Wednesday, November 28, 2012

13 Years and 13 Chapters

For the first 17 years of his life, he was the his father's favorite.
Then he was sold, for 20 pieces of silver, by his own brothers.
For the next 13 years of his life, he was a slave and a prisoner.
Joseph knew what it felt like to be on top, then hit the bottom, but rise to the top once again.
He lived to be 110 years old --- and during the 80 years after his years of slavery and imprisonment --- Joseph was a living testimony to God's ability to take what men meant for harm and transform it into great good. 

From the moment he was born, Joseph's father made no bones about it --- Joseph was his favorite son. Perhaps he felt estranged from his other brothers during those years of childhood, but if so, it apparently did not alter him. After all, when he had dreams predicting his brothers would bow down to him, he was not shy about sharing them. His brothers "hated him all the more". Even his father "rebuked" him over his second dream where the sun and moon and eleven stars bowed down to him, depicting the father, mother and brothers bowing down to him. He could have kept the dreams to himself. He didn't. The jealously in his brothers grew.
(Genesis 37:5-10) 

Even as a child, when hearing the story of Joseph and his relationship with his brothers, i felt a bit sorry for the brothers and wondered if Joseph carried arrogance on his shoulders along with the special coat his father had given him. But then the story continued... and everything changed...

Why has my soul been so fixated on these 13 chapters? It's not by choice. If i could choose i'd rather spend my time dreaming over the animals walking two-by-two into the ark or the beautiful love story of Ruth and Boaz. But interestingly, the trials and triumphs of Joseph have breezed through my thoughts for weeks now.
It may be because i'm captivated by the steadfastness of this man under fire.
Seriously -- his brothers threw him into a dried up well and debated how to kill him. He heard them, oh how it must have hurt. We can read the 13 chapters in less than an hour; a lifetime of take-a-deep-breath moments are packed within those 447 verses. It's a quick read, but a gruelingly long journey.

I do not know of one person in my life who has endured the kind of rejection, injustice, false accusations, and loneliness this man faced. And he did it with so much courage and perseverance.
He suffered --- silently.

It's a sort of wake-me-up and smack-me-good story.
It convicts me in healthy ways ---- there is much to be learned from Joseph's forgiving, selflessness. Even when he was given charge over Egypt and had the authority to wreak havoc in his brother's lives --- he did not. He chose the good path regardless of how he had himself been treated.

Living in a society where horns are blown if the person driving the car in front of us moves too slowly or too quickly, where complaints are waged if someone does not cater to our wishes, where tempers rage and words fly if our expectations are overlooked or ignored. Living in a "world" where we get what we want or we sound off about it ----- yes, i'm captivated by the persevering steadfastness of Joseph's goodness under fire.

Joseph is not alone, there are many of his sort even today.
There is a gentleness in the air that's mixed with a charge of powerfulness surrounding the unselfish and gracious souls among us. But their "power" will not be used to get their own way --- it will only be used to strengthen their perseverance and intensify their care for others. It's a beautiful thing to see, it can take your breath away with its simple, sincere goodness.
Joseph is the Biblical picture of this unselfish, persevering, powerful, presence.
I know a modern day Joseph as well --- but she goes by another name. She wakes up each day with praises on her lips and an eagerness to give and do for others. The room lights up with her; she walks with kindness and care. It's always a challenge to try and serve her or do for her --- because she honestly never thinks about what she wants or needs. She is so busy with the outflow of goodness to others, she doesn't even seem to notice her own needs. She has been hurt, she knows what rejection and persecution and grief feel like, but she uses those memories to minister to those hurting in front of her now. I've never once heard her major on the minors --- she makes the world better --- she overflows with love. She memorizes scriptures and then focuses on living them. I've heard her whisper scripture to herself, under her breath, reminding herself, keeping her thoughts and actions in check.

So what is the common factor between Jacob's son Joseph and this modern day lady of God?

They both have known what it felt like to be loved by some, persecuted deeply by others, cling to God's ways, and overflow with God-sized goodness to others --- regardless of how life treated them.

In contrast, I read something else in those 13 chapters. When the brothers are sitting around the dried up well, having just thrown Joseph down in it, they are debating over what to do with him. Joseph's brother Judah hatches the idea to sell him to a passing caravan. Judah's plan is agreed upon and they sell their brother for 20 silver coins. Judah could have spoken "for" his brother, he could have joined with Reuben and saved Joseph. But instead he spoke "against' him and Joseph went from being the favorite son to slavery in moments. In the very next chapter of Genesis, there appears to be an odd rabbit trail turn. We go from telling the story of Joseph to suddenly revealing the demise of Judah. Judah separates from his brothers, goes to another land, marries a pagan woman, has mean-hearted sons, and engages in sex with what he believed to be a prostitute but was in fact his own daughter-in-law. Astonishing, disgusting, why is this inappropriate chapter placed here in Genesis. Perhaps it is so we won't miss the direct connection between Judah selling his brother into slavery and Judah's overflow of bad "fruit" in his personal life.  

