Bringing Good From Bad

(Read Genesis 37-42)

When Joseph was relating his dream to his brothers little did he know that his life was about to take a dramatic turn. His brothers were burning with jealousy and anger and were plotting a way to destroy him.

Soon after Joseph’s brothers put him in the bottom of a dry well, intending on leaving him there until he died. This was just the beginning of Joseph’s difficulties. In the years that followed Joseph’s troubles continued. He was betrayed by his brothers, sold as a slave, falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and wrongly put in jail. To top it all off, while in prison, he correctly interpreted a dream for the baker, but the baker initially forgot about Joseph when his job was restored with the king.

Joseph couldn’t get a break. He went from receiving a prophetic dream from God to becoming a prisoner in a foreign country. Yet in the midst of all this trouble, Joseph remained faithful. He learned that God could bring good out of all his trials. Through years of rejection and betrayal God brought good out of all the disappointments that Joseph faced.

When Joseph was at his lowest, God began to fulfill his vision for Joseph. Like many other situations throughout Scripture, Joseph experienced the death of a vision. That seems to be the pattern through out Scripture. Before a vision is fulfilled, there must be the death of a vision. Through all his trouble Joseph remained faithful. He knew God would somehow fulfill his dream.

After Joseph was elevated to Governor over all of Egypt he continued to trust God’s faithfulness. When he revealed himself to his brothers Joseph’s love for God was shown by his treatment of his brothers. Instead of anger and bitterness, he displayed forgiveness, love and mercy.

Bottom Line
How could Joseph show such love and mercy to those who wanted to kill him? It’s because Joseph learned four important lessons.

1. In the beginning of his journey he made the decision to trust God rather than dwell on the past. The lesson for us is leave your hurt at Jesus feet and look for God to show you what’s next.

2. He had learned that in all his circumstances, God was in control, regardless of what happened to him. He had a deep hope that was rooted in his assurance that God loved him and knew what was best. The lesson for us is to trust God in the midst of our problem rather than worry.

3. He learned that forgiveness is a greater tool than revenge. He could have used his power to severely punish his brothers, but instead he chose to use his power to forgive and serve them. The lesson for us is to have a greater desire to love and serve than to get even and make them pay.

4. Joseph learned that during the death of a vision God is at work preparing us for the fulfillment of the vision. The lesson for us is if God has given you a dream or vision, savor the moments while you are waiting, because this is time when God is doing his greatest work in building your character.

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. “ (Romans 8:28 NLT)

Working Past A Cain Mentality

If you’ve ever entertained the thought that Satan’s old tactics are ineffective in today’s contemporary society, then consider the affect of the “Cain mentality.” Cain, who was a son of Adam and Eve, was a farmer that took a great deal of pride in his ability to produce beautiful garden vegetables.

When God demanded a blood sacrifice to atone for personal sins, Cain brought an offering of his best garden vegetables instead of the required animal sacrifice. I am sure that Cain’s vegetables would have been a prize winner at any Home and Garden show. He probably had hundreds of hours invested in grooming and harvesting his vegetables. Adam probably mentored him, teaching him how he had kept the garden of Eden.

But there was one problem with Cain’s offering. God required a blood sacrifice, a lamb without blemish. God’s requirement was not personal sacrifice and self effort, but it was one of obedience and faith. The blood sacrifice was a foretaste of the Lord Jesus’ substitutional death. This was a picture of the Lamb of God without blemish who would die in our place for us, and as us.

When Cain brought vegetables as his sacrifice he was refusing to acknowledge that salvation is of the Lord. He was showing that his self-righteousness, demonstrated by his presentation of his vegetables, were good enough to earn him salvation. When God rejected Cain’s offering it revealed his rebellious heart.

As a true follower of Jesus we trust in the finished work of Jesus on the cross for our salvation. We call it salvation by grace through faith. But many believers forget that their everyday life is also to be one of faith and trust. They develop a Cain mentality by attempting to please God in their own strength. There are least two ways that we display a Cain mentality.

