Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Just Shy of Functional

When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him (Genesis 37:4).

My son was born in Houston, Texas. When he was six weeks old we moved to North Carolina and about 15 months later my daughter was born in Raleigh. Last week on the way to school their differing states of origin became the focus of some backseat bickering. John was obnoxiously singing the refrain to Alan Jackson’s “God Bless Texas.” I kept expecting Anna to counter with James Taylor’s “Carolina in My Mind.”

I marvel at the ease with which sibling bickering can be provoked – even over something as silly as the states in which they were born. I’m always encouraged when other parents share stories of their antagonistic offspring. And I’m further consoled by what I find in the pages of scripture. In fact, when I read the Bible I’m thankful for those minor skirmishes that erupt on the way to school.

The book of Genesis narrates one feud after another. Scarcely four chapters into the book and Cain has murdered his brother Abel. Read a little further and righteous Noah is suddenly fighting a hangover and cursing one of his sons. The drama continues to unfold and we find the twins Jacob and Esau warring in the womb. Their sibling rivalry outlasts childhood as Jacob cheats Esau out of the rights that belonged to the firstborn. Later, having been tricked again and robbed of their father’s blessing, Esau threatens to kill Jacob.

Jacob’s marital woes get considerable attention and we find him in the midst of domestic squabbles brought about by two jealous sisters. The fact that Jacob was married to both of them only served to further complicate his plight.

And finally in Genesis 37 we begin a series of stories that will focus on Jacob’s sons. By this time we should not be at all surprised to find that Jacob’s twelve boys have issues. Given their family history, they didn’t stand a chance. At the center of these stories is Joseph. True to form, the opening of the story tells us three times that Joseph was hated by his brothers (37:4, 5, 8).

To be honest, Joseph didn’t help himself much. We meet him as a seventeen year old tattle-tale, giving his daddy bad reports on the other eleven boys, shamelessly telling dreams in which he is superior to everyone else in the family, including his parents. Joseph is a big brat. We look at him and find little to like or admire.

And yet this is the one through whom God will work to bring about salvation for Jacob and his sons. God will save Israel through Joseph.

This turns out to be good news. Your broken, imperfect, somewhat-less-than-functional family is not a barrier to the saving work of God. God does not look for the deserving and then set about to accomplish his purposes in the world. In ways that defy our comprehension, God simply chooses those whom he will use and then sets about doing whatever he intends to do. The great surprise is that God’s choices regularly involve deeply flawed people and families. People like you and me; families like ours.

Long after Joseph had died the apostle Paul would give us words that help explain Joseph’s life: God uses weak things to shame the strong; God works through foolish things and stumps the magna cum lauds. That might explain a few things about your life too.

How has God used family difficulties to shape your life?

We give you thanks, O God, that your work in us and through us is based on your grace and not on our qualifications. We love because you have first loved us. We would live this day in response to your grace, embracing every relationship as a gift – even the difficult ones. We ask for your help through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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