Jesus Walks with You through the Dark Valleys

Jesus Walks with You through the Dark Valleys

“…the LORD was with [Joseph].” – Genesis 39:3

Abuse destroys lives: physically, psychologically, emotionally. Sometimes abuse kills. This is why we fight back. We pray, of course, but we also report physical, sexual, and emotional abuse as the crime it is.

And yet, Christians survive abuse. Martin Luther looked at Joseph and appealed to a theologian named Augustine who wrote, “the miracles performed daily in the world surpass those performed by Christ.” There’s better than blind receiving sight? Yes. Every day God the Father feeds the world. Every day God takes care of birds and plants. Every day he is your God, your Father. Your life is a miracle. You’re here and I’m here – miracle. We get to baptize children, preach the Word, commune – miracles. We eat, sleep, work, play – miracles. From God.

Which is why you’ll survive. I know this because Moses says about Joseph: “The Lord was with him.” This isn’t Joseph picking himself up by his bootstraps or having more grit. This is the Lord being with Joseph. Joseph is, by faith, a temple of the Holy Spirit. That gets you through: when God lives in you and with you.

Moses gives us Jesus. “The LORD was with him.” That’s Christ. You know, God with us. Immanuel. That’s what Moses says. God is with us. Jesus was with Joseph, preserving, protecting. He’s with you. In injustice. In abuse. In success.

“The LORD was with him.” Sometimes this is all I get. It’s what I need. It got David through: “You are with me, your rod and your staff they comfort me.” The LORD is with him, and it’s the crucified Lord. It’s Jesus, who came in the flesh, who became Joseph’s brother and yours. Jesus suffered every temptation Joseph suffered. He suffered every abuse, and more. Jesus let the world abuse him for you. Jesus nailed to the cross is the Lord with us. He’s with us in slavery and death. Until he breaks free. He rises, like Joseph. Joseph rises from the dead: from the pit, from slavery, from prison. This points to Christ, the one who can’t be killed or destroyed, but rather destroys the power of death. For you.

Father, Son, Holy Spirit, you have promised to be with me, keep me firm in that promise when you seem to be gone. Fix my eyes on your love for me in Christ. Amen.

God Remembers You

God Remembers You

“…the LORD gave [Joseph] success in everything…” – Genesis 39:3

“It could be worse.”

“It’s darkest before the dawn.”

“Something good must come from this.”

You’ve heard these. They’re meant well. They prove that we don’t process trauma well. Sometimes silence is best, right? If someone just sat with us until things got better.

But what if they don’t? What if abuse doesn’t stop? Anxiety never leaves? Therapies don’t work?

We could give in. We could do whatever makes us feel better. We could end it. If it’s not going to get better, why not kill myself?

And now you throw Genesis 39 into our face and show us Joseph’s success? I do. Mind you, he’s still a slave. God didn’t free Joseph. God didn’t suddenly make Joseph powerful. Those things happen. But first, Joseph spends years as a slave and in prison falsely accused of rape.

Joseph could conform. He could curse God. He could be a wicked, lazy, unfaithful servant. He could dole out physical and sexual abuse upon those below him. He could indulge in the sex his master’s wife offered. He could say, “God screwed me! Screw him!”

But he didn’t. Pay attention. Whether you’ve been abused, are being abused, or know someone who has. When Joseph holds firm to his trust in the Lord, he offers his body as a sacrifice to God: not conforming to the world, not doing what it wants, what makes us feel good, what’s most convenient.

Martin Luther said about Joseph: “The Word spoken by his father reigns in his heart…. ‘My father has taught me. No matter how long God wants to forsake me, I will hold out. My father has taught me to believe and to wait patiently for God’s help, no matter how long He postpones or delays. “Wait for the Lord….”’” Wait. God remembers. He remembers you. He wrote you upon his hands, the hands imprinted with the marks of nails that attached him to the cross. After going through such trauma for you, he doesn’t forget. In fact, he wrote his name upon you when he baptized you.

Father, lead me out of temptation. Forgive my sin. Bless me according to your will. Amen.

Abuse Never Happens to "Good People"

Abuse Never Happens to "Good People"

“Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt.” – Genesis 39:1

If you didn’t know better, you’d make nothing of Genesis 39:1. It sounds harmless. Far from it. Joseph’s been sold into slavery, a horrific trauma. His brothers did this. They roughed him up, stole his clothes, threw him into a cistern, and debated whether to kill him. If that’s not domestic violence, I don’t know what is. When they sold him, they handed him over to who knows what. He goes from slave pen to slave master, eventually prison, places where abuse are cliché. You know the reputation of prison showers. Slaves are non-people: do what you want to them.