God will not be mocked -----

It took 13 years for Joseph to navigate the treacherous path between the bottom of the pit and the honor of wearing Pharaoh's signet ring.
Five words made all the difference,
"The Lord was with Joseph"... (Gen. 39:2, 39:21)

Did it look like the Lord was with Joseph? Did it feel like the Lord was with him?
The external evidence was obviously weak, but internally Joseph surely must have felt God's goodness flowing in him.
Still, if someone were judging God's nearness by the appearance of Joseph's circumstances ---- they would have missed Him all together.

Oh how comforting it should be to us, what a life-line it is for me, to read in black and white print on age-old pages that lead down ancient paths ----  
"The Lord was with Joseph, 
and he prospered... 
he showed him kindness... 
and granted him favor...".

The grand finale of Joseph's story comes next ---- and it shimmers of grace and forgiveness, goodness and GODness.
It's found in Chapter 50.
Joseph's father, Jacob, had died and selfishly his brother's think of themselves -- again. They become afraid that Joseph, all these many years later (93 years to be exact), would retaliate against them for the wrongs they committed against him. So they send Joseph a message  ----- asking once again for mercy -- they knew how wrong they had been.
Joseph's response to his brothers ---
"Don't be afraid... You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done..."

It took 13 years to recover from the pit.
It took 13 chapters and 93 years for Joseph's story to travel from the pit to the great revelation.

What men intend for harm ---- God will use for good!
And so...
when we are harmed by men, we are wisest of all, if we keep our eyes firmly set on the Lord and watch, wait, anticipate how HE will use it for good.

That's the captivating quality of Joseph.
That's the beauty of my friend.
They endure well the ugliness of this world and give us all the chance to see GOD's handiwork in and around them --- and we are blessed and strengthened and encouraged.

Oh yes --- i'm learning... slowly... but surely...and watching diligently.
“Paul never glamorized the gospel. It is not success, but sacrifice. It’s not a glamorous gospel, but a bloody one–a gory gospel, and a sacrificial gospel. Five minutes inside eternity and we will wish that we had sacrificed more, wept more, grieved more, loved and prayed more, and given more.” -Leonard Ravenhill

©2012 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe

Friday, November 16, 2012

Did you know? Do you remember? He is madly in Love with you...

 "God... help... me"
"God... help"
"... (sigh)..."

Ever been there?

When what is whirling around you and what is churning within you leaves you lost for words and all that comes out --- is a plea.

Thankfully, we have many seasons in our life when the sun is shining and the birds are singing --- when all is right in our world.
But if we are truthful --- if we dare to be honest -- if we are normal -- we also have valley walks.

What a comfort it was to me to hear one of our teachers at Missionary Training International explain the common path prayers can take when we are at our end and fully emptied of self. His breathing out whisper of "God -- help -- me..." prayer resonated in my soul and i couldn't help but look around me to see if anyone else was touched as deeply. I knew it would surely show in their eyes.
I'm normally, as long as life isn't pressing in on me with sandpaper, i'm normally a cup half full, sun is rising, life is good sort of person. It's a pleasure to me to take what i have and make it the absolute best it can be --- for everyone.
I don't get too impressed by shopping extravaganzas or designer dream homes. Oh i see the beauty and fun of that world --- but i don't find peace and fulfillment in those arenas. Instead, i love best of all seeing the simple multiplied into the priceless.

But when walking through life's valleys ---- sometimes simple becomes shattered and multiplication seems mind-boggling.
I've melted down and poured into the marrow of my bones ---- "yay, though i walk through the valley of the shadow of death, i will fear NO evil, for you, God, are with me -- your rod and your staff they comfort me... YOU prepare a table before me --- even in the presence of my enemies --- and there, sitting there, even with enemies looking on -- YOU LORD anoint my head with oil -- and there even after i've walked through the valley --- my cup will overflow Lord, because of YOU..."

i've come to understand that valley walks are not "bad". I wouldn't say they are "good" either. They are just a different route, not a preferable route, but sometimes a necessary one.
For years, i falsely believed that if i was not "up" i would be disappointing my Abba. I somehow believed that only when i was glowing with His joy would He be pleased with me. Then as valley walks were laid in front of me, i pondered, why?
Oh the comfort that came with scriptures reminding me --- "what man meant for harm, God uses for good..." and "all things (valleys walks included) all things work together for GOOD for those who love the Lord and are called to His purposes..."
So good can be found on the other side of the valley ---- sometimes good can begin seeping into us in the middle of the valley's dark places. Because His rod and His staff ---- HE is never apart from us.

