All you have to say is November 22, 1963 or September 11, 2001, and everyone knows what you are talking about. The assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas and the collapse of the World Trade Center towers due to a terrorist attack on American soil are reference points by which many people judge or understand other events in life. They are historical markers that have defined two different generations. History, in some ways, has been divided by what life was like before and after these events.
The other day, I was sitting in our leadership team meeting with Josh, Jon Eric, Kim, Todd, and Haley, and the topic of conversation was some ministry challenge. Honestly, I don’t even remember what the topic was, but in the context of the conversation, the reference point – what we understood the situation by – were the events that happened at CBC almost four years ago. Our reference point was a tragedy – or maybe even a series of tragedies – from our past.
And then Pastor Josh said something that has just stuck with me ever since. He said, “We need a new reference point.” What he meant was, we need something new by which we judge or understand all the other events that are unfolding around us. I couldn’t agree more, Pastor Josh. The problem with allowing tragedy to be the reference point by which we understand everything else is that it fosters a victim mentality. But here’s the thing: by the grace of God, this family of redeemed sinners called Community Bible are not victims; we’re survivors.
As I’ve been pondering this idea, I’ve been wondering what Scripture has to say about reference points – events by which we understand everything else. Surely the Bible can help us embrace a new reference point. I desperately want God to do something new at CBC, and as I’ve been praying to that end, God keeps bringing a “survivor” from the Old Testament to mind.
If anyone had the “right” to play the victim card, it was Joseph. Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers, which must have tested his patience tremendously. But he is given a good job in Potiphar’s house in Egypt. Then, when he is acting uprightly in the unplanned place of obedience, Potiphar’s wife lies about his integrity and has him thrown into prison — another great trial to his patience.
But again, things turn for the better, and the prison keeper gives him responsibility and respect. But just when he thinks he is about to get a reprieve from Pharaoh’s cupbearer, whose dream he interpreted, the cupbearer forgets him for two more years. Another painful trial to his patience.
I bet Joseph was struggling to figure out the meaning to these troubles. For many years, I bet the reference point for his view of God and the way God works and His character was attached to being betrayed by his brothers and unjustly imprisoned by his boss. He may have thought of God as mean, indifferent, capricious, and cruel. We can be guilty of the same thing, allowing life and ministry to be defined by the “bad”, rather than looking for God’s future grace and trusting in His good, wise, and loving purposes.
But then perspective comes, and what Joseph expresses reveals a robust confidence in God’s sovereign ability to triumph over sin, circumstances, and the scheming of spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as you are today (Genesis 50:20).”
Eventually the meaning of all the detours and delays in Joseph’s life became clear. Joseph is raised up to be a leader in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. And his leadership results in saving thousands of lives from starvation. He even ends up saving the lives of the very brothers who sold him into slavery.
Years of exile and abuse. Have you ever wondered what kept Joseph’s faith afloat? What gave buoyancy to his hope in God when the waves of despair came crashing down? Where did he find light when surrounded by darkness? Faith in God’s future grace and his ever-present goodness.
This story is in the Bible for several reasons:
There is One greater than Joseph, and Joseph points to him. Jesus was betrayed and forsaken, yet unlike Joseph, he was completely innocent of all wrong doing. Joseph was kind of a brat, boasting that he was his father’s favored son.
But Jesus was the sinless One. Just as the acts against Joseph were evil, the evil committed against Jesus was infinitely vile. Luke describes Jesus and his betrayal this way: “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (Acts 2:22-24).
God purposed to deliver up Jesus to lawless men, just like he did with Joseph. And in both cases, those who turned against them committed an act of evil. But God was working something greater in the detours they experienced.
This story is also in the Bible to give rise to faith in our lives, especially in times when we cannot see God’s hands because of the present detours and delays. I know that has been where we’ve been for several years.
But it’s time to stop focusing on the reference points we don’t understand – for Joseph it was slavery and prison – and instead looking ahead in faith to the God who redeems the unplanned places we find ourselves. It’s time we look to God who is faithful and willing for us to experience the fullest of joy, not only in heaven, but here and now, because He is with us.
Here is the key to developing a new reference point for ministry: believing God is working for our good (Rom 8:28), even when He takes us down the strangest and most unplanned roads to accomplish that good purpose in our lives.
We have survived unspeakable difficulty by the grace of God. We are still here because God is still writing our story and making us more like Jesus because of the story He is writing. I’m eager to see and experience what He is doing. I want us to be able to say with Joseph, “What the Enemy means for evil, You (God) have turned for our good and for your glory.”
God is on the move at Community Bible. The God who does great things has great things in store for us as we chase after Him. The psalmist says when we live life with reference to the power and pleasure of God, he will fill our mouths with “laughter, and our tongue[s] with shouts of joy” (Psalm 126:2).
I’m praying God will give us a new reference point by which we understand everything else He is doing through and around us. Will you join me in asking God to make that new reference point clear? Will you make that something you regularly and faithfully ask God to do?
Grace to You,