Receive Correction

When I reflect on my lifetime in God’s house, I have to acknowledge God’s grace that I’m still here. Especially in my own tween/teen years, well-intended church-going do-gooders decided it was their Christian duty to beat me over the head with (often misinterpreted) Scripture. Though they aimed to “speak truth in love” (another Scripture taken out of context), they didn’t love but judged. For whatever reason they plucked from the air that week, they insisted I didn’t measure up and had to conform. They were wise (in their own eyes) and I had reason to “fear the Lord,” they said.

Fear them, is more accurate.

Of course there are appropriate occasions for discipline. Parent to child. Spouse to spouse. Teacher to child. Mentor to mentee. Dear friends, one to another. In large part, the right to speak discipline to another is an earned privilege.

The problem comes when we set ourselves to tweeze the splinter from another’s eye—without permission, usually—when we haven’t first spent sufficient time humbly on our knees, letting God surgically remove the log from our eyes. Rather than offering relief, in blindness we risk inflicting more blindness.

Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life. We in the Church bear witness to the True Word of God Incarnate through the Truth in God’s written Word. But rather than pointing to Truth’s freedom and the sacrificial love of our Savior, we too casually wield our interpretation of truth as a weapon. We all need way more grace.

Notice I lump myself in, “we” and not merely “they.” Hurt people hurt people. I confess I’ve done it, too: been too free with judgmental words. Lord, have mercy on us all.

Sin clouds every human being and every organization, the Church necessarily included. We pray for better among God’s people but—maybe because we claim to have access to the Truth?—the Church is regularly a repeat offender. Sadly, I completely understand why so many, including people I love dearly, want nothing to do with it.

Yet, God calls us to community, to corporate worship, to life together, and so I remain committed to His beloved, broken institution. And though I strive to remain open and soft-hearted, I hold my scarred heart gingerly when it comes to receiving correction. Of course I want to grow in wisdom. I’m just careful about who claims to be offering wisdom.

God, though… He’s not safe but He is good, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis. His Word, regularly studied and prayed, in truth offers Truth. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The Spirit of God, speaking to our hearts through the inspired Word of God, tells us what we need to know (teaching), stop (rebuking), change (correcting), and do (training in righteousness) so that we’re ready for all the good things God has planned for us.

His correction gives life. He keeps me on course, directing me on right paths. He created me and knows the intricate details He built into my wiring, and so only He truly knows how to steer me in the right direction.

You be you, says the world, but God only knows how I can be my best me. God’s love and continual restoration of this life He gave me makes spending time with Him in His life-giving Word so worth the discipline of invested time.

Deep & Wise: Uncommon Sense from the Proverbs
Week 2 – Receive Correction

Connect
Reflect on an important lesson you’ve learned recently.

Study
Read aloud Proverbs 12:1.
How would you explain the connection between discipline, knowledge, and correction?Read aloud Proverbs 3:5-8, 11-12.
According to these verses, what does it look like to trust the Lord? How is that related to correction?
Why should someone trust the Lord?
Read aloud Proverbs 15:31-33.
How does correction give life?
What does it mean to “fear the Lord”?

Live
Generally, do you tend to despise or heed correction? What makes the difference in your response?
How does the Lord offer His discipline/correction? How can you receive it?
What role does trust play in receiving correction?
How can receiving the Lord’s correction increase your trust in Him?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that you will be open to receiving the Lord’s correction.

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ReBuild: Mexico 2017

One of the best things our church does fills one week with life-changing experience and takes the rest of the year to plan, then debrief, before planning the next trip: our spring break house building trip to Mexico with Amor Ministries. This year, as in most years, about 250 high school students and adults built hope, twelve new homes, and a classroom for a church in the community. In one week.

In addition to thirteen build teams the trip includes a tool team, a camp crew, a medical team, a camp therapist, and a media team. Layered throughout are the Catalyst student leaders, all seniors, who lead the build teams, and the adult coaches who play a supporting role to their Catalysts. It takes a lot of people putting in a lot of work to pull it all together, and that’s not stating it strongly enough.

