Seeing God's plan amid suffering not easy

10/16/2007

By Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor

Nov. 4
Joseph’s Dream
Purpose:
To recognize how our brokenness can cloud our discernment of God’s will.
Bible Lesson: Genesis 37:5-11, 19-21, 23-24, 28
Key Verse: “Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more.” — Genesis 37:5

Most of us have some experience with a family in which one child is favored. Maybe we’ve observed this situation in a friend’s family or with a relative. Maybe you had a sibling who was favored, or you were the favored child. Sometimes it’s easy to see, and, of course, it almost always leads to conflict.

Certainly this was the case with Joseph, who was openly favored by his father Jacob. His brothers hated him, the Bible tells us. It didn’t help that he got special treatment, including a fancy coat, and was left to monitor the work of his older brothers. It was a situation ripe for disaster.

To make things worse, Joseph shared two dreams that made his brothers hate him more. Jacob even rebuked him for the second dream.

This first segment of the story of Joseph raises some questions:

Was Joseph aware of his brothers’ hatred of him?
If so, what could he have done about it?
What impression of Joseph do you have when reading these verses?

Some people go through life oblivious to how their actions are received by others. It would be hard to imagine Joseph not sensing the tension from his brothers. We don’t get much of a clear indication about Joseph. Was he wrong to accept his favored status? Being the favorite of a parent or a teacher is a hard situation to resist. Our ego likes that special attention; we all need it now and then.

If Joseph was aware of his brothers’ feelings toward him, what could he have done? He might have tried to share with them some of his father’s largesse. He didn’t have to wear the coat his father had given him. At the same time, why shouldn’t he? He had done nothing wrong.

We’re told that Joseph reported to his father about how is siblings went about their work. It doesn’t say much about Joseph’s attitude about doing this. Our lesson even calls him a tattletale. Yet, was Joseph doing what his father wanted? Was Joseph honest in his report? We don’t know. But thinking along those lines presents Joseph in a slightly different light. Maybe the spoiled kid was trapped in a no-win situation; he must report honestly to his father, even knowing it will make his brothers mad. His brothers apparently weren’t doing quality work. Is it fair of them to expect him to cover for them to their father?

How we communicate with family and others makes a huge impact on how our actions or words are interpreted. The teacher’s book gives an example. A man offered to prepare supper for his wife on the weekend after Thanksgiving. He made turkey sandwiches and side items. When the wife picked up her sandwich, she noticed that hers had been made with the two pieces of bread from the ends of the loaf, while her husband had two pieces from the middle. She asked him about it, a bit put out. Forlornly, the husband replied that he thought the end pieces were the best, so he always gave them to her.

She saw his actions as a slight. He thought he was giving up something that meant a lot to him to show his love for her.

Why do you think Joseph shared his dreams with his brothers? Could he not have guessed their reaction? I wonder if he might have even thought the dreams were so ridiculous that they would laugh. The older brothers bowing to the younger, who could imagine!

Because we know how the story continues, we know that his brothers plotted to kill him before selling Joseph into slavery. We know that God’s plan was in motion.

When have you lived with little regard for God’s plan for your life? How well does your faith community help prepare members for discerning God’s will for their lives?

 

 

Nov. 11
Joseph’s Dream Began to Come True
Purpose:
To acknowledge the value of integrity and faithfulness in achieving God’s purposes.

Bible Lesson: Genesis 41:25-45
Key Verse: “So Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Since God has shown you all this, there is no one discerning and was as you.” — Genesis 41:39

Times of adversity can be a Christian’s greatest challenge and Satan’s greatest opportunity. Those are the times when he whispers in our ears about how unfair God has been: How could a loving God allow these things to happen? He put you in this mess?

Joseph had spent 13 years as a slave in Egypt. Yet, he remained faithful to God and never turned away. He must have wondered where God’s plan was leading him, but the Bible tells us he never lost faith.

Lo and behold, Joseph’s situation began to change. After Pharaoh’s priests had failed to interpret a dream, a former prisoner recalled that Joseph could interpret dreams. Joseph told Pharaoh what the dreams meant, although he stated that God was providing the interpretation. He then had the courage to make recommendations for dealing with what lay ahead. Pharaoh was so impressed he made Joseph his second-in-command. Through it all, Joseph gave credit and praise to God.

