This morning we are going to be continuing on in our series on “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.” This morning, as we are going to be looking at the subject of “Going back in order to go forward” or another way to put it is “Breaking the power of the past.” God places all of us in families and gives all of us parents. And it’s an aspect of what it means to be made in God’s image. We were made to experience love and we were made to receive and to give love. And every person here in this room and every person we meet has all had parents. We were created in God’s image to engage in a healthy family as babies and children growing up and to experience that kind of love. And so, all of us come into the world with a hunger for stable, deep, loving relationships.
Someone once said that we are pre-wired or created by God with five basic needs to be met for healthy development as we grow. These would all apply perfectly in world without sin. First, is the need for “place” – that wonderful sense of, “I belong to a world that was waiting for my arrival.” We’re born into an environment where our parents are excited in their hearts and their thoughts about our arrival. Or we should be. But, it can be very different than that. One author, when asked to write the story of her life, said that the first sentence of her autobiography would be, “I was born and nobody noticed.” Here is an example of someone who wasn’t born into that same place. Our second need is to be nurtured. We have the need to be physically and emotionally held, and to experience gestures of affection, appreciation and touch, at each stage of our development. Third, we have a need for support. Through all the life stages as we move into young adulthood and emerge into the world, we need a loving and caring environment that supports what we do and who we are. There is a need for protection, which is our fourth need. In a perfect world, parents would perfectly protect their children physically, emotionally and sexually from harm. They would provide the type of protection that a child is incapable of. Finally, there is a need for limits. Healthy parents provide limits – boundaries. People who don’t grow up with boundaries and limits have all kinds of challenges.
Not having our needs met can leave all kinds of damage. God wired us with the longing for having these needs met. And in a perfect world, these needs would be met by our biological mother and father. That’s a perfect world. That’s how it was meant to be. But in Genesis 3, sin enters the human race. Our first parents rebel against God, and so, for the first time, we can see that families are not what they were designed to be. They are distorted. They are broken. Families are different now from God’s original intention. Even in the first family, with Cain and Abel, there is jealousy that escalates into murder, with brother killing brother. This is the same place we find our families today. And it is all because of sin. We have to stop and pause and recognize this because now we have many destructive behaviours in our families, like criticisms, abuse of authority, lying, secrets, emotional withholding, broken promises and intimidation and blaming. There are even pressure tactics, shaming and putdowns. Even in the best of families. Some of us come from very good families and there is still sin and brokenness.
The reality is that nobody emerges from their family unscathed; without their true self in some way damaged; without wounds and scars. And so when we come to Jesus Christ, we are born again, the Bible says. We’re born into a new family – God’s family. And we have new brothers and sisters, a new inheritance, and now we’re in a new family – the family of God in Jesus Christ. But as we come into the family of Jesus Christ we bring to it certain unprocessed material that comes from our families of origin and whatever happened or didn’t happen growing up. It’s as if we have lodged in our brains and bodies, a certain way of being in the world that comes out of growing up in our families. So, when we come to Christ and His family, we are used to functioning in a certain way. It’s lodged in our brains. It’s like a magnetic pull. It pulls us back. It’s so powerful because it is what shaped us. It’s like a blueprint for living and it is imprinted on us. It affects things like: how we do relationships and how we feel about our feelings and our self-worth and how we view the world. All this has been deeply shaped in our early years growing up in our families.
The Gospel tells us that when we come to Jesus Christ that we have a whole new identity and that the blood that determines who we are is no longer the biological blood of our family but it’s the blood of Christ. We are born anew and now we need to put off the sinful patterns of our biological family. The growth of the Christian life is putting off that which was, in a sense pre-Christ—that which is deeply lodged within us. It’s crucifying all that stuff in us from the past – our blueprint for living from our biological family and our culture. It’s being transformed to become our authentic self in Christ and to be a blessing to the world, fulfilling God’s purpose for us. God put us in the world for a reason, but we have to go back in order to go forward. That’s our theme: We have to go back in order to go forward.