Each trip has a theme, and this year’s theme was ReBuild. Guy chose the theme at the end of 2016 and, when he told me, I had to laugh: without consulting one another, he chose a “re” theme for this trip into which he invests so much love, energy, and leadership, while I chose a “re” theme (re:create) as my word of the year, the word that has and will motivate me to new investments of love, energy, and leadership.

The group returned last night, and today in worship we celebrated what God has done. In Mexico, through the buildings, the memories that will last a lifetime, and the hope for a new and better future as people have a safe, dry place to nurture their families. In participants, as so many spoke of new or renewed faith commitments, fresh insights into themselves and their place in the world, and deeper relationships across all the ‘usual’ social boundaries–adults and teens, kids in different grades and from different schools.

We also celebrate what God will do. In families, as this year more than ever I was struck by how many families or family groups participated together–siblings, parent-child, married couples, and whole families; and in families where some or most did not go on the trip, they, too, will be affected by the overflow of experience from those who did. In schools and workplaces, in our church and community, as participants continue to live out their experience over weeks and months and years to come, and as God’s love shines brightly, bringing glory to His name.

As story after story was shared, participants built for the listening congregation a vision of God at work through this week in Mexico. I’m no contractor, but clearly God is our foundation. He created us. He knew our names, He had good plans for us, all before we were yet born. This year, for perhaps the first time in the 27 years of this trip, all teams had solid concrete foundations poured by the end of the first build day. I hope they remember: a strong foundation is essential to a strong structure, and God is our firm foundation.

One after another spoke about the strength of relationships developed in such a short time. And as I reflected on the theme, ReBuild, it occurred to me that we have the power to build supporting walls in each other’s lives. Someone said, “As the walls of the houses went up, the walls in our hearts and lives came down.” That’s true: we build metaphorical walls to protect ourselves from judgment, from criticism, from rejection. And it’s also true that when we find safe people, we can dismantle our walls of protection even as we together build stronger walls of community and encouragement.

Life can be hard, and people can be mean. Too often we throw verbal stones or, for whatever reason (sometimes for no reason, at least no good reason), we tear each other down. No surprise we wall off our hearts! But encouragement and community, they rebuild us and make us stronger.

One young man said he had been seeking community for years. Something clicked this week and he found it, evidenced by a friend’s embrace as he returned to his seat. My Teen has been fortunate to know that community. A twice-monthly before-school boys’ Bible study started with a group of motivated 8th grade guys and has continued through their senior year. They were adult-led until they took up their own leadership, and they have carried it forward in ways that pleasantly surprised their parents and other adult leaders.

Teen got to be a Catalyst this year (achieving one more life goal!), as did many of the Bible study boys. Along with their female peers, they have forged a tight-knit group; their community had a “ripple effect” throughout camp, fostering community with each gentle wave. Teen stood up to thank his fellow Catalysts, and to thank his team. He said, “We became a family. By the end of the week our team was a family building a home for another family.”

I watched with awe as my son–surrounded by community–stood, arms raised, singing:

I’ll stand
With arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the one who gave it all
I’ll stand
My soul Lord to you surrendered
All I am is yours

Safe to say they are returning home having been rebuilt by God and His gift of community.

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Full Friday – March 2017

The week before spring break is a crazy one in our office as each year we prepare to send about 250 people from our church and community to Mexico to build hope and homes with AMOR. This year, in this one week, our group will build fourteen homes.

I am FULL of gratitude for this trip, this experience, that changes lives in Mexico and the Bay Area. The chaos that precedes the trip dims in contrast to the bright light God shines through the trip itself. I can’t wait to hear all the stories on the other end…!

