Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Journey with Joseph # 3 - "Framed and Blamed"

In his book, I Almost Missed The Sunset, Bill Gaither writes:
Gloria and I had been married a couple of years. We were teaching school in Alexandria, Indiana, where I had grown up, and we wanted a piece of land where we could build a house. I noticed the parcel south of town where cattle grazed, and I learned it belonged to a 92-year-old retired banked named Mr. Yule. He owned a lot of land in the area, and word was he would sell none of it. He gave the same speech to everyone who inquired: "I promised the farmers they could use it for their cattle."
Gloria and I visited him at the bank. Although he was retired, he spent a couple of hours each morning in his office. He looked at us over the top of his bifocals.
I introduced myself and told him we were interested in a piece of his land. "Not selling," he said pleasantly. "Promised it to a farmer for grazing."
"I know, but we teach school here and thought maybe you'd be interested in selling it to someone planning to settle in the area."
He pursed his lips and stared at me. "What'd you say your name was?"
"Gaither. Bill Gaither."
"Hmmm. Any relation to Grover Gaither?"
"Yes, sir. He was my granddad."
Mr. Yule put down his paper and removed his glasses,,,."How does $3,800 sound? Would that be okay?"
If that was per acre, I would have to come up with nearly $60,000! "$3,800?" I repeated.
"Yup. Fifteen acres for $3,800."
I knew it had to be worth at least three times that. I readily accepted.
Nearly three decades later, my son and I strolled that beautiful, lush property that had once been pasture land. "Benjy" I said, "you've had this wonderful place to grow up through nothing that you've done, but because of the good name of a great-granddad you never met."
"A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold." (Prov. 22:1).[i]

wants a good reputation. You want people to think well of you, for your own sake and for the sake of your family. No doubt when you were growing up, your parents impressed upon you that your actions reflect either positively or negatively upon your family. This is true everywhere, but especially so in areas where a person’s integrity can be believed or doubted because of his name. In the rural South, we still refer to people with the prefix “a” in front of their last name. “She’s a Burton.” “He’s a Conner.” It’s a clan-mentality that (rightly or wrongly) says that you can trust or distrust a person based on what kind of stock they come from. It is also a reminder to behave well, because your own reputation isn’t just your own—it’s a reputation you share.

The Bible says that as a Christian, people who are watching you will also see the things you do and make judgments about the family of faith that you come from. Rightly or wrongly, they will assume that all Christians behave as you do. This is why Jesus says in Matthew 5:16 (NASB), "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Not only will people interpret you as representative of all Christians the same as they might think Greg is representative of all Smiths, but they will judge God or glorify God because of the behavior of God’s followers.

In Genesis 39, Joseph is a slave in the house of Potiphar. Because of his excellence and good reputation, he is placed in charge of the Egyptian’s household. Still, trouble arrives in the form of Potiphar’s wife who sexually harasses Joseph. When Joseph refuses to comply with her demands, she accuses him of attempted rape. Her husband believes her and has Joseph thrown into prison. Joseph’s reputation can’t save him, and he pays for sins he never committed. Perhaps you have found yourself in the same situation, where you’ve been framed and blamed for something that you never did. You’ve done your best to live with integrity, but you’ve been misunderstood or misrepresented anyway. In this kind of situation, what do you do?

You might try to defend yourself. A good reputation is a blessing, but a poor reputation can even cost you money. There are even people who pay reputation defenders to study their reputation on the internet and work to either correct or litigate cases of libel. Yet, when Jesus was brought on trial he refused to defend himself. Why? As one popular saying goes, “Never explain yourself. Your friends don’t need it and your enemies won’t believe it.” Jesus believed in plain talk, and in letting your actions speak for themselves.[ii] Another saying goes, “Never waste your time trying to explain who you are to people who are committed to misunderstanding you.” Just live life and do your best and let the chips fall where they may. One story goes:

During the early days of the Salvation Army, William Booth and his associates were bitterly attacked in the press by religious leaders and government leaders alike. Whenever his son, Bramwell, showed Booth a newspaper attack, the General would reply, "Bramwell, fifty years hence it will matter very little indeed how these people treated us; it will matter a great deal how we dealt with the work of God."[iii]

Sometimes, injustice will happen to Christians. People are going to judge you, disbelieve you, and slander your name. 1 Peter 3:17(NASB) says, “For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.” You can’t make them people you. What you can do is to be like Joseph and make the right choice regardless of the consequence, trusting that even if you suffer for doing right, God will see you through. I pray that when you have the choice between the expedient wrong and the difficult right, that you’ll do the right thing. I pray that you’ll live the Christian life and let God defend your reputation.

