Picking Up the Pieces

Picking Up the Pieces

Genesis 42-45

Dr. Jim Denison

Joseph’s family was in many ways the most dysfunctional in Scripture. Today we will see their pain and hurt up close, and learn how God healed their broken home. Along the way, we’ll find ways God can do the same for us, and for those we love. So, let’s return to ancient Egypt, and find help for north Dallas today.

The seven years of feasting are gone in Egypt, and the years of famine and depression Joseph predicted have gripped the ancient world. His family back home in Canaan has no food, so his father Jacob sends his brothers to Egypt to buy grain. And so one of the greatest dramas in biblical history unfolds. For the sake of time we’ll fast-forward through most of the script, stopping only where we must.

Picture the irony of the situation: these brothers who had condemned Joseph to slavery now stand before him as servile beggars, asking for food. They don’t recognize him, but he knows them immediately. Now he must learn if they are still the lying, hating, corrupted men they were twenty years earlier. So he devises two tests.

First he tests their honesty. He gives them the grain they have purchased, but instructs his servants to return their silver to their bags as well. When they later return for more grain, they return his silver to him, passing his test for integrity.

Now comes the greater test: one for family compassion. He sends them on their way, including his full brother Benjamin, but has his servants put his own very valuable silver chalice in Benjamin’s pack. They leave; he sends his soldiers after them; they discover the chalice, apparently stolen. They return to Joseph. He offers to make Benjamin his slave and free the rest. If this had been Joseph himself, twenty years earlier, they would gladly have accepted his offer.

But things have changed. They won’t allow it. Judah pleads with Joseph to choose him as a slave and free his younger brother. The other brothers plead as well. Finally, they have come to mutual love, sacrifice, and healing.

So now Joseph can reveal himself to them: “I am your brother, Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you…God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance” (45:5). What a reunion, after twenty years of separation, dysfunction, and pain.

Now, what does Joseph’s family teach us about ours? Let’s ask and answer some important questions together.

How to prevent family dysfunction

The first question: how can we prevent the kind of dysfunction and pain Joseph’s family experienced across twenty years? Here’s Joseph’s first answer: put your family ahead of yourself. His brothers put their egos and jealousy ahead of their brother, and this led to twenty years of separation and suffering. Have pride and egotism created separation and suffering in your home and family? Are there siblings, parents, or children you’re estranged from because of hurt, pain, misunderstanding?

Only when Joseph was willing to risk his place in Egypt for the sake of his family was he able to save them. He would tell us to do the same thing.

I will never forget the day Dr. Doug Dickens, pastoral care professor at Southwestern Seminary, preached in seminary chapel on the text, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). He said to us bluntly, if you’re putting your church or your career ahead of your marriage and family, you’re wrong. You’re in sin. Get God’s priorities in order in your life.

Joseph would say the same to us. Swallow your pride, your hurt, your ambitions, your place. Put your family first.

Second, expect your family to be attacked. Satan is a “roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). All across Scripture, he attacks first at the home and the family. He did it with Cain and Abel, and again with David, and still again with Jesus’ own unbelieving brothers. He did it with Joseph. He knows that hurting our family hurts us at the deepest places of pain.

And he hates whatever God loves. Satan knows that God loves the family. He invented marriage. Jesus chose to bless a wedding as his first public act of ministry and miracle. Satan hates what God loves.

Expect the enemy to attack. Joseph would testify that he will.

Third, Joseph would tell us to develop a strategy for family health.Joseph had to see if his brothers had changed, if their character was different. And so he embarked on a brilliant strategy to restore his family to health.

What’s your strategy for family health? When will you pray together, and share God’s word together? What memories are you creating? What proactive steps are you taking to make your family well and strong?

Fourth, Joseph would advise us to deal with problems the moment they arise. God’s word is clear: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26). Deal with problems when you see them, as soon as you can.

Jacob ignored the sibling rivalries in his family, and they all paid an enormous price. Joseph would not make the same mistake. The moment his brothers arrived in Egypt he began doing all he could to make things right. What problems do you need to address?

How to deal with family pain

Now, what do you do if your family is already in pain, in hurt, in dysfunction? Here are some basic, simple, essential principles.

The first step is usually the toughest: admit the problem. Admit that your marriage needs help, or that your children are in trouble, or that your parent has a problem. This was easy for Joseph to see from a clay pit and an Egyptian prison. It’s seldom so easy for us, but we must do it. Admit the problem.

Second, talk to someone you trust. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” We need each other.

Don’t try to do this on your own. Call a friend—that’s what friends are for. Call your Sunday school teacher or fellow believer—this is our ministry from God.

