Friday, March 11, 2016

Better-ness Not Bitterness

“Decades of research have linked the regular practice of forgiving those who have wronged us with a handful of health benefits, from a boost in overall heart health to less psychological stress, improved physical ability, and even a longer life.”[1]


“A University of Denver study of college and middle school students 3-6 weeks after the September 11, 2001, attacks found that students who said they’d forgiven (or, at least, were trying to forgive) the perpetrators of the attacks experienced significantly less psychological stress than those who had not. The forgivers reported struggling less with their own emotions and ruminating and dwelling less frequently. They also said they were able to employ more coping tactics, like positive thinking, to help them process the event. In comparison, the non-forgivers reported more intrusive thoughts about 9/11 and they continued to feel more stressed out about it than forgivers.”[2]


We have been talking about Joseph’s story. Joseph was a forgiver. Joseph’s story in the pages of Genesis brings to mind a couple of things: First, God is in control; God has a plan that brings meaning from our suffering. Second, forgiveness is an essential part of being a relationship with God; redeemed people forgive people.


Joseph went from the pit to Potiphar’s house. Joseph went from Potiphar’s house to prison. And, he went from prison to the Egyptian palace. If you remember, Joseph was sold into slavery when he was only seventeen. His ten older brothers lied to Jacob, the father, by telling him that a wild beast had killed him.


Joseph was more than alive. God had preserved him, set aside for the important role of saving their region from famine. Joseph had interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams, which were sent from God. Egypt’s fields would experience seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Joseph explained Pharaoh’s dream which foretold these events.


Pharaoh appointed Joseph to rule over their affairs of the kingdom. Joseph was in charge of storing up the grain in preparation for the famine and then providing the relief during the famine. When Jacob’s brothers came down to Egypt to get food, they were surprised to see their brother, now thirty-years-old.


At first, Joseph kept his identity secret.


Genesis 42:7-8  Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them. “Where do you come from?” he said. They said, “From the land of Canaan, to buy food.” And Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.


Eventually, Joseph did reveal his identity to his brothers. At that very moment, Joseph asked about his father.


Genesis 45:3 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.


Question number one on Joseph’s list: How is my dad? Joseph loved his father. So, he told his brothers to get their belongings together and go back and get the family.


Genesis 45:21-25 The sons of Israel did so: and Joseph gave them wagons, according to the command of Pharaoh, and gave them provisions for the journey. 22 To each and all of them he gave a change of clothes, but to Benjamin he gave three hundred shekels of silver and five changes of clothes. 23 To his father he sent as follows: ten donkeys loaded with the good things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain, bread, and provision for his father on the journey. 24 Then he sent his brothers away, and as they departed, he said to them, “Do not quarrel on the way.” 25 So they went up out of Egypt and came to the land of Canaan to their father Jacob.

When the sons of Jacob arrived back in Canaan land, they had new wagons and animals. Joseph sent them off in style. I can only imagine how confusing the sight of these brothers coming down the road with their new clothes and loads of grain must have been for their father.

Then, the interesting part of the story: The brothers told their father that Joseph was not dead, but alive.

Genesis 45:27  But when they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived.

In an instant, God mended Jacob’s broken heart. For years, he lived in agony, believing that his favorite son died a violent death. For the first time in years, Jacob’s eyes began to sparkle again. Jacob decided to make the journey to Egypt to see his son. It would be a family reunion like no other. The entire family loaded up; seventy made the trip to Egypt.

Genesis 46:29 Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while.

This incredible reunion begs a question. What would have happened if Joseph had allowed the bitterness and betrayal to eat away at him? He was sold for twenty pieces of silver. He was left for dead. What would have been the outcome if  Joseph had allowed the crushing pain of bitterness to take hold of him? It would have destroyed him. A part of walking in the new life we have in Christ is the ability to forgive others and put away bitterness, wrath, and anger.

Ephesians 4:31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

“We’ve all seen even if just in a picture, a bell in a bell tower. These hang up high and have a rope attached to them. To ring the bell, the rope must be pulled down a few times. There is a constant pulling and constant ringing of the bell. Now, after the pulling is over and the person pulling the rope lets go, the bell will keep swinging. The bell does not stop swinging just because the rope is not being pulled anymore. It will swing for a while before it slows down and eventually stops. Forgiveness is the act of letting the bell rope go. It means that you choose to no longer hold the rope. A lack of forgiveness is when you constantly pull the rope. Each ring of the bell reminds us of each wrong inflicted on us by another. Our constant pulling of the rope keeps the wrongdoings on our minds. Now, if we choose to let go by a decision of the will, our emotions will still hear the bell for a little while. But, if you let the rope go and leave it alone, after a while the bell will slow down until it stops. Don’t let the fact of the feelings of the pain get in the way of your forgiveness. You are responsible for not constantly ringing the bell. If you don’t pick up the rope, the sound will die down. Sometimes forgiveness is hard because we’ve been ringing the bell so long that we don’t know how life is without the bell. Sometimes we leave the bell alone for a while but when we pick up the rope and we start all over again.”[3]

What if Joseph Withheld Forgiveness from His Brothers?

