Saturday, March 14, 2009

But, I want my T-shirt NOW !

My sister-in-law, Karen, "complained" that I haven't been posting on the blog this week. I have been writing, just not here. It's been one of those weeks, filled with emotions and things that make you go, "Huh?!?"

Just when I thought I'd rounded the last corner of a painful experience and was planning to go out and buy a "Been there...Done that...Got that T-shirt!" comes some stray, leftover emotion...anger, sadness, resentment...that seemingly just reached up out of nowhere, bit me in the butt and tried to take me down for the count.

And I found myself sitting in the middle of a Bible study I'm supposed to be "teaching," crying my eyes out, embarrassingly confessing all this anger I thought I'd dealt with and was done with already.

I told the ladies at Bible study that a huge part of me just wants to quit writing these lessons. Because, inevitably, before the ink even dries, Jesus seems to say, "OK, you've written it down, now I want you to live it out."

For instance, the past two lessons have been all about the life of Joseph. You remember him-- the spoiled, bragging little tattle-tale with the fancy, embroidered coat who's hated so much by his brothers that they plan to kill him, then change their minds and throw him in a pit, then sell him to slave traders whose caravan reads "Egypt Or Bust." Then, he gets accused of rape by a desperate housewife and finds himself in an Egyptian prison, where he interprets a couple of dreams, is forgotten about for two long "years of days." And then, finally (in a mind-boggling flash), interprets two more dreams and gets appointed as the king of Egypt's second in command.

The overarching theme of these chapters is all about God's sovereignty even when we find ourselves undeservedly in a pit or a prison. Time after time, we read these words, "And God was with Joseph."

Not one time do we hear Joseph whining or complaining about his circumstances or being sad or angry or depressed.

And, this week, truth be told, that ticks me off!

But then, it occurred to me that this is not Joseph's diary I'm reading. The account of Joseph's life that we read, while absolutely true and absolutely inspired by the Holy Spirit, was written by Moses, at least 400 years after Joseph had died.

What I wish I could read is Joseph's diary!

I think it would make me feel less guilty about these "pop-up" feelings I thought I had dealt with. Because, while Joseph was an amazing man whom God "was with," he was human just like me...just like us.

I'm sure there were many days on that trip down to Egypt, chained and shackled, when he struggled with deep anger, resentment and grief over what he had lost at the hands of people who were supposed to have loved him.

I'm sure there were numerous times in that prison dungeon when he struggled with wanting to find his own justice and take his own revenge for the deceitful, cruel way he had been treated.

But, I think one of the lessons the Holy Spirit is trying to teach me is that...while Joseph might have struggled with the same emotions I've struggled with this week...he didn't stay there.

He trusted in his God, not in his emotions. He didn't let those emotions become the place where he "lived." He somehow managed to give them...cast them...onto the God who was "with him."

Perhaps, like me, those emotions sometimes...without warning...reached up and bit Joseph in the butt and tried to take him down for the count. But, because he somehow knew that "God was with him," they did not destroy him and they did not disqualify him from his amazing part in God's bigger story.

Those emotions did not rule him--God ruled him.

During those pit-and-prison years, Joseph had no idea of the forgiveness, restoration, blessings and beauty that lay ahead for him and his long-lost (but...truth be told...quite dysfunctional) family. He simply trusted in the fact that "God was with him" and then (in the words of my Jesus-loving-friend, Marla) "he just kept doing the next right thing."

Sometimes, as is my case, that "next right thing" requires poking around in that anger or resentment or (just fill in the emotional blank) to see if my actions or reactions, my own lack of healthy boundaries, my own unforgiveness...the list could go on and part of the problem....And then, in faith, going to more time...for forgiveness and direction and the strength to press on.

(Dear, amazing Thursday Bible study ladies, THANK YOU for helping me hear the above hard truths from your wise, loving lips! I love you all, and you teach me and encourage me more than you will ever know!)

As someone much smarter than me once said, "It's not that we quit believing; it's just that we sometimes forget what we believe."

Today, I need to remind myself of what I believe about this crucial thing called "faith." So, I'll share it with you. It's from my pastor, Doug Sager:
"Faith is NOT faith IN faith. Faith IS...faithful obedience to God's words in spite of feelings, circumstances or consequences."

Even though Joseph was still in that prison...even though his feet were still in those shackles... even though he was "forgotten for 730 days"...Joseph, in faith (read above definition again), simply pressed on.

And, eventually, but evidently long before his shackles were removed...long before he walked out of that prison...long before he lived in his own palace...Joseph arrived at a place where his heart was free.

Hundreds of years after Joseph died, a shepherd-king-songwriter tells us that Joseph's years in prison "helped put iron in his soul" (in the words of Warren Wiersbe)...helped put iron in his faith.

It truly is an upside-down Kingdom through which we are called to walk...a kingdom where everything--the start, the journey, the finish--is all about this "hard-to-put-in-a-box" thing called faith. A Kingdom where the purpose of pits and of prisons is to grow iron-souled, iron-faithed saints.

So we...simply press faith...doing the next right thing, even, especially in..the pit-and-prison-times of our lives.

I'm beginning to think we aren't meant to wear the "Been there...Done that...Got that T-shirt!" this side of heaven. Apparently, Paul felt the same say. Listen to how he puts it:

I don’t mean to say that I've already achieved these things
or that I've already reached perfection.
But I press on to possess that perfection
for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.
No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it,
but I focus on this one thing:
Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,
I press on to reach the end of the race
and to receive the heavenly prize for which God,
through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things.
If you disagree on some point,
I believe God will make it plain to you.
But we must hold on to the progress we've already made....
For I have told you often before,
and I say it again with tears in my eyes,
that there are many whose conduct shows
they are really enemies of the cross of Christ.
They are headed for destruction.
Their god is their appetite,
they brag about shameful things,
and they think only about this life here on earth.
But we are citizens of heaven,
where the Lord Jesus Christ lives.
And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.
He will take our weak mortal bodies
and change them into glorious bodies like his own,
using the same power
with which he will bring everything under his control.
(Philippians 3:12-21, NLT)
Like so many who have walked before us through this upside-down Kingdom, we are simply called to press faith...doing the next right thing...eagerly awaiting the return of our Savior.

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