Maybe Joseph deserved it. Nothing in the Bible suggests that. The Spirit shows us no terrible sin. Or even small ones. Certainly, he was a sinner, but he’s presented as neat and clean. Adam lies. Noah drinks. Abraham sleeps around. Jacob cheats. Joseph? He did nothing wrong. Yet almost no one in Genesis endured more.

The point? Bearing the name Christian is not some trauma-preventing talisman. Sinful things happen to baptized children of God. This doesn’t excuse or minimize them. This doesn’t compel us to stay silent or say, “God wills it.” It compels us to look to the cross. “Lord, have mercy upon us!” And, more, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Only when Christ’s return with new heavens and earth will end trauma. But we can be sure that end is coming. “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” You know who said that? The one who endured more trauma than Joseph. For you.

Jesus, deliver us from evil that harms bodies and souls. Grant us peace. If not today, grant it in the blessed end of eternal life with you. Amen.

Introduction to Wrestling with God

Introduction to Wrestling with God

If you’ve been a victim of abuse, you know that healing is a life long journey. The physical bruises and pain last a short time compared to the damage that has been has done to your heart and soul. These devotions are not meant to be a “quick fix”, but maybe they could be used as one more way that Jesus might bind up your broken heart.

I’ve called this devotional “Wrestling with God” because whenever I’ve spoken with victims of abuse that is how they feel. They have spent a life wrestling with God, wondering, “Where was God? Does he even exists? And if he does, does he love me?”

These devotions are based off of Psalm 10. We will slowly walk through this Psalm, allowing our hearts to vent our grief, so that the Lord might turn our grief into some level of joy.

Each devotion begins and ends with 2 minutes of silence, so that you might clear away the constant noise of life, and spend a moment listening to Lord through his Word. I believe that silence can help you be aware of your own emotional and spiritual struggle. May the Lord bless you as you wrestle with him in Word and prayer.

Before we walk slowly verse by verse through this Psalm, it might be helpful to read the whole Psalm out loud from beginning to end.

Psalm 10

1 Why, Lord, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

2 In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,
who are caught in the schemes he devises.
3 He boasts about the cravings of his heart;
he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord.
4 In his pride the wicked man does not seek him;
in all his thoughts there is no room for God.
5 His ways are always prosperous;
your laws are rejected by him;
he sneers at all his enemies.
6 He says to himself, “Nothing will ever shake me.”
He swears, “No one will ever do me harm.”

7 His mouth is full of lies and threats;
trouble and evil are under his tongue.
8 He lies in wait near the villages;
from ambush he murders the innocent.
His eyes watch in secret for his victims;
9 like a lion in cover he lies in wait.
He lies in wait to catch the helpless;
he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.
10 His victims are crushed, they collapse;
they fall under his strength.
11 He says to himself, “God will never notice;
he covers his face and never sees.”

12 Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.
Do not forget the helpless.
13 Why does the wicked man revile God?
Why does he say to himself,
“He won’t call me to account”?
14 But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;
you consider their grief and take it in hand.
The victims commit themselves to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless.
15 Break the arm of the wicked man;
call the evildoer to account for his wickedness
that would not otherwise be found out.

16 The Lord is King for ever and ever;
the nations will perish from his land.
17 You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
18 defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that mere earthly mortals
will never again strike terror.

Wrestling with God

Wrestling with God

Two minutes of silence

Psalm 10:1

Why, Lord, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

The writer of this prayer is being completely honest with the Lord, explaining how he actually feels. He wonders why the Lord seems so far away. And more importantly he wants to know where the Lord was when he was experiencing so much trouble and suffering. Was the Lord hiding himself? Was he scared of his enemies? Did the Lord just not care that this Psalmist was suffering?

You might be surprised to hear a man of God being so honest. Can we really say what we feel to the Lord? Can we really be so bold? Can I really say, “Lord, where were you when I was getting abused?”

Not only can you say those words, but Jesus himself said something similar. From the cross, Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

So today, allow yourself to be completely honest about your feelings to the Lord. Lament, mourn, grieve, and cry out to him. Let your deepest wounds be exposed to the Lord of the universe. He not only gives you permission to be so honest, but the opening words of this Psalm give you the very words to cry out to him.

Prayer

Lord, there is so much pain that is deep within my heart. And at the depths of my soul there is a question: Why? Why, Lord? Why did you stand so far off when I was suffering? In your mercy, let me be honest with you about what is stirring in my heart and soul. Amen.

Two minutes of silence

The wicked are proud of their evil

The wicked are proud of their evil

Two minutes of silence

Psalm 10:2-6

2 In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,
who are caught in the schemes he devises.
3 He boasts about the cravings of his heart;
he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord.
4 In his pride the wicked man does not seek him;
in all his thoughts there is no room for God.
5 His ways are always prosperous;
your laws are rejected by him;
he sneers at all his enemies.
6 He says to himself, “Nothing will ever shake me.”
He swears, “No one will ever do me harm.”

