Have you ever had one of those days, weeks or months when you feel like the whole world is caving in on you? Right now I'm dealing with some emotional baggage from 26 years ago. It shouldn't be as painful as it is, but wounds without closure just fester. I have gotten some closure on this particular issue, but unfortunately other people have been hurt in the process. I never meant for anyone to be hurt or to stir up bad old feelings, but I thought that we had all moved far enough from it to be able to discuss it civilly. I was wrong. If any of those folks happen to read this blog, I'm truly sorry. If I had know how this would go I never would have brought it up. I'm not sure if there's enough asprin in the world to take care of my headache right now.
This message is based on the lectionary texts from Genesis and Matthew for August 7, 2005 - Joseph's experience of being sold into slavery by his brothers and the story of Jesus walking on the water and calling Peter out to him.
A FedEx from God So there I was, in a job that I hated, and it was a total dead end. There was absolutely no chance of advancement without changing careers, and I worked with people that I was, well, I wasn’t going to be on their party guest lists any time soon, or were they likely to be on mine. The pay was decent, but I worked five 11PM to 7AM shifts a week and had little time with my wife and daughter. I was not happy there and it showed in my attitude. What’s worse, I was a Christian at the time and people that I worked with knew I was going into the ministry. Not only was I miserable, but I was a poor witness because of my attitude. Trapped – that’s how I felt, trapped. Have you ever been there? Been in a place where you felt like you had no way out? Been in a situation where you felt trapped? Problem – Sometimes we find ourselves in places that we do not want to be. You see, that’s a problem that we can probably all relate to. We’ve probably all felt a little trapped in a situation at one time or another. We may not have been stuck in a boat with eleven other people in a storm. We may not have been thrown into a well by our brothers. But we’ve all been there. Maybe it was a job like mine that was a dead end. Maybe it was a relationship where you felt smothered. Maybe it was a commitment that you made and then regretted afterward. Whatever it was, it was not fun and it was not interesting and you wanted out. The disciples probably felt pretty trapped in that boat when the wind came up and Jesus wasn’t with them. They probably understood feeling trapped and isolated and without direction. You know who else understands how you felt, besides the disciples and me? Joseph understands. Joseph knew what it felt like to be trapped, Because Joseph really was trapped. His brothers didn’t like that he was the favorite child. His brothers didn’t want to hear anymore about Joseph’s dreams. They just wanted him dead or something like dead anyway. So what did they do? At first, they were going to kill him. They planned to shred his coat of many colors and cover it with blood, And then tell their father that a wild beast had killed him. But Reuben at least convinced them to not kill him right away. Instead, they threw him in a dry well. While he was in there, an Ishmaelite caravan came by and the brothers decided to sell Joseph into slavery. Now slavery, that’s trapped. Joseph knew what it meant to be trapped for sure. CS Lewis puts it this way, “Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters. (C.S. Lewis in "Equality" from Present Concerns, quoted in Christianity Today, February 3, 1989, p. 31.) Good News – The reality is that God wants us to be exactly where we are at all times. But you know what, if you think about it, I’d be willing to bet that in whatever situation you felt yourself trapped, Something good came out of it. It necessarily didn’t have to be a good result, when I left that miserable job, I went to school and I worked as a part time substitute teacher. There were times when I felt like I had jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire. But I left on good terms with my fellow employees. I had at one point decided that I was there for a reason, And I began starting my nights off with a visit to the chapel for prayer. I prayed for self-control and joy, and I prayed for my coworkers and I to get along. It didn’t work right away; it was no miracle in that sense. But, it did work. There came a time when those people that had been my biggest adversaries at work Became my closest friends. What life and fate had meant for my downfall, God had meant for my edification. Think about the disciples in the boat. Think about how they felt with that storm raging around them. They probably believed that the wind and the waves had conspired against them. I’m sure that they believed that evil was working against them. But what was meant for evil God turned to good. For instead of a tragedy, the disciples witnessed a miracle that strengthened their faith. And, what Joseph’s brothers had meant for evil, God had meant for good. Joseph ended up first as the house attendant for the captain of the Guard, Potiphar, Then as the second in command of all of Egypt. Eventually, Joseph is able to save the Hebrew people because of his position. Now, could Joseph have done this if his brothers had not sold him into slavery? Of course not! Could the disciples have witnessed Jesus walking across the stormy sea without the storm?Obviously not! You see folks, the good news out of these passages