Summary: Montgomery Hills Baptist Church: To live large means dealing with the pain inflicted on us. Some of it comes from our arrogance, some from scapegoating. But God is able to work through that pain toward the accomplishment of His purposes.
There is at my house a photograph I treasure. In that picture I am about three years old, and my father is holding me in his arms. My father is wearing the cap of a Shell Oil service station attendant. Nothing especially remarkable about that, except for what I hear in my memory whenever I see it. I hear over and over again my grandparents – my mother’s parents, not his -- saying, “Oh, you know your dad failed at running that station. He was no businessman. Gave people credit, and they didn’t pay. Ran the business into the ground, had to give it up. Failure.” That is exactly the word they would use. My grandparents saw their son-in-law as a failure. Too bad about Everett Smith. That was their theme, that was their interpretation of his life story, and whatever else he did seemed to count for very little. In the minds of his in-laws, there was only one interpretation of my dad’s life: failure. What sort of pain do you think that injected into my father’s spirit?
As a pastor, I have listened to a good many people tell their life stories. I’ve found that when they do, they speak about their pain. Listen just a little while, and people will describe for you how something scarred them. They will tell you about the cutting comment that stayed with them for years. They will speak about the caustic criticism they never quite shook off. They will tell you how they were put down or discredited or misunderstood, and that stays with them. Far more than all the positive words they received, people who tell you a life story will eventually tell you their cries of pain.
Do you have a life story like that? A life story that somebody might call a failure? A life story scarred by criticism, messed up by misunderstanding? Few there are who do not have something to look back on, and it hurts us still. We look back in anger, or in disappointment, or in fear. Something we have done, and we are still afraid it may catch up with us; or something done to us, and we don’t feel we ever got over it. We feel wounded.
Just speaking about this, I can remember harsh things that people said to me when I was as young as ten or twelve years old. “Clumsy ox – I don’t want you on MY softball team.” “Piano practice – that’s for sissies.” “I suppose you got an A again – teacher’s pet.” Stuff that stings! You say, “Get over it”, and I have. But my life story, and yours, I’m guessing, includes some painful moments. In the words of the old spiritual, “My soul looks back and wonders how I got over.”
I know of a man who had a bright future as a youngster. He was so intelligent and capable, so much the apple of his parents’ eye. This young man, part of a large family, was a standout. Something about him just caught your attention, and you knew he had tremendous potential. He was so brilliant, and his parents just couldn’t do enough for him. They gave him all sorts of advantages. They showered gifts on their standout son. This young man was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, and everything was set to go for a very successful life.
But he had not reckoned on something sinister that was brewing, right in his own family. Something that would take a terrible turn and change his life forever. He had not counted on an element of pain that could have turned this young man into bitterness. Could have, but did not.
You know this young man. His story is told in the Book of Genesis. His name was Joseph. Joseph of the coat of many colors. Joseph, son of Jacob and Rachel, sold into slavery by his brothers, shipped off to Egypt, where they hoped he would disappear. Joseph, who survived, only to be clapped into prison because of Potiphar’s wife and her lies – but you remember how Joseph became the king’s right hand man, and lived to confront his brothers again. I don’t need to repeat the whole story for you – how those brothers came to Egypt looking for food, but did not even recognize Joseph. You remember how Joseph made them go back home and bring their aged father; you remember how there was reconciliation and a whole new day for that family.
But now let me take you to a crucial spot in the story of Joseph. Let me take you to the moment when Joseph’s father, Jacob, has died. Because the old man has died, the family structure is likely to change. You’ve seen this kind of thing. You can guess what’s about to happen. I’ve done a lot of funerals after which somebody would say, “I don’t know what’s going to happen to us now; Mama was the glue that held us together.” And sure enough, months later you find that brothers and sisters are not even speaking to each other. Well, now, in this Bible story, a band of brothers who have been loyal to their father are looking at disintegration. They know that without Jacob around to keep things “nice”, all the old garbage is going to come out. And so Joseph’s brothers named their fear. “Joseph, with our father gone, we’re worried. We’re worried that you will retaliate and get even for all we did to you. Joseph, now that Jacob is dead, and you are in power, what can we expect from you? We’re scared, Joseph, that things are going to get mean now that Daddy isn’t here to keep you in check!” They were scared out of their wits! Why? Because they knew they had inflicted pain; because they knew that past pain pops out precipitously and does damaging things.