found in the Christmas story and particularly in the things on which we have been reflecting today.

A Surreal World? There may be a variety of reasons why we are where we are today, and we may never know what they all are. There is only one stable factor in the bizarre equations of life – God. He was certainly the prime cause of Mary being pregnant; whether He was the direct cause of them ending up having to travel at a most inconvenient time to Bethlehem, we are not sure – but it feels like it! No doubt for them it felt a somewhat surreal world as they are being carried along by events beyond their control, and that is a not uncommon feeling. Yet the truth is, as we know, this is the plan of God and it is just part of His plan to redeem the world. That is a staggeringly big plan and they feel so small – but they are the ones bringing it into being, even if they do not realise it.

And that is you and me again. We have been called and we now call ourselves Christians, children of God. We often feel small and insignificant, we often feel we are the beck and call of circumstances beyond our control. and we are left wondering about our significance. Yet today, your life or mine may impact others, today we may be the fluttering butterfly wings of chaos theory that cause, along the way, major events to be unfurled. Who knows the effect our words will have? Who knows what that effect will have… will have… will have. Small players? Not in God’s economy. That is what this part of the Christmas story leads us to! It may be a fallen world and it may appear chaotic sometimes from our viewpoint, but the God of the impossible is working and weaving His will into our everyday events to redeem them. Hallelujah!

5. God knows how to choose people

The Impossibilities of God in a Broken World, the story of Christmas, Meditations:

5. God knows how to choose people

Lk 1:5,11   In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah…. an angel of the Lord appeared to him

Lk 1:26-27  In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

Fresh Perspective: So often when we think about the Christmas story we focus on people and events, but perhaps a more profitable perspective might be to wonder what was happening in God’s mind. Now that sounds seriously pompous, affected or pretentious, possibly even arrogant, but I want to suggest that by looking at some of the people involved, we may make some reasonable assumptions about the Lord. The greatest sense I have, pondering afresh on the Christmas story and the people we have already mentioned, is that God knows how to choose people. I mean, can you imagine the crazy scenario of the angel Gabriel going from one priest to another before he felt satisfied that Zechariah was the one for the job. Or even worse, turning up in one bedroom after another before he found a girl who would say yes. And as for Joseph – well, it was more about Mary really because he was her fiancé so perhaps in this silly imaginary scenario imagine him going from house to house looking for a girl, not yet married but who has a fiancé in tow who would eventually agree to the job? No, I don’t think it was like that at all. God looked, God saw, and God knew.

What did God know? Well the good things first, the obvious things. Zechariah was described as righteous, a follower of the Law blamelessly (Lk 1:6). All we are told about Mary is that she found favour with the Lord (Lk 1:30). Joseph, we are told was “faithful to the Law” (Mt 1:19) but also that he was clearly compassionate and caring not wanting to expose her to public disgrace. Each of these three are clearly righteous, godly people. When it comes to their futures, Zechariah, I would suggest, has really given up hope of ever being a father and is just living out his days serving in his division of the priesthood without much hope. Mary and Joseph are looking to a future together, as we said in the previous study, looking forward to setting up home together and having a family. A positive expectation, a future full of hope.

But God knows everything. Yes, God knows the past, the present and what will be the future. He also knows how we will respond to each situation so, I would suggest, He is not at all surprised when Zechariah splutters over the thought of becoming a father in his old age. He is not at all surprised when Joseph determines to quietly divorce Mary, i.e. break off their relationship, for that is what a righteous man apparently faced with unfaithfulness would do. He also knows that giving Zechariah a nudge of dumbness would make him a believer and giving Joseph a dream would be all that was necessary to bring him round to take on the responsibility of being a husband and a father to a child that was not his.   And Mary? He knew she would simply acquiesce to His plans for her. Why was Mary an easy-believer, Joseph a bit of a struggler and Zechariah a serious struggler? I want to say that they each have reasons to struggle (Joseph’s righteousness, Zechariah’s childless old age) but the simple truth is that it is a mystery why one person is full of faith and another is a struggler.