That crazy-office week continues to our home. My sweet Guy leads this trip every year, and every year it surprises me (again! How can I be surprised again?) how much work it takes to plan. In addition, this year Teen is–at long last–a senior and a student leader for one of the house builds. Quite literally, he has anticipated this trip his entire life, and it’s almost here…

The FULL schedule means I have not been as present to the blog as I like. I have put on pause several posts just because there aren’t enough hours in any day. I had hoped to post a Meatless Monday recipe for National Spinach Day (3/27) but, as much as I ❤ spinach!, I didn’t have a spare minute to decide which particular spinach recipe I’d post. I started writing a re:create recess post for Wednesday before the day slipped away. I planned to write a Thankful Thursday post, and instead said a happy Yes! to a friend’s request for a short walk around the dog park, a healthy antidote to stress.

So here we are: Friday. The week has been FULL-to-the-brim. My heart is FULL: the hectic pace pulls in tow joy, gratitude, frustration, bite-your-tongue bleeding, tears, and laughter (um, have I mentioned I’m just a wee bit emotional?).

And now, now it’s time to take a deep breath and a rest. We have a week. Nine days, including weekends. Half of our little family will be in Mexico, working and serving and growing. Half will spend intentional time resting and playing together, growing in altogether different ways.

I may feel energy-empty and heart-full now but, during this week, I plan to fill up on rest; to fill up on moments and memories with my darling Tween; to fill up little accomplishments in a lot of arenas; to fill up my body with satisfying rest, fulfilling exercise, and delicious food. I want to exit this week FULL in completely different ways.

Meanwhile, here are some recent pictures that fill my heart with beauty.

For dinner tonight, I’m making (again) an entirely satisfying soup (stew) that will linger as tummy-yummy leftovers this weekend (my friend keeps sharing her kale crop!). And for more on my (too-short) one-night experience with AMOR, keep reading.

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Adventures in Sunday School

I’m married to a pastor. I work on the church staff. I lead small groups for both women’s and student ministries. I wasn’t looking for more ways to serve.

But they needed teachers, and Tween has been a student helper with the 4-year-old class. Which is better for me than the 2-year-old class; the only time I can recall leaving a service opportunity in tears of failure was when Tween was 2 and I was conscripted as Teacher–give me middle schoolers any day, but I lack the gift for 2’s.

So I said Yes, I am willing to serve as Teacher when Tween is helper. But the day of the month they needed me, of course, Tween is already committed to Scout camp outs. I said Yes anyway.

I accompanied Tween last month just to watch. The other teachers didn’t mind one more set of hands, especially because the craft that day involved way too much cutting for 4-year-old hands. The Bible lesson emphasized, “God loves me,” and I realized:

Preschool Sunday school is truly about welcoming children, helping them to have fun and feel loved by God and others. If that’s all they get, that’s a whole lot already.

Today was my first time actually teaching. Fortunately I had a more experienced partner, though she confessed to having relied on the teacher whose spot I filled. Our “student helper” was yet another mom filling in for her tween while he played sports. The curriculum didn’t make as much sense as I’d hoped (what 4-year-old needs a bookmark?) so I made up new connections (We share because we love others, so we’re making bookmarks to share with our parents). Roughly following the curriculum, the three of us cobbled together a lesson–music complete with hand motions, activities, DVD lesson, Bible story, and snack, with free play at beginning and end.

Here’s the thing: it mostly worked. The kids mostly seemed to have fun, and so did we. And the hour wasn’t endless. I could do this again.

The story was the poor widow who gave her two coins, all she had, because she loves God (Mark 12:41-44). The point: I can love everyone. [Point to your heart and say, “I.” Cross your arms over your chest and say, “can love.” Point to others and say, “everyone.” We did that A LOT.]

So we practiced loving everyone. We love the precocious little girl who, as I entered the room, was spelling T-Y-L-E-R for another adult.
“Is that your brother?”
“No, he’s my baby.”
“Oh, your baby brother?”
“Yes.”
“Do you have an older brother?”
“Jake.”
“Can you spell Jake?”
“J-A-C-O-B!”
“You bet! That’s the formal spelling of Jake!” Wink, wink.

We practiced loving the little boy who never spoke a word. We practiced loving the kid who wanted all the stickers. We practiced loving the little boy who admitted that he hates sharing, but when we said, “Right, because sharing can be hard,” replied, “No it’s not!”

