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Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Things Fall Apart, Ep. 2 - Lonely and Forgotten

Introduction
A long time ago, in a land far away…
Joseph, a bright young man with the incredible ability 
to dream about the future, believed everyone would one day bow down before him. 
However, his plans for future dominance fell apart 
when his jealous brothers overpowered him and sold into slavery. 
Joseph found himself at the very bottom, serving as a slave 
in an Egyptian commander’s house. 
But God did not forget Joseph. 
His master, Potiphar, recognize Joseph’s special abilities 
and put him in charge of the whole estate. 
All was going well, until Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph. 
Joseph would not sin by committing adultery 
so Potiphar’s wife accused him of trying to rape her. 
Once again, Joseph’s hopes for fame and fortune fell apart... 
In today’s episode, we find Joseph rotting in the royal dungeon 
with two of Pharaoh’s former servants: a baker and a cup bearer. 
And yet, because God’s blessing rests on Joseph, 
everywhere he goes, he rises to the top. 
But what good is it to be at the top if you’re in chains, 
lonely and forgotten…

Genesis 40:5-23

While they were in prison, Pharaoh’s cup-bearer and baker each had a dream one night, and each dream had its own meaning. When Joseph saw them the next morning, he noticed that they both looked upset. “Why do you look so worried today?” he asked them.

And they replied, “We both had dreams last night, but no one can tell us what they mean.”

“Interpreting dreams is God’s business,” Joseph replied. “Go ahead and tell me your dreams.”

So the chief cup-bearer told Joseph his dream first. “In my dream,” he said, “I saw a grapevine in front of me. 10 The vine had three branches that began to bud and blossom, and soon it produced clusters of ripe grapes. 11 I was holding Pharaoh’s wine cup in my hand, so I took a cluster of grapes and squeezed the juice into the cup. Then I placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.”

12 “This is what the dream means,” Joseph said. “The three branches represent three days. 13 Within three days Pharaoh will lift you up and restore you to your position as his chief cup-bearer. 14 And please remember me and do me a favor when things go well for you. Mention me to Pharaoh, so he might let me out of this place. 15 For I was kidnapped from my homeland, the land of the Hebrews, and now I’m here in prison, but I did nothing to deserve it.”

16 When the chief baker saw that Joseph had given the first dream such a positive interpretation, he said to Joseph, “I had a dream, too. In my dream there were three baskets of white pastries stacked on my head. 17 The top basket contained all kinds of pastries for Pharaoh, but the birds came and ate them from the basket on my head.”

18 “This is what the dream means,” Joseph told him. “The three baskets also represent three days. 19 Three days from now Pharaoh will lift you up and impale your body on a pole. Then birds will come and peck away at your flesh.”

20 Pharaoh’s birthday came three days later, and he prepared a banquet for all his officials and staff. He summoned his chief cup-bearer and chief baker to join the other officials. 21 He then restored the chief cup-bearer to his former position, so he could again hand Pharaoh his cup. 22 But Pharaoh impaled the chief baker, just as Joseph had predicted when he interpreted his dream. 23 Pharaoh’s chief cup-bearer, however, forgot all about Joseph, never giving him another thought.

Loneliness
Poor Joseph. Every time he starts to rise like a star, someone does him wrong and it costs him.
First his brothers assaulted him and sold him into slavery.
Then Potiphar’s wife accused him of rape and Joseph ends up end prison--back in chains again only worse.  (How can anything be worse than being a slave?  Oh, being in a dungeon!)
Now the chief cup-bearer—a man with the influence to rescue Joseph—forgets him.
But God didn’t forget about Joseph and we will hear more about that story next Sunday, but today I want to talk about loneliness.

Have you ever felt lonely or forgotten, like no one cares about you?
Loneliness is a plague in our times. We are more connected than ever through technology. However, people seem lonelier than ever.  And currently, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, so many people are struggling with loneliness because we're trying to be more socially isolated for the sake of public health.  It's a real problem, because thing we're asked to do to keep people safe is the very thing that also fuels loneliness, which is a detriment to our mental/emotional health.

