Thursday, February 22, 2018

Evidence of Forgiveness

One of my all-time favorite scenes in the Old Testament is the moment that Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. He had been separated from his brothers for 15 years, but God had blessed him in fascinating ways. It is evident to the reader that Joseph chose to forgive his brothers many years earlier. However, he would not reveal himself to his brothers until he had thoroughly tested them. He wanted to know if his brothers had changed—were they still capable of betrayal and deplorable acts such as they had done to him. He chose to zero in on his brother Benjamin—that would expose his brothers for who they really were. He first accused his brothers of being spies, and they responded by telling their story—we are 12 brothers, one is dead, and one is with our father. Joseph ordered one of them to be kept in prison while they returned home with food for their families. If they wanted more food and to secure the release of Simon, they would need to bring Benjamin.

They did finally convince their father that they had to take Benjamin with them. All seemed to go well when they returned to Egypt. They ate lunch at Joseph’s house, all seated in order of their ages, which was puzzling, and they watched as Benjamin was served a portion five times larger. The next morning all ten brothers were loaded and ready to go home. Then suddenly, Joseph’s steward stopped them on the road and announced there was a problem. His master’s silver cup was missing, and they were looking for it. The brothers, knowing they didn’t take it, were perfectly willing to be searched. They even announced that if it was found on any of them, that person should be put to death and the rest would be slaves for life. The brothers were horrified to see the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack.

When they stood before Joseph, he asked them why they would do such a wicked thing. They were speechless. Joseph gave his final test when he announced that Benjamin was to be imprisoned and the rest could go free. Judah stepped up to the plate and pleaded that he be allowed to take Benjamin’s place because he promised his father to protect his younger brother. The brothers passed the test, and now Joseph revealed himself to them.

Joseph asked them to come close, and then he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!” (Gen 45:4). He told the brothers to not be distressed because God was working out his plan in spite of what they did. Joseph embraced each brother and wept. It was an intimate moment—all the servants were asked to leave. The servants quickly spread the word that Joseph was reunited with his brothers. This is evidence that Joseph had forgiven them. Everyone is learning for the first time who these men were. An unforgiving Joseph would have told everyone about the betrayal foisted upon him so long ago. That wasn’t Joseph, a man who learned to forgive.

Forgiveness brings closeness and connection. This intimacy is so real it brings tears, but none of this would have been Joseph’s or his brothers’ without forgiveness. When Joseph named his sons, he summed up his life and the power of forgiveness in the names he gave them. First came Manasseh, which meant, “It is because of God, who has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household” (Gen 40:50-52). Joseph tells us something very important about forgiveness—it is a work that God does in us and through us, if we will allow him to do it. God made him forget what his brothers had done to him and all the other trouble he lived. God took away the resentment and removed his desire to get even. Then when his second son came, he named him Ephraim, which means, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.” Joseph again gives God the credit for the prosperity and accomplishments he has achieved. God did this in spite of the things that went wrong. True forgiveness is always accompanied by evidence, and Joseph had plenty of it.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

We All Need a Redeemer

Chaos can come out of nowhere and blindside us before we even know what hit us. Like the time Marilyn and I were supposed to board a plane for Antofagasta, Chile, out of Miami, but we found the airline was on strike. To make things worse, no other airline would accept our tickets because Braniff Airlines would not endorse them for payment. Hundreds of people were sitting around and many even on the floor because there were no more seats. The faces of the people revealed they were bewildered, frustrated, and even angry. I still remember the feeling of helplessness when I went to tell Marilyn, after waiting my turn to find if there was a solution, that we were stuck. Helplessness hardly describes the feeling when you have no answer and there does not appear to be anyone who can help you find any either. My list of chaotic experiences could go on and on as yours could because life at times is beyond our control. When those undesirable things happen to us and we cannot stop them, we experience a range of negative emotions. Only when we turned this problem over to God did he help us find a solution. He led us out of our confusion when we trusted him, as he has done scores of times for us.
We experience powerful negative emotions during and after a traumatic event that can cause us intrusive and painful thoughts for a long time. The pain of the event can play in our brain like a looped video. We need someone to help us sort it all out. We long for clarity in life—the ability to make sense out of seemingly meaningless occurrences. Some of our worst memories may have to do with broken relationships because of death, divorce, conflict, or other problems. Sometimes we just do not know how to fix broken people, but God does. We need help to sort it all out. One can redeem our broken lives and make sense of the chaos—He is Jesus the Redeemer.
In the book of Ruth in the Bible, there is a story about redemption. Naomi has suffered enormous loss—her husband and two sons have died. She has been left with an emptiness she cannot fill and a disillusionment she cannot overcome. She has returned with her daughter-in-law Ruth to her homeland, impoverished and broken and with no hope. God comes to Naomi’s rescue, and he sends a redeemer to change their situation.
Just as God redeemed the loss and chaotic experiences in Naomi’s and Ruth’s lives, he does that for us today. Life is often filled with chaos, leaving us in a whirlwind of confusion. What do we do in those moments? We look to the Redeemer—Jesus Christ who is able to turn chaos into meaning and purpose. That chaos frequently comes from our own sin and other times from the mistakes of others. God, however, specializes in turning chaos into meaning when we ask for his help. That is what the book of Ruth is about—two people realizing they need a redeemer. They seek God’s help, and he redeems their lives. He can do the same for you today, too.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Pursuing Love That Lasts a Lifetime

