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When Family Goes Wrong

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I have been witness to a family storm in the last few years that I never wanted to see. Brewing and churning for decades, a specific difficult situation blew it into a category-five fury in the last three years. Though it involved the in-law side of a close loved one (and not me directly) – as is often the case with storms of this magnitude, its path has been wide and its effects far-reaching. You could definitely say much of the family was side-swiped and felt the damage.

Clean-up efforts are underway, but things will never be the same. Good people were hurt, relationships were irrevocably damaged, and family ties were severed.

Abuse and betrayal – big or small – are difficult pills to swallow no matter how well you crush them, disguise them with excuses, and try to ignore their bitter aftertaste. So many types of behaviors and actions fall under the umbrellas of abuse and betrayal that it’s difficult to imagine any of us not having experienced one or the other at some point.

Abuse and betrayal within a family is particularly damaging simply by virtue of the fact that “family” is supposed to be those who are there when everything else falls away, the ones who are supposed to protect you from harm, not cause the harm. Family is who is supposed to love you no matter what.

Life on this side of heaven, however, is full of human error and brokenness; and – for whatever reasons – not all families adhere to this code.

We are hearing more and more about familial abuse and betrayal these days, but the issues are certainly not new. In fact, one of the first instances of this within a family in the Bible appears right away in Genesis – the account of Joseph and his brothers.

You know the story – Joseph’s brothers hated him because he was very obviously their father’s favorite (giving Joseph a special “robe of many colors” as a gift to show his deep love), and sold him into slavery. While the story of Joseph’s brothers being filled with so much hate and jealousy that they sold him is inconceivable enough; even more incredible is how Joseph handled his evolving fate time and time again throughout his young life.

Joseph certainly could have taken on the belief and attitude that God had abandoned him. Why else would life be treating him so cruelly unfair over and over?

He was betrayed by his own brothers and sold into slavery. He was sent to prison after being wrongfully accused of trying to assault his master’s wife. He was forgotten in prison for years after accurately interpreting the Pharaoh’s cup-bearer’s dream and asking to be mentioned to the Pharaoh.

Joseph faced each of these storms and his difficult life circumstances with integrity and continuing faithfulness to God. But how? WHY?

Genesis 39:2 tells us that after he was purchased as a slave, “The Lord was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did …” Then after he was thrown into prison by Potiphar, Genesis 39:21 states, “But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love.”

Eventually it was his ability to accurately interpret dreams that led him out of prison to his new life as Egypt’s second in command. In both Genesis 40:8 and 41:16, Joseph declares that it is not he who has the power to interpret dreams, but God – who is working through him.

Two separate ideas within Joseph’s story point to why and how his faithfulness remained strong and he was able to get through so many dark areas along the path God laid out for him.

  • God remained with Joseph as he navigated the struggles of the plan God had for him (and Joseph never stopped believing that).
  • Joseph gave God the glory for his abilities and successes.

Joseph even honored God’s faithfulness in remaining with him and healing his betrayed heart by naming his two sons after Hebrew terms that conveyed God had made him forget his troubles and his betrayers, and God had made him fruitful in the land of his grief (Genesis 41:51-52).

The life journey God sent Joseph on was far from easy and was filled with betrayal after betrayal – beginning with his own family members, but everything he went through served to prepare him for the ultimate role God had in store for him. God used Joseph’s suffering to develop his wisdom and shape his character, and he went on to lead all of Egypt. When faced with the opportunity to exact revenge upon his brothers, Joseph chose instead to forgive and care for them.

In Genesis 41:37-38, while Joseph was still a prisoner, the Pharaoh referred to him as being “obviously filled with the spirit of God.”

Overcoming and moving beyond the mess left in the wake of abuse and deep betrayal by those closest to you must be one of the most painful, challenging journeys of life. But God does not desert us, and can heal even the most broken, damaged hearts and souls.

Joseph is a beautiful example of how even the most hurtful of journeys can lead to exactly where God intends for you to be, armed with exactly the right experiences and wisdom to be the light in the middle of someone else’s dark path.


Impact in the Everyday

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We have some amazing pastors, heads of ministry, and feet-on-the-ground workers around us (and around the world) who have dedicated their entire lives to fulfilling God’s mission here on this side of eternity. Their passion to bring people to Christ drove them to their vocations, and their commitment to that is the basis for what they do every day. Together, the impact of these people of God’s church are making a huge difference in this world and in people’s lives.

