Tag Archives: dreams

Finding God in our mess – Characters: Joseph, Part 3

30 Oct

Life can feel so messy. Have you ever been in one those the seasons of life where it seems like things keep going wrong? Just when you think you are getting past one hurdle, here comes another one. You jump one, then two, and you barely make it over the third, and you’re so tired, and you jump to clear the fourth hurdle, but you’re flagging strength doesn’t take you nearly high enough, and you crash into the hurdle, losing balance, crumbling to the ground. Been there?

Joseph was there. In this second installment in our series titled Characters, we’ve been following the life of Joseph, one of the patriarchs of ancient Israel, as he faces one hurdle after another. There are more to come. Will Joseph crash?

We read about Joseph’s life in the first book of the Bible, Genesis. In chapters 40 and 41 we return to the topic of dreams.  Remember how 17-year-old Joseph had dreams about his family bowing down to him? That didn’t go over well. At all. His brothers responded by selling him into slavery, and he was purchased by an Egyptian official, Potiphar. God was with Joseph and he prospered serving in Potiphar’s house, until Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph. Though he ran from her, she lied to Potiphar saying that Joseph was making passes at her. Potiphar threw Joseph in jail, and life was awful again. Yet God was with Joseph, and in prison he prospered again, earning favor with the warden. This is when the dreams start again, but it is not Joseph who is dreaming.

Two men in prison with him have dreams: the king’s chief cupbearer and chief baker.  If you want to read the story, open your Bible to Genesis 40:8.  Both men had been on the King Pharaoh’s bad side, and the king jailed them. In prison they both have mysterious dreams. The men don’t know what the dreams mean, and they tell this to Joseph. Joseph says to them, with confidence in God’s ability to provide interpretation, “Tell me your dreams.”  Again God is with Joseph, and he interprets the dreams.  The dreams are prophecies, and they come true.  Disaster for the baker, and restoration for the cupbearer.

In chapter 41 the text tells us two years go by.  Now the Pharoah, the king of Egypt, has some dreams.  Weird dreams.  My dreams can get pretty weird too.  I don’t know about you, but I have always had dreams, from childhood till now.  Sometimes they are nightmares, especially when I am sick.  That can really set off the weirdness at night.  Have you ever woke from a dream thinking, “Whew…it was just a dream…I am so glad that wasn’t real!” because it seemed real, and it was weird or awful.  Well, King Pharaoh has some strange dreams, and no one can interpret them, even the magicians and wise men of Egypt. 

Guess who is there watching the King desperately trying to understand his dreams?  The cupbearer.  Remember him?  He was one of the guys in prison with Joseph who had a dream. Joseph interpreted it, and the cupbearer was restored to favor with the king.  Now the cupbearer, watching the king struggle to interpret his dreams, remembers, “Wait…there was this guy in prison, Joseph, who interpreted dreams.”  He tells the king, and the king summons Joseph. 

What Joseph says when the king asks him to interpret the dream is awesome.  Look at Genesis, chapter 41:16. Joseph says to the king, “I cannot do it.”

That’s bold.

When the king calls, you answer.  When he says, “Jump,” you jump.  And when he says, “I heard you can interpret dreams,” you say, “Let’s do it, what is your dream?”  Not Joseph.  Joseph says, “I can’t.  But God can.”  See the humility in Joseph?  He has changed.  Even after being in prison for over two years, he isn’t angry at God.  He is devoted to God.  Joseph had gifts from God. He was dreaming dreams and was discerning them as a young boy, but it is possible in those early years he was not using his gifts in a God-honoring way.  It could be that he used his dreams to “show up” his brothers.  But when Joseph turned to God and found his identity in God, those gifts became powerful tools for good, as we have read in Genesis chapters 40-41. 

We all have gifts from God, and when we are asking God for his power to use those gifts for the mission of his Kingdom, our gifts are beautiful and powerful tools for Him.

Back to the story, we see Joseph using his gifts for God. Pharaoh tells the dream, and God gives Joseph the interpretation.  The dream was God’s message that a famine is coming on the land, and they need to prepare. 

Look at how Pharaoh responds to this.  Read Genesis 41:37-38, where Pharaoh sees the evidence of God in Joseph’s life, and thinks, “I want this guy on my staff.”  Pharaoh scoops Joseph up immediately, placing him in charge of all Egypt!

Let’s take a step back and notice the hurdles in Joseph’s life to this point: he went from losing his mother who died during the birth of his brother, to being the favorite son of his father, to having his coat of honor stolen from him, thrown into a pit, and sold into slavery by his jealous older brothers, to being a slave in Potiphar’s house, but achieving success, only to have Potiphar’s wife lie about him, resulting in being thrown into jail.  How about that for a life of ups and downs?

Finally things come full circle in Genesis 41:41 as Pharaoh puts him charge of Egypt, even including giving Joseph a new robe.  You can bet the robes Joseph wore now were fancier than the one his father gave him years before.  But as Joseph puts on that Egyptian robe, did he remember his father?  Did he think of his brothers?