1. We develop a Cain mentality by refusing to cast our worry, our troubles and our fears on Christ. Like Cain, we develop a sense of self-righteousness that causes us to think that we can do this on our own. But the Scripture teaches that we are to “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

2. We develop a Cain mentality when trusting God becomes an after-thought rather than our first thought.The Scripture teaches us, “Trust God with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your path straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Bottom Line

Living the Christian life and working past a Cain Mentality is not based on human logic or reasoning, but it’s about giving every element of our life to Him. God wants our walk with Him to be intimate. He wants our relationship to be one of transparency and trust. Faith is not just about believing, but it’s also about giving…giving our life, our burdens, our present and future to Him. Why is it all about faith and giving? Because when we trust Him with all of our life, He has promised that “God will do it all for you.”

Over twenty years ago, I heard Dr. Bill Gilliam give an acrostic that really nailed the point that “God will do it all for you”. Notice the emphasized word in each line. It goes something like this;

I will do it all for you.
I will
do it all for you.
I will do it all for you.
I will do it
all for you.
I will do it all for you.
I will do it all for
you.
I will do it all for you.

Will you be willing to let go of your life and let Him do it all for you? Besides, that
is the normal Christian life.

“Lord, if I don’t have the strength to give you everything, them draw me by the sweetness of Your love.” (Fenelon)

When You Are Backed into a Corner

When my children were little I told them about a trap I built when I was a kid to catch rabbits. So to illustrate how it worked, I built a trap to show the kids how to catch a rabbit. First thing the next morning we checked the trap hoping to find a rabbit. But to our surprise, we didn’t snag a rabbit but a possum. The closer we got to the trap the more the cornered possum would hiss and show his sharp teeth. He was cornered and ready to attack.

How do your respond when you are backed into a corner?

I have often said, “When a person is backed into the corner they will either come out swinging or they will display the grace of God.” I think too often we display behavior and attitudes that are more like a carnal believer than like the Savior we follow. There is a thin line between properly defending yourself and displaying a quiet and calm spirit.

Speaking of responding with Grace, the late Roy Hession said it better than anyone I know. He said;
“Every person who crosses us, every person who discourages us, is God’s way of breaking us. It creates a deeper channel in us for the life of Christ. The only life that pleases God is His life, never our life. Our self-centered life is the exact opposite of His. We can never be filled with His life unless we are prepared for God to bring our life constantly to death.” (Calvary’s Road)

How we respond when pressed reveals our level of brokenness and maturity. All of us have occasional weak moments, but regularly challenging those who disrespect us is an indication that we may be walking in the flesh.

Living in a contemporary world that is constantly more hostile and intolerant of believers, our flesh is constantly challenged. The moment we say to the Lord, “I want to live for you, obey you and become all that you want me to be,” the Lord begins the work of breaking us. He allows circumstances to come our way that will reveal who and what we are trusting in, other than Him.

Peter is an example of the typical “on fire and committed’ believer. He very boldly declared that he was willing to go to the mat defending His Lord. But the Lord knew what was inside of him and knew that only failure and challenge would reveal Peter’s self-centeredness. He knew if Peter was going to be a successful apostle his dependence upon the flesh would have to be exposed.

The Death Process
It is called a death process. When Jesus declared that we must take up our cross and follow Him, He wasn’t speaking of us dying on the cross. He was referring to a spiritual death process that only the cross could produce. “For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus sake, that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal body.” (2 Cor. 4:11)

It is only through various trials, failures, and sometimes suffering, that we experience the death process. These events and incidences are designed to show us our self-sufficiency and expose our hypocrisy. It’s a stripping from us all that we are holding onto for security and worth. Then we are given the privilege to surrender and abandon our own life and exchange it for Christ’s life and sufficiency.

Bottom Line
During every test and trial responding with Grace is our goal. When we respond with Grace we are acknowledging whatever is going on, it’s OK. God in control, and we choose with an act of our will to trust Him. But when we acknowledge that “every person who crosses us, every person who discourages us, is God’s way of breaking us”, then we will realize that God is at work in our life to “create a deeper channel in us for the life of Christ.”

Surprised by Brokenness

“He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matthew 10:39)

Years ago I went through some of the darkest days of my life. What I thought was going to be the greatest and happiest time turned into days and weeks of deep hurt and disappointment.