And consider professional help as well. Most family problems, especially if they extend over years, are best treated with the help of those God has called and gifted for this reason. You wouldn’t try to heal a broken bone yourself; don’t try to heal a broken heart without help, either.

Third, initiate forgiveness. Joseph said to his brothers, “do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you” (Genesis 45:5). He took the initiative to forgive and seek healing.

Where are you wrong? What do you need to own up to and confess? With whom do you need to initiate reconciliation? They may not respond, but you have to start the healing process.

Fourth, stay close to God. I love this scriptural invitation: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Stay close to the only one who can change the hearts which need to be mended and helped. When we hurt it’s easy to turn from God, to blame him, to refuse his help. But this is like refusing to see the oncologist because he tells you that you have cancer. Turn to the only one who can solve your problem and heal your home.

Last, don’t give up. Joseph had to trust God across twenty years of separation, slavery, imprisonment, and pain, before he saw his family restored and well. Don’t give up.


Now, what can you do for hurting families you know? Take the initiative to help—don’t wait to be asked. Promise them your prayer support, and stay their friend through their pain. Encourage them to get help.

And don’t quit on them. Some of you have been praying for hurting friends for years. Don’t quit. I’ve heard wonderful stories just in recent days about Sunday school classes which wouldn’t stop calling absent friends, checking on hurting people, finally to see them come to healing and hope. It’s always too soon to quit.

All this said, here’s the best single advice I can give any hurting heart or home: go to Jesus. Scripture is clear: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

He knows what it’s like to have your closest friends abandon you—so did his disciples. He knows what it is to be rejected by your immediate family. John 7:5 says, “even his own brothers did not believe in him,” and none of them joined his movement until after his resurrection. He was even separated from his heavenly Father for a brief moment, as he took our sins upon himself and the holy God had to turn his face (Matthew 27:46). Ultimately he died of a broken heart—broken for you and for me. And he died for broken hearts, including yours and mine.

Ask for what he wants to give. Open your hands and your heart. Receive in faith. Be fed and changed. Know the help and hope of the God who loves you so much he died just for you.

The Market Value of Clay

The Market Value of Clay

Genesis 40-41

Dr. Jim Denison

There are more than 75 million single adults in our country this weekend. Half of the adults in America are single. In our community, 19% is widowed or divorced, and 32% has never married. In other words, 51% of our total population is composed of single adults.

Yet, despite their overwhelming importance to us, the church typically does not address single adults adequately. We have always struggled to know how best to serve singles through our ministries. I think the root of the problem is simply that the church today doesn’t view single adults properly.

To be completely honest, the common view of relationships within the church is that marriage is best. It’s the highest form of relationship. To be married is to be complete. The counter side is that to be single is to be incomplete, unfinished, less than whole. We may not have said that, but we have certainly implied it.

When we meet an adult we want to know, “Are you married?” If you’re not, we married adults all too easily assume there’s some reason.

Family members can be tough on single adults. Parents want to know when you’re going to get married. Siblings pressure subtly. And your church family can pressure you as well. Books and sermons are written from the perspective which says, “If you will commit your life to Christ, God will give you a marriage partner.” But Jesus never said that. He said, If you will commit your life to me I will fill it with meaning and purpose. He never promised marriage, or required it, or experienced it himself.

Today I want us to learn to see singles the way God does. The results will have tremendous relevance for every one of us.

Can a single adult save the world?

God’s ways are not our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). If we had been writing the script for Joseph, molding the clay of his life, we would never have included thirteen years of slavery and prison. But God did.

Remember briefly the story of this single adult’s life.

Joseph is put in the prison where the “king’s prisoners” are held (Genesis 39:20). Soon he meets one of them.

The “cupbearer” was one of the most important people in an ancient kingdom. He would taste everything put before Pharoah to eat, to ensure that it had not been poisoned. We don’t know what he did to be in jail, but here he is.

The “chief baker” was likewise a man of great importance in the ancient world. His job was to oversee all the baking which took place for Pharoah. Ancient documents list 38 varieties of cake and 57 of bread used by the Egyptians. Again, we don’t know why he’s in jail, but he is.

Note that the “captain of the guard” assigns each of them to Joseph (v. 4). This captain is none other than Potiphar, further evidence of the trust Joseph earned in his eyes by his years of moral character and integrity.

Each of them has a dream, but neither can decipher its meaning. Joseph can, however, with the help of God. Here is a clear indication of the superiority of his God over the Egyptians deities: “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams” (Genesis 40:8).

The cupbearer tells his dream; Joseph tells him it means that he will be restored to his position. The baker tells him his dream; Joseph is honest enough to tell him it means that he will be executed. In both cases, Joseph is right.

