life hurts. God heals.

When I was in the fourth grade I came down with a strange case of osteomyelitis—a bone marrow disease that can kill if not treated quickly. I ended up in the hospital with a 106-degree fever. I missed about 3-weeks of summer vacation, which for a 9-year old is pure-torture. Not to mention, I missed a B-52’s concert. Yeah, I know. But Love Shack was the hit song in 1989! I still remember the pain from surgeries I had on my knee and chest. I have the scars to prove it.

Every 9 seconds in the US a woman is assaulted or beaten. Around the world, at least 1 in 3 women have been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused within her lifetime. Most often, the abuser is a member of her own family. 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. 55-95% of those abused do not speak up or get help. Do you know people that are hurting from an abusive relationship, a violent marriage, or rebellious child? They are in your church, office, and family. Life hurts, but God heals.

I have seen firsthand how pains inflicted by those you love leave deep scars.  Maybe you have experienced a hurtful conversation with a friend, an abusive relationship, or a violent episode. The healing of these deep wounds can take you down a rocky road of bitterness, hatred, sorrow, depression, or brokenness. Such wounds do not go away easily with time. Sometimes signs of a painful past linger for a lifetime.

Hurts can make you better rather than bitter (a summary of Joseph’s past; Genesis 37-41)

Joseph’s the guy who got thrown under the bus by his brothers. They are ticked because he is the favored son and rubs it in wearing his colorful coat and gloats about dreams of his entire family bowing down to him. Their anger leads them devise a plan to sell him as slave in Egypt. Joseph is bought by Potiphar, the captain of the Pharaoh’s guard, and soon is put in charge of his entire household. The only thing he could not control is Potiphar’s wife. She continuous lures him sexually, but he remained pure. She gets tick, so she sets him up with false assault charges and he’s thrown into prison. In the can, God uses him to interpret two of his cellmate’s dreams, which eventually gets him into King Pharaoh’s palace to interpret his dream.

Joseph faced an intense season of suffering [totaling 20-years], which all snowballed from his brother’s sinful plan. God was with him. Even though all the pain and hurt. And Joseph responds with meekness not bitterness.

Give yourself reminders of God’s character (Genesis 41:50-52)

I like to think I have a good memory, but I still forget. I have memory aids like a small UPS truck to remind me to pray for my dad or 2-dollar bill in my wallet that frequently reminds me of my great grandfather Roman. I also keep important dates like my wife’s birthday and our wedding anniversary on my computer. If it ever crashed I would be doomed!

Joseph was blessed with a wife and two sons. It’s the only family he’s got, since his brothers ditch him for some dough. In honor of his God, Joseph gives beautiful and worshipful names to his two new sons. Every time he sees them he is reminded of God’s character despite a horrendous past,

“Before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph. Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore them to him. Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” [41:50-52]

When my daughter was born, Sarah and I named her, Justus. It was inspired from a character from Acts 18:7, but her name is also tribute to God’s justice. Since we are moving our family to serve people who have not seen or heard our God of generous justice, it is our prayer that her name would reminds us of God’s character. Reminders are important, especially when you’re hurting. Do not forget the character of your God. How will you remember Him?

Forgetting the past is difficult when it unexpected comes back  (Genesis 42:1-9a)

In a dramatic plot twist, Joseph is now 2nd in command of Egypt and in charge of the food reserves in a severe famine. Joseph’s brothers come bow and ask for food. Is it déjà-vu? Or is this just like Joseph’s dream years before? Joseph’s brothers do not recognize him because of his new Egyptian hairdo, but Joseph did not forget. When he saw his brothers he knew exactly who they were. Their faces were imprinted in his head as they sold him into slavery.

Cleverly, Joseph spoke to his brothers through an interpreter though he could speak both Egyptian and Hebrew. Not thinking that the Egyptians could understand them the brothers publicly spoke in Hebrew about the past. Joseph was overwhelmed with emotion. He’s in a position where he could lynch them or enslave them. Instead, he desired to see them again. So he devises a plan to keep one brother, Simeon, in custody until they returned with their youngest brother, Benjamin, who was Joseph’s only full-blooded brother born by both Jacob and Rachel.

Upon returning home, the brothers informed their father of the situation, “We got some food. Oh, by the way, your son is held captive in Egypt. He won’t be let go until we bring Ben. Another thing, not sure how it happened, but we still have the food money in our sacks.” This troubled Jacob. He remembered what happened to Joseph, thus he held Benjamin back. Judah stepped forward and took responsibility for his brother Benjamin. Here Judah begins to own his faith and show why he is a key character in the line that paves the way to the Messiah.