Knowing the end result: Now here is the exciting thing, I believe: God knows what He can achieve with each of is, even if He needs to nudge us forward once or twice. Now this is actually monumental when you think about it. You and I look at one another as we are now, and we assess one another on what we are now, and sometimes write one another off on what we see now – and that’s where we differ from God. God knows our capabilities. God knows that Zechariah will struggle to begin with but with nine months of dumbness he will come to a place where he declares his new son’s name in line with God’s will and will then be filled with the Spirit and prophesy. God knows that Joseph will struggle in his righteousness in the face of what the circumstances seem to be telling him, but with just one dream will come around and will join the place of possible shame and being the butt of gossip when Mary has a baby within an unacceptably short period after their wedding – indeed she might have been showing signs of it at the wedding – even more gossip! Mary is just simply a devout child of God who doesn’t need any nudging to accept the will of God for her life, even if it does mean loss of reputation and lots of misunderstanding.

Others? But go back into the Old Testament, as I did in a previous series entitled, ‘Reaching into Redemption’ and see some of the strugglers back there. Abraham, man of faith, friend of God, struggled in the face of threats to his life (Gen 12:12-), and struggled when his wife failed to conceive and gave way to her suggestions (Gen 16:2-) – and that had serious long-term consequences! Yes, he was a man of faith but it was often a struggle. Then there the schemer and twister, Jacob, and all the comings and goings of his life before he ends up being a faithful patriarch who understood the ways of God and prophesied the word of God over his sons. He was followed by Joseph, the spoilt brat who ends up a wise ruler who, again, understands the ways of God (see Gen 50:20). It gets better (or worse depending on how you look at it): Moses, a Hebrew Prince of Egypt who totally blew it and ended up on his own looking after sheep in the desert for forty years before God came and had a long argument with him (Ex 3 & 4) to get him to accept his destiny. All great men – eventually!

Us? Don’t you find this encouraging?  Here we are, chosen of God (Eph 1:11) but so often feeling we are spiritual nightmares, tripping over our spiritual feet! You know one of the even bigger and more amazing things about this is that God chooses us, and calls some of us into leadership, even while He knows we are going to make a mess of it. I wonder how many leaders could say with an honest heart they haven’t got it wrong some way along the path, and as for those who have clearly blown it…..   the Lord knew and continues to work to redeem each of us and, as we said at the end of the previous study, the long-term outcome may be more determined by our availability or otherwise, although these stories challenge that belief. If it is our availability it will only be because the Lord presses us forward. I am always challenged by the words the apostle Paul uses, “the faith God has distributed to each of you,” (Rom 12:3) and “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” (Rom 12:6) We do have a part to play without doubt, but the Lord’s impartation of faith and gifting is of major importance and He will be there, knowing exactly what we are like, but encouraging us on.

The supreme example: We’ve been looking at how the Lord ‘encouraged’ on Zechariah and Joseph (not needing to do it with Mary) and pondering how He does it with us, but possibly the best example in the New Testament has to be the apostle Peter. When Jesus renamed him (Jn 1:42) he knew Peter was destined to be changed from ‘a small pebble’ to a ‘big rock’ but it wasn’t going to be without its downsides. The fact that he three times denied Jesus (e.g. Mt 26:69-75) – with Jesus’ prior knowledge (Mt 26:34) – did not disqualify him from the role Jesus had for him, leading his church (see Jn 21:15-19). God knew all about Zechariah before Gabriel left heaven, He knew all about Joseph and He knew all about Peter and He knows all about you and me. Thank goodness, thank God!

6. An Arrogant Prophet?

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 6. An Arrogant Prophet?

Gen 37:3,4   Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him.  When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

 Focus: Please do not confuse these studies as merely character studies. The whole thrust is on the redemptive acts of God in the lives of us human beings and we are starting by observing them in the lives of the people who are so familiar to us in the Bible. But the whole thing is about how God acts to redeem us and take us out of what we were, to become something completely different, and nowhere is this better illustrated than in the life of Joseph in the Old Testament.

The situation: To catch the full thrust of what is going to happen we need to focus on the family setup in which Joseph found himself. He has ten older brothers, but he is the apple of his father’s eye and as such, is spoilt. As so happens in such situations he becomes the object of their jealousy and even hatred. Now that is how it starts. It is an inflammatory situation from the outset. Also, as we shall see, spoiled children are not also the wisest of children. OK scene set. Not a very good situation to say the least and certainly not one that you would expect the gain the attention of God. But then this family has already been chosen by God, right back with Abraham and are part of the outworking of His promise to that patriarch, but they aren’t just going to drift on through history, they are going to seriously impact it – more than they have a clue at present.