[i] Leadership, Summer 1993, p. 61.  April 22, 2016.
[ii] Matthew 5:37; Matthew 11:2-5
[iii] W. Wiersbe, The Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching & Preachers, p. 185.  April 22, 2016.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Journey with Joseph # 2 - "Of Human Bondage"

Last week we began a study on the life of Joseph, the dreamer who would one day lead his people. The story begins colorfully, with dreams and decorated coats. It ends with a family reunited and protected from famine. But along the way there’s hatred, deception, and in today’s passage, one of the worst crimes of all: human slavery. Genesis 37:12-36 tells the story of Joseph’s brothers who are so jealous of their father’s favoritism that they plot to kill him. But, rather than having his blood on their hands, and in order to make a profit instead of committing a useless murder, they sell him into slavery instead. So today, in light of this scripture, I want to talk about human trafficking.

This past January, director Lisa Arnold released a movie entitled Caged No More. IMDB summarizes the plot of this riveting film:

Inspired by real events, CAGED NO MORE is the story of Aggie Prejean, a grandmother on a desperate search to find her two granddaughters, Skye and Elle, who have been kidnapped by their sinister father. As the details behind the girls' disappearance begin to unravel, it's discovered he has taken them overseas to be sold into slavery to settle his drug debt. Aggie enlists the help of the girls' uncle, a well-respected local philanthropist, and his son Wil, who is former Special Forces. A global hunt ensues, and the team will stop at nothing to see the girls safely returned home. CAGED NO MORE is a drama meant to engage and educate audiences on the realities of human trafficking.[i]

This film surprises us because it sheds a light on something that most people in our community would rather not know: that slavery is real, and it is happening today. Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, and as far as many Americans know, slavery was abolished. Yet today there are more people enslaved on the planet than at other time in human history. According to the Washington Post, there are 29.8 million people around the world who are living as slaves right now. Max Fisher writes: “This is not some softened, by-modern-standards definition of slavery. These 30 million people are living as forced laborers, forced prostitutes, child soldiers, child brides in forced marriages and, in all ways that matter, as pieces of property, chattel in the servitude of absolute ownership.” [ii] The top countries for slavery are Mauritania, Haiti, Pakistan, and India. Globally, about nineteen percent of enslaved people are for the purpose of labor, and eighty percent are used for sexual slavery.[iii] Boys and girls at an average age of twelve are forced into the sex trade, and are shipped all over the world to service clients. Yet slavery exists in every country in the world, including the United States.

We think it’s a problem for another country, for another area. Yet “according to USA Today, an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 American women, some as young as 12, are exploited in the U.S. sex trade alone. The Huffington Post estimates that U.S. sex trafficking generates $9.5 billion annually.”[iv] says,

“While the term trafficking may conjure images of desperate illegal immigrants being forced into prostitution by human smugglers, over 80 percent of victims in 2011 confirmed sex trafficking cases in this country were American citizens. Or, maybe, you heard about the recent case in Ohio where three girls were kidnapped and kept as sex slaves…and you thought it was just one guy with a serious problem. Think again. It’s happening in plain sight, and you probably don’t even realize it.[v]

In the US, many abductions happen just before major sporting events. In fact, every year, the Superbowl is the largest human trafficking event in the United States, where thousands of girls are brought into cities where the event is being held, to service men who have come to see the game. Journalist Chelsea Gomez tells the story of one such victim:

Clemmie Greenlee, 53, is a former victim of sex trafficking who was gang raped by her captors at age 12. She told the Times-Picayune that the trafficked girls who come to large sporting events are told how many acts they must perform each day. Greenlee recalls having to go through 25 to 50 men a day.
If the girls don’t make that number, she said their captors punish them with repeated rapings and torture. She says that the worst form of torture is having to watch another girl be punished because she didn’t make her quota for the day.
Greenlee said that she along with about eight other girls were injected with heroin and handcuffed to beds. She was once stabbed in the back for attempting to escape.
The A21 Campaign which works to end human slavery worldwide is trying to educate people through social media, and the discussion is growing on Twitter.[vi]

You may shake your head at these facts and say, “That’s terrible,” wishing you could forget what you’ve just learned. You might think of Joseph and say, “I’ve read the final chapter, and I know that Joseph’s tale ends with forgiveness and peace. You might quote Joseph who told his brothers, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good (Genesis 50:20).” Or you might be both hopeful and flippant, quoting Romans 8:28 which says, “All things work together for the good of those who love the Lord.” But this kind of attitude overlooks the fact that, in enslaving Joseph rather than killing him, the brothers chose for him a fate worse than death. This kind of attitude forgets that while the last chapter of Genesis ends well, the very next page begins the book of Exodus with an entire nation in bondage. Slavery leads to more slavery, and injustice to more injustice. But Jesus came to abolish all that.