What about the rest of us “regular” Christians?

What’s our role here? What is God looking for from you and me? 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 tells us that God has given us the job of reconciling others to him. “So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us.” Not just those whose “job” it is to share the love of Christ with others – all of us.

Christ’s ambassadors. His representatives.

I’ll be perfectly honest here – that intimidates me. It invokes feelings of inadequacy and ineptitude. How could I possibly live up to a task this monumental? From that perspective, it all makes me want to shrink and let other stronger, more suitable Christians take the lead. I’ll just be over here trying to stay out of their way.

But that is not at all what God asks of us, and it comes back to perspective on our parts. As Christians, we have been given a job to do. When we shift our thought process slightly from the overwhelming big picture to the everyday, we are able to more easily embrace the ideas that:

  • What we do and say matters.
  • We can (and will!) have an eternal impact.
  • What we’re doing right here in our own lives is absolutely intertwined with God’s mission.
Sometimes we see the fruits of our labors and sometimes we do not.

Sometimes our impact is obvious, other times we are left wondering if anything we do or say is making a difference in God's kingdom.

I happened to grow up witnessing one of the greatest examples of steadfast commitment in the “everyday” and intentional living with no obvious result, though I didn't know it at the time. Beginning years before I existed, the result was 50 years in the making.

My dad had a bad experience in his home church as a teenager in the 1950s. As a result, he turned his back on religion, Christianity, God, and anything to do with any of it. He was very private about it and did not speak against anyone else’s faith or beliefs. He was an incredibly stubborn man, and changing his mind would take – well – an act of God.

Our grandma (his mother) was a deeply faithful woman, and my mom was led to Christ through her; and my siblings and I grew up in a Christian home led (in faith) by my mother and grandmother. Dad never went to church and we did not question it. He just didn’t go and we did. When my brother decided to attend a Christian college and became a minister, Dad was incredibly proud of him. He never spoke against any of our beliefs, but he also never wanted to talk about it. He had been severely scarred years and years before by people who claimed their faith in Christ, and the damage seemed irreparable.

Despite the fact that the man she loved most in this world was not her partner in faith, Mom never wavered in living her Christian life out loud. She was faithful, and you knew it. But she did not try to persuade Dad to repent or change his mind or even go to church with her. She prayed. She did not make under-the-breath remarks or insinuate her beliefs were better or that he was wrong. She prayed and let her daily actions and life speak for her. Christ was making his appeal through Mom's actions and the way she handled herself and my dad's "non" faith. She prayed for God to change his heart. Her behavior toward him was that of a loving, faithful, happy wife. She lived as a Christian and let her everyday life be her evangelism to him. They had a beautiful relationship, and the love between them was deep and taught all of us kids how to love without conditions, and respect one another despite differences. And how to remain faithful.

After fifty years, he casually began attending church with her, and others there lived out their faith with him, as well. They all helped heal his wounded heart by living out God’s love to him. In 2013 at the age of 71, Dad accepted Christ and was baptized by his own son. Impact from seemingly unremarkable but intentional living in the everyday had an eternal impact on my dad.

Six months later he was diagnosed with multiple brain tumors, and moved to heaven just 126 days after that. In less than a year as a Christian, he lived a lifetime of joy and contentment and reconciliation with God – and my mother saw the beautiful impact of her nearly lifelong faith and daily commitment to living out God’s mission in her own home. In those 126 days between diagnosis and moving to heaven, Dad lived without any fear of death or anger at his circumstances and fate – giving God all the glory. He led the rest of us (who had been Christians most of our lives), in living out our faith during that horrible time and praising God in the dark, dark storm. 

My dad’s coming to Christ, followed by the worst time in our family’s life, taught me the most about how everyday living with commitment to God’s mission can change a life – even if you think that it doesn’t matter or that you aren't doing enough. After Dad’s death, we were told by many people in one way or another how the way he lived his faith in that short time showed them more about Christ than much of what they’d experienced to that point.

We often don’t know which of our words, actions, or living through life circumstances are influencing someone else; and we don’t all have to be pastors or missionaries or Sunday school teachers to live out God’s mission and have an impact on those around us.

What would it look like if all of God's people lived believing that their everyday actions can make an eternal difference?

In Matthew 22:37-39 Jesus states, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself.” This is a pretty good place to start.

God's mission is not too big, and we are not too small.