God’s intervention: Most of the time we don’t expect God to intervene in our affairs and when He does we frequently don’t realise what is happening for it can come in such a variety of ways. This time it comes in a really mundane way: “Joseph had a dream.” (v.5) If only it had been about it going to rain the next day, or something equally usual, but it wasn’t, it was all about how he was going to lord it over the brothers! Whoops. But it gets worse; he has another one of the same sort, but this time it includes his parents bowing before him.  A match to tinder. It doesn’t say it was God, but it clearly turns out to be prophetic, so it has to be Him.

Explosion: So often family explosions have just been waiting to happen and they come about because of our thoughtlessness or our failure as parents to do stuff we should do. This situation goes bang when old man Israel thoughtlessly sends Joseph out to take provisions to the rest of the boys out looking after their flocks some distance away (you went wherever there was still grass). It is there they sell Joseph off to slave traders – sounds so simple when you put it like that!  (see Gen 37:12-28).

Long story shortened: Joseph is sold as a slave in Egypt (Gen 39:1), prospers with God’s help (39:2-6), rebuffed his owner’s wife trying to get him in bed (39:7-12), is falsely accused and put in prison (39:13-20) where he again prospers with God’s help (39:21-23). Shortening the story even more, he gets known as a prophetic dreamer (40:1-23) and is eventually taken before the pharaoh to interpret his dreams (41:1-24) and tells of seven coming years of prosperity followed by seven years of famine (41:25-36) and so is put in charge of working into these coming fourteen years (41:37-57). In the days that follow his brothers and eventually his father come and settle in Egypt.

A long story but they are all saved by the revelation and wisdom of God shown through this young man who was just thirty when he started as the king’s right-hand man (41:46) and so possibly coming up to forty when his brothers arrive. The most amazing thing of the story is his response to his brothers at the end of the story (well it goes on and on), which was, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.” (Gen 50:19-21) He is a transformed man, a man who acknowledges the lordship of God and is gracious and merciful because of it.

The tools of change: Now how do we interpret all this? There are two sides to this particular coin: the first is the side of God’s activity to bless. First, there is God’s foreknowledge, God knew all what would happen. But second, God gifted Joseph with prophetic dreams. Third, He also gifted him with wisdom and twice we are told He blessed Joseph and was “with Joseph so that he prospered” (39:2) and had “success in whatever he did”. (39:21-23) But the other side of the coin is the sinfulness of mankind. We see it in this story in a) Israel’s folly in having a favourite, being insensitive to the other sons and thoughtless sending Joseph out, b) Joseph’s initial pride and insensitivity towards his family, c) the brothers jealousy, hatred and eventual act of selling him to slavers, d) Potiphar’s harshness, e) his wife’s amorous infidelity and then spite, and finally f) the cup-bearer’s lack of care, forgetting him in prison. All of these things work to change this spoilt young brat into a wise, merciful and gracious ruler. It may not be a ‘rags to riches’ story materially, but it is one spiritually!

God who tolerates sin?  Have you never realized that when God called you, you were distinctly imperfect with lots of edges to be rubbed down and rough bits to be chipped off? We’ve said it before, but do you not realize that God loves us even while we are ‘works in progress’? When we come to Christ, we tend to think we have arrived, but the truth is that the journey of change has only just begun, and it will continue until we leave this earth. As we’ve seen before, God doesn’t want us to sin, but He still loves us with our imperfections and all He wants is our loving willingness to let Him have His way in carrying out this lifelong process. How can He tolerate us? But the fact is that Jesus died, for all our sins – past, present and future.

God who uses sin? That is what is beneath all this, that God will make use of the sinfulness of mankind. We see it in the way He let Satan stir up ungodly enemies (Job 1:15,17) and in the way the Lord, knowing what would happen given the circumstances, allowed His Son to die in our place (read Acts 2:23)

And Today? Yesterday I concluded with thoughts about our prodigals. Today’s study builds on that. You may have a spoilt brat child and, if they have left home, you make think it is too late, but it is never too late to pray, to ask for change and also to add, “Lord, show me if there is a part you want me to play to bring this prodigal into a good place.” We may have contributed to the ‘spoilt-brat syndrome’ but it is never too late to seek the Lord’s grace to bring change. He is in the business of redemption – mine, yours and your prodigals. Can we be available, can we pray and act with hope, can we truly believe that He has a project (my life, your life and their lives) and it is to redeem, to change and deliver from the messed up and missed-opportunities times of the past, into a gracious and glorious future?  May it be so.

Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, again I affirm I am a work in progress and there is still some way to go. Thank you that you see me and those I love and know, and wherever you see even a glimmer of faith, you will be there, working to redeem. Thank you so much.

6. Handling Expectations

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 6. Handling Expectations

Gen 37:5-7   Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”

Handling personal prophecy is a tricky thing. I mean, in the Christmas story that was what both Zechariah and Mary received by an angel. Zechariah didn’t handle it too well, but Mary did. Now, as we continue moving through Genesis we come to Joseph, the last of the big figures in the book and we see how not to handle expectations! How we handle personal prophecy reveals our state of mind, our state of spirituality and our faith level.

Joseph’s Background: To understand Joseph we need to see his family background. He is the youngest but one of the twelve brothers and we read, Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.” (Gen 37:3,4) So there we have a disturbed family background that has grown up. Not a good setting for what God is about to do – or is it?

Joseph’s Dreams: So Joseph has two dreams and gets hostile reactions (37:5-7 & 9):  “His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.” (v.8) Even more, “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.” (v.10,11) Old man Israel doesn’t completely write it off but he is upset at the apparent way Joseph brought the dreams.

The trouble with prophecy, whether it comes in a dream or as a conscious word, is that it is about the future and not the present and what the vast majority of people – including Joseph – forget, is that to get from the present to the future, there is invariably change required and that comes about by process. So, in many ways the process is more important to remember, than the end product. So Joseph is going to end up as an important ruler, but he was not told how or why. For that we have to follow his story.

Joseph’s Downward Upward Climb: Because of their hatred for him – stoked by these dreams – the brothers take the opportunity to sell Joseph to slave traders (37:19-28) who take him to Egypt where he is sold on to the captain of Pharaoh’s guard.  (39:36) There he prospers under the hand of the Lord (39:2) and is given charge of all of his master’s household. He is learning responsibility with wisdom. A bad situation is made worse when his master’s wife tries to seduce him, but he flees her and ends up being put in prison (see 39:7-20). However, there again the Lord is with him and he prospers (39:20-23). He also finds he can interpret dreams (40:5-22). Subsequently when Pharaoh also starts getting prophetic dreams, it is Joseph who is called for and interprets for him (41:1-38) after which Pharaoh puts him in charge of the whole economy to oversee the coming years of prosperity followed by the years of famine.

Fulfilment & Understanding: It is a long and convoluted story but by the end of it, his brothers come and bow before him, not realizing who he is (at least a dozen years have passed), before he eventually reveals to them his identity. The original dreams have been fulfilled but to bring them about two things had to happen. First, circumstances had to come about that brought Joseph to the royal court in Egypt. Second, by the time he got there he had to be changed into a man of humility and wisdom who is open to the Lord and recognizes His presence which he does (see 40:8, 41:16,25,28,32).  Moreover, by the end of the story Joseph makes that famous statement that reveals his understanding of the sovereign ways of God: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives,” (50:20) and does his best to put his brothers’ minds at rest and to care for them: “But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? …. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.” (50:19,21)

Transformation: It is a remarkable story of how a man within Israel’s family is transformed and used by God, but his transformation comes about through harsh circumstances, circumstances brought about by the sinfulness of his brothers. God uses our sinfulness sometimes to achieve His end purposes. The greatest illustration of that must be that recognized by the apostle Peter under the anointing of the Spirit: “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) Yes, the Cross was God’s plan, but it came about through the sinfulness of mankind. This so parallels what happened to Joseph, except the big difference is that it was the folly and pride of Joseph at the beginning of the story that opens the way for all else to follow.

The lesson?  God will use our folly, our mistakes etc. to work through His purposes. And what are they ultimately for us? That we become more and morel like Jesus  (2 Cor 3:18). That will underline all that takes place in our lives, the good and the bad, because the more we are formed in the image of Jesus, the more open we will be to receive God’s blessing in our lives and be open to Him to be used to bless His world. Amazing! We may focus our expectations on success and achievement; He focuses on us being changed into the likeness of His Son.