Loneliness can strike at any age of life. Your child might feel lonely if they struggle to make friends. They may be in a classroom full of other kids, but they feel lonely because they cannot connect. A college student who moves away from home for the first time may feel lonely and homesick because everything they are used to has changed. People often struggle with loneliness when things in their life fall apart: a child grows up and leaves home, someone is betrayed by a friend, a marriage ends in divorce, a loving spouse dies, etc.  You may also feel very lonely if you face a chronic debilitating illness; even if you have many people supporting you, no one really understands what you are going through and that makes you feel lonely. You would think that celebrities would be imune from feeling lonely, right?  I mean, they have thousands of people who love and adore them.  Surely they wouldn't fell lonely.  Unfortunately, people with a lot of fame often feel very lonely, because no one really knows them; people only know their persona and that itself can be very isolating.  Perhaps that is why we often hear of very famous celebrities committing suicide.  There are many things in life that can make you feel lonely. Have you ever struggled with loneliness? Are you struggling with loneliness now? 

Loneliness is often misunderstood. Loneliness is not  a state of being alone.
Loneliness is a state of feeling alone. A person can be in a crowd of people and still feel alone.
On the other hand, some people can be happy all by themselves for a long time and not feel lonely.
A person who is lonely may feel like no one listens to them. They feel isolated, forgotten, empty, incomplete, unloved, abandoned, unimportant. Loneliness is a dark, depressing place.

The Cure for Loneliness
God doesn’t want us to feel lonely. When God made us, “He said, It is not good for man [or woman] to be alone. I will make a helper that for him.” (Genesis 2:18). God created us for relationships—relationships with God and with each other. We’re designed to be social creatures. That’s why loneliness leads to health problems, substance abuse, antisocial behavior, heart disease and stroke, decreased memory and learning, depression and suicide, and poor decision-making. It’s important to deal with loneliness, but where do we begin?

What I’m about to say may sound like a church cliché, but it really is true. Hear me out.  

The cure for loneliness is Jesus. You were deigned from the very beginning to be in a relationship with God. That is why God made people. Tragically, sin separates us from God and breaks our our relationship with Him.  There's a deep void in our soul that only God can fill, but we can't be filled because sin is in the way.  And this makes our souls desperately hungry and thirsty.  So many times, people feel lonely and they try to address loneliness in all the wrong ways. 

People often try to solve loneliness by acquiring material things.  They think if they have the latest gadget or the nicest car in town everyone will love them and they won't be lonely anymore.  Or they reason, "If I have a really nice house with all the amenities, I will be comfortable and happy.  And I could even invite people over to visit. Then I won't be lonely."  It never works.  There are many people who have all these things and are still lonely. "Well," you say, "Of course that won't work.  Loneliness is about relationships."  And that's true.

That's why many people try to cure loneliness by building relationships with people.  And that may address half of the problem, but it doesn't really get to the heart of the matter.  The problem is, we were made for a relationship with people and God.  But when we turn to people to address the yearning we have for God, they cannot fill that void.  If they love us and truly care about us, they may try, but they will always fail.  We will be left disappointed and they will be upset that they let us down.  And this type of heartbreak happens all the time, because people who are lonely try to fill the longing for God in their soul with the love of people and it just won't work.  It's not fair to expect mortals to satisfy us in way that only the Divine can satisfy us.  Unfortunately, there are also many, many people in this world who do not love you or have your best interest in mind.  Because they are lonely and broken too and desperately trying to fill the hole in their soul, they will abuse you and use you.  And because you are lonely and desperate, you will allow them in the vain hope that a relationship with them will satisfy your deep yearning.  I see it happen so often that many people will submit themselves to bad relationship after bad relationship seeking a cure for loneliness that people cannot give.

And some will get so hurt by people they give up and decide to just build walls to keep people out.  They don't want to be hurt anymore so they just won't let anyone in any more.  Walls work well to keep people out, but they also keep you in.  Soon you find you are trapped in a prison even worse than the dungeon in which Joseph found himself.  That's not what you need.