Jacob did a hard thing as a dad. He prayed for God’s protection, and sent all his sons to Egypt not knowing their fate. They needed food to live and the risk was worth it. Through it all, God is at work. When the brothers returned to Egypt Joseph invited them into his home, and they came to the conclusion they were going to become slaves. It’s interesting how the brothers jump to the worst-case scenario. Instead, Joseph wanted to feed them dinner.

During table talk, Joseph learns his father is still alive. He immediately steps into another room and weeps with joy. At this point, Joseph’s has not revealed himself to his brothers, has not sought to see his father, and has not indicated whether he intends to punish or forgive his brothers. The tensions are high.[1] And we now wait to see if Joseph will show his brothers his true identity and if he intends to forgive them or seek revenge for what happened in the past.

The past is not everything, nor is the past is nothing. Your past can affect your present and future [Galatians 6:7]. How should I handle the past, especially as a follower of Christ? I have heard many respond to the past by saying, “I know ____ will do it again. I’ve been down this road many times before. As soon as I see _____ [BAM!] the old ugly emotions are back.” Dealing with the past is usually not a one-time event, but a process. Here are some truths about your past that you’re good to remember:

Your past doesn’t change, but you might need to change. The change could be changing the way you look at the past. Some say, “I would be much better off without my past. How could God allow this to happen?” God gets blamed for the bad and ugly, but God uses hardships for good. Think of characters in the Bible who went through hardship at the hands of others [i.e. Job, Jeremiah, Joseph, Jesus]. How did they handle painful situation? How did God’s glory shine through their situation? Joseph is the Romans 8:28 of the Old Testament.

Your past reminds you of present grace and future hope. Hardship often precedes glory. Just look at the cross. Pain and hurts of this world remind you that you are not yet home. God promises you a place where hardships will be no more. Dealing with the past is a process.

Forgiveness is the process of healing to get past your past (Genesis 45:1-11)

After Joseph learns that his father is still alive. He sends his brothers back home to get him. He demands Benjamin to stay and his brothers to go back and get their father, but Judah knows his father would be crushed if Benjamin did not return with them, so he offers himself as a substitute. He willingly sacrifices himself for his brother. It is a scene that moves Joseph to tears.

The time has come. Joseph cannot keep his identity hidden any longer.  In a matter of a moment he is transformed from some powerful Egyptian to their long forgotten Hebrew brother. It is a beautiful moment of reconciliation and restoration. I am sure it is a moment filled with amazement, surprise, sorrow, and many other emotions.

Joseph tenderly helps his brothers understand he is not mad at them (nor should they be mad at each other) for selling him into slavery, “God has sent me hear to preserve life.” [5,7-8]. God planned for the brothers to sell Joseph as a slave in Egypt to ultimately send him ahead of his family to preserve a remnant of his people from the famine.[2]

Healing begins with radical biblical forgiveness. What is radical biblical forgiveness? It’s choosing to treat someone as if the hurt that happened never happened.” It is like taking a chalkboard of offenses and wiping the slate clean, or throwing out the trash bag full of transgressions never to retrieve them again. Forgiveness is a willful decision to release a person from the hurt, injury or abuse.

It’s radical because it’s not customarily practiced. You can willful choose not to forgive. It is your choice, but it’s a choice that will certainly cause more hurt over a long period of time and eventual invade other areas of your life. Unforgiveness is contagious. It is like a virus that moves through your system infecting your entire body. Unforgiveness is torturous. It is also foolish. Have you heard of some of the irrational reasons for not forgiving?

“The hurt is just too big. You should have seen what they did/said to me. I can’t possibly forgive something that big.” That is foolish. You’d think that the bigger the hurt is the more you’d want to get rid of it.

“I cannot forgive until I forget.” Can you forget? Sometimes no. But you will not forget until you forgive. Forgiveness is the process of forgetting. Forgiveness says, “I’m forgiving that, I’m going to release that person. And when I remember, I will forgive it again!” Joe Coffey in his book Red Like Blood says, “Forgiveness is like garbage day in that no matter what I bring to God it is completely taken away. No matter how much or how nasty, forgiveness is absolutely complete. The cans turned upside down. Garbage day makes me feel clean.”[3]

“I’m going to let time heal the hurt.” This is a lie. Time does not heal it only prolongs the hurt. Over time the hurt just gets bigger and worse. If you had a cancerous tumor that is curable but if not removed it the tumor will grow and grow until it consumes you to death. You can bury hurt or ignore it, but when you dig it up it’s still as ugly as it ever was before. The larger you see you past, the smaller you see your future. The smaller you see you past, the larger you see your future. Let go of yesterday – hold loosely today – embrace tomorrow.

