I landed in the United States just three weeks ago.
This trip is no mere ‘pop-in’ from our missionary life to again re-alight on a 36 hour flight back to South Africa in a short period of time. No, this home assignment is a six-and-a-half-month ‘all-in’ engagement. Our family has lived on the mission field almost ten years. This home assignment is an opportunity to invest our hearts in our family, in our friends, and in our church community.
But honestly? Am I ready?
I thought I was.
However, I’ll be real. I need to catch my breath on this roller-coaster ride of re-adjustment to my homeland. Although we’ve been back to the States before, this time I have been struck by culture shock in an altogether new and different way.
Don’t get me wrong.
It’s fabulous to be back with family and friends.
It’s an incredible blessing to be with people who know me inside out and who allow me to be….me. Sharing time with friends and family who have years and years and years of history with me is special – really special.
So, what’s my dilemma?
How do I write this?
Friends, our family just departed the City of Fear – a place where walls, barbed wire, gates, electric fencing and security guards are in place to protect and isolate people from one another. This is a city where violent crime is too common – vehicle jacking, house robberies, rape and murder and more occur daily. Johannesburg is known as a Gangster’s Paradise. We were resignedly told upon arrival in South Africa ten years ago, “It’s not if you will experience some kind of crime here, but when.” It was true. But, by God’s grace, He didn’t allow the City of Fear to make us afraid. Instead, we chose to fall in love with the people our God graciously allowed us to encounter.
Even after almost ten years of residency in Johannesburg, we have resolved not to let the fear that permeates that place suffocate our love and respect for the countless men and women that we know there. There is hope even in a city that is gripped by fear.
Since returning to the United States, however, I feel like I left the City of Fear only to come to a nation of fear. I sense a heightened level of anxiety and insecurity than I ever remember three years ago. Granted, there is a lot going on – but should we be afraid?
For the past three weeks, I’ve been reading through the life of Joseph as recorded in Genesis. If anyone can provide some guidance and encouragement of how to live a transformational life in the face of challenging and fearful times, it is Joseph.
I’m going to jump beyond the familiar stories that have been retold for countless generations, to a moment of love and truth in his family’s life. Seventeen years had passed since Joseph had been reunited with his family. Jacob, Joseph’s father and the family patriarch had passed away. Even after all of this time of being together, Joseph’s brothers wondered if Joseph’s forgiveness of them for selling him into slavery as a boy was genuine. Would Joseph seek revenge now that their father was dead?
Joseph’s brothers feared for their lives and the possible threat to the future of their families. Joseph was in a position of power and influence. With one word, he could destroy them all.
He had every reason to invoke his judgment and wrath. After all, his brothers had rejected him, plotted against his life, and then sold him into slavery. How would any common man respond?
Yet, Joseph was no common man. He was a God-fearing man devoted wholeheartedly and humbly to the will of His Heavenly Father.
When given the opportunity to address his brothers’ concerns, Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and for your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. New International Version, Genesis 50: 20-21
Joseph had definitely experienced dark and troubling times since his brothers sold him out. Yet, those years and – yes, some of them were very long, trying years – counted not only for the salvation of Joseph, not only for the salvation of his family, but also for his captors and the nation that had enslaved him. God intended something life-giving and redemptive out of something that had intended to be devastatingly harmful and cruel. God intended Joseph’s life to bring hope and assurance to his generation and to all of us who would be influenced by his story.
Friends, I don’t know what your concern is these days. But as someone who hasn’t lived in the States for a while, and is just returning, I just want to echo Joseph’s words, “Don’t be afraid.”
God is accomplishing something for the salvation of many lives.
God knows your needs, the needs of your family and the needs of our nation.
God knew that this day and its joys and challenges would come and all the days past, present and future.
If you are a follower of Christ like me, now is the time, to show our unbelieving family and friends that we don’t have to live in fear about things that may or may not happen. We don’t have to isolate ourselves and self-protect. We can choose instead to trust in the living God! Our hope is in Him and not the current events of our time.
I’ll be real – difficult, heart-sore and tragic events may lie ahead. These circumstances may be out of our control – just like Joseph’s circumstances were beyond his control for many, many years. But, we don’t have to be afraid. Joseph sought out the comfort, peace and hope of his God time and time again in a culture that was very different than his own. He interacted with, got to know, and chose to respect the people of that very different culture too.
God intended that Joseph’s life, even in the midst of many very difficult, heart-sore and tragic things would lead to the redemption of the family he loved; the family that had betrayed him. Joseph recognized that the mercy and forgiveness he had been granted in his life could be offered to his brothers too – despite every despicable and selfish thing they had done. Joseph was more concerned about the complete restoration and solidification of their relationship and the acknowledgement of the providence of God than he was about himself.
Isn’t this what we want?
Don’t we want our family and our friends to experience the abiding love, amazing grace, and blessed assurance of our God?
I don’t want to choose fear – the false enemies that appear real – that may deny me from ‘all-in’ engagement with anyone my God brings my way and for whatever reason. I want to be like Joseph.
I want to tell others not to be afraid.
I want to tell others that God is accomplishing something not only good, but amazing, in our lifetime!
I want to tell others that God loves them and has the power to transform them!
I want to tell others that God will provide for their needs and for the needs of their children.
I want to speak words of kindness and assurance!
I want to tell others that I believe every word I have written!
We don’t have to be afraid!
We don’t have to be afraid!
We don’t have to be afraid!
This is why I am writing today – I am encountering too many people who are afraid – for too many different reasons. The fear that I have witnessed so far has both shocked me and grieved me. If we are Christ-followers we need to trust Him for what is happening now because what is happening right now is fulfilling a Kingdom purpose. The life that we are living right now is not the end-game. The life we are living right now is the pre-game!
And if we are going to participate in this amazing game of life, we need to be ‘all-in!’ We cannot allow fear to hold us back or paralyze us or even isolate us!
What about you, my friends?
Will you join me in living the life of love, hope and grace that our God intended?
Will you resolve to cast any and all fear that has gripped your hearts away – once and for all?
Will you pray for God to empower you to engage with others with the abounding grace and the assuring hope that He will generously pour into your lives for the restoration and salvation of not only your family, not only your friends, not only your community, not only your nation, but for the entire world?
This is the hope our God intended for us. Let us embrace it!!!!
Let’s live a life that echoes Joseph’s words, “Don’t be afraid!” and extend our open hands and hearts for the glory of God and for His Kingdom to come!
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