Monday, August 22, 2016

Free From Prison



When was the last time that you read the story of Joseph in the Bible?  Genesis 37 is where we begin to read about Joseph, and if you grew up in church, it is likely that you heard parts of his story over and over again.  Joseph is sold into slavery by his own brothers, and is thought dead by his own parents.  In one instant, he goes from freedom to slavery, and from the familiar land of his family to the far away country of Egypt.  If you have finished the story, you know the ending is a good one.  What always perplexes me about this story is the "in-between" parts that we are not given much information about.  Joseph spent years in prison and in slavery for things that were not his fault, and once for doing the right thing!  How did he cope with it all?  There was no "due process" in it all...  he simply had to live with the consequences of others' actions.

Recently, I have been blindsided by emotion and pain from the actions of a former church.  So much so, that it has been mentally and spiritually overwhelming at times.  This has perplexed me greatly, as the church and community where we currently serve is absolutely the best place we have ever been a part of.  My guess is that we are still in a healing process, and that processing the pain of the past few years is God's way of helping us become fully functional again as His servants.  

Joseph was in slavery and prison for 13 of his first 30 years of life.  I often wonder about his conversations with God during that time.  Sure, some of that time was good, but what about the dark days in prison when he had zero assurance that he would ever be released?  One of the glimmers of hope that we see in Genesis 39:21-23 is that God continued to use Joseph, even in prison.  No, he was not immediately released, but it was like God gave him something to hold on to... something to keep him focused through it all.  Of course, being human, I'm sure that Joseph had some really dark days of despair.  What got him through those days?  Joseph simply had to remain faithful to God, even without the knowledge of what would come later.  In due time, God lifted him out of that prison and rewarded his faithfulness, but it was obviously not according to Joseph's time table.

In the past few years, I have shared about my struggle and journey with anxiety and depression.  There have been many victories, and many setbacks.  Much of the pain, anxiety, and fear that have gripped my life have been brought about by the very people that God has tasked me with serving in the church.   Most of the time, I have tried to cloak this truth...  because it is not "normal" to talk about hurt in the church.  Well, here's the truth... we hurt people.  The church is made up of sinful people, and that sin causes us to be selfish and uncaring.  Obviously, I do not like the fact that I also hurt people, and have at times been the one that caused the hurt in the lives of others.  It is a sobering fact of life...  none of us are perfect.

However, there is hope.  God, in His infinite wisdom and love, shows us His love and forgiveness... even when we have failed Him in every way.  He gives His encouragement and strength, even in the midst of trials.  Just like God used Joseph to minister to those in prison, God has used many of you to encourage and minister to my family over the past few years.  You have been the Lord's hands and feet when we needed it most.  For that, I am so very grateful.

Later in the story, we see that Joseph is reunited with his brothers, but we see that it is a VERY emotional time for Joseph in Genesis 45.  He is able to forgive his brothers, but it is my guess that it took many years for God to get him to that point.  

The fact that we often miss is that God was at work on a much larger scale during the story of Joseph.  He used this situation and Joseph's life to save what would become the nation of Israel.  Joseph could not have known that at the time, but God had a plan... even in Joseph's uncertainty.

I cannot always know what God is doing behind the scenes. but even in dark days I can hold on to the the words of Paul:

"But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowingChrist Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in[a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings,becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrectionfrom the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press ontoward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." -- Philippians 3:7-14 (NIV)
God is not finished with me yet.  However, He is showing me the way out of the prison that I have been in.  His joy has been my strength and shield.  May you see the healing hand of God's freedom today.  I pray that this is encouraging to you!