Now, finally, Joseph will be recognized for the divine call God has on his life, we think. But no. Two more years pass.

Then Pharoah has a dream of his own—seven fat cows, eaten by seven starving cows; seven healthy heads of grain, swallowed by seven thin heads of grain. No one, not the wisest men or the greatest magicians of the land, can tell Pharoah what this means.

Only then does the cupbearer remember Joseph. Pharoah summons him from the prison, and asks his help. Hear Joseph’s humble and honest reply: “I cannot do it, but God will give Pharoah the answer he desires” (Genesis 41:16). Pharoah tells Joseph his dreams, and Joseph gives him the word of God: there will be seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine.

Next Joseph tells Pharoah what he should do about these events: “And now let Pharoah look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt” (Genesis 41:33). Under his leadership commissioners would take a fifth of the harvest during the seven years of plenty, and use it to feed the people during the seven years of famine.

Here’s the result: “The plan seemed good to Pharoah and to all his officials. So Pharoah asked them, ‘Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?'” (Genesis 41:37).

And so Pharoah elevates Joseph to the two highest offices of state: director of the palace (and thus charge of Pharoah’s finances) and grand vizier (the authorized representative of the Pharoah himself). If the president were to elevate an imprisoned felon to the status of Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of State combined, we would not be more astonished.

Joseph wears Pharoah’s own ring of authority, and the great chain of state. He is preceded in Pharoah’s chariot by a guard who calls everyone to “make way” or “bow the knee.” This was something like being given the presidential motorcade and Air Force One.

And he is given “robes of fine linen” to replace the “coat of many colors stolen thirteen years earlier. Thus Pharoah “put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt” (Genesis 41:43). From this position he will act to save Egypt from starvation, and his own Hebrew people as well.

And this elevation and transformation all started while Joseph was a single adult, 30 years of age. What does his story say to our church, our culture, about the way God sees single adults, and the rest of us as well?

Can God use more Josephs?

Can God still use men and women like Joseph, adults who have not been married?

Corrie ten Boom’s family harbored Jews in Amsterdam. For this her family was killed in concentration camps, and she was subjected to unspeakable horrors. Her book about her experience and faith, The Hiding Place, sold over two million copies; fifteen million saw the movie. She changed her world. And she never married.

Can unmarried adults serve God? I think of Luther Rice, missionary to India; Mother Teresa, in India and the world; Bishop Asbury, father of American Methodism.

I remind you of James Buchanan and Grover Cleveland, presidents of the United States; of George Frederick Handel and Isaac Watts; of Horatio Alger, Lewis Carroll, Steven F. Austin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Think of Judge Baylor, the founder of Baylor University; of Wilbur and Orville Wright; of Florence Nightingale. Martin Luther was single when he began the Protestant Reformation; John Calvin, its greatest scholar, never married. John R. W. Stott may be the world’s greatest living evangelical preacher. Can God still use single adults? You decide.

Can God use divorced adults? In most churches divorce is the unpardonable sin, it seems. Someone said that the church is the only army which buries its wounded, and it feels that way to some of you. Can God use those who have experienced the tragic pain of divorce?

I agree with the many scholars who believe Paul was divorced—that when he came to faith in Christ, his wife considered him dead to her and left the marriage.

What of Keith Miller, whose books have touched millions? Harold Ivan Smith, whose books and conferences have liberated thousands of divorcees? Adlai Stevenson, governor of Illinois and twice candidate for President? Ronald Reagan?

Some of my most outstanding professors in college and seminary had known the pain of divorce in their lives. Some of the ministry staff and deacons in our congregation have been divorced. And God is still using them in our lives, and in mine.

I’m grateful that in our church no door is shut to those who have known the heartache of a divorce. God loves; God heals; God restores. If God could use Paul, can’t he use you?

Can God use the bereaved, those who have lost their husband or wife to death? So often you feel outside of life. Your friends go on with their marriages and families, while you’re different now. And the loneliness of this pain is very hard. Can God still use you?

What of Abraham and Jacob in the Bible? Didn’t they serve the Lord years after their wives died?

What of Sarah Hale, the young widow with five children who founded Thanksgiving Day? Corazon Aquino in the Philippines and Golda Meir in Israel, widows who forever shaped their world? C. S. Lewis, the widower whose Christian books shaped my life and millions of others?

What is necessary for you to be used as Joseph was used by God?

First, find your strength and identity in God, not your culture or circumstances.

