"Grace, grace, God's grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within
Grace, grace, God's grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin..."
I heard Paul singing this softly as the group began their disbanding ritual tonight after our cell group meeting. It's an old Evangelical hymn for those of you who may not recognize the words as easily as I do after hanging out with Pentecostal-types for more than 30 years... It's a good hymn, with a bouncy, catchy, churchy tune. And its words capture exactly what we were talking about tonight. Grace.
One of the things we talked about was the difference between grace and mercy. What I took away from it goes something like this: Grace is when you get good stuff that you really don't deserve and mercy is when you don't get the bad stuff that you really do deserve.
I was thinking about Joseph. Now there was "a trophy of grace". God took that boastful young buck and allowed him to go through a meat grinder of circumstances which certainly served to bring him down a notch or two. Talk about hard knocks! His father favoured him, setting him up to be envied by his brothers. They took everything he had, including his freedom and then lied to his father about what had happened. I wonder if he felt like they had second thoughts and were coming to rescue him when they fetched him out of that well, only to be double-whammied when he was sold into slavery. By the guys he loved. The guys he grew up with. The guys who called the same man "Dad" as he did.
When he got to Egypt it seemed like it was going to get better as he took up a position in Potiphar's house and began to do well there. I wonder if he had hopes of someday, somehow earning his freedom and going back to find his father. All of those hopes would have been dashed when he was thrown into prison for something he didn't even come close to doing. Talk about "not fair!"
And then hope springs up again when one of his buddies in prison gets set free, leaving him behind, but with the promise that he wouldn't forget him.
But he was going to rot in that hell hole for another couple of years before God declared "for such as time as this" and began to move him into a position to bring a blessing back to his father and to the people he came out of.
Through all of that, Joseph trusted in God's utter goodness and leaned into a Wisdom that was far above the limited view he had of his own rotten circumstances. Which became more and more rotten, more and more hopeless, month after month and year after year.
In all that time Joseph had every opportunity to cook up the biggest pot of "bitterness stew" in his frustrated heart. But he didn't. Instead of hating his brothers, and resenting them for being the cause of his dire circumstances, he continued to love them and remained faithful to God and his wisdom. When he became the king's chief steward and was put in charge of the nation's food supply during an extreme famine and those scoundrels, his brothers, came to him for help, he had every opportunity to exact his revenge. He could have had them wiped out with a wave of his hand.
Instead... (Oh, this part is so cool! I love God's ways!)
God had positioned Joseph to become the saviour, so to speak, of the infant nation of Israel. Had he given in to bitterness - and he had every right to under heaven - he would have lost the opportunity of a lifetime to be so utterly used of God to become a story that is still told around the world, and still rings true, even these thousands of years later.
Because Joseph kept a guard on his heart, and refused to swallow that satisfying, comforting pill of bitterness, God used him mightily. Not just to bless his brothers, but to be the agent of their very survival. To prick their consciences and to cause them to acknowledge and confess their sin toward him, which opened them up to the path of healing and restoration. Oh what a plan! Oh, the wisdom, the glory, and the grace of God revealed in this old story! I love it. I love Him!
Joseph showed mercy to his brothers. He didn't give them what they deserved - the death penalty. Instead, he poured out grace all over their heads by giving him what they did not deserve! An opportunity to repent and to make things right. He sent them back to get their father and set them up to live lives of blessing and prosperity in Egypt.
Can you draw some parallels? Is God calling you to look past some circumstances right now and right into his face? Will you trust him with that issue that is driving you crazy? That just is not fair?
If you do, God will not just help you to get by, but I believe he will reveal himself to be the same God to you as he was to Joseph. Not overnight, maybe. But if you stay the course, his blessing will come, it will surely come. And you will be used, just like Joseph was, to bring healing and comfort to the very people who have done you wrong..
Lay it down. Hating them, and harbouring bitterness isn't going to change a thing. Letting it go, and letting God take over will result in some amazing things... Extend his mercy in that situation. Hold back from giving them what they do deserve. Instead, give them what they don't deserve - your forgiveness, your blessing, your prayers. Give them the gift of restoration... and see yourself restored in the process.
Looking at his disciples, he said:
"Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when men hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
"Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.
But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all men speak well of you,
for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.
"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.Luke 6: 20-31