The Power of Insignificant Events

The story of Joseph is one of my favorites, and I’m clearly not the only one who things so. It’s a tale that’s been told and retold, including in the popular musical, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” What interests me is how the entire story hinges on one seemingly insignificant event.

The story begins in Genesis 37, with Joseph having dreams that are pretty simple to interpret. They indicate that someday he will receive honor and respect from his entire family. This provokes his brothers to hate him more than they already do for the favoritism their father bestows on him (including that famous coat). Planning first to murder him, they then opt instead to sell him into slavery.

He’s taken by traders to Egypt, where he rises to be head of the household staff for a rich man. When he refuses the amorous advances of his master’s wife, she accuses him of rape and he’s thrown in jail.

In jail he eventually becomes second to the jailer. When he successfully interprets the dreams of two fellow inmates, the one who promised to help him out subsequently forgets. Later that man, cupbearer to Pharaoh, remembers when the king needs a  couple of dreams interpreted. Joseph is brought out, interprets the dreams and then becomes a sort of prime minister for all of Egypt.

It’s tale with a happy ending…sort of. Because Joseph comes out on top in Egypt, he’s able to save his entire family and the nation of Egypt from famine. At the same time, we know this sets the scene for the enslavement of the nation. In any case, in the long run this was all part of God’s plan. Joseph had come to understand this truth and it was for this reason that he was not angry with his brothers when finally he had them where vengeance was possible.

“Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come close to me.’ When they had done so, he said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.’” (Genesis 45:4-8 NIV)

From thinking he would die, to being sold into slavery and later falsely accused of attempted rape and thrown in jail to rot, it had been a hard road. Certainly in none of those terrible lows did he understand what God was doing, or what the visions of his youth had been about. His faith must have taken a beating, but despite his circumstances he remained faithful to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

In the slave caravan heading towards Egypt and as he fell asleep at night in prison, he must have thought back to one insignificant moment when everything could have been different. I know that’s what I’ve done in some of my hardest times, and even at some of my greatest peaks in life. How could so much suffering or success have such meaningless origins?

What am I talking about?

“When Joseph arrived at Shechem, a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, ‘What are you looking for?’ He replied, ‘I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?’ ‘They have moved on from here,’ the man answered. ‘I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’’So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.” (Genesis 37:14b-18 NIV)

What an insignificant event! Yet, if Joseph hadn’t been seen by that man and pointed in the right direction, the entire chain of events leading to Egypt and the ultimate salvation of his family would never have taken place. Or else, it would have had to take a different route. This has led some commentators to suggest that this man was an angel, but I see no need. God is at work even in the insignificant events.

Two stories and I’ll wrap this up.

First, when I was in my second year of college, the ministry couple from my church went to a convention where they heard from a few missionaries. What they heard got them fired up, but they said that due to severe allergies in their family it was out of the question for them to go to the overseas mission field. Their words stuck with me, and a few days later I called them and asked if they had the name of any mission agency represented at the gathering. They gave me the number for Christian Missionary Fellowship (now CMF International). The rest of the story you can read by clicking here, but suffice it to say that this was a massive turning point in my life, one that lead to Brazil.

Second, when I was about to graduate from college, someone I’d met in Brazil on one of my trips suggested I check out the city he and his family had just moved to with two other couples. They were sent there to help a small, new congregation. The city was Uberlândia. What’s strange about this is that that man turned out to be one of my worst adversaries ever, but because of him I met and married the wonderful woman who is now my wife. Without our “chance” encounter and his invitation, I’d never have even considered Uberlândia.

When I say that old cliché about God working in mysterious ways, I know what I’m talking about.

I’m going on 9 years outside of Brazil. I haven’t been back in all this time, and it’s been hard. We’re planning a family trip down this summer, and I’ll admit it has me a little nervous.  You see, I like my current job and working in New York, but I don’t like it in the United States. We needed to be here for a time, so the wife and kids could learn about my home culture and so that we could mature a bit. In truth, though, this isn’t our place. That makes me anxious to get back, but fearful that it won’t happen.

