The Isolation in Rejection

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? James 4:1 NIV

His brothers’ feelings toward him were intense, and not in a good way, for “they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.”1 So, when Joseph dreamed of them bowing down to him, “they hated him all the more,”2 then after voicing their disdain, they hated him yet “all the more”!3 Certainly, he’d had his bratty moments, as when tattling on them to their father,4 but sibling comeuppance usually fits the indiscretion, so what could possibly drive his brothers to plan Joseph’s murder before opting instead to sell the 17-year-old into slavery? In a word, favoritism. Their father Jacob was partial to Joseph, his favorite son from his favorite wife, a measure of rejection for his brothers and ultimately an unfairness to Joseph, for any imprudence on his part, however mild, became an accelerant to the resentment raging in their soul.

Sin separates. James tells us the divisions among us emerge from the desires within us.5 Envy resents others for their good fortune, and there is distance. Lust objectifies others, indexing their inherent value to our impulsive desire, and there is contempt. Rage bursts our inner restraints to lash out at others, lest our fragile pride be toppled or our deepest fears realized, and accusations presume to know the heart of another. In our me-first world, unity is unnatural and harmony easily broken, so human-trafficking would not be Joseph’s last injustice. In fact, it portended his suffering through a steady stream of wrongs—sexual assault, false witness, wrongful imprisonment, and abandonment—that, over the next 13 years, would sweep him further into relational isolation.

Most of us have not experienced the degree of injustice that Joseph suffered, but sin—both that which we inflict and that which we endure—has brought us discord and division. Whether we’ve retaliated against others or isolated within ourselves, whether we’ve shut out or shut down, unity has become a casualty. Yet here we take courage from the story of Joseph, for despite his circumstances, “the Lord was with Joseph,”6 not in a sense of delivering him from difficulties, but in a far more powerful way—by humbling him through his trials and unto reconciliation, and in the process, blessing Joseph for God’s higher purposes and our greater good. It is in this love that God calls us, too, to walk the selfless path that leads to reconciliation, oneness, and God’s good pleasure.

Father, you love me beyond measure or understanding. In this great comfort, may I gratefully and humbly walk the supernatural path to reconciliation and oneness through Jesus Christ, in whom all things hold together.7 In His name I pray. Amen.

1 Genesis 37:4
2 Genesis 37:5
3 Genesis 37:8
4 Genesis 37:3
5 James 4:1
6 Genesis 39:2, 23
7 Colossians 1:17

The Gift Born in Us

When she was three years old, my niece played the role of a sheep in the annual church Christmas play. So, when assigned the same bleating role again at age four, Lori sighed, “Every year, it’s the same thing!” We laughed (and still do) at the thought of one so young tiring of routine after just two occasions spaced an entire year apart. Yet this little humorous episode in our family lore raises the weightier question: What is Christmas, really? If Christmas were merely a festive time of year—even a season of sharing and celebrating together—then “Every year, it’s the same thing” might well describe it. We would decorate our living space, prepare a special meal, and give a gift or two to those we love. We might go to church to hear the familiar story and sing familiar songs, and when the season ended, we would pack all of our red, green, gold and glitter away until another year of “the same thing.”

But Christmas is much more than a seasonal celebration: it is for us life itself. For God our Father sent His Son in human form to be with us, to live among us, and to remain in us. This Son took on the name, Jesus, which means to save, rescue or deliver, for this is what He came to do: to save us from the penalty of our sin and to raise us to life that never ends. Though He ascended to heaven at the end of His natural life, His Spirit continues to live in all who believe in Him, uniting us with Him for an eternity of fresh todays. “Do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?”1 wrote the apostle Paul to early-church believers. The same is true of us today because of Jesus, the generous, everlasting Christmas gift of God.

So, let’s celebrate! Let’s adorn our homes, give of ourselves and our possessions, share from our table, and savor precious time with those we love. Let’s sing the songs of Christmas and read the story of that first Noel. And though we put away the decorations and finish off the leftovers, and though the world puts Christmas behind until “the same thing” next year, let us remember that Jesus is here each and every today. He came in the flesh, and His Spirit remains in us. He was born for this, and we were born for Him. He loves us that much.

But to all who did receive [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12, 13)

Merry Christmas to you, today and every day of the year.

1 2 Corinthians 13:5

Three Steps Forward

As a young man newly promoted into a field representative position for my employer, I traveled with my manager as he introduced me to the insurance agents who sold for our company throughout north central Ohio. We had plenty of “windshield time” over a several-week period, so I was privileged to learn from his time-tested cache of workplace wisdom, including this valuable insight: “Some people gain 20 years of experience one time, and others gain one year’s experience 20 times.” It was his way of setting the vision of constant learning, continual improvement, and increasing productivity. In a similar vein, Peter counseled believers that life in Christ is more than a one-time moment of salvation—it begins at our spiritual birth into Him and grows steadily through a lifelong maturity process. “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … has caused us to be born again into a living hope … to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for [us].”1 God’s Spirit births our spirit2 to a purposeful existence of learning and serving, all toward the vision that we “grow up into [our] salvation”3 and “bear much fruit.”4

Yet amid the three-steps-forward adventures along the way, there arise one-step-back moments of frustration. They happen to all of us; they happened to Peter. He had come to terms with the spiritual weakness in his natural self, he had experienced the relief of restoration, and he had availed himself to the Holy Spirit, who had done much through this bold apostle. Yet when influentials began to argue the need to attain righteousness by keeping Jewish law, even Peter was intimidated and “began to draw back and separate himself”5 from Gentile believers. It took a public rebuke from Paul6 to disabuse Peter of his misstep into doubt and to realign him with the truth of salvation by faith in Christ alone. (Good friends do this.)

Shortly before his martyr’s death, Peter penned final thoughts “to those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours.”7 “Make every effort,” he wrote, “to add to your faith goodness … knowledge … self-control … perseverance … godliness … mutual affection … and love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure,” Peter continued, “they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”8 By now, we know we cannot bear such spiritual fruit in our natural strength, but only as we offer ourselves entirely to the Spirit of God, knowing this: He will lead us in constant learning, continual improvement, and increasing productivity—to a lifetime of experience one time.

We pray with Paul that we “may be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified [us] to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”9 Amen.

1 1 Peter 1:3, 4 ESV
2 John 3:6
3 1 Peter 2:2 NIV
4 John 15:5 NIV
5 Galatians 2:12 ESV
6 Galatians 2:14-21
7 2 Peter 1:1 NIV
8 2 Peter 1:5-8 NIV
9 Colossians 1:9-12 ESV