1. Bitterness could have kept Joseph from becoming a man of character and leadership.

God had planned to guide and protect his people through his appointed leaders. Joseph was one of those leaders God had chosen.

God’s intentions are good. He has great plans for his people.

If we are to take on the character of God, we will be people who have plans to bless and extend grace to others for their ultimate good. When people throw us into the pit, we stand up and say, “God can use this for good.” When people sell us out, we believe that God has a better plan. When we are accused falsely, abandoned, and disowned, we find refuge in truth, not our feelings.

Ephesians 1:11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.

Many have squandered the potential in bitterness. Because there was always someone to blame, many have succumbed to failure and defeat. Living without forgiving has many consequences. One of those consequences is that one can live their life looking through the rearview mirror instead of the windshield.

2. Joseph’s anger could have destroyed his family.

Life creates havoc for everyone at some point. Often, the people we love, our own family, are instruments of pain. To love is to be vulnerable. We would be foolish to think that it could not happen to us. Joseph was willing to look beyond what his brothers did and saw them as God’s children. He was ready to help them when they needed it most. That’s what Jesus did for us, too.

When people need to be cut out of cars after a car accident, they often use a cutting tool called “the jaws of life.” These cutters can cut through doors to rescue people who are stuck in a vehicle.

Even when drivers have gotten themselves into serious accidents by their own foolishness, the rescue team will still use the jaws of life to get them out of danger. If the driver were texting or distracted, the rescue team could still use the jaws of life. If the driver were intoxicated, the team could use the jaws of life.

Believers are God’s rescue team. We are called to use the jaws of life when we can to redeem others from danger. When a person is trapped in sin and selfishness, we talk about the forgiveness that comes through Jesus Christ. Only Jesus can cut through sin and Satan and rescue us from danger. We should be willing to get into a messy situation and help another person when they are stuck.

Joseph’s faith and purpose in the midst of pain is a reminder of the difference God’s Spirit makes within us. Joseph’s rejection, deportation, incarceration, and pain could have driven him over the edge. Instead, Joseph believed that God had a purpose in his suffering. He told his brothers that he forgave them.

Genesis 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

“What if Joseph had given up on God? Lord knows, he could have turned his back on heaven. At any point along his broken road, he could have turned sour and walked away. ‘No more. No more. I’m out.’ You could give up on God as well. . . . God sees a Joseph in you. Yes, you! You in the pit. You with your family full of flops and failures. You incarcerated in your own version of an Egyptian jail. God is speaking to you.”

“Your family needs a Joseph, a courier of grace in a day of anger and revenge. Your descendants need a Joseph, a secure link in the chain of faith. Your generation needs a Joseph. There is a famine out there. Will you harvest hope and distribute it to the people? Will you be a Joseph?” [4]

God is doing in our time what he did in Joseph’s Egypt. God is redeeming his people. He is calling together his people for a great and glorious reunion.

Revelation 7:9-10 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

God’s heart is bringing his people together, not dividing them. It is God’s plan to reconcile us, not to destroy us. You are included in this reconciliation if you will turn in faith to Jesus Christ.

Colossians 1:20 And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

3. Joseph would have demonstrated that he was not a true heir of the covenant.

Joseph’s faith made him a real child of God. Faith is the way God has always connected his children to his promises.

Galatians 3:7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.

Those who have a relationship with God have a different perspective on forgiveness.

We are a forgiven people. We are a forgiving people.

I certainly don’t mean that we shrink back from the truth. We speak with kindness, gentleness, and conviction. Sometimes we have righteous anger about the wrongs we see and experience. We can tell the truth in love, with forcefulness even. However, we refuse to become bitter and unloving. We realize that we are not at war with people. We are at war with principalities and powers, evil in this world.

We must love people. Saved, forgiven people love people. Do you remember what Jesus said?

Matthew 5:43-46 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same?

Today you may be holding onto bitterness. It is making your life rotten. You try to do other things to compensate, but life is still rotten.

“Let’s say you crack an egg, put it in the skillet, and start to fry it only to discover it’s a rotten egg. The egg is rotten. You can smell it; you can see it. It is obviously a bad egg. Let’s say you then decide to overcome the rotten egg by frying five more good eggs with it. So you crack five eggs that are healthy and fresh and put them in the skillet with the idea that the goodness of the five will override the badness of the one. I’ve got bad news for you. It is not the righteous eggs that will overcome the diseased one; it is the diseased one that will penetrate the good ones, contaminating even the good and making you sick. The reason why being the best person you can be does not satisfy God is that the sin that is there contaminates the righteousness.”[5]

Let Jesus Christ make you righteous. He can take the rotten, ugliness away. He died and rose again, according to the Scriptures. He lives today.

[1]Erin Brodwin, “The Secret to Relieving Stress and Clearing Your Mind . . .,” Business Insider, (Retrieved on March 1, 2016).
[3]Tony Evans, Tony Evans’ Book . . ., (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2008), 110.
[4]Max Lucado, You’ll Get Through This, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 159.
[5]Evans, 269.