Today we are witnessing more and more couples choosing to live together versus getting married.[1] The statistics bear out that the longevity of these relationships is far less than those who get married.[2] There are many reasons for the decline in marriage, one being disillusionment with their parent’s model of marriage. Then, there is the idea of, Why make a life-long commitment when we do not know if this will work out or not?[3]  I have worked with scores and scores of couples, some married and some not. It is amazing that they all want the same thing out of the relationship. They want fidelity, loyalty, accountability, and commitment. Marriage is not a fail-safe guarantee of these things, but it certainly has the potential for them. Most people who live together and are not married often live with a single mind-set. They relate to each other as two single people living together. They have their own money, their own friends, their own interests, and not nearly as much accountability as they need.
The real pursuit of love—the kind that lasts a lifetime with an intimacy that does not fade away like the morning fog—seems to be an illusion to so many couples today. It is clear that people want authentic love but do not know how to find it. One of the reasons it is escaping them is that they are pursuing physical intimacy without emotional and spiritual intimacy. We live in a culture where feelings are assigned more importance than thoughts and where the present takes precedent over the future. In our wild pursuit to feel and experience happiness in love today, we have abandoned the ability to think beyond the present moment. In so doing, we are missing what we all long for.
God did not design us to live that way. He made us with a capacity to think—something that we have to learn how to do. God has a plan for each of us that is unique. We first have to experience God, the author of the plan. Then we learn to live out that plan with our minds and our hearts.  When we understand his design for our life, we are willing to pursue a love for a lifetime and not settle for immediate sexual gratification. We wait to discover love, with the incredible joy of experiencing all three: physical, emotional, and spiritual intimacy in a special place that God calls marriage.
The culture tells us today that it is too much to expect a young person to arrive at marriage without already having experienced sexual intimacy with several partners. That is a pernicious lie that is robbing thousands of young men and women of the love and intimacy they so long for. What is so incredible is that people actually believed the lie.
It is like sending a couple that has never eaten almonds into an almond orchard to gather some nuts and they come back with only the hulls. They complain that the nuts are not very good. To which you respond that is because you have not found the nuts, only the hulls. The emotional and physical intimacy that last a lifetime do not come from brief sexual encounters of seduction, but of commitment, marriage, and building a life and family together.

[1] Bramlett, M., & Mosher, D. (2002). Cohabitation, marriage, divorce, and remarriage in the U.S.. Vital & Health Statistics, 23(22), 1-103.
[2] Thomas, A., & Sawhill, I. (2005). For love and money? The impact of family structure on family income. Future of Children, 15(2), 57-74.
[3] Park, M. (2003). Are married parents really better for children? What research says about the
effects of family structure on child well-being. Center for Law and Social Policy, Washington, D.C. 1-11.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Being There for Your Family

There have been a few defining moments for me as a father and a husband. They were very special moments when I caught a glimpse of what marriage could be, the companionship, the intimacy and the joy of what was available if I wanted it. The question was, Would I work for it?  I decided I would. There were times that I had blown it and had to ask God to help me to change.  Those same kinds of moments happened for me as a father too. It first happened when I held those little lives for the first time and felt the awesome responsibility of those precious lives. Looking down into the face of these beautiful little people and realizing their future would be impacted by how I lived my life was an awesome moment for me.

Another example of what I am talking about was our return to Argentina for our second term. I went alone to prepare the way. I had to find us a place to live and then move our furniture and belongings 600 miles from Tucuman to Corrientes and get the house set up. Our year in the States had been saddened by the loss of Marilyn’s father but also overjoyed with the birth of our third child. When it was time for Marilyn, the 2 older kids and a baby to arrive, I flew to Buenos Aires to meet them. It was always a hassle to get through customs, and I could do nothing but watch through the glass as they struggled through customs. After the long and tiring trip, we stayed in Buenos Aires for the night and left the next day for Corrientes.

When we arrived in Corrientes, we knew no one, so we took a taxi with our suitcases to the house. When my family walked into the strange house in a strange city after leaving our families in the States, I could see they were overwhelmed. I told them I had found a good place to get empanadas and I would go get some because everyone was hungry. Eric went with me, and as I was driving there, I prayed that God would help my family because I knew they all felt very alone right then. I did not always discern those key moments, but the more I asked God to help me be there for them in moments like that, the more he helped me. I think God allowed me to feel the responsibility for my little family that day in a marked way. Although I would fail many times, I would never give up. I knew it was my job to protect them both physically and spiritually and to provide for them. That meant not only providing a place to live and food to eat but also provide a model of how to live, how to love, how to forgive, and how to follow God. I realized I could never do this without God’s help.