During the middle of this situation I was an emotional wreck. Matter of fact, my wife was concerned that I might be having a nervous breakdown. Like Jacob in the scripture, I was wrestling with God. I couldn’t understand why this was happening to me. I had done nothing wrong to merit such treatment.

As I continued my argument with God, as to why He was letting this happen, the Holy Spirit reminded me of a sincere prayer that I had prayed months earlier. Leading up to this moment, I had been reading a book where the author asked the question “What means more to you than Christ?”. The Holy Spirit captured my attention with this question. It so occupied my thoughts that a few weeks later I preached a sermon around that question. After the sermon I gave an invitation for the congregation to exam their lives. Nearly the whole church responded to the invitation with tears and sincerity.

In the closing prayer I prayed a prayer similar to this; “Dear Lord, show me the things in my life that mean more to me than Christ, and then help me to have the strength and courage to surrender those things so that you may become my life in that area.”

As the Lord brought that prayer to my mind, I continued my argument with God, “Lord what means more to me than Jesus? I had surrendered my life to preach and teach the gospel. I was a faithful witness for Christ and I was doing the best I could serving as a pastor. What could possibly mean more to me than you?”

Then the Holy Spirit pressed my heart with this question? “Why are you such a basket case about your situation?” I responded, “Because I could lose my ministry.” Then, like a ton of bricks, it hit me. my ministry was my life, and I was about to lose the thing that was life to me.

Surprised by Brokenness

Beginning that day I had a new appreciation for crisis and trouble. I now knew what it meant to come to the end of myself and be broken. I discovered a new fullness of Christ’s life. Jesus desired to be more than my Savior, He wanted to be my very life. In my zeal for ministry I had let the work of the ministry replace Jesus as my life.

In hindsight, even if someone whom I highly respected had pointed out that ministry was my life, I would have denied it. It took being surprised by brokenness to bring me to the end of myself so that the Holy Spirit could reveal how I had slowly, but intentionally, allowed ministry to replace the Lordship of Christ, and the fullness of the Spirit.

Brokenness is your best friend
What I had considered my biggest hurt, had become my greatest blessing. God loved me so much that He allowed me to be deeply hurt. He knew what it would take to bring me to the end of myself. I was in a situation that I couldn’t fix or make better. God opened my eyes to the real need, and that was total surrender and abandonment.

Are you in a struggle with something you can’t change, fix or pray your way out of? Then take note, it could be the Lord attempting to get control of something you are not willing to surrender. The more you worry, the deeper your despair and the greater your self-induced unhappiness.

Can a person make Jesus their life without experiencing brokenness? Yes, it’s possible, but not very probable. Most of the time God uses our circumstances to bring us to the end of ourselves, so that we have no place to go but Him. Have you heard anyone say, “Well things have gotten so bad, all I have left to do is pray.” That’s pretty sad isn’t it? Prayer should be the first thing we do. If you are like me, I haven’t said those words but the way I lived reflected that attitude.

The flesh is a very strong component of our life. It fights every attempt of surrender and utter abandonment. So God in His mercy, and His long-suffering, allows us to get to the point where we can’t change or fix our situation. The only place for us to turn is to Him. We must lay down our rights and our expectations and give God permission to take control. Then acknowledge that whatever He allows to come our way as OK. That’s the work of brokenness, and it’s your best friend.

I often tell people that brokenness is both an event and a process. It becomes an event the first time your realize that brokenness has come to your life in order for Christ to take control. Secondly, brokenness becomes a process when your realize that you will have “little brokennesses” all along the way in your walk with God. These events will be reminders that there is an area of your life where God is not in control. This becomes your cue to identify and surrender, in order that Christ might become life in that area of your life.

Bottom Line
At the turn of the last century, missionary statesman Watchman Nee wrote a book entitled
The Normal Christian Life. In the book he teaches the principle that brokenness and surrender is the normal Christian life. In other words, brokenness and surrender are to be a normal part of our walk with God.