We have already seen this picture of an iceberg. We’ve talked about the iceberg as an analogy for our individual lives. The ten percent of the iceberg showing above the surface is what most people are aware of in life. This is all that we see. This is all that we hear. This is all that we observe. Most people suspect that there is more going on than this, but they have no idea how to find out what they’re missing. It can be dangerous not to know the bulk of the remaining ninety percent. Just as a sailor’s fate depends on knowing the bulk of the iceberg is under the water, so our living well in Christ depends on understanding what is going on deep beneath the surface in our family. We need to know what happened there and how it impacts who I am, so I don’t crash on it.
Let’s look at a story in the bible about someone who broke the power of their past. Our story today is about Joseph. Here’s Joseph. This chart is what’s called the “family genogram” of Joseph. And it’s a way of mapping out families. Some of you have done that with your families. Here’s Joseph over here in yellow. And there’s his wife. Joseph is one of twelve brothers and one sister. And this is his family going back three generations whose lives bear on his personal development. You’ll notice his great-grandparents are Abraham and Sarah. Some themes in their relationship were sibling rivalry between the kids, favouritism, and an unhealthy marriage. When you get to Joseph’s grandparents, Isaac and Rebecca, it’s the same thing. You’ve got lies, sibling rivalry, favouritism, and an unhealthy marriage. When you get to his father, Jacob, there are lies, sibling rivalry, and favouritism. Jacob now has two wives and two concubines. Just imagine, having two wives and two other women, in one house. You’ve got a blended family to the max! And now, you’ve got all these kids born of different women in the same family.
Now, Joseph is born to Rachel. Rachel and Jacob have favourites everywhere: favourite kids, favourite women, and favourite wives. Jacob loves Rachel a lot. And so Joseph is number eleven son, and favoured by his father which is a terrible thing to do as a parent. And those who are parents can appreciate this. It’s a terrible thing for a parent to favour one child over against another, but Jacob favours Joseph. It can be a challenge as a parent to treat each child equally when they come with different temperaments and different personalities, and some are more high-strung than others. It’s a monumental task for parents to love each child equally regardless of their performance or their capabilities or their personalities but when a parent doesn’t do that, when there’s favouritism, it creates all kinds of problems. Well, Jacob is really off the charts because he is very overt in his favouritism. He loves Joseph so much that he makes a robe, a special robe of status and authority for Joseph. And really, this robe kind of makes Joseph, if you think of a business model, it’s like Joseph is management and the rest of the brothers are labour. So, here’s Joseph, the youngest, being given the authority by the father as the favourite kid. So his brothers hate him. They can’t stand him. They’re jealous. They’re envious. And to top it off, Joseph rats them out and he has dreams of seeing everybody bow down to him. At this point Joseph’s brothers said: “That’s enough!”
Joseph then goes through three traumas. Some of in this room have been through traumas. According to the definition, a “trauma” is a startling experience in your life that has a lasting effect on your mental life. A synonym for it could also be ‘shock.’ It shatters one’s sense of safety in the world. It has huge reverberations through our lives. I see three major traumas occurring to Joseph. The first is that, at 17, his brothers hate him so much that they throw him into a deep well. We see this in Genesis 37. This is a betrayal by his brothers. And, if you can imagine, this well didn’t have water in it at the time. The well was very deep. And he was in total darkness. Can you imagine screaming in total darkness and you can’t see anything and you are screaming and no one would answer your cries for help? We don’t know how long that went on. That is trauma. The feeling of helplessness, life being out of control and terrible things happening to you.
Joseph’s second trauma is that of loss. Eventually his brothers let him out but only so that he can be sold to the Egyptians as a slave for the equivalent of two years wages, which is about $80,000. His father is then told that he’s been killed. A funeral is held and his father believes that for 22 years. As a result of being sold into slavery, Joseph loses everything. He loses his mother. He loses his father. He loses his culture. He loses his country. He loses his language. He loses his nurture. His place. His support. His freedom. His friends. He loses everything. Talk about trauma. I can only imagine the scars that he’s carrying inside of him:” Who do I trust? I can’t even trust my own family. I got so burned.” And so you can imagine how vigilant one would be after something like that? He probably was saying to himself, “Something must be wrong with me. What did I do that this is my lot? I must have really messed things up. It’s all me!” Joseph clearly had a second traumatic experience being carried off as a slave.