As we continue in Genesis chapter 41, look at verse 51. Joseph marries, and has two sons.  Even though he marries an Egyptian priest’s daughter, he names his sons in honor of God’s work in his life.  God has made him forget his trouble and his father’s household.  Yet he is talking about his father’s household. So he hasn’t forgotten.  Maybe the family drama still stings a little.  Or a lot.  Yeah, he is now second in command of all Egypt.  He is at the heights of power and wealth and fame.  Yeah, he has a family now.  God is good, and has blessed him, and Joseph is faithful to God.  But that doesn’t mean the memories are wiped clean.  That doesn’t mean the past doesn’t still sting a bit.  

At the end of Genesis 41, we learn that a major famine has come upon the land, as was predicted through Pharaoh’s dreams.  Under Joseph’s leadership, then, Egypt not only prepared enough food for its own people to make it through the famine, but they had so much extra, they were able to sell food to people from other nations too. That fact will have significant ramifications for Joseph, which we’ll see as we continue the story in the next post.

For now, no matter how messy your life has been, know that God is faithful. Keep pursuing him, even in the mess.

Do you have family drama? Characters – Joseph, Part 1

28 Oct

Family drama.  None of your families have drama, right?  Yeah, mine neither. 

(I hope you don’t believe that.)

Actually, family drama is the stuff of life. We all have it. 

Think about all the words we use to describe it.  Some of you might remember the classic line from the sitcom Friends, “We were on a break!”  Broken. It is a word that points to relationships that used to be close, but something happened.  It isn’t just boyfriends and girlfriends that break up.  It is sadly, also parents, kids, siblings. 

Another word commonly used to describe family drama is calling a person the black sheep.  Do you have black sheep in your family?  Have you ever been the black sheep?  Today we’re going to meet someone whose brothers treated him like a black sheep.   How did he handle it? 

We’ve started a series called Characters, looking at how God uses flawed people. This week we are looking at a guy named Joseph.

Last week we met Joseph’s father, Jacob.  We skimmed very quickly over the section where Joseph was born. Imagine with me for a minute what it would be like for Joseph to be born into his specific family.   He’s got 10 older brothers.  But they’re not all from the same mom. In fact, there are actually four moms in the family.  And all four moms live together in the same family!   That’s right, his father Jacob had four wives.  That’s called polygamy.  As I mentioned last week, polygamy happens in the Old Testament.  Not that God approves of it.  There it was in Joseph’s family.  What you need to know is that Joseph’s mom was Rachel, and of his father Jacob’s four wives, Rachel was Jacob’s first love and favorite.  Joseph was their first son.  Joseph also has a younger brother, Benjamin, but get this: during Benjamin’s birth, sadly, their mother Rachel dies.  That is family Joseph grows up in.  Imagine Joseph, growing up with no mom, a younger baby brother, three step moms (if you can call them that), 10 older half-brothers, and at least one half-sister in there too. And you think your family has issues!  Believe it or not, the drama is about to get even worse for Joseph.

If you want to follow along in your Bible, open it to Genesis 37.  In the beginning of chapter 37, we learn that Joseph is now 17 years old, and he is his father’s favorite son.  Why?  Well, remember that Jacob loved Joseph’s mom, Rachel, more than any of his other three wives, and Joseph was Rachel’s firstborn.  So even though Joseph has a whole bunch of older brothers, Jacob looks to Joseph as the special one.  He even gives Joseph a special cloak to wear. 

We often refer to this as the coat of many colors.  What kind of coat was this?  Rainbow colored?  Richly ornamented?  Likely, Joseph’s coat was long-sleeved and had skirts, which was not conducive for work, and thus a sign that he might have been exempted from work, or didn’t do much work.  His brothers had coats too, but theirs would have been short-sleeved, with no skirts, thus suitable for work. The special coat would normally have been given to the firstborn as sign of honor.  In this case Jacob gave the coat to his 11th born, and that’s a recipe for family drama.

In Genesis 37:2-11 we see numerous story elements that set up a great divide between Joseph and his brothers.  Read this passage and look for the family drama.

Did you see them?  I see four. 

First in verse 2, Joseph brings to his father a negative report about his brothers. He’s tattling!  And when the one who is younger and isn’t working tells on the older ones who are working, what happens?  Good feelings?

Next in verse 3 we read how their father Jacob (also named Israel) loved Joseph.  The brothers saw it.  I suspect most families have conversations where the children say to the parents, “So and so is your favorite,” and the parents disagree, of course.  In this case, it was obvious.  There was no disagreeing.

Third, in verse 4 we read that the brothers are very angry about Joseph being the favorite, even hating him. They were unable to speak to him on friendly terms. There was a lot of intense emotion.

Finally, and here is the kicker, look at verses 5-11 again.  Joseph has multiple dreams and he tells the dreams to his family explaining that they describe his superiority over his brothers and father.   None of them, including his father, are happy about this.

As I read this, I have to ask, was Joseph arrogant?  You know how a favorite child can own their favoritism and get a big head about it?  Is that happening inside Joseph?  Does the fact that he revealed such a confrontational kind of dream, and not once, but multiple times, show that Joseph is prideful?  Possibly.  We don’t know for sure.  Or was he just angry at his brothers’ meanness to him, trying to be vengeful to them?  We don’t know.  At the very least, I don’t believe he handled this right.  He could have kept the dreams quiet.  Or he could have told them only to his father, asking for advice on how to handle it.  We would counsel people in a similar situation to handle their families differently from how Joseph handled his brothers.  But we have to remember that he was 17, and he probably struggled with their anger toward him.  Younger siblings often look up to their older siblings, and here is Joseph getting nothing but bitter anger from them? That would be hard to take, even for someone much older than a 17 year old.

Clearly, there was family drama, and Joseph doesn’t seem to be helping things. As a result the drama is far from over, and actually only gets worse. How do we decrease the drama? If you want to remove drama from your family’s life, check back in to the next post as we follow what happens in Joseph’s family.

An embarrassing dream told me the truth about my life [How God feels about our fear – Deuteronomy 31-34, part 1]

18 Feb

Photo by Ben Maguire on Unsplash

I want to tell you about a dream I had this week.  I’ve had a similar one before.  Maybe you’ve had one like this too.  My dream started as I was sitting in a chair at a pool party at a place I didn’t recognize.  At the party were some of my kids’ friends and their parents.  It was a fun event, like a birthday party.  But as I looked around, I realized to my horror, that I didn’t have any clothes on.  Instantly, I was super-embarrassed and used my hands to cover up, frantically looking for a towel.  It was a moment of sheer terror. 

Ever had a dream like that?  It is astounding what our brains and emotions can create in our minds when we are asleep.  The images are so vivid.  And often it is not hard to figure out why we had certain dreams.  Our fear and anxiety comes out, right? 

So apparently, I’ve got some fear going on in my life.  What am I afraid of?  Well I’ll tell you.  Since 2011 I have been an adjunct professor for Lancaster Bible College teaching online Bible courses.  The course I have taught most often is a six-week intensive about how to study the Bible.  During those six weeks my life can be crazy busy.  Normally, I can swing it, but last fall I started doctoral studies, taking two classes of my own. So in November, right in the middle of teaching one of those six-week intensives, I said to my wife that it was too much, and after the new year I wanted to look into different options.  My sister teaches online for Eastern University, so maybe they had something more suitable. Two weeks later, Messiah College contacted me out of the blue, asking me to teach a section of their intro Bible course.  I couldn’t believe it.  I hadn’t even thought of Messiah, though my two oldest sons are students there, and it was well before the New Year.  The Bible department chair got my name from his colleagues who lead the Clergy Leadership Program of Central PA, of which I was a participant in 2015-17. One thing led to another, and I was hired.  We started telling our older boys about it, and our second son, a sophomore, wrote back and said, “I think I’m in that class!”  And sure enough he was!  It was amazing how God answered my prayer far beyond what I expected or asked for.  So I have started teaching for Messiah. 

And that is where the fear comes in. The Messiah class is not online, but in class.  A few weeks ago it hit me, I’m going to have to stand in front of a class, including my son, and actually have something to say.  Online classes had none of that.  As of this writing, I have finished two weeks of the Messiah class, and I think it is going okay, but I can tell you that you I’ve had anxiety and fear about it!  Additionally, this past week I was up at my seminary three days for my doctoral residency, and there, too, I can feel very intimidated surrounded by really smart and amazing people, all thinking about doctorates and dissertations. Put together, it can feel overwhelming.

I’m almost certain that is what led to my embarrassing dream! 

In this final series of posts in our study through Deuteronomy we are going to meet someone who also faced what could easily seem like an insurmountable situation.  A guy named Joshua.  He was about to enter into the top leadership role in the nation of Israel, following in the giant footsteps of Moses.

Have you ever experienced a transition of leadership where a long-time leader was concluding their time as leader, and a new person was stepping into that role?  It may be a company you work for.  It may be a volunteer organization.  A church.  A family.  Might be in government.  A Coach.  Recently here in our school district we’ve had a couple long-time leaders move on.  Some elementary school principals.  Then the superintendent of the district retired two years ago. 

These transitions evoke all kinds of emotions don’t they? People miss the previous leader.  People are afraid that the new leader will mess things up. 

Transitions are hard.  They raise fear in us.  Transitions can make it seem like the foundations are shaking.  When there are pastoral transitions, some statisticians say, on average, 25% of the congregation will leave.  Usually not all at once in some big exodus, but often gradually, over a few years.  Why? We get scared, fearful. 

And you know what, the new leader is scared too.  Fearful. And it comes out in our dreams, in bodily anxiety, panic. How do we deal with this?  

In Deuteronomy chapters 31-34 we’re going to learn about a leadership transition, and a bunch of people that could be fearful. Check back in for part 2 of the series!