If we are going to walk down this road of being honest with God, we need to be able to voice what we see with our eyes. And that’s exactly what the Psalmist does in these verses. He sees that the wicked man is arrogant. He boldly goes after the weak without fear. And he boasts of what he does. He thinks it is just a game. He boasts of the cravings in his heart. He is so full of himself that he has no room for God. He has such a bloated of himself that he believes nothing will ever shake him.

If we are honest, this is a very accurate view of what it seems like in the world. It seems like the wicked get away with their wickedness and they are even proud of it. It makes us sad and angry that the wicked would ever have their day in the sun. There are no words to describe the agony of knowing that someone has gotten pleasure from our pain.

Prayer

Lord, do you see the arrogance of the wicked? Do you see how they boast about their wickedness? Do you see the pleasure that some have gotten from my pain? Lord, in your mercy, hear my prayer. Amen.

Two minutes of silence

The wicked harm the weak

The wicked harm the weak

Two minutes of silence

Psalm 10:7-11

7 His mouth is full of lies and threats;
trouble and evil are under his tongue.
8 He lies in wait near the villages;
from ambush he murders the innocent.
His eyes watch in secret for his victims;
9 like a lion in cover he lies in wait.
He lies in wait to catch the helpless;
he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.
10 His victims are crushed, they collapse;
they fall under his strength.
11 He says to himself, “God will never notice;
he covers his face and never sees.”

I wish for one day I would open up the newspaper and there would be nothing to report. No violence. No shootings. No robberies. Just a blank page. But since Adam and Eve sinned, this world has been marked with violence. In fact, Adam and Eve’s firstborn son was Cain, the notorious murderer.

Being a Christian means that we want to see all the good in creation. We want to praise God for the flowers of the field and the taste of blueberry pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. But it also means that we don’t have to ignore all of the wickedness and violence. The truth is we can talk to God about the violence in the world, and most importantly, the violence and abuse that has been done to us.

The Psalmist says, “(The wicked) lies in wait to catch the helpless; he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net. His victims are crushed, they collapse; they fall under strength. He says, to himself, ‘God will never notice; he covers his face and never sees.’” He is saying, “Look at what the wicked are doing! He thinks he’s getting away with it. Do you see this Lord?”

We can say the same things to God. “Lord, violent people waited for me. They hurt me. And I was crushed. He thinks he got away with it. Do you see this Lord?”

Prayer

Lord, violent people seem to be all over the world. Violent people have been in my life and they have hurt me. Lord, did you see that? Lord, in your mercy, hear my prayer. Amen.

Two minutes of silence

Turning the corner

Turning the corner

Two minutes of silence

Psalm 10:12-13

12 Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.
Do not forget the helpless.
13 Why does the wicked man revile God?
Why does he say to himself,
“He won’t call me to account”?

In verse 12 the Psalmist begins to turn the corner and have some hope. Up to this moment he has been honest about his feelings of sadness and despair. He has wondered why God has allowed him to suffer, he has been honest about the arrogance of the wicked and their ability to destroy lives. But now he seems to find some hope.

The writer says, “Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.” It’s amazing to see the Psalmist calling out to God even after he has suffered so much. You might expect him to give up on God or deny his existence, but deep down he knows that there is a good God. And if he really is a good God he will hate what is evil.

How about you? Even after being a victim of unspeakable pain, can you still believe that a good God exists? Maybe one way to begin is by taking a walk. Walk through the green forest. Get outside. Or enjoy a tasty treat. Eat a bowl full of fresh strawberries (with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, of course). Look around you to see God’s good fingerprints everywhere. Then look inside of you. Your body is an amazing, complex living machine, filled with advanced technology that is beyond our wildest dreams. You also have incredible gifts and profound emotions. There is no escaping it. You know a good God exists.

Then, if you are ready, find that good God where he most clearly reveals himself: The Bible. You might begin by reading the first verse of the Bible, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…and it was very good.” Because a good God exists, he will hate what is evil. He will call the wicked to account.

Prayer

Lord God, I don’t see you, but I do so some of the many good things you have made and done. Convince me again that you exist and that you are good and that you hate what is evil. Lord, in your mercy, hear my prayer. Amen.

Two minutes of silence

God sees me

God sees me

Two minutes of silence

Psalm 10:14

But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;
you consider their grief and take it in hand.

The writer began this Psalm by saying, “Lord, why do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” When we suffer it seems like God was sleeping at the wheel. But now the writer says, “God sees the trouble of the afflicted.” I wonder what happened in his life that he had a change of heart and viewed God’s love differently. Did he read a specific promise in the Bible? Did something extraordinary happen in his life? How did he go from doubt to faith?

