Posted by: mikenicholsblog | January 22, 2016

a heart like Joe

Every family has an issue or two. I can remember during my late teenage years how my uncle would drink himself into fits of rage and take his misplaced anger out on his sister.  He was a great uncle until the alcohol took over. His life spiraled out of control, and eventually he deeded away family property to his girlfriend. You can imagine how our family felt. I’m sure that somewhere in your family tree there’s an uncle story, brother story, or maybe even a parent story. We have all heard stories of abuse in a family and wondered how a place designed for love could become a place of horror. Often, families rally and pick up the pieces, but often there is a lingering stain of anger, bitterness and rejection. Then some spiritual person who doesn’t understand our family pain comes along and tells us that we can forgive. And our first thought is, “Yeah, right.” But yes, that is right, and I’ve been reading about a man I’ll call “Joe,” who modeled incredible forgiveness.

Can you imagine your own brothers plotting your demise?  It actually happened to my friend Joe. His brothers plotted to kill him, then threw him into a cistern, and finally sold him into slavery. From there his life was anything but normal. He was taken to Egypt where he found great success, but eventually was falsely accused and thrown into prison. How could his brothers be so cruel? Years after being sold into slavery he rose to great power in the land of Egypt. And who eventually shows up in desperate need but his caring brothers?! I would like to think that I would have responded like my friend Joe, but I wonder what my response would have been when I came face-to-face with them. How about you? Obviously, the man I call my friend “Joe” was Joseph — who rose to power in Egypt, and represents the forgiveness available in all of our families.

Forgiveness is an important issue for all of us, and never one to be taken lightly. Age has taught me that words of forgiveness may be easy to mouth, but a heart of forgiveness is far greater than words. Though difficult, we can release others of the pain they’ve caused — and even more powerful, release ourselves from what will eventually cripple us if we don’t truly forgive.  You may be thinking, “Yeah, right.” Joseph’s family was divided because of ruthless sinfulness. But God’s work in his life created a heart that accepted pain and the separation from his family with the perspective that God had used it. You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20)  There is never an excuse for abuse, destroying a family or hurting those we love. However, we, like Joseph, have the capacity to forgive with hearts dedicated to doing the will of God.  The way in which my friend Joe forgave his despicable brothers reminds me of the words of leadership expert John Maxwell; forgive everybody, every time, for everything.

Some family issues may be so severe they would lead us all to say, “How could that ever be forgiven?” But I keep going back to the heart of Joseph. And then I think of the heart of Jesus … which one of us deserved to have our sins forgiven? It was over twenty years ago now that I heard an abused man say words like this; “When we won’t forgive, it’s as if we climb up the cross and get above Christ, making our standard higher than His.” I know that forgiving family members who have hurt us, and maybe even destroyed the fabric of our family, seems beyond our ability. However, if you know Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit can guide you to the place of forgiveness.

I am glad that at the moment of truth Joseph didn’t say, “Yeah, right.” He did what was right, and was used of God to bring restoration to his family. Over the course of a family’s life, there are many opportunities where healing is needed. You and I can be a catalyst for restoration if we live with hearts of forgiveness. Living in the Spirit, we can.


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