Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Climbing Out of the Pit

Betrayal. We've all felt the sting, and it hurts deeply. The betrayal of a trusted friend, a wife who betrays the trust of her husband and has an affair, a husband who betrays his family by not providing godly leadership, a child who turns his back on his parents. Betrayal. We've all felt the sting and we all know the hurt.

Joseph was a man who experienced one of the most heinous and vicious acts of betrayal- his own brothers sold him into slavery. Their act of betrayal was fueled by jealousy and envy. Joseph's father (Israel) loved Joseph more than his brothers (Gen. 37:3). Joseph was his father's pride and joy, and it incensed his brothers. To make matters worse, God had given Joseph some dreams that made it clear to his brothers that even God's favor rested on Joseph. Talk about sibling rivalry- it was more than his brothers could handle.

So they sold him as a slave. Because of their act of betrayal Joseph had to suffer through enslavement, imprisonment and hardship- 20 years worth! What made matters worse: Joseph had to suffer for things that were beyond his control. He couldn't help that God gave him the dreams. He couldn't help that his father loved him more and showed favoritism. He couldn't control what his brothers did. He couldn't control the lies of others that landed him in prison.

Sometimes a single act of betrayal can lead to years of suffering. We can't control the words, thoughts and actions of others (and that is so frustrating). We can only control ourselves.

20 years after he was betrayed Joseph had a moment for revenge. His brothers came to Egypt to get some food because of a difficult famine in the land. They didn't know it was him. No one would have ever known had he decided to exact his revenge. However, rather than push his brothers into the pit of betrayal, he pulled them to the power of forgiveness. Rather than pay them back, he gave them food. Rather than push them away he moved his family to Egypt and took care of them through the famine. He returned good for evil- and God blessed him for it.

Truth be known, we have probably spent more time in Joseph's brothers' sandals than we care to admit. You can see this in your relationship with God. We were graciously created in the image of God, yet we betrayed God by our sin. Rather than pushing us into the pit for all eternity, God returned good for evil and sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross for us. What a picture of grace.

So when you feel the sting of betrayal, realize that God can use it for good if you will respond with grace rather than revenge. In so doing God can tell a beautiful story with your life- even when you find yourself in the painful pit of betrayal.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Reality Check

Over the past 10 years or so "Reality TV" shows have dominated the airwaves. These shows are really nothing more than an escape from reality. Many of the stars of the show are placed into a spotlight they would otherwise have never been in and millions of Americans tune in each week to watch un-reality play out on their TV screens.

Unfortunately, many of us live as though life is Reality TV. At times it can be difficult to face reality. It's much easier to play the part than face the facts. It's easier to pretend that your marriage is in good shape than it is to face the reality that it is unraveling at the seams. It's easier to spend as though you have money in the bank than it is to face the reality that you are head over heels in debt. It's easier to look the other way when you see rebellion in your kid than it is to discipline your child and guide them toward right behavior.

A man named Nehemiah got a reality check when he received this news about his people: "They are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire" (Neh. 1:3). This is probably not what Nehemiah wanted to face, but it is what Nehemiah faced. This was his reality. My friend, Lester Hutson, used to say, "Things may not be what they seem, but they are always what they are."

Take some time to look around your life today- and look carefully. It is likely that areas of your life are broken down but you have not been facing the facts. The first step toward rebuilding what is broken down is to see things as they really are. Seeing what is broken down is just the first step to rebuilding, but your life can't be rebuilt without this critical step. So don't try to skip it. Look around you. Look for some stones on the ground. Stop escaping reality by denying the facts. Instead, face the facts and change your reality.

Beginning Sunday, Feb. 5 I will begin a series through the book of Nehemiah titled "Arise and Build." It is a story of courage. It is a story of faith. It is a story of hope. It is a story of rebuilding what is broken, and it is a story that changed a nation.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Hearing Voices

Gen. 16:2- "And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai."

We all hear voices. I'm not talking about hearing voices in your head, but unless you're living in complete solitude, you are going to hear voices. Adverstisements, suggestions from a friend, an assignment from your boss, a blog, the news. Voices.

Abram (later known as Abraham) heard the voice of Sarai (later known as Sarah), but it went beyond just hearing. The Bible says he heeded what she said. He did what she asked him to do. The problem is Sarah wasn't asking him to take out the trash, mow the lawn, feed the baby or clean his whiskers out of the sink. No, her suggestion was not over such trivial, every day matters. Hers was a suggestion of profound weight and consequence.

God had promised Abraham a son, but in Sarah's mind, God wasn't making good on His promise. So she took matters into her own hands- "And Sarai said to Abram, Behold, now, the Lord hath restrained my from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her" (Gen. 16:2). This suggestions was terrible on so many levels:

  1. It revealed a complete lack of faith in God.

  2. It was a human "fix" for a "God-sized" dillemma

  3. It went against the will of God

We are tempted to look down on Sarah for making such a suggestion because it's so easy to discern looking from the outside in. We look down on Abraham even more for following her suggestion. But let's be real for a second: we've all listened to and followed bad advice at least once in our lives. We've all probably given some bad advice as well.

Here's the crux of the matter: we all hear voices- voices that want our time, our money, our minds, our obedience and our affection. We can't always prevent the voices that speak into our lives, what we can control is which voice we listen to and follow.

Abraham should have "hearkened unto the voice of God" regardless of what He asked Him to do and no matter how impossible it may have seemed. So should you. So start paying attention to the voices you're hearing. Above all the noise, above human solutions to your problems, above good sounding suggestions- listen to one voice- the voice of God. His is a voice of truth.