When the Lord spoke before the synagogue in Nazareth, He quoted from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed (Luke 34:18 NASB).” This was Jesus’ mission, but it is also the mission of all who follow Him. I pray that you’ll take this mission seriously, that you’ll be like Jesus, and you’ll help to set people free.

How can you do that? First, by praying for enslaved people everywhere. It does more good than you know. Second, by learning more about the topic so that you can be informed and aware. Third, by giving to those whose work endeavors to set people free in this country and around the world. Visit to learn and donate, so that you can help set prisoners free.


For further reading:

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Journey with Joseph 1 - "The Dreamer"

Fresh Expressions is a Christian movement that began in the UK and has moved to North America, asking the question, “What if we rethink church?” Typically, we think of church as a group of Christians that comes together on Sunday mornings and/or Wednesday nights for music, teaching, preaching, prayer, and an offering. Defined this way, church has a very limited appeal these days. Just as Christianity is growing in the East, Westerners are leaving the church in droves. So Fresh Expressions asks, “How can we envision church in a different way? How can we take church outside the walls of the church building so that people who might never come to church can still have church?”

As a result of this kind of thinking, Philip Roderick in the Diocese of Oxford, England founded Contemplative Fire, attracting Christians and unchurched people to experience Christ through meditation, drumming circles, candles, anointing with oil, and chanting.[i] In Franklinton, Ohio, Jed Dearing leads Confluence, a ministry that offers church on the street to homeless people, helps people fix their bikes so they can get around town, and operates an urban farm so people can grow fresh food.[ii] In Red Oak, Virginia, Jane and Mike Lyon worked with Warren Weston, owner of a country store, to offer church to the group of men that gathered every Sunday morning to swap stories and drink coffee.[iii] As a result of thinking outside the box, many have come to Christ. Because of dreamers, lives are changed. I pray that you’ll be one of those dreamers in your community, that you’ll ask big question: “What if?”

In the book of Genesis, we read about a dreamer who asked the question, “What if?” Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at Joseph’s story. We’ll see how this question led to the salvation of more than one nation. We’ll see how this question caused conflict, but how God triumphed and made great things happen. Not all of Joseph’s story is pleasant. Some of it is downright painful—just like our own lives. But just as we see the hand of God throughout Joseph’s story, we’ll come to see God’s hand leading us as we ask the question, “What if?”

Many know the story of the teenager who was his father’s favorite of 12 brothers. That favoritism was cemented when Jacob (Israel) gave Joseph a “coat of many colors” (which may be a mistranslation of an ornamented ankle-length or long-sleeved tunic). It wasn’t just that his brothers resented his princely garment—they resented the favoritism that it represented. They resented the fact that their father was preferring the next-to-youngest brother, and choosing him as the heir apparent and successor to the priesthood.
Then Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Please listen to this dream which I have had; 7 for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf rose up and also stood erect; and behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.” 8 Then his brothers said to him, “Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.
9 Now he had still another dream, and related it to his brothers, and said, “Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10 He related it to his father and to his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have had? Shall I and your mother and your brothers actually come to bow ourselves down before you to the ground?” 11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind (Genesis 37:5-11 NASB).

Just as God gives all believers spiritual gifts, God gave Joseph the remarkable ability to have prophetic dreams. We need dreamers to cast a vision for God’s people. Proverbs 29:18 (KJV) says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Israel’s descendants needed someone who would take the lead and seek God’s way for the people. A visionary like Joseph was just what they needed. The problem was that Joseph didn’t understand how to communicate that vision in a way that would inspire rather than enrage his brothers. Maybe he could have found a way to generate cooperation so that his brothers would buy into his vision. Or, possibly he could have held his dreams close to the chest and simply acted on them when he could, to bring them to fruition. Instead, he let his pride get in the way and his brothers failed to receive his vision.