Whatever happened, I pray it happens to you. I pray that you might look back on your pain and sadness and see that God was there. He saw you and continues to see you. Do you know why I know that? Do you remember when Jesus was up on the cross and there were all those people ridiculing and challenging him, saying, “Jesus come down from that cross and save yourself! Prove that you are the Messiah!” He most definitely could have come down from that cross. But Jesus didn’t. He stayed up on that cross. And do you know why? He saw you. He was thinking of how much he loves you. He would not come down from that cross until all your shame and guilt and pain were bleached clean with his blood.

He always sees you. And one day soon, you will get to see him.

Prayer

Jesus, it is hard to believe you see me and love me because I was treated like I don’t matter. Open my heart to believe that I’m important to you, that you love me, and because of your blood I’ve been bleached clean. Amen.

Two minutes of silence

Fall into Jesus Arms

Fall into Jesus Arms

Two minutes of silence

Psalm 10:14b

The victims commit themselves to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless.

Now comes the really hard part. In fact, it is so hard only the Holy Spirit can make this happen. Now, the Psalmist calls on all victims to commit themselves to the Lord as their helper. It is hard and impossible to do this on our own because our reason and emotions are telling us, “How can I commit myself to the Lord? He seems to have been absent in the past?” But the Psalmist, who was also a victim of abuse, has taken the first step, and he encourages us all to follow him.

Committing ourselves to the Lord is like participating in a “trust fall”. Have you ever done one of those team building exercises where you just fall back and trust that the person behind you will catch you? That is what the Psalmist is encouraging us to do. Just fall back into the arms of a loving and powerful God. Because Jesus died for you, you are a child of God and your heavenly Father is behind you to catch you.

What does feel like to fall in the arms of your heavenly Father? You feel safe and loved. You feel clean and forgiven. You feel like it is good that you exist. You feel like you have a reason to live today.

Prayer

Father in Heaven, I’m scared to trust you. I’m afraid that if I fall back into your arms you won’t be there. Lord Jesus, wash away my doubt. Holy Spirit fill up my heart with a new faith. Amen.

Two minutes of silence

Lord break their arm

Lord break their arm

Two minutes of silence

Psalm 10:15

15 Break the arm of the wicked man;
call the evildoer to account for his wickedness
that would not otherwise be found out.

The Psalmist doesn’t seem very Christian in this verse, does he? I thought Jesus said we are to turn the other cheek? I thought we were supposed to forgive and forget? Well, the only way I can “turn the other cheek” and let go of my anger is by knowing that God will right every wrong. The reason I don’t need to drink the poison of envy and hatred and bitterness is because God is in charge and he will judge all wickedness.

In a strange way, hell is a very comforting teaching in the Bible. God hates wickedness so much that he created hell so that the devil and all his angels would suffer eternally. But also, if the wicked don’t repent and plead to the Almighty God that their wickedness be forgiven for Jesus’ sake, they will have to spend eternity paying for their wrongs as well.

We know God takes wickedness seriously. Just look at what Jesus went through on the cross. Jesus suffered hell so that you would never have to. May the Lord lead you to leave all of the injustice in your life in his capable and just hands.

Prayer

Almighty God, I get so angry with those who have hurt me. I want them to feel the pain that I have felt. I want to get my revenge. Forgive me Jesus. I hand over all the wicked to you. You are their judge. I don’t need to carry that burden any longer. Now give me your joy and peace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Two minutes of silence

Walking in Peace

Walking in Peace

Two minutes of silence

Psalm 10:16-18

16 The Lord is King for ever and ever;
the nations will perish from his land.
17 You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
18 defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that mere earthly mortals
will never again strike terror.

The Psalmist has come a long way from where he began his prayer. He began crying out to God in despair, pounding on his chest, and now he is praising him. He calls him his king who rules over all things. Then he speaks sweet words of faith to the Lord, “You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted, you encourage them and you listen to their cry.” What a change!

Are you there yet? Has the Lord turned your pain into praise? Maybe not. And that’s ok. The wounds of abuse cut deep and they can take a long time to heal. The Lord knows something about time. At the beginning of time the devil brought pain and shame into his beautiful world. It took about 4000 years until the healed that pain through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection on the cross. And he is still taking time until he returns and restores his creation to the way it was always supposed to be.

Your story is not a short story. And as your story continues to unfold I want you to believe what this Psalm says. Look again at the verse above: The Lord hears your deepest desires. He will encourage you. He listens to your cry. He will defend you. And finally it is his will that you would no longer live in fear. May the Savior who has washed you clean, convince you that you are loved, forgiven, and safe.

Prayer

My dear Lord Jesus, I have a very broken past, and a long road ahead of me. Would you carry me down that road? Would you listen to me and encourage me? Would you defend me and love me? Grant me the peace that surpasses all understand to guard my heart, mind, and emotion. Lord Jesus, in your mercy, hear my prayer. Amen.

Two minutes of silence