And Joseph’s third trauma is his experience in prison. We don’t know how long he was in prison, but probably somewhere between 11 and 13 years. Prisons are no picnic today, let alone then. If you remember the story from Genesis 39, Joseph was a slave for this fellow named Potiphar. Potiphar’s wife thinks Joseph’s attractive. She tries to get him go to bed with her. He refuses. And she lies about him and says he tried to rape her. He’s unjustly accused and thrown into prison. He has no hope of anybody finding him. No hope that anybody’s even looking for him. So here’s Joseph. Talk about carrying profound, deep baggage from your family! This is pretty big. And, you have to ask yourself the question, “How can Joseph go forward?” I mean how do you take these kinds of blows in life; this kind of a beating; this kind of an upbringing? Do you remember those five nurturing needs? They didn’t happen in Joseph’s life. How is this guy going to go forward? Well, part of it is going back.
Joseph, like many of us coming into adulthood, could have said, “You know my family. They wrecked my life and I’ve wasted years of my life and where did it go? What family?” In chapters 40 and 41, we read that Joseph while in prison interprets some dreams of the prisoners. After 13 years, the Pharaoh, has a dream that no one can interpret. Joseph is brought to the Pharaoh and he interprets the dream correctly about a famine and a blessing. Joseph is then elevated by the Pharaoh to the number two person in this superpower nation of Egypt. He’s put in charge of Egypt and all the food in Egypt and its administration at age 30. When the famine breaks out it is not just in Egypt, but in all the surrounding areas, which included where Josephs’ family was. Like everyone else, they are starving. They come to Joseph for food. Joseph is physically unrecognizable to them. He’s been gone for 22 years and has become Egyptianized. That’s a long time to go without seeing your family. Imagine that after 22 years, his family shows up.
At this point, Joseph has the opportunity to seek vengeance. He could have killed his brothers at this point because he had the chance or he could have had a major attitude towards them. He could have demonstrated “passive aggressive” behaviour. He could have said “I told you so.” He could have put them in jail for a good 10-11 years and said, “I’ll let you taste it for awhile and then we’ll talk.” Joseph could have said that his family just wasn’t that important to him any longer: “It’s just over. I’m done with you guys. God bless you and here’s your food. Go have a great life. I’ve got my own family now. I’m past the trauma and there’s really nothing to talk about!” But Joseph doesn’t do this. He breaks free from the power of his past and he moves forward.
As we examine Joseph’s story there are three practical applications that we need to be aware of on how to go back in an appropriate way so that we can go forward. The first application is to recognize the iceberg in us from our family. As we get older it is very easy to either ignore or underestimate our past. What is very interesting is that most discipleship approaches do not look deeply at the family iceberg; the cultural iceberg, the past. For Joseph to go forward without recognizing the iceberg from his family would have been absurd. And it’s the same for us! We can’t go forward without having to ponder and become aware of what happened in our families. There is a need to go back and break the pattern and to be aware of how the generations of our family handled things. We need to recognize that because we are now in Jesus’ family that we will do it differently. What’s that going to look like? It requires that I recognize that there really is an iceberg here and it’s deep. It is profound. It is not a little iceberg. The effect our family has had on us is much deeper and more profound than we realize. Whether we like or it or not or whether we acknowledge it or now – it is in us.
Think of Israel. They came out of Egypt. They lived there for 400 years. They did life a certain way. When they came up out of Egypt, they were now God’s people by grace but Egypt was still in them. It’s all they knew. It was in their bones. And so God had to bring them through humblings and testings in order to rip Egypt out of them because it was so deeply in them. Your family has patterns too. Your family had a way of doing life. And we’re not talking about digging up our past in order to trash our parents because in most cases, our parents did the best they could with what they have. I’m doing the best I can with my children. But you know what? They’ve got to do this, too. It’s about raising the awareness of the negative patterns because I, too, am a sinner. But as I become aware of the negative patterns, I am then free to choose. But if we don’t know what the negative patterns are, we just simply reproduce them because we’re unaware of them.