God’s intention for us is to live in complete surrender of every aspect of our life. Do you have the courage to ask the Lord if there is something in your life that you haven’t been willing to give up control to Him?

Remember this principle: God seldom takes anything away from us that He does not replace with something better. That’s because when you are in God’s will you are in God’s hand.

God Is At Work


“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28)

What a marvelous passage of Scripture. Believers the world over read and quote this verse in every season of life. Knowing and relying on the principle of this verse creates a spiritual sigh of relief. What believer hasn’t quoted or at least thought of this verse in difficult times? The overriding draw of this passage has to do with our confidence that God is at work in our life, all the time.

The text is not teaching that all the suffering, sickness, persecution, sorrow, injustice or any other bad thing in itself is good. On the contrary, these things are evil. Life is full of evil things that happen to good people. But the text teaches that God uses these things to produce His own good. He is able to bring good out of evil.

In the phrase …all things work together, the Greek word used is sunergeo. This is the word from which we get the word synergy. Dr. David Jeremiah in his book “What are you afraid of?” defines synergism “as the working together of various elements to produce an effect greater than, and often completely different from, the sum of each element acting separately”.

Only God is able to take something bad and turn it into something good. What we think to be a disaster or a major setback, God can take and synergize it to create a better and greater outcome. Nothing can defeat God or derail His plans that He has for us.

Bottom Line
The real issue here is one of trust. God has given us a promise that if we will opt to trust Him and love Him, He will take all our situations and turn them into something that allows us to accomplish His will. Nothing can touch us unless it passes through the will of God. Because God has a plan and an eternal purpose for our life, He will not allow anything in our life that He cannot use to accomplish His destiny for us. That’s because the One who controls nature holds us in His hand.

Now the connecting passage…

” For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that we might be the first-born among many brothers; and who He predestined, these He also called, and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What shall we say to these things? If God be for us who can be against us? (Romans 8: 29-31)

The Believer and Conflict

After his resurrection Jesus appeared to his disciples several times. One of the encounters occurred on a beach, after they had been fishing all night. They were close to shore and noticed Jesus on the beach; he was cooking breakfast for them.

After they had finished eating Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Most of us are familiar with this discourse between Jesus and Peter. Peter responded all three times that he truly loved Jesus. Jesus told Peter to “tend my lambs, take care of my sheep, and feed my sheep.” (John 21)

There is plenty to learn from the three questions Jesus ask, but I think the deeper and more profound words of Jesus is what He said to Peter next.

“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. (John 21:18-19 NLT)

Jesus’ point to Peter is that his life from this point forward was going to be difficult. Jesus is telling Peter that there will come a time that he will be taken where he doesn’t want to go, and he will be treated like he doesn’t want to be treated, and then he will die.

The deeper message behind this foretelling of Peter’s future is not just Jesus telling Peter how he is going to die. The deeper message is Jesus telling Peter how is going to live. In a way, Jesus was telling him that life is not all about “Peter”. His life now is about a bigger story. Peter’s life is now about his mission, his mission of bringing the gospel to the nations. With that task comes a life of “being led about where you don’t want to go.”

Life is not about being the main player, but it’s about being a part of the big picture. In other words, life is not about creating a plan and knowing what is going to happen every season of your life. Life is about conflict, difficult days, disappointment and failure. But God has a purpose in all of that. He wants to lead us to the point of “If you want to keep your life you must be willing to lose it.”

God wants us to get to the point of surrendering every aspect of our life to Him, so we can give our life away. That’s where radical Christianity comes in. When we let go of our life, we will find it.

That’s how a highly trained Physician can leave a financially lucrative career and become a missionary doctor in the bush of a 3rd world country. It’s how a professional school teacher can quit her secure job with a good salary and benefits and go teach at risk, inner city children in the ghetto of a major city.

The issue is not “are you willing to be a missionary.” The issue is are you willing to lay down your life, your dreams and your plans at Jesus’ feet and give him a blank pad, and have him write your story as He sees fit.

The Bottom Line
All good stories and movies have an unpredictable and unseen surprise ending. It’s that conflict and tension that etches the story in your mind. Our life is one big story being written by the God. That means we are going to be led into situations that are uncomfortable, unpredictable, and like Peter, we may be led to places that we don’t want to go.