is that God is in the process. God does not abandon us to the wiles of this world. God works through the events and the people of this world to God’s own ends. And God’s ends are always good. There’s a story about the famous preacher C. H. Spurgeon that goes something like this. One day Spurgeon was walking through the English countryside with a friend. As they strolled along, the preacher noticed a barn with a weathervane on its roof. At the top of the vane were these words: “GOD IS LOVE.” Spurgeon remarked to his companion that he though that this was a rather inappropriate place for such a message. “Weather vanes are changeable,” he said, “but God’s love is constant.” “I don’t agree with you about those words, Charles,” replied his friend. “You misunderstood the meaning. That sign is indicating a truth: Regardless of which way the wind blows, God is love.” (Stories Illustrations and Quotes, Robert J. Morgan, 2000) And for us, regardless of where the world takes us, God is in that process. God is in that place and we’re there for a reason. Response – Go with the flow because God is in the process somewhere. So what do we need to do? As Christian people, as people receiving this FedEx from God, what should our response be to the fact that God is in control? Well, look back at the Genesis passage. Joseph didn’t fight his brothers when they stripped him and threw him into a well. At least we’re not told that he did. Consider Paul and Silas in prison. They didn’t try to escape when they had the opportunity. Even the disciples in the boat settled down when they realized that the “ghost” was Jesus. What’s God saying? Go with the flow. God is telling all of us that only God is sovereign and only God is in control. Even if life in this world leads us into slavery, God is still in control. There’s a song I obtained recently by a band called “Casting Crowns” called The Voice of Truth. The lyric goes something like this:
Oh what I would do to have the kind of faith it takes to climb out of this boat I’m in onto the crashing waves. To step out of my comfort zone, into the realm of the unknown where Jesus is. And he’s holding out his hand But the waves are calling out my name and they laugh at me Reminding me of all the times I’ve tried before and failed. The waves they keep on telling’ me, time and time again “Boy, you’ll never win. You’ll never win!“ But the voice of truth tell me a different story. The voice of truth says, “Do not be afraid.” And the voice of truth says, “This is for my glory.” Out of all the voices calling out to me, I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.
The voice of truth, the voice of God says, “Do not be afraid." God says, “Whatever you’re going through is for my glory.” So go with the flow. Relax and know that the God of all creation is directing the flow of your life experience. And know that God’s intentions are always for your good. AMEN
Got back Thursday from my stint out at camp. Good week there by very hot and no AC. Two nights of VBS and still working on this week's message. That plus dealing with other family and extended family issues has me feeling like I'm chasing my tail a little bit. But, there are two things that came up recently that I need to talk about here.
First - last night at VBS we had a big event planned. The theme of the week was a circus motif. For Friday night we had rented a popcorn macine, a snowcone machine, and a moon bounce. It was looking like it was going to be a good time for the kids. But, as 6PM was approaching, so were the storm clouds and the lightning. The kids were meeting inside for a lesson first and Melissa, the VBS leader asked me to pray with the kids that the rain would hold off for us. We prayed and by 8PM when it was time to go home we had had one brief (literally 30 second) shower. The night was a great success and we all got a powerful lesson in the power of prayer.
Second - After that I went to see "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" with my wife and daughter. I mentioned early on in this blog that I would probably talk about connecting movies with the Gospel. Here's one of those times. The film wasn't bad, especially as a cautionary tale for kids. In that respect it was very much like the original film with Gene Wilder. But near the end, Wonka offers the factory to Charlie and Charlie asks if he can bring his whole family to live there with him. Wonka replies, "Of course you can't!" Charlie explains to Wllie Wonka that he wouldn't trade his family for any amount of chocolate. My first thought was, "That'll preach!" I reminded me of the scripture from Ephesians 2:19. As Paul is talking about all people, Jews and Gentiles being one in Christ he says, "So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God's holy people. You are members of God's family." Is there anything more important than family? And since we are all one in Christ, is there anything more important than the family of God? How often we sell each other out for so much less than a chocolate factory. What a shame that we all aren't a bit more like Charlie Bucket.
In the last year or so I've come to focus more on looking for God and Christianity in popular culture, so that's what you're going to find here. I'll write about my impressions of movies, television, popular music, books... really anything that is in the news or the popular consciousness. I'm not always on point, so to speak, but I am always willing to hear a differing opinion. So feel free to comment on anything that I post.