And so part of following Jesus is that we’ll be able to go back and ask ourselves, “What were my particular family commandments that I’m still carrying today that I need to change?” This is hard work. Maybe some of you have already begun this process. Maybe you’ve done some of this work. I want to encourage and challenge you to not stop when you hit some hurdles because you will hit some hurdles. We start feeling better and then we quit the hard work. But this is the Christian life and God moves us and leads us appropriately along the way to bring us to new levels of depth with Him. Some of us need to get started and it will probably be scary but the grace of God is so loveable and wonderful and He’ll meet us there.
The second practical application is that we are to discern the good God intends, “in, through and in spite of” our family and past. God desires us to discern the good. What is discernment? What’s the good? God put us in a family at a certain moment in history. He knew everything that was going on. And He put us there. Why? For good. God has a good purpose. Even for those who have had very difficult, abusive backgrounds. How did Joseph discern that good? How did Joseph move forward? GOD!!! Look at verse 20. And I want you to underline verse 20 of Genesis chapter 50. In fact, I hope you’ll memorize the verse. It’s so phenomenal. It’s the summary of the Book of Genesis. Joseph says to his brothers, “You intended to harm me,” [or it could be the Hebrew word, “you planned to harm me.”] “but God intended it for good.” Again, “You planned to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” You see at one level we can see a struggle of a family. We see Joseph, his brothers and his family, and all the mess. But the point of the story of Joseph’s family is that God is always working in a very hidden, mysterious way through all this mess. God is working to move Joseph to a place in Egypt to bless and save many people. And God’s working on a purpose THROUGH and IN SPITE of Joseph’s brothers, who are in rebellion against God. God is working on a purpose in spite of Joseph’s brothers and messed up father to get done what He wants to get done.
Joseph’s brothers are unaware of this. I love it when they say in verse 18 “We are your slaves.” They’re in fear. They can’t see God moving at all. They don’t see any good of what God is doing. They’re totally unaware of God’s workings. All they have is fear, anxiety, and guilt. That’s all some of us have about our families too. We have fear, anxiety, and guilt that we all carry. And Joseph’s brothers can’t see that another plan is working. It’s a hidden plan. It’s God’s plan. And Joseph says to them “You planned it for evil, but God planned it for good.” I love this! “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good or planned it for good.” Now for most of us, things happen in our families that weren’t intentional. But sometimes we were intentionally harmed. Sometimes there was intent to abuse you for evil. But I want to tell you something: God planned it for good. What Joseph was really saying to his brothers was: “You planned to neglect me and ignore me, but God planned it for good. You failed to support me and nurture me. But you know what? God intended it for good. Now you planned to control me and use me to live your life vicariously through me as a kid. But God planned it for good. You planned to shame me. But God intended it for good.”
In a way, Joseph is a realist. Joseph laments. He grieves what happened. But he is so certain of God. He’s has an incredible relationship with God. He knows that God is on the throne here. God has plans for me that are good. And God in all of this is weaving a plan. Even when all this bad stuff is happening to Joseph he knows that God is good. And God put him in that family because God’s weaving a mysterious purpose, so Joseph can be a blessing. Again, Joseph can’t analyze it or figure it all out, but he knows God. And what sets Joseph apart is his relationship with the living God. He knows that Jeremiah 29:11 is true, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” God says that is true. He knows the truth of Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who, have been called according to his purpose.” Here’s the great mystery. God holds people responsible for their actions. At the same time God is sovereign over all of history. They’re both true. God does not endorse evil, by any means but sometimes the evil plans of people unwittingly become the ways God’s purposes are furthered.