During our combined music time with all the preschool classes, a little girl from another class whom I’d never seen before asked to sit on my lap. In her hands, she proudly held a pink construction paper heart on which she’d glued pom poms and drawn a smiley face. I complimented her craft yet she was concerned that it was missing a long Popsicle stick with which to hold it. And the smiley face she’d drawn only had eyes and smile, no nose.

I did the hand motions while she sat on my lap, then she scooted away, returning when she’d drawn a big yellow oval nose and yellow eyelashes on her smiley face. I told her I liked the improvements.

She looked at it, looked at me, then said, “It’s for you!”
“Thank you! But you should give it to your mommy.”
“Yah, it’s for Mommy. But I can give it to you.”
“Please give it to your mommy. She’ll be so happy to have it.”
(mumble…)
“Sorry, what did you say?”
“Did you brush your teeth?”
“Yes, I brushed my teeth.”
“Did you really?”
“(Hmmm…) Does my breath smell bad?”
“Yes.”
“I’m sorry. Does it smell like coffee?”
“Yes.”
“Well, yes. I had a cup of coffee after I brushed my teeth.”
“Okay.”

So I also practiced loving the honest little darling who called me out on coffee breath and gave me a small pom pom so I can remember her craft forever.

Leadership can be funny. Every person you lead is different, with different ways of being and thinking and loving and understanding God. Every age and stage is different, too. The 4-year-olds need something different than the 6th grade girls different from the mamas. While maintaining authenticity, leadership seems to require chameleon-like color-blending skills–I will be who you need today so that you can meet Jesus.

Because, while every person and every age is unique, what we all need at the core is the same: to know that we are loved by God.

Jesus: Our Shepherd
Restored: Jeremiah 23

Connect
Whose leadership do you admire, and why?

Study
Read aloud Jeremiah 23:1-4.
What have the shepherds done, and what are the consequences?
God’s response includes both judgment and promise. Explain.
Read aloud Jeremiah 23:5-6.
Describe “the righteous Branch.”
Read aloud Jeremiah 23:7-8.
Why would people have said the statement in v. 7? Why would they replace it with the statement in v. 8?

Live
Who do you shepherd? What does this passage say to your practice as shepherd?
Some use bad church leadership as an excuse for their lack of participation in the church. How could you use this passage to encourage them?
Jesus is our Shepherd. How does this picture of Jesus give you hope in hard times?
How can Jesus’ model of leadership help you be a better leader?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that you will be a faithful follower of Jesus as you shepherd others.

 

What’s Gonna Work?

One of Teen’s favorite preschool TV shows was the Nick Jr show, Wonder Pets. A turtle, a guinea pig, and a duckling, all preschool classroom pets, spent their after hours working together to save animals in trouble. They sang: “What’s gonna work? Teamwork! What’s gonna work? Teamwork!”wonder_pets

That became a silly motivational mantra in our house, especially around activity clean-up time. We would sing, and work together, and get the job done. Though I don’t sing it to my kids anymore (they’re grateful) the jingle runs through my head a little too often.

It’s true, though, right? Teamwork works. Or at least it should. When we work together well, the job gets done better and faster than if we muscle through alone.

My kids play rugby, and one of the things I like about the game is that there is a place on the team for every body. Literally, bodies of all shapes and sizes, so long as they have the desire to play. In middle school, Teen was tall and hefty, a Jolly Green Giant on the pitch; at the other extreme, one of his buddies was Mighty Mouse, small and fast. Teen played the line while Buddy would snatch the ball and run like crazy. The difference in their body types worked to their advantage: they both had a position to play, and play well, benefiting the whole team.rugby

I’ve never played on a sports team, but I’ve been on plenty of teams: volunteer teams, mission teams, school and work project teams. The most successful teams recognize each individual’s strengths and weaknesses, positioning each person to the best use of their gifts while someone else shores up their weaknesses. And then those successful teams get out of each other’s way to let each person–and the team as a whole–do their part and shine.

Church ought to be the ultimate team. We’ve all been created and gifted by God. He assembles us in local congregations so that together we can do the work He has planned for us.