Has God given you a vision for your church? Do you have dreams for ministry in your community? God’s people need visionaries to inspire and lead. But the church also needs everyone to exercise all of their spiritual gifts to make things happen. Some are big-picture dreamers, while others are administrators and others are givers and others are laborers. 1 Corinthians 12 (among other passages) says that it takes a team of people, all working together, to fulfill the dream God gives God’s people. In Acts 2:17 (ESV), Peter (quoting Joel) says, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” God gives His Spirit to young and old, men and women, so that working together, dreams and visions can be accomplished. I pray that God will give you a vision, that you’ll be part of a team, and that your church will be able to rethink church so that many will be blessed.

[i] Fresh Expressions: Contemplative Fire.  2009.  April 8, 2016.
[ii] Fresh Expressions: Franklinton Community.  April 8, 2016.
[iii] “Biscuits and Bible: Fresh Expressions in a Country Store.”  June 20, 2012.  April 8, 2016.

The Stranger on the Shore

Here it is, baseball season.  I remember when both of my sons were in Little League, how we taught them to play for the love of the game, for a sense of sportsmanship, and for fun.  How you played was as important as whether you won—maybe even more important (depending on the coach).  At the end of each game the players formed two lines, passing each other and slapping hands while “Good game” rang out like a mantra.  We encourage our children to respect their opponents, to treat them kindly, and to remember that they are not enemies.  We even celebrate stories of players from opposing teams who help disabled opponents score or win.  It reminds me of Proverbs 24:17 , which says, “Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble.”  God cares, not just about whether we win, but how we play the game.

Here in this season after Easter, we continue to celebrate the greatest victory ever—Jesus’ defeat of sin and death.  1 Corinthians 15:56-57 says, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  But it wasn’t just important that Jesus won this victory.  How Jesus won demonstrates the grace of God as well.  Remember when the soldiers came and arrested Jesus, how Peter cut off an assailant’s ear but Jesus healed it and told his disciple to put down his sword?   Or the fact that Jesus put up no defense when accused and assaulted.  “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”  Jesus could have called legions of angels to defend him, but he gave himself willingly.   Though He was Lord of All, he respected governmental authorities and submitted himself to them.  “He disarmed the [demonic] rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.”   Yet he was gracious to people like Caiphas, Herod, and Pilate.  Jesus demonstrated that the way he wins matters.  

On the third day after the crucifixion, Jesus rose from the grave.  In the resurrection, Jesus conquered without arguing. He never appeared to the governmental or religious leaders who killed him, gloating and declaring his victory. He just arose and appeared to those who loved him. Jesus overcame without competing. He didn't have to put anyone down in order to win the ultimate victory.  

In the resurrection, Jesus triumphed without gloating. He didn’t attack the world’s powers, yet he conquered.  He arrived without being summoned.  He simply appeared and loved people, allowing them to eventually come to their own conclusions and realize the resurrection in their own way.  Even among his friends, he didn’t force himself, but spoke in an unhurried way and waited for them to realize who He was.  In John 21:1-14, Jesus appeared as a stranger on the shore.  He never declared himself, saying, “It is I—I have returned!”  Instead, he simply helped the disciples catch fish.  They had caught no fish all night long, but the stranger changed everything.  He seemed to have no plan, but simply made a suggestion, "Why not try a different way?"  Cooperating, they let down their nets and brought in a haul of fish that reminded them of their Lord and helped them to recognize their risen Savior. The number of fish, 153, represents the known species of fish in the world at that time. It depicts the fact that, though the mesh is wide, it doesn’t let a thing slip through.  God’s net covers the whole universe. 

God calls Christians to be like Jesus, which means that we need to be like him in the way he lived his daily life, but we also need to be like him in the resurrection.  You learned this as a child—not to gloat when you defeat opponents, but to be gracious with them instead.  You learn this by watching the Savior—how he didn’t force his way even though His Way is best.  He simply made appeared and let people come to their own conclusions.  He simply made suggestions and let them come to their realizations themselves.  

In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, Paul talks about how to live this kind of life by the Way of Love.  He says, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.”  Even if you triumph, even if you’re in a situation where you need to win—do it in the Way of Love.  Even if you are right, you need to be right in a loving manner.  That means not telling someone who has trouble fishing, “You’re so stupid—you’re doing it wrong.”  It means simply making a suggestion, “Why not try it another way, maybe cast on the other side?” It means saying, “There may be many good ways… ’And I will show you a still more excellent way.’  ” It means handling differences gently.  It means recognizing how inclusive God’s love is, and modeling Jesus’ generosity.  Christians are called to be a resurrection people—to be like Jesus in his life but also to follow the model of his new life.  I pray that in this season of Easter, you’ll not only celebrate Jesus’ new life, but that you’ll live it as well.