Do you see the fruits of forgiveness in Joseph’s story? His anger disappears, he accepts his brothers, he blesses them, and he welcomes them back into his life. He could have responded by saying, “You owe me! I’m going to make you pay by hating you, by slandering you, by returning the hurt, by recruiting other people to my bitterness. I’m holding this over you!” Instead it’s as if he chose the process of healing through the way of forgiveness.

God’s forgiveness demands your forgiveness. When I forgive I am most like God. Joseph’s life is a picture of Christ.  If you want to get a glimpse of God’s forgiveness look at the life of His Son Jesus. Was He despised, rejected, beaten, mocked, slandered, spit upon, abused, hated? How did He treat His enemies? He has a radical response: forgiveness.

How are you like Joe’s bro’s?  Like his 10 brothers, you have severed off your relationship with your Brother-Savior choosing sin instead of Him. If the 10 brothers were in the crowd—and you—we would have yelled, “Crucify Him!” But Jesus, like Joseph, will save you from spiritual famine. In John 8, Jesus forgives a woman who is condemned by everyone. The law required stoning for her sin, but Jesus forgives her and in essence decides to take upon Himself her stoning. Jesus’ desire is to give and forgive. He will save you not just from famine, but also from hell [Matthew 12:41-42]. He offers you a land where you will hunger no more [Revelation 7:14-17].

Second, Judah’s life is a picture of Jesus too. Judah is the first person in the Bible to willingly offer his life for another. Although he never gave his life or freedom, his self-sacrificing love for his brother for the sake of his father is picture of the atonement of Christ.[4] Jesus is the reason a remnant would remain. Through his lineage the Messiah would come as the Good Shepherd and lay down His life for the sheep [John 10:11].

Finally, like Joseph, Jesus is servant king. Sooner or later all will know He is greater. Just like Joseph’s dream and its fulfillment, so it will be with Jesus, at His name every knee will bow [Philippians 2:10]. Better to do it sooner than later.

I have seen how pain of the past has handicapped and numbed people, ravaged relationships, crumbled friendships, wrecked families, split marriages, even divided churches. Life hurts. But God heals. I have also seen how the Great Physician has healed marriages scarred by sexual abuse, and relationships reconciled from verbal and physical abuse. Its radical, biblical, and beautiful. The key to get past the past is forgiveness by the way of the cross. The past does not have to define you. Be free. Chose forgiveness rather than the path of bitterness.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (Hebrews 12:1-4)

[1] The story of Joseph and his brothers and father culminates in a way similar to the account of Joseph’s father Jacob. Jacob was likewise separated from his father Isaac for many years and upon moving toward the moment of reconciliation there was a great tension as it was uncertain whether Esau would forgive his brother Jacob or seek revenge against him.

[2]  Here the theme of a remnant resurges. It’s a theme that is promised to Israel forever [cf. 12:2,10; Jeremiah 23:3-4].

[3] Red Like Blood. Joe Coffey and Bob Bevington. Shepherds Press, Wapwallopen, PA. 2011. 132.

[4] Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from Genesis. William B. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI. 2007. 418-419.

is true love possible?

From a young age, boys and girls grow up with the stories of true love like Cinderella, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, and countless romantic classics that depict men as chivalrous rescuers and woman as radiant beauties. As we grow older we love still stories like The Notebook and Braveheart because women want to be pursued and men want to sweep their beauty off their feet. We are wired to want life long love.

The Bible has a lot to say about love and relationships. Thus far we have discussed four of God’s standards for relationships. First, both partners must be faithful followers committed to Jesus Christ. Second, marriage is a picture of a divine and permanent relationship. Third, sexual intimacy is for the marriage bed only. Fourth, every relationship with the opposite sex must be viewed as sacred. And today we will see that you cannot get a refund your relationships.

You live a world where you can return anything. Even dumping your lover or signing divorce papers are easy as taking back a pair of shoes to Payless. So what’s the use of marriage vows? A vow is not “I hope so” or “I will try my best”; rather it is “I will!”  When I gazed into the eyes of my wife on the altar during our wedding ceremony I repeated to her, “I Justin, take you Sarah, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death takes us apart. And this day pledge to you my faithfulness.” In that moment, I was sobered by the serious this vow. I was committing myself to another human being. When it comes to relationships—particularly marriage—there is no return policy. No divorce or dumping can erase one-flesh.

Is true love possible?

Have you ever heard of the love story of Hosea and Gomer? With a name like Gomer it must be one amazing love story!? Gomer might not sound beautiful, but the story of Hosea and Gomer is one of the most endearing true love stories of the Bible. Hosea the prophet married Gomer the prostitute. Now most romances usually do not begin like this, but God arranged this marriage. However, through their relationship you will see a husband’s unconditional love for his wife.