Others will try to numb the pain of loneliness with drugs or alcohol.  And that may make you feel better---at first.  If you're drunk or high you may not feel the pain for a time.  But then you sober up and you feel it again.  And you have to get drunk or high again and each new cycle require more and more to make the pain go away.  Soon, you build up such a tolerance it doesn't work anymore.  And now you're in an even worse state because you broken and lonely and hurting and drunk or high.

Jesus is the only cure, because Jesus can to address our sin.  Jesus went to the cross on Calvary to pay the price of our sin.  His blood shed there washes away our sin so nothing separates us from God.  Now we can have a relationship with God when we repent and turn to Jesus as our Lord and allow Him to save us.  Then we begin to enjoy a fresh relationship with the God who created us for that very purpose!  Now we are free to also have healthy relationships with people because we don't expect them to give us what only God can give.  Now they are free to give us what people were suppose to give.

“But I have Jesus and I still feel lonely!”  You may still feel lonely at times after you become a Christian and begin a real relationship with Jesus. This can happen because our thinking is sometimes still immature  or because God allows lonely feelings in order to helps us grow our faith. 

Loneliness is a kind of separation anxiety. Small children feel separation anxiety when their parents leave them with a babysitter. They may cry as if their precious little hearts have been broken in pieces! They may feel abandoned and lonely. (And in a few minutes, hopefully, the get over it, right?) Of course (even though it breaks a parent’s heart to see this), we know the child is not abandoned. Right? As mature adults, we know, but the child is still immature and is still learning. They will grow up and eventually be able to be separate from their parents for longer and longer without feeling abandoned or lonely.

Similarly, overcoming loneliness for Christians is a natural part of growing in spiritual maturity. So don’t feel guilty or ashamed if you are a Christian and you still feel lonely. This is part of growing up in the faith and we all grow and mature in different ways at different times.  You may even struggle with loneliness as a Christian after you are quite spiritually mature, because God sometimes allows it in order to strengthen your faith and teach you endurance.  We must practice knowing that we are not alone—even if we at times feel alone. If Jesus is your Lord, His Holy Spirit is with you always—as close as your own heart. Cling to that Truth, especially in your loneliest times.

Find an End to Loneliness Through Jesus
Are you feeling lonely and forgotten?
I want to tell you today that the cure is found only through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
No one knows about loneliness better than Jesus. 
He left the glory of His Home in Heaven to come to our dark and broken world.
(Don't you know he must have been Homesick quite often?)
Jesus lived among people who didn’t understand him, were afraid of him and felt threatened.
Even His friends didn’t always get Him. In the end, those closest to him literally betrayed Him, abandoned Him, and denied HIm. He was tortured and nailed to a cross. And as Jesus was dying a horrible death, he cried out from Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (This is the prayer of someone who feels abandoned.) So when you feel lonely and forgotten, abandoned, unloved, unimportant, isolated, Who better to turn to than Jesus who came specifically to save you and went through all those feelings to do it? 

Material things won’t fill the void in your life.  People, friendships, romantic relationships, sex, none of these things will fill the emptiness inside you either.  Only Jesus, the Son of God, sent to save you and restore your relationship with God, the source of life and love, can help you with your loneliness.  Won’t you turn to Jesus today and be saved?  You can do that today.  I pray you will.  What’s stopping you?

And Christians, you who already follow Christ as your Lord.  Are you still struggling with loneliness too?  Why is that?  Is it because you are still looking for love and fulfillment in the wrong places?  Sometimes—even after we turn to Christ—we keep looking for joy and peace and love in the things of this world and the people of this world.  It’s an old habit that’s tough to break.  We have to look to Jesus first.  We have to practice finding our first and best relationship in Him.  Until Jesus is your all, everything else will suffer.  “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, he will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:33)

Won’t you decided to put Jesus first in your life today?  Won’t you choose this day to find your greatest relationship needs fulfilled by your relationship with the King?  Because when you do, all your other relationships will grow deeper and more fulfilling.  And the one’s that don’t grow (or come to an end) won’t bother you nearly as much because you are grounded in the infinite, perfect love of Christ.

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