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.


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?


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.