Hosea knew about Gomer’s promiscuous past and probably knew that being married to a woman with this kind of baggage would not be easy. He was right. After they had three children together [1:2-9], Gomer ran away from her home and went back to work selling herself on the street. In our day, she would be arrested and removed of all custody to be near her children. In her day, she could have been killed or sold into slavery. She was running from more than her husband and children, she was running from God.

God let Gomer run for a little while through the thorns, but He did not let her run for long [2:6-10]. All the while He was right besides her, pursuing her heart, blocking her path, and whispering in her ear, “Where are you running to, my dear child.” God is a pursuer-lover. He does not let go of those He loves, even if they shamelessly spit in His face.

The story of Hosea and Gomer has such similarity to story of the father and his prodigal son [Luke 15:11-32]. The son asked for an early installment on his dad’s inheritance. The dad graciously gave it up to his son only to have him bolt immediately to blow it all in a Vegas night. The night ends with the son wrestling pigs for their slop. The father freely let his son run, but when the son came back begging for mercy the father embraced his son and threw him a welcome home celebration. God gives you freedom to run with boundaries. Your God-given freedom does not give you the right to break God’s guidelines for life for this will make you a slave to your own sinful passions.

Gomer came to the place where she had nothing.  She was stripped of everything. I suppose she reaped what she sowed; she got what she deserved. In her mind, the only solution was to sell herself as a slave. The story does not end on here; Hosea buys Gomer from the slave market [3:1-3]. Can you picture the moment? Can you see Hosea leaving his home, looking in his wallet at the money he would use to purchase back his promiscuous wife and mommy of three children? Can you hear the auctioneer bidding with Hosea responding, “15 pieces of silver”? I can imagine Gomer’s eyes filling with tears as she sees her husband pursuing her to restore her as his wife.

The love story of Hosea and Gomer mirrors Gods love towards Israel. God in a sense wed Himself to an unfaithful people. God made a covenant relationship with Israel. This covenant came with blessings and curses depending on Israel’s fidelity and loyalty. Since, Israel was unfaithful the curses were being activated [cf. blessings and curses of Deuteronomy 28; R.C Sproul, Curse Motif].

What are the relationship lessons learned from Hosea and Gomer?

First, God is angered by unfaithfulness. God is particularly outraged by unfaithfulness towards Him. When you rebel against God there must be a consequence. God is like a jealous husband who desires His wife solely and for her not to share her love with another.

Second, God is a loyal lover. God’s faithful love is unfathomable. Although the people He loves are unfaithful He bends over backwards to buy back His promiscuous bride. He runs with an eager pursuit to express His unconditional love to His people.

Third, idolatry can creep into any relationship. Israel’s unfaithfulness had to do with their love for another god. Moreover their religious practices became an idol that clouded them from seeing their One True Love. Idolatry is sharing your love with something other than God. People can be idols, but God never meant for marriage to be-all.

Fourth, God’s anger and love must lead to our repentance. This is the gospelman is responsible to God, man rebels against God, Jesus redeems man, and man responds to God’s love. Instead of Gomer being on the auction block it is you. Your sin put you on the slave market, but Jesus stepped in to purchase you as His own. He raised His nail pierced hands claiming you as His child. The gavel falls, “Sold!” The price for your soul was the Son of Man shedding His blood on the cross. The love story of Hosea and Gomer is most clearly seen in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

True love is possible. Obedience to Christ is the starting point towards knowing what true love is all about. Without a relationship with Jesus Christ you will not know what true love is or how to share it with another person. The sacrificial and unconditional love of Jesus Christ is our model for true love. I am certainly glad that God did not return me when I failed Him.

quick Q&A concerning difficult relationship situations:

Since Hosea married someone who is immoral is this okay for me to do too? This question must be answered carefully. First, it is true you are both sinners and you both marry with sinful baggage. Still you must careful consider whom you marrying. It is good to ask the question: Am I willing to partner with them know what I know about them?

What if my spouse leaves me? Forgiveness and restoration are always the goal, but you cannot control the responses or actions of other people. Your faithfulness [1 Peter 3:1-6] and sacrificial love [Ephesians 5:25ff] will speak more than your words will ever utter. Marriage will be tough at times. God designed marriage to you holy, not just happy.

What if my spouse my relationship is abusive and unsafe? Get help. Call your pastor, but if you are in immediate danger call the police. Separation from your spouse for a time is appropriate they can submit to self-control. I found this message, Living with an Angry Spouse, by Ed Welch very helpful.

Additional Resources to Prepare for the Marriage Relationship:

Should We Get Married? [William Smith]

Questions to ask before you Get Engaged [Sojourn Counseling]

The Mystery of Marriage [James Hamilton Jr.]