Many times it works beautifully–musicians make music, preachers preach, ushers ush, deacons deak, teachers teach, servants serve, etc. All too often, though, instead of dancing together we step on each other’s toes. We think too highly of ourselves and forcefully inform others how to play their positions. Rather than singing along, we insist the musicians are singing the wrong song, or too loudly, or too poorly. Rather than listening well and applying truth, everyone has an opinion on the sermon. Every week.

And then there are those who think they don’t have a gift, or they’re too busy to use it, or they just don’t know what to do so they do nothing. And still others who make themselves (and everyone else) miserable as they force themselves into position A when their gift is truly B or C. The cliche is also true: 20% of the people do 80% of the work while 80% of the people do…what?

The Church may be a broken organization filled with broken people but it is still God’s Church created by God to do God’s work. It’s the best thing we’ve got and it needs us. We need each other. What’s gonna work? Teamwork!

Come & See – Romans 12:1-8

Connect
What’s your favorite team and what do you like about them?

Study
Read Romans 12:1-8.
What does it look like to offer your body as a living sacrifice (v1)?
How can your mind be renewed (v2)?
Explain the connection between body and mind in vv. 1-2. Why are both essential to a life of faith?
Why do you think Paul admonishes believers not to think too highly of ourselves (v3)?
Compare Romans 12:1-8 to 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. One emphasizes, “We are one, but different,” while the other emphasizes, “We are different, but one.” Why are both messages important?

Live
Do you know your spiritual gifts? If so, how are you using them?
In what ways is Church like a team? What position do you play?
What good (or bad) examples of teamwork have you participated in or witnessed in the Church?
In our individualistic society, it may be unpopular to say that we “belong” to each other (v5), especially within an organization as complex as church. How would you explain that to someone?
What does this passage communicate about what it means to be Jesus’ disciple?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that God will show you how to use your gifts for His Kingdom.
If you don’t know your spiritual gifts, take this test to help you find your position on the team.

To Unite Creativity to Communion with God

Today’s guest post comes from a precious friend of many years with whom I have spent far too little time face-to-face. In fact, had I not opened an email from a stranger, we might not be friends at all. Some years after Guy and I graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary, Danielle and Matt followed in our footsteps. As married seminary-educated ministry teams are all too rare, friends and mentors told them we needed to meet and passed on our contact info. We exchanged emails until we all moved from SoCal to NorCal and finally met in person. We are so grateful others thought to introduce us! Three Humphreys babies and a couple of churches later, they are in Oregon while we remain in NorCal and we remain grateful for social media that keeps us connected and praying for this sweet family.

Create Challenge #32: Danielle Humphreys

When I was a kid, I loved to doodle, cut-and-paste paper creations, and would go to school sick so I wouldn’t miss that week’s art project. In third or fourth grade, my teacher looked at a paper mask I made and told me I outdid myself. I glowed in the affirmation of what I loved doing. From FIMO creations to beaded necklaces to decorating homecoming floats in tissue paper, being creative just seems to be in my DNA.

In college and beyond, I grew as a visual artist, squeezing in a few art studio classes with whatever free electives I had as a science major. Sculpture and interactive art that invited engagement, like the swings I hung in the university plaza and the “GO” signs I made and installed along bike paths, or even the paintings dealing with my own biracial identity played on themes of whimsy and the potential for deep commentary and conversation. I would have switched my major to art studio, but let’s just say my parents were already disappointed that I got off the pre-med track.

In college and beyond, I grew in my relationship with Jesus and found that the intersection of faith and art just made sense to me. I was invited to use creativity in worship services and retreats through response stations and by designing the environment. My own participation in creative response stations and taking in the visual environment are ways that help me have a heart connection with God while reflecting on how to live out my faith in everyday life. In an increasingly visual world where so much is communicated and felt through design, image and color, I am almost equally if not more impacted by the visual “message” of a worship service (yes, even the fonts matter!) as I am by the sermon itself. I imagine I am not alone in this reality.

