One story that has captivated my thought life over the last few weeks is that of Joseph. Many of you may be familiar with this story, but for those of you who are not, let me provide you with a short synopsis.
Joseph was the second youngest of 12 brothers. He was seen as his dad's favorite son, and his older brothers hated him for this reason. Sold into slavery by his own kin, Joseph wound up in Egypt (a foreign country) where he experienced more pain and suffering, while bearing witness to God's continued hand of providence in his life. Fortunate enough to be delivered twice from obscurity, Joseph ended up in a position of authority from which he could have enacted his revenge on his family. Instead, Joseph demonstrated compassion and mercy to his brothers, forgave them for all the treachery they had bestowed upon him, and released them from their burden of guilt. Uttering these famous words found in Genesis 50, "You intended to harm me, but God made it turn out for the best" Joseph demonstrated restraint, conviction and quality of character.
Have you ever thought about where this strength came from? I know I have. I do believe that it ultimately came from God working in and through Joseph's life, but my mind wonders if perhaps this strength or passion to be a man of character came from observing God at work in someone Joseph admired. We know from this story that Joseph was loved by his father Jacob, and in turn, Jacob loved his father. I wonder if Joseph never lost the image of his dad being a hero, and perhaps this is one of the main roots to his personal conviction to be a man of great strength also. Little boys always seem to idolize an older man, someone whom they look up to and feel inspired by. Sometimes it is a sports hero, sometimes it's a family member, and unfortunately less than the majority of a time it's a dad.
Isn't it sad to think that the emerging generation is sometimes called the fatherless generation? For the first time in Canadian history, the nuclear family is in the minority...families with a mom, dad & children living together are an endangered species. We wonder why we are losing men in church or in society in general, and I wonder if it is directly related to the fact that we have lost sight of our dads as being heroes.
If you know the story of Jacob at all you would know that he wasn't a perfect person, or a perfect man. He was deceitful at times, and harsh at others. But through all of this history, Jacob's son Joseph still loved and idolized his dad in a healthy manner. In Jacob, Joseph saw a strength of character, a man of conviction and an agent for change...he saw his dad, and in his dad he saw someone he wanted to become more like.
Without Jacob demonstrating to Joseph want being a man of character and using his strength was all about, would Joseph have acted differently when given the opportunity to enact revenge on his brothers for the harm they inflicted upon him? We may not know for sure, but I would suggest that Joseph may have made a different choice.
Demonstrating not only what the gospel is, but how it transforms and transcends one's life is the key in any discipleship strategy. And in Joseph's case, this sort of demonstration happened within the context of relationship. Without relationship, demonstration cannot happen, and the desired product of discipleship cannot be attained.