Think about this: Jesus was crucified, suffered and died. Satan may have seen that as a triumph. But you know what? That became the salvation of the world. And so the very worst things that may have happened to us may end up becoming a blessing as we offer it to God. God’s about bringing good to us. Proverbs 19:21 tells us, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it’s God’s purpose that prevails.” And what Joseph discerns is that God intends good through his life. I want you to stop and think about this for a minute: God puts you in your family because God discerns that good would come out of your life; that you would be a blessing to many people. And you’re saying, “No, nothing good happened there.” But I’m telling you that God, mysteriously and in a hidden way, was moving because He put you there and He’s got a purpose in it. You need to discern that in, through, and in spite of whatever may have happened or didn’t happen, or that you wished would have happened, that God wants you to know that you are in the right place to be a blessing to many – just like Joseph.
And God’s sovereignty and power can be found in what appears to be the most horrific circumstances. His sovereignty and power can always be found. And even when there are crimes and disasters, it doesn’t mean that God approves of it. It’s simply testimony of God’s ability to bring good out of evil. God did not approve of what Joseph’s brothers did. They were responsible for that. God did not need their betrayal to get his plan done and get Jacob’s family to Egypt. But in some way God was going to get Joseph to Egypt, so he could be a blessing, and God chose this way for Joseph.
As you read the entire story of Joseph, it almost becomes funny. The brothers and their father, Jacob, think that everything is going terribly. They find treasure in their sacks, looking like they stole it. In chapter 42 verse 36, Jacob cries out, “Everything is against me!” The brothers think everything is horrific; they think they are paying for all their sins! But actually, it’s the very opposite. They think it’s all gone bad. They don’t realize they’re in a total path of blessing. And sometimes we think everything’s against us. And we don’t even know that we’re on a total path of blessing. And what God wants us to know is that it may have been intended for evil, but God intended it for good. And part of going back to go forward is to discern what the good is that God intended in, through and in spite of our family and the past.
And then the final application is that we have to make the decision to do the hard work of discipleship. And it is hard work. This is not easy and this is not quick. There are many large elements to it. But Joseph is faithful the whole time. He’s faithful in the prison and he’s faithful as a slave regardless of the circumstances. And he engages with his family when that door opens 22 years later. He does not deny the harm done to him. He grieves it well. He grieves it deeply, as a matter of fact. He does not sweep anything under the rug. It is easy to sweep it under the rug. We may not want to go this route because the iceberg is just too big or too scary. But I want to encourage you. God will lead you step-by-step. God has placed you here on Earth for a purpose to be a blessing to many people. Just like Joseph says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” I want to encourage you that God is invisibly working through all human affairs. There are many situations in the world currently. I just know that God is on the throne sovereignly working invisibly through even these horrible human affairs.
And God is good. In all of our lives here in this room, God is good and He has you to be a blessing. And He is for life. As you read through these verses in Genesis, you may stand in awe saying, “Wow! That’s who God is!” You can’t figure out how He gets it done. That would be like trying to figure out how Jesus multiplied the fishes and loaves. Computers couldn’t figure it out. God just does it. Joseph like David, I suspect, had a lot of silence and solitude with God in that prison because he knows God. He knows that God is good and that God is working. And again, the emotional component with the contemplative component are beautifully woven together in Joseph’s life. David spent many years in the desert being a shepherd while fleeing Saul. Joseph had many, many years pondering all this stuff with God. And Joseph breaks free and he becomes a blessing to the nations. It’s really incredible.
I want to close with a story about Roger Bannister. In 1954, Roger Bannister was the first person to break the 4-minute mile in 1954. It was considered the greatest athletic achievement in the 20th century because it was said breaking the 4-minute mile couldn’t be done. Everyone believed that a human being could run a mile in less than 4 minutes. After breaking the record, Roger Bannister described his experience like this. He said: “My legs seemed to meet no resistance at all. I was propelled by some unknown force.” Of course he worked very hard to get to that moment but he also recognized that there was something more involved as well. So I want to encourage you this morning that if you’ll do the hard work of going back to go forward you will break through with God’s help. You’ll say, “I don’t even know how I quite got here” but God will bring you through. And as a result you’ll be free and you’ll be a blessing to many people.
Technorati Tags:emotionally healthy spirituality, peter scazzero, going back in order to go forward
Generated By Technorati Tag Generator