Sometimes, my creativity feels like it has shifted to satisfy more utilitarian needs like cooking, making Halloween costumes for my kids, throwing themed birthday parties, and designing print communications for our church. And while I can lose track of time pouring myself into these things (I once spent an hour carving a watermelon to look like the Death Star), it doesn’t satisfy the desire to go deep; to unite creativity to communion with God, truth, wonder, and wrestling. Where the process itself is like entering another dimension where time slows down, I can hear the whisper of God and sometimes see life more clearly. The most recent experience I had where the process of creating art drew me closer to God was a couple of weeks ago when I helped paint and redesign the high school room at church.dhumphries-1dhumphries-2

 

As a long-time youth pastor/leader, I strongly value involving students in the creative process and invite their ideas and input. Would it be easier to just design and execute the ideas I have in my head by myself? Absolutely. But I have found that the benefit of working on a collaborative art piece far outweighs the messiness of involving others and the balance and simmering down of many ideas. Students especially need the affirmation that their creativity and faith are valuable and beautiful. And so I may gently guide and nudge ideas I’ve been collecting for months on my Pinterest board, but I try to be an adult that says, “YES! That’s a great idea, let’s do it!” because I want to help students not only have a hospitable place that inspires their faith, but I want their creativity to feel at home in the church and see how this might be a way God wired them to connect with their Creator. Working with students on art projects is not only a way to create a mosaic or stage design or mural, but an opportunity for discipleship, encouraging reflection on one’s spiritual journey.dhumphries-3

I love our mural of the Sisters Mountains with its taped off edges and facets, the night sky and sunset. The concept for this wall went through much evolution from my initial offering of building trees out of reclaimed fence boards or using something more temporary like canvas banners. But it’s awesome. And it’s not perfect. Parts could be touched up, and the door still needs to be painted, but many hands and minds came together to create this majestic offering. And while I thoroughly enjoyed working on this mural with others, I didn’t mind when the school year started and our students weren’t able to help as much. I happily added the finishing touches from writing the verse to individually gluing tiny Swarovski crystals into constellations on the night sky, smiling at the idea of someone with eyes to see noticing the unexpected twinkling reflection of light. In my alone times, I cranked up my favorite worship songs and blended colors into a sunset while God blended love through music and paint into me. I thought about the real Sisters Mountains I’d seen earlier this summer; the expanse of the night sky with its starry host declaring the grandeur of God, the same God who created all of it, and who created me, too. I hope that those who use this space, created with a heart of worship, will encounter God’s loving Spirit and hospitality.

dhumphries

 

Danielle is a native Bay Area gal, adjusting to life in Oregon, married to Matt and mom to 3 pint-sized humans. She has a B.A. in Aquatic Biology, an M.A. in Theology (Fuller), and enjoys conversations about church, community, Jesus, and gardening. She is also a lover of good food, music, creativity, and outer space. Her neglected blog is daniellehumphreys.wordpress.com.

Messy Family

problems-of-a-dreamer

How would you describe your family? My description might go like this: Dramatic. Quirky and Creative. Outdoorsy and Eco-friendly. Open books. Welcoming. (I have to laugh as Teen adds: “Zookeepers!” With twelve pets and four people living in approximately 1600 square feet, our home often feels like a small zoo).

Same question, different audience: How do you describe your family in the secret regions of your heart and head? What might you say if you could shake the shame, if you were free to share the sins holding hostage the generations of your family? Everything you said before would still be true, but typically there is so much more to the story than we speak out loud.

Fortunately we can turn to stories to see families just as bad—and often so much worse—than our own. The Bible depicts Joseph’s family as a flat-out mess. His grandfather Isaac (Genesis 26) and great-grandfather Abraham (Genesis 12) were prone to lying. His father Jacob (encouraged by his grandmother Rebekah) was a dirty cheater (Genesis 27).

Each had redeeming qualities, of course. They were faithful and unfaithful, saints and sinners. Their sins were their own and they got played by others, at least wrapped up in the complicated family-dynamic mess.