In the midst of college football season, let’s look at an example of people with integrity. Many would say, with some degree of truth, that there is no integrity in college football. One nationally known former coach is a media darling who appears on TV to analyze games. He’s often funny and known for giving a good sound bite, so the media like him. He’s had some success, won a national title. But every school where he has coached has been placed on probation by the NCAA for rules violations, often right after the coach left. In my mind, this coach has no integrity. He’s fun, he knows football, but he’s not a man of integrity.

Another college football coach is not as well-liked. He’s brash and makes statements that seem harsh and outrageous. He wears his emotions, mostly anger, on his sleeve. Yet, he refuses to break or even bend NCAA rules. He only recruits athletes who project to meet academic requirements and offers them only a scholarship and a chance to play. He, too, has won a national title. However, he’s a love-hate guy with fans: You either love him or hate him. He doesn’t care; he sticks to what he believes is right.

When the first coach’s wife was sick with cancer, the second coach offered his private plane to fly her to treatment at the school where he coached. The two schools were rivals, but he did what was right.

While the second coach gets his share of media attention, it’s often controversial. He says what’s on his mind and doesn’t apologize for it. I consider the second coach much more successful. He’s smart and plays by the rules.

What challenges do we face that make it difficult for us to live with integrity and faithfulness? What can we learn from Joseph in this lesson?

 

Nov. 18
God Preserved
a Remnant
Purpose:
To affirm that God can redeem the suffering we experience.
Bible Lesson: Genesis 43:1-45:15
Key Verse: “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.” — Genesis 45:7

Joseph was a better man than I am. As if there were any doubt.

His refusal to take revenge on his brothers; his insistence that they come under his care is simply more than I could have done.

I wonder what Joseph might have been thinking when he realized his brothers were in town and needed him. I know I would have been thinking “here’s my chance.” I can finally get revenge for what they did to me. Let ‘em see who the big man is now. I’ll sell them into slavery.

Instead, Joseph took care of them. Joseph was able to see that even being sold into slavery helped carry out God’s plan for Israel. Of course, sometimes we are able to see in hindsight how things have worked out for the best, despite going through a difficult time. What do you think went through Joseph’s mind before he told his brothers who he was?

Are there things in your life for which you need to apologize and ask forgiveness? Are there people in your life you need to forgive, even if it’s only in your heart?

Suffering comes along in life. Have you been able to see that God was involved in some of your suffering? What effect did that realization have? How do you think that suffering bore out Romans 8:28?

What is the key lesson from the story of Joseph and his family?

 

Nov. 25
Jacob Blesses His Family
Purpose:
To encourage us to offer and receive blessings as part of our legacy of faith.
Bible Lesson: Genesis 48:8-21
Key Verse:Israel said to Joseph: ‘I did not expect to see your face; and her God has let me see your children also.’” — Genesis 48:11

Blessings are not as important in today’s society as they once were. At one time, a young man would go to a young woman’s father to ask his blessing to marry the daughter. While most couples would like to have the blessing of their parents, a lack of blessing won’t prevent their getting married.

Most blessings in American culture tend to be business-related. A father turns over control of the family business to a son who has worked and learned. The son then makes all the decisions, usually without interference from the father.

Blessings can be a cause for conflict. Consider the film The Godfather, which tells the story of a family involved in organized crime. When Vito Corleone’s oldest son is killed, instead of passing control of the family’s enterprises to the next oldest, the Godfather “blesses” the youngest son Michael. This leads to all kinds of conflict as Fredo burns with resentment for being passed over.

To some extent, Jacob had already given his blessing to the boy Joseph by the way he treated him. Although scripture doesn’t address it, we can speculate that when the time was right, Jacob would have passed his possessions to the favored son. While maybe not in fact, in practice Joseph had become the blessed son because of the way he had taken care of the family, moving them to Egypt. In our lesson the blessing Jacob passes to Joseph’s sons is a good blessing.

Why did Jacob give the greater blessing to the younger brother?

Most of us have someone whose approval we want to earn. This could be from a parent, a respected teacher, a pastor or friend. For me, it came from an organization. As a young sportswriter, I spent about a year or so wondering if I really had what it takes to be considered a good writer and newspaperman. I made mistakes, including some that I would have fired me over. But I kept my job, looking up to others in trade who I respected.

I joined the Mississippi Sports Writers’ Association and about a year after becoming a sportswriter, I won some awards in the group’s annual writing and editing contest. That’s when I knew I belonged in the only job I had ever really wanted.

From whom and for what do we seek blessings today? Does our culture have enough respect for power and the importance of words to find any real meaning in a blessing?

Do we sometimes seek blessings to justify the wrong things? How important is gratitude in your life?