One of the more delightful aspects of my role in the church has to do with my relationship with small groups. There is something about the community created in such groups that allows close-up observation of individual members. Conversely, the group also has greater opportunity to get to know the strengths and weaknesses of their leader.
On Thursday afternoon a group of seniors meet in the chapel of our church. Beside the value of opening the Word together, they seem to delight in the relationships they develop.
One of the outstanding couples in the group is known by the fact that they never miss joining us. We depend on them. They cheerfully enhance the quality of our meetings by coming early to brew coffee. Usually the wife has baked one of her delicacies.
In a recent meeting, I posed this question to the group. “Have you ever beeen mad at God?” I find in some of our older members that the idea of being mad at God hasn’t been dealt with. For them, the terminology is bad. How can one be mad at God?
In a more pointed fashion, a follow-up question was directed to our afore mentioned couple. In years past, they had lost a seventeen year old son to Leukemia. “Can you say that you have never been mad at God?” I asked. This never reluctant to speak brother at first seemed quieted by the question. Tears welled up , then he responded to the risky question. “John,” he said,”I can say that I was never mad at God, though there were times of dark grief when we thought we would never see our way through.” Then he added, “It was the death of our son that caused us to turn to God.” That response brought the presence of God near. I am glad that I know this excellent couple.
There is a book on my desk entitled, “Character forged from Conflict.” Members of my senior group, many of whom have lost significant people in their lives, could write such a book. Real character is often forged in the foundry of human suffering. The Apostle Paul had it right. “His strength is made perfect in weakness.”
Emerging from our readings in the Old Testament are sentiments drawn from my group experiences. Genesis forty-nine includes the blessing that Jacob gave each of his sons prior to his death..Some of those blessings were quite sharp and underscored character flaws that were obvious in their lives. For example, Jacob addresses the anger and bitterness of Simeon and Levi. “Their swords are weapons of violence. Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury so cruel.”
Much kinder blessings were pronounced over the likes of Judah and Joseph. It is easy to see why Joseph is often seen as an Old Testament type of Jesus. Joseph seemed impenitrable to many opportunites to become bitter. Escaping life without bitterness is and art to be sought after.
The father’s deathbed assessment of Joseph was, “Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring, whose brances climb over a wall.” To me that means that Joseph remained undefined be every crisis that occurred in his life. Strapped to back of an Ishmaelite camel, he watched his beloved homeland fade into the distance. He was poromoted from the slave block to prominence in Potiphar’s house, only to be falsely accused of rape by Potiphar’s wife. It was only after a couple of years in prison that he was once again promoted. His childhood dreams kept him looking beyond the walls of his trouble to the triumph he experienced in Egypt.
What a challenge for all of us! Brokenness furnishes us the opportunity to decide how we move on from life’s negative situations to success in life. Failure in marriage, children who fail to live up to our hopes and expectations, problems in health, business, the church, finances are just a few which either forge character in us or failure and bitterness.
Ah, life is so easy to think about and to write about. Living through it is another consideration. Knowing Jesus Christ and his leadership gives us a real edge. Of our New Testament Joseph it was said, “No guile, sarcasm, deceit, or duplicity, was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats, instead he entrusted himself to Him who judges justly.”(IPeter 2: 22-24)
For wherever you might be in your journey, I highly recommend that you build a relationship with Jesus.