Joseph’s father Jacob fell head-over-heels in love with Rachel, so much so that he worked hard labor for seven years to earn her hand in marriage. He got cheated, however, and found himself married to Rachel’s older (and less attractive) sister, Leah. He married the girl of his dreams within days, but had to work yet another seven years before he could leave with his brides.

Next came baby problems: Leah had four babies before Rachel had one, so Rachel gave Jacob her handmaiden (repeating the family drama of Sarai giving maidservant Hagar to Abraham, resulting in Ishmael’s birth—Genesis 16), who had some babies. Leah couldn’t be outdone, so she gave Jacob her handmaiden as well: more babies. Finally Rachel has one baby (Joseph) and then another (Benjamin), and she died in childbirth with Benjamin. [I have one husband and two sons (see “dramatic” in my family description) and cannot begin to imagine three “extra wives” + all their strong-willed sons… Egads! Oh, and yes, there were at least two daughters: Dinah gets a name (and a terrible story—Genesis 34); and Genesis 37:35 mentions “all (Jacob’s) sons and daughters.” These poor women living in an unabashedly patriarchal society…].

Jacob’s beloved Rachel has died, and Joseph is Rachel’s firstborn son. So Jacob plays favorites, symbolized by the coat of many colors he gave his newly beloved, setting Joe apart as favorite and as white-versus-blue collar labor. Joe plays right into the family drama by snitching on his brothers’ bad behavior and naively sharing his (prophetic) dreams about his family bowing down to him.

Joe’s brothers retaliate by conniving against and betraying their brother; profiting on his “death” (would you sell your brother into slavery?) while lying to one another—Reuben would have rescued Joe from the cistern had he had the chance, and then what?—before they feign to comfort their father, grieving his son’s bloody death by animal. Aren’t those brothers animals? And can’t you sympathize with their feelings a smidge, if not with their actions?

Hard stop: Genesis 37 doesn’t explicitly mention “GOD.” Joseph’s dreams point to God—dreams in the Bible always signal prophetic interruption—and yet, no mention of God Himself. And doesn’t that also feel true? Sometimes our families are so down-right messy and we feel like God has absented Himself.

I believe it was St. John of the Cross who coined the phrase “dark night of the soul,” when it feels like God stops answering, has turned His phone to silent, maybe not just busy but uncaring. Individuals feel it—faithful and faithless—and so can families. I can point to several periods during which my family experienced God’s silence. Where did He go? Doesn’t He care?

Joseph’s crazy mixed-up family gives me hope. It may seem God was absent, the circumstances definitely seemed overwhelming, and yet God was at work. God orchestrated bad events to bring about good outcomes, in Joe’s case, salvation for not only Egypt but Israel as well. Those who betrayed became those who were saved.

Today our church family observed communion. After I have prayerfully received the elements, one of my favorite times of each month happens when I prayerfully watch as my church family receives the elements. Today I reflected on family. After ten years in this church, I know so many family stories: parents who’ve lost children, children who’ve lost parents, spouses separated by divorce or death.

So many heartaches of so many varieties. And yet these people have been–not perfectly, but still–faithful. As a church family, we have an extra level of support for our nuclear and extended families. We offer one another God’s grace and love and strength in the good times and the hard. God’s family is a gift to our families, one of the ways God cares for our families. He cares for the individuals in families. He works, despite our mess, to produce salvation and receive glory. God is good—all the time!

Connect
Share briefly about your siblings and where you fall in the family order.

Study
Read Genesis 37.
Describe Joseph’s family and its dynamics (where Joe fell in his family, his relationship with father/brothers, etc).
What do you learn about Joseph from these stories?
Where do you see God in Joseph’s early stories?
How do you think Joseph felt when his brothers turned on him? Do you imagine his dreams gave him hope as his life took a dramatic turn?

Live
Have you endured a messy family situation during which it felt like God was absent? How did you handle it?
What helps you to hope in God when life is hard?
Why do you think God allows families to be so complicated?
Share something you think you have done well in your family, whether family of origin or current family.
What role does God play in your current family?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray for your family and for families you know, that we will hope in God at all times.