As a committed follower of Christ we must remember that life is about faith and trust. It’s trusting God in every situation, and even sometimes, being led down a path where we don’t want to go. Be encouraged because God passionately loves you and He always has a purpose for everything He allows in your life.

The Blessing of Struggle

How often have you heard the phrase “trouble is your best friend”? No matter how often I hear that phrase; there is something within me that rebels to the very core of my being. Who in his right mind would welcome difficulty?

Whether we like it or not, there is perceived value in struggle. If you are a salesman you must hear an overwhelming number of “no’s” before you get to the “yes’s”. A baseball player endures more failure than successes at the plate. As a matter of fact, an all-star baseball player fails getting on base 70% of the time. I have read where Thomas Edison failed over one thousand times before he successfully invented the light bulb.

Life is about successfully dealing with failure. It’s about getting up off the ground, dusting yourself off and getting back to the task. It sometimes means you do those things you don’t naturally enjoy doing. I read a quote by Success Magazine’s editor Daren Hardy. He said, “If there is a job related task you really don’t want to do, it’s probably the very thing that you should be doing. “

Properly applying lessons learned from failure is a key element to our success. That is true in our day to day challenges, but it is especially true if we want consistent growth in our Christian life.

I have a hunch that most believers think the primary struggle in the Christian life is learning to overcome the devil. But the real battle is surrendering our life to Christ’s control. The ultimate goal is to allow Jesus to live His life through us.

Listed below are four areas of personal struggle that leads us to personal growth. Successfully navigating these four areas of conflict allows us to let go of our “self-effort” mentality and live a more Christ-centered life.

Opposition – Grace can only be experienced when we encounter opposition. How do you respond when someone says something critical or unkind? Or as we like to say in the South, how do you respond when someone “smarts off to you?” Are you reactive, and let them have it, or do you draw on God’s grace in those moments of conflict? Roy Hession writes:

“Every person who crosses us, every person who discourages us is God’s way of breaking us. It creates a deeper channel in us for the life of Christ. The only life that pleases God is His life, never our life. Our self-centered life is the exact opposite of His. We can never be filled with His life unless we are prepared for God to bring our life constantly to death.”

Conflict is God’s way of revealing our flesh. When backed in a corner, what’s inside will come to the surface.

Forgiveness – In order for us to practice forgiveness there must first be hurt or betrayal. Even though God does not create conflict, He allows it in our life to learn the grace of forgiveness. Without practicing the continual act of forgiveness we can never experience the depths of Jesus Christ. Biblical forgiveness says, “I forgive you and release you from the debt of ever making it right with me. “

Hurt – We can never know healing until we have been hurt. The deeper the personal hurt, the deeper the healing. God’s touch goes deeper than the forgiveness of the offender; it creates a healing in us that can only happen when hurt is present. When God allows us to experience deep hurt, He is preparing to do a work deep within us that will result in a new level of intimacy with Him.

Weakness – The opposite of strength is weakness. Weakness must be present in order for us to realize that in and of ourselves we have no strength. As the Scripture says, “The joy of the Lord is our strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) When we live out of our weakness we have an unseen strength that allows us to do “all things through Christ that strengthens us. “ (Philippians 4:13)

Weakness does not mean that we are weak and impotent people, it means we are willing to lay down our self-strength for Christ’s strength. I like to describe this kind of strength as “an iron fist wrapped in a velvet glove.”

The Bottom line
Yes indeed, trouble is your best friend. Trouble properly received allows us to practice God’s grace and eventually come to the place that nothing or no one can offend us. Trouble allows us to forgive our offenders and keep the debt account at zero. Trouble gives God the opportunity to go deep in the healing process when we are hurt or betrayed. And then the Lord caps off the process by giving us the opportunity to trade in our weakness for His strength.

God in His mercy allows us to go through trouble, and when we do, we are never alone. He is always walking through the process with us. He lovingly endures the suffering with us in order that we might have a greater capacity for His life. During this process we realize that Christ in us makes us complete. He is truly all we need.