Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
July 27, 2014
People can change
If you are tempted to give up on someone, give me five minutes of your time. That‘s how long it will take me to tell you a Bible story that could influence your decision.
Bible stories are about real people, not cartoon characters like Batman and Robin. Throughout its pages the Bible portrays people just like us, people who make a mess of their lives. But the golden thread in the Bible is about a God who keeps giving losers a second chance.
The story I want you to consider is found in Genesis. It is about a father and his sons. Jacob, the father, is no hero. He makes one poor decision after another. His sons follow his example. Except for the youngest whose name is Joseph. But early on even Joseph, who eventually becomes a Super Hero, is a young whippersnapper, a spoiled brat and an arrogant tattle-tail.
In fairness to Joseph, however, we must credit Jacob for Joseph’s arrogance. Jacob let it be known that Joseph, Rachel’s firstborn, was his favorite son. He showed his favoritism by giving Joseph a colorful robe that set him apart from his brothers. The robe made Joseph proud. He strutted around in his nice robe, talking about his dreams, while his older brothers did the hard work of tending the sheep. They began to hate Joseph. When he told his brothers about his dreams they hated him even more.
Jacob’s favoritism stirred up jealousy in the hearts of Joseph’s brothers. A wise father would have known that playing favorites with his children can lead to disastrous consequences. Jealousy often turns into hatred. Hatred can lead to murder. Marriages and families are often destroyed by jealousy.
Joseph’s dream talk did not bother his brothers as much as his interpretation of his dreams. That God spoke to people through dreams was a popular belief back then. What irritated Joseph’s brothers was that Joseph portrayed himself as the Big Cheese in his dreams with his brothers bowing humbly before him. Little wonder that his eleven brothers reacted angrily.
Their anger only increased when Joseph went on to tell them of another dream. In this one Joseph saw his parents, Jacob and Rachel, as well as all eleven of his brothers bowing down to him. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back for his brothers. Enough is enough! They were ready now to entertain the idea of killing their brother. Their hatred had reached the boiling point.
The brothers’ plan to kill Joseph was thwarted at the last minute by his brother Reuben. He convinced his brothers to leave Joseph in a pit to die rather than kill him. Joseph’s life was preserved so that he could be sold to Ishmaelite traders who took him to Egypt.
The real hero of this story is God. Jacob, Joseph, and his brothers win no merit badges for their behavior. They remind us of ourselves and the way we also screw up our lives with poor decisions.
A pastor friend confessed to me that he was about ready to quit the ministry. He was discouraged by his own failures and the moral failures of some of his own children. I told him I understood because I had sometimes had those same feelings.
But I reminded him that, even if he was ready to give up on God, God was not going to give up on him. In fact, I told him, the only people God can turn to are folks just like him and me – folks who have a gift for screwing things up. There are no perfect, righteous warriors to whom God can turn for service.
This is why I wanted you to listen to the story of Jacob and his boys. God does not give up on us because we make poor decisions. Jacob made his share. Joseph made his. Joseph’s brothers made theirs. But through it all God was at work. God had a plan for all those men, not merely Joseph. God used each one to accomplish his will and he did so despite their imperfections and foolish choices.
Eventually all the men in that Bible story made decisions to honor God. So the bottom line is this: People can change. Grace makes that possible. This gives us hope for our own lives. If we will hang in with God, he will hang in with us. Along the way, if we continue to make ourselves available to him, God will give us the grace to forgive ourselves, accept his forgiveness, and start making better choices.
Jacob did. Joseph did. His brothers did. We can too, by the grace of God. And one day he will welcome us home to the place where imperfect children may spend eternity being perfected by the loving Father who never gives up on his own. Glory! Just thinking about such a God makes me want to sing, “Lord, I want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in!”
Winston Churchill made famous the phrase, “Never give up!” Think about that when you are tempted to give up on someone who has made pitiful decisions. God never gives up on us. And with his help you can refuse to give up on someone who needs your compassion. You could twist Sir Winston’s phrase a bit and say it this way: I will never give up on a person who has made poor decisions because people can change. + + +