Joseph said to the cupbearer and baker, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” (Genesis 40:8). Later he said to Pharoah, “I cannot do it, but God will give Pharoah the answer he desires” (Genesis 41:16). Still later he told his brothers, “It was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharoah, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt” (Genesis 45:8). Find the power and purpose for your life in God, and no one else.

Our identity is not found in our marital status, in our appearance or income, or in any other circumstance. Our identity is found in the fact that we are the children of God. Joseph knew this. Do you?

Second, trust God to redeem every circumstance for his glory.

Some of you have experienced significant family trauma. So did Joseph. Unless your siblings have tried to kill you and then sold you into slavery, and unless you have spent thirteen years in slavery and prison, you’ve not seen harder times than Joseph did.

And yet, listen to his words at the end of Genesis: “Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (50:19-20).

Trust God to redeem your life and circumstances, whatever they might be.

In short, believe in the God who believes in you. Accept no limits placed on you by your culture, or by your church. Wherever you are, know that God will use you there, if you will let him. What he did with Joseph, he wants to do with you. And with the rest of us as well.


So, be sure that you have made Jesus Christ the Lord of your life. Jesus the single adult, the Son of God, stands ready to give you new life and purpose. Settle your eternal soul’s relationship with him, today.

Then ask God today to use you as he used Joseph. Our community and nation need more Josephs, and so does our church. Ask him to mold the clay of your life and heart for his glory and your good.

Emily Dickinson, America’s greatest female poet and a single adult, once wrote these lines:

If I can stop one heart from breakingI shall not live in vainIf I can ease one life the achingor cool one painOr help one fainting robinUnto his nest againI shall not live in vain.We never know how high we areTill we are called to riseAnd then if we are true to planOur statures touch the skies.

My friend, whatever your circumstances in life today, you are “called to rise.” Say “yes” as Jesus calls you to serve him, and your stature will indeed “touch the skies.” This is the promise of God.

Why God Needs Fathers

Why God Needs Fathers

Genesis 46:1-7

Dr. Jim Denison

A father came home from work to find his little girl brushing the dog’s teeth with his toothbrush. He was horrified, and asked her what she was doing. She said, “Oh, don’t worry, daddy, I’ll put it back like I always do.”

Fathers deserve a day.

You’ve heard the bad news about men and fathers: one in two American children is growing up today in a home where their biological father is not present; just a quarter of adult men attend church regularly; only slightly more ever read their Bibles; only a third even claim to be “born again.”

The clear pattern from years of family counseling is that a bad or absent father can harm the education, personality, vocation, and future of his children. For example, almost all the members of Chicago’s street gangs come from homes with inadequate fathering.

Here’s the good news: it has been proven that good fathering strengthens children and homes in every way. Self-esteem and individual identity, definition of purpose and direction, a basic sense of worth all derive first in a family from good fathers.

A child psychologist spent years studying the faith of children and comparing it to their relationships with their fathers. Here is his famous conclusion: “No child will think more of God than he thinks of his own father.”

What an awesome responsibility, and privilege, we have been given!

What would Joseph’s father say to all of us who are fathers, and all of us who are the children of fathers? Here’s the basic point of our study today: where the father goes, his children will follow. Let’s see if this is true for Jacob and for us, and what it all means to our lives and families.

An example to study

Jacob’s story is one of the real roller-coasters to be found in the word of God, and his family rides every up and down with him. His name means “deceiver,” and his story proves its accuracy.

He is born the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, one of the greatest men in all of Scripture.

But he plunges quickly into family deception. As a young man, he cheats his brother Esau out of his birthright, and later deceives his blind and elderly father into giving him the blessing his brother deserves. As a result, he must flee from his brother for his very life, and runs to his uncle in faraway Mesopotamia.

Now things move up, however. On his way to Canaan, God finds Jacob at a place called Bethel. The Lord reveals himself, and covenants to bless him and his posterity.

But soon he slides down again into the depths of deceit. His uncle deceives him into marrying both Leah and Rachel; he tricks his uncle and increases his herds and possessions; finally he runs from his uncle as he ran from his brother.

But again God finds him, this time at a place called Peniel. He wrestles with Jacob until daybreak, and changes his name from Jacob (“Deceiver”) to Israel (“One who wrestles with God”). This is in many ways the high point of his entire story.

Now the slide begins again. His daughter Dinah is defiled by a man named Shechem; then his sons deceive the Shechemites and kill them all. Jacob says to them, “You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land” (Genesis 34:30). But they are only following their father’s example, going where he has led them.

Finally Jacob returns to Bethel, where he first met God. Here he leads his family to rid themselves of their foreign gods, builds an altar to the Lord God, and worships him. And again, his family follows him.