Recently i actually envisioned myself walking along a shadowy, dark valley with God walking beside me --- He was knitting a shawl partially draped on my shoulders. The shawl was beginning to warm me, it wasn't finished yet, so i could still feel the chill of the valley floor, but He was beside me, making the very thing that would eventually shelter me completely during valley walks. The image is seared in my mind. Avoiding the valley is of NO value. But seeing the care and cover of my Savior in the midst of the valley is priceless. And remembering that not only is He with me there, but also He is working (knitting) all things together --- for my good. Without Him, i would be cold and lost in the dangerous life-draining valley. But with Him, i can feel cared for and covered, no matter what the valley canyons reveal.

Several weeks ago, i found myself suddenly in a valley place. I was startled by it. When we go from mountain top to valley floor quickly, it's a jolt. It didn't literally take my breath away, but figuratively it certainly did.
And something happened to me in the impact that i had never experienced before.
I began feeling as if --- God was toying with me. I began to wonder --- can i really trust Him. I looked around me at all the people smiling and talking and enjoying life --- and i felt suddenly "out", alone, and forgotten. It was a horrible LIE. But for a few hours one day the lies seemed true. I tried to "take those thoughts captive" (i've done that so many times before). I tried to recite my scriptures (they are a home for my heart usually). I tried to cinch up the belt of truth and pull the sword of the Spirit. But if i'm truly honest -- i went down under the attack.
My dear Steve knew -- i told him --- and he poured truth and prayers over me in earnest.
For the first time EVER in my life --- i moaned... inside... as never before.
And all that could finally come out of me were the words ---- "" --- "God...please help"--- "GOD" --- and then finally "(silent moans to Him)"...

If you've never been "there" --- in a valley like that --- you might have the tendency to look down on me. You might think to yourself, she---- has no business --- serving God in Africa.
If those are your thoughts --- God bless you mightily and strengthen you greatly for the valley walk ahead.
No one escapes the valley.
But, if you have been "there" --- if that valley or one very much like it -- is a place you have left your footprints or your knee prints --- then you know --- what it feels like to sense the Savior beside you knitting a shawl to cover your cold weariness.

As the attack passed --- and the sun came up --- my cup began to overflow in ways it had never done so before. My eyes had seen my Savior in a way i'd never seen Him before. I knew for sure, it mattered little to Him HOW i journeyed. It mattered most to Him that i keep moving forward WITH HIM whether my path led to pristine mountain tops or dark valleys.
GOD was not dependent on me (my smiles or good attitude or clever whit or depth of knowledge) and what's more, God's opinion of me was not altered by my moaning ------ I was completely dependent on HIM ---- and this pleased Him.
Would Abba love this daughter more if i smiled at Him and glowed happiness or would He love me less if i wept beside Him moaning with sad weariness?
The answer ----- His love doesn't change NO MATTER how i might change.

Oh it's in the valley walks --- the fertilizer is often times so deep.
Rains wash fertile soil from mountain tops --- to valley floors.
In the valley ---- all that we walk (or crawl) through --- can be used to grow us stronger.

I've come out of that valley ---- changed.
Nothing could be sweeter than the "shawl", the cover, that rests on my shoulders. It reminds me --- He is with me... it doesn't matter how good i am or how weak i might feel ---- HE IS WITH ME.

Gone are the thoughts of wrestling with Him at the valley entrance.
I'll willingly step into those valleys, because He covers me, He is with me, strength will come through perseverance in the valley, and at the far side of the valley i'm guaranteed a holy Hope.
Suffering/tribulation produces perseverance produces character produces HOPE. (Romans 5:3-5)

Two nights ago, my oldest son, Michael called to me from another room in our home, "Mom, come in here, listen to this song, i know you'll love it."

How beautiful it is to be "fed" by your own children.
He played the song --- i wiped my eyes --- Steve sat with us --- we were silent afterwards.
i was held by the words in the chorus:

"I know you wish you could see me
That's the way it has to be
Someday you'll understand,
don't you lose your faith in me
I know you wish you could hear me
Sometimes it's so hard to do
But every morning sunrise says
I'm madly in love with you."

We do "see" our Father in so many things He places around us. I write so often about "seeing" Him in nature, smiles, children, mountains, kittens, flowers.
But during those valley walks ---- oh how we wish we could really, skin on His Spirit, lay my head in His robed lap SEE HIM.
But we rest in the hope --- that someday we will and then we will be able to understand.
Until then ----
may we encourage each other -- whether we are on the mountain tops or trudging through hard, fertile valleys --- we will not lose our faith in HIM --- we will hear it in every sunrise --- Abba is madly in love with you.

thank you Steve --- for prayerfully speaking words of truth and life over me
thank you Michael --- for knowing my heart and what it needed to hear
thank you Kathy --- for your words of love
thank you GOD --- for ... this beautiful shawl on my shoulders

(the name of the song is "Madly in Love with You" by Sean McConnell --- bless yourself by listening to it today --- big love to Sean McConnell for using his talent so well -- fruit overflowing)

©2012 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe