20170213

Collateral Blessing

When you forgive somebody who has wronged you, you’re spared the dismal corrosion of bitterness and wounded pride.

― Frederick Buechner

Scripture: Genesis 46.29

Joseph had his chariot made ready and went to Goshen to meet his father Israel. As soon as Joseph appeared before him, he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time.

Reflection: Collateral Blessing
By Steven Dilla

Twenty-five years after he finished the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo returned to begin work on The Last Judgment. The painting covers the expansive, 1,700 square-foot, altar wall and depicts Christ’s return, the resurrection of the dead, heaven, and hell.

The work, which would be among Michelangelo’s last, was controversial even before it was completed. Detractors were disquieted by the amount of nudity in the painting. Papal Master of Ceremonies Biagio da Cesena joined others in critiquing Michelangelo, calling the master artist’s work, “a very disgraceful thing.”

To strike back at da Cesena, Michelangelo painted him into the corner of the wall. The critic’s head appears atop the body of Meno, the Greek god of the underworld, who greets the damned as they enter hell.

“Of the seven deadly sins, anger is the most fun,” writes Frederick Buechner. “To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor the last toothsome morsel of the pain you’re giving back to them, in many ways, is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down at this feast is yourself.”

Most people can imagine what forgiveness might cost. Where we struggle is imagining what the costs of un-forgiveness will run us and what benefits forgiveness might bear.

Michelangelo’s bitterness is enshrined in history. (There are even teams of artists dedicated to preserving it.) Un-forgiveness always works that way. Entire nations rage against one another for the grievances of prior lifetimes.

Although it rarely feels grand, forgiveness has its own way of stretching beyond the moment. Because Joseph forgave his brothers, a family was preserved from starvation—from that family a nation was born.

More importantly to Joseph, he experienced a restored relationship with his father. Their joy-filled reunion was an effect of his forgiveness of his brothers. The meaningful things we long for are found only in the fruit of sacrifice.

Prayer: The Cry of the Chuch

Even so, come Lord Jesus!

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Genesis 46 (Listen – 4:47)
Mark 16 (Listen – 2:34)

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20170210

Don’t Conjure Forgiveness, Extend It

Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners.

― Miroslav Volf

Scripture: Genesis 43.31, 34

After Joseph had washed his face, he came out and, controlling himself, said, “Serve the food.” […and] they feasted and drank freely with him.

Reflection: Don’t Conjure Forgiveness, Extend It
By Steven Dilla

The ease of forgiveness is based off the cost of the debt. In Jesus’ parable of The Unforgiving Debtor he depicts a servant who owed his master millions of dollars, an amount that could never be repaid in a lifetime. (Servants like this were far less like slaves and more like business managers, sometimes over entire divisions of their master’s endeavors.)

To owe this amount it must be assumed the servant was either imprudent, investing foolishly, or unethical, embezzling the master’s money over an extended period of time. Once discovered, the servant begs for his life—he knows there is no way he could ever repay the debt, so he is left to the master’s mercy.

Someone must absorb the debt. The servant is insolvent, yet in a shocking act of mercy the master writes off the debt, absorbing the loss himself. The freshly-forgiven servant then runs into a second servant who owes him a nominal amount of money—something that could be earned in a matter of days.

The first servant becomes physically violent with the second, demanding immediate repayment. When the master hears of the first servant’s actions—the servant whom he has just forgiven—he is enraged.

The second servant’s debt is owed not to the first, but to the master himself. This is the linchpin to the story—everything in a servant’s life belongs to his master—although the first servant feels the burden of the debt, the ultimate repayment is to the master himself. The first servant is condemned because, although he had intimate familiarity with the master’s forgiveness, he refused to extend it to others.

Forgiveness, for Jesus, is less about conjuring an emotion and more about praying to God for the ability to extend his forgiveness to those around us. “Once we start inhaling God’s fresh air, there is a good chance that we will start to breathe it out, too,” says N.T. Wright. “As we learn what it is like to be forgiven, we begin to discover that it is possible, and indeed joyful, to forgive others.”

Prayer 

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness. — Psalm 103.8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Genesis 43 (Listen – 5:02)
Mark 13 (Listen – 4:32)

 

20170209

Pursuing Forgiveness

To forgive sins is divine not only in the sense that no one is able to do it except God, but also because no one can do it without God.

― Søren Kierkegaard

Scripture: Genesis 42.18

On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God.”

Reflection: Pursuing Forgiveness
By Steven Dilla

Forgiveness is a costly endeavor. Gallup found that just half of American Christians completely agree that, “God’s grace enables me to forgive people who have hurt me.”

Most people can make allowances for life’s minor grievances. It’s when we face the bigger issues that forgiveness seems impossible or even unrecommended. Yet maybe our struggle is not with forgiveness itself, but with what we think forgiveness should accomplish.

Modern thought has fused the acts of forgiveness and restoration together. Unlike forgiveness, restoration is bidirectional. In circumstances of on-going abuse, restoration is unhealthy and it is altogether impossible if both parties are unwilling to work together.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, is always a healthy pursuit. It’s a unidirectional activity where the offended party chooses not to be taken captive in a cycle of retribution. It’s a way for the offended to release themselves from the control of the offender. Joseph’s life is a prime example of this process.

Every moment in Joseph’s years of suffering, humiliation, and captivity was a direct result of his brothers’ cruelty toward him. After they sold him to human traffickers he lost his family, his homeland, and the future he envisioned.

It’s fascinating to watch the way Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers removed the pressure to seek retribution. At the same time, Joseph did not rush back into relationship with them. Genesis 42 shows the beginning of a long process of restoration. Joseph’s trust grows as he slowly, cautiously, and intentionally rebuilds his relationship with them.

Joseph’s faith fueled his forgiveness. It would be easy to write off Joseph’s ability to forgive by underestimating the depth of his pain. Even easier to assume he was just a good person. But Genesis draws our attention to the real source. Joseph forgave because he trusted God to direct his path even as he suffered from the consequences of others’ sin.

The Prayer Appointed for the Week

Set me free, O God, from the bondage of my sins, and give me the liberty of the abundant life which you have made known to me in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Genesis 42 (Listen – 5:08)
Mark 12 (Listen – 6:10)

 

20170208

The Lord Be With You

Since the Lord was with him there he was comforted; it would be infinitely better to be there with God than on the throne of Pharaoh without God.

― Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Scripture: Genesis 41.14

Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit.

Reflection: The Lord Be With You
By Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)

Scripture frequently sums up a man’s life in a single sentence. Here is the biography of Joseph sketched by inspiration: “God was with him”—so Stephen testified in his famous speech recorded in Acts.

Observe, however, that the portraits of Scripture give us not only the outer, but the inner life of the man. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks upon the heart; and so the Scriptural descriptions of men are not of their visible life alone, but of their spiritual life. Here we have Joseph as God saw him, the real Joseph.

Externally it did not always appear that God was with him, for he did not always seem to be a prosperous man; but when you come to look into the inmost soul of this servant of God, you see his true likeness—he lived in communion with the Most High, and God blessed him.

Furthermore, “The Lord was with Joseph,” but it did not screen him from temptation of the worst kind: it did not prevent his mistress casting her wicked eyes upon him. The best of men may be tempted to the worst of crimes.

The presence of God did not screen him from slander: the base woman accused him of outrageous wickedness, and God permitted Potiphar to believe her. You and I would have said, “If the Lord be with us how can this evil happen to us?” Ah, but the Lord was with him, and yet he was a slandered man.

The divine presence did not screen him from pain: he sat in prison wearing fetters till the iron entered into his soul, and yet “The Lord was with him.” That presence did not save him from disappointment. He said to the butler, “Think of me when it is well with thee”; but the butler altogether forgot him.

Everything may seem to go against you, and yet God may be with you. The Lord does not promise you that you shall have what looks like prosperity, but you shall have what is real prosperity in the best sense.

*Abridged and language updated from A Miniature Portrait Of Joseph by Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

Prayer: The Refrain

Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering the sheaves.

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phylis Tickle

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Genesis 41 (Listen – 7:30)
Mark 11 (Listen – 3:59)

 

20170207

Dare to Act

No half-heartedness and no worldly fear must turn us aside from following the light unflinchingly.

― J.R.R. Tolkien

Scripture: Genesis 40.23

Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.

Reflection: Dare to Act

By Søren Kierkegaard

Can there be something in life that has power over us which little by little causes us to forget all that is good? And can this ever happen to anyone who has heard the call of eter­nity quite clearly and strongly?

If this can ever be, then one must look for a cure against it. Praise be to God that such a cure exists—to quietly make a deci­sion. A decision joins us to the eternal. It brings what is eternal into time.

How wretched and miserable it is to find in a person many good intentions but few good deeds. And there are other dan­gers too, dangers of sin. With all your good intentions, you must not forget your duty, neither should you forget to do it with joy. And strive to carry your burdens and responsibilities in a surrendered way. If you don’t, there is a danger of losing your decisiveness; of going through life without courage and fading away in death.

Whoever remains faithful to his decision will realize that his whole life is a struggle. Such a person does not fall into the temptation of proudly telling oth­ers of what he has done with his life. Nor will he talk about the “great decisions” he has made. He knows full well that at deci­sive moments you have to renew your resolve again and again and that this alone makes good the decision and the decision good.

We must not support high and important things while ig­noring the practical, daily stuff of life. Indeed, decision is some­ thing truly great; the life of eternity shines over decision. But the light of eternity does not shine on every decision.

Therefore, dare to renew your decision. It will lift you up again to have trust in God. For God is a spirit of power and love and self-control, and it is before God and for him that every de­cision is to be made. Dare to act on the good that lies buried within your heart. Confess your decision and do not go ashamed with downcast eyes as if you were treading on forbidden ground.

Prayer: The Request for Presence

Early in the morning I cry out to you, for in your word is my trust. Psalm 119.147

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phylis Tickle

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Genesis 40 (Listen – 2:59)
Mark 10 (Listen – 6:42)