But the downward plunge comes again. Now Joseph’s story begins. Is it any wonder that his brothers would enslave him and lie to their father? Any wonder that this family would spend twenty years in dysfunction and pain? What their father was, they became. Where he led, they followed.

But God is good. He restores their family through Joseph, and preserves Jacob’s nation and people. Along the way, he gives us an example we can learn from today.

Where the father goes, his children usually follow. Now, what does this fact say to us today?

Principles to practice

Be what you want your family to become. Hear the word of God: “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them” (Deuteronomy 4:9).

And then this text: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7). Lead your children as God leads you.

A father decided to stop drinking the day he staggered home through a snowfall, turned, and saw his little boy walking in his wandering footprints in the snow.

Be the spiritual person you want your children to become. If your family grows to be exactly what you are spiritually, will that be a good thing? The chances are that they will.

Give your family the time love requires. Hear the word of God: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). “Training and instruction” refer to the idea of nurturing love, of time spent in the things of God, of time invested in their lives and souls. Love takes time. For children, the two are synonymous.

A priest surveyed the children in his parish, asking them which they would choose: time with television or with their father. 92% chose time with their fathers.

A friend sent me a touching story about a little boy who asked his hard-working father how much he made per hour. His father was tired, and upset with his son’s question. Finally he said, “I make $20 an hour.” The boy then asked, “Then could I borrow $9?” His irritated father said, “You just want some of my hard-earned money to spend on more toys. When will you stop being so selfish?” He sent him to bed without the money.

Soon he calmed down, and began to feel sorry about the way he had spoken to his son. He went into his bedroom, apologized, and gave his boy the $9 he asked for. The boy was very excited, and pulled a wad of dollar bills out from underneath his pillow. “Why did you want more money if you already had some?” his father grumbled. “Because I didn’t have enough, but now I do,” the little boy replied.

“Daddy, I have $20 now. Can you play with me for an hour?”

Lead with the result in mind. The famous management principle also applies to parenting: begin with the end in view. Remember always that you are molding eternal souls. What do you want them to become?

Hear the word of the Lord: “Uzziah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done” (2 Chronicles 26:4). Uzziah became what his father wanted him to become. What do you want your children to be like? What end do you want to produce?

What kind of family will you wish you had when your life is done? Start with that end in mind. Begin now.

A family counselor named John Drescher once listed ten things he would differently if he were starting his family over. See if one of these resolutions applies to you:

Show my children more that I love my wife. Laugh more with my children (Oscar Wilde said, “The best way to make children good is to make them happy”).Be a better listener (the average child asks 500,000 questions by age 15).Seek to be more honest, admit mistakes, be human. Stop praying just for my family, and start praying more for me, that I would be the man God wants me to be. Try for more togetherness (counselors surveying a group of junior high boys for two years found that they spent 7.5 minutes per week with their fathers). Do more encouraging. Pay more attention to the little things.Seek to develop a feeling of belonging. Seek to share God more intimately.


The best advice I can give to any father today is this: guard your heart. Keep your heart close to Jesus.

This week I’ve been reading in the book of Numbers, and have been so impressed by God’s daily leadership in the life of Moses. God tells Moses what to do about each and every situation; his cloud leads the people by day and his pillar of fire by night. The text says, “Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out; whenever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the Lord’s command the Israelites setout, and at his command they encamped” (Numbers 9:17-18).

This past Monday, it occurred to me—they could follow God because they were close to him. They stayed under his cloud and by his fire. They stayed close enough to be led in his word and will.

Are you close to Jesus today? Can he lead your family through you? Are you guarding your heart for your sake and theirs?

Do you have a father who is close to God? Have you thanked God, and thanked him? Do you have a father who needs to be closer to God? Have you prayed for him?

Are you blessed with the privilege of fatherhood? Never sell short the influence of your life on the eternal souls of your children. This is life’s greatest responsibility, and privilege.

Let’s give Charles Spurgeon the last word today: “On the mantelshelf of my grandmother’s best parlor, among other marvels, was an apple in a bottle. It quite filled up the body of the bottle, and my wondering inquiry was, ‘How could it have been got into its place?’ By stealth I climbed a chair to see if the bottom would unscrew, or if there had been a join in the glass throughout the length of the bottle. I was satisfied by careful observation that neither of these theories could be supported, and the apple remained to be an enigma and a mystery. [Later on,] walking in the garden I saw a bottle placed on a tree bearing within it a tiny apple, which was growing within the crystal; now I saw it all: the apple was put into the bottle while it was little and grew there.”

Guard your heart. Where you lead, your children will likely follow. This is the promise, and the warning, of God.