Like Joseph, if I dare make the comparison, I hope to get to the other side of this time and have sufficient perspective to see what God was doing all along.

Really, I don’t need a burning bush or a light from heaven to guide me, as welcome as those would be. All I need is an insignificant event to get (or keep) this narrative heading in the right direction.

See also:

Slavery in Brazil’s History (Video)

Most nations in the western hemisphere have some history of slavery, and Brazil is certainly no exception. A big difference between Brazil and, for example, the United States, is that the racial lines have long been blurred. European men in Brazil often took African and Native American wives and concubines, producing offspring that in turn continued the history of interracial relationships. Still, discrimination based on predominant racial background prevailed, and even today in a far more “progressive” Brazil there remains a subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) racism.

The documentary below from the BBC does an excellent job of telling the story of slavery in Brazil

Making a Nest

Derek had a fairly unusual experience. You see, a bird landed on his head in his rather thick, wavy black hair. Rather than wave it away, he simply ignored the little brown sparrow. It hunkered down into his rather thick, wavy black hair and peeked out from time to time. Arriving home, Derek’s wife Debbie noticed the bird immediately.

“Get that thing out of your hair!”

Derek walked passed her and into the living room to watch TV. From time to time the bird flew away, out the open window, then back again with a blade of grass or piece of straw.

“Derek, it’s making a nest! Get rid of that horrid thing!”

Derek only glanced at Debbie vacantly, then looked back to the TV. Debbie shut the window once when the bird flew out the window, but when it flew back and looked forelornly through the glass, Derek went outside and sat on the porch. The bird continued it’s project.

By bedtime, the nest was complete and the bird was settling down for the night.

“You will not sleep in the same bed…or even the same room with me if you have that dirty animal in your hair!”

Derek bedded down on the couch that night.

At work the next day, Derek’s co-workers joked and laughed until the boss noted. His face void of expression as his boss demanded an explanation, he was sent home from work that day. The boss said he didn’t need to come back any more if he was going to have the animal in his hair.

That evening a family friend came by to chat with Derek about the bird, but Derek said only, “It’s not a problem,” and kept silent for the rest of the visit. His mother came the next day and begged him to get rid of the bird, but he simply ignored her. The local vet came by the next day, offering to help him remove the bird with its nest and take care of the bird humanely. Derek had nothing meaningful to contribute to the conversation, and the vet went home empty handed.

Tearfully, Debbie put Derek out of the house. “Come back when you’re clean again.”

The bird had laid eggs, and white bird “doo” was dripping down around his ears and drying unattended. No restaurant would let him inside (it certainly was not hygenic). His money ran out pretty quickly anyway, and he kept himself going on what he found in dumpsters.

By the end of summer, the hatchlings had grown sufficiently to begin flying. The first hard freeze of autumn found Derek shivering in a dry ditch, covered with strips of cardboard for a makeshift blanket. The nest was empty.

Does this sound absurd, unlikely and dubious. Maybe, but the truth is that you could be doing the same thing that Derek did.

…and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27 NIV).

You can’t keep temptation from coming, but like the bird in Derek’s hair, you don’t have to let it make a nest. And, if it is already nestled in and cozy, you can still remove it. Maybe that seems impossible, but Christ can truly help you to get rid of the sin and clean up.

It could be that you are comfortable physically, but spiritually you are out of control. You have to get rid of it, for your own good.

“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell [Gehenna], where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. (Mark 9:43-48 NRSV).

Coming Soon: How God Became King

Rev. N.T. Wright has yet another book coming out soon. This one, entitled “How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels,” addresses familiar theme of faith in public life. From what I’ve read, it appears that Rev. Wright will revisit the question of the vocation of Jesus and what it means for us today. This is something he has written and spoken about regularly over the years, and one of his more popular books on the topic is “The Challenge of Jesus.” The difference is that he’s had over a decade since that book to reflect further, especially in light of experiences as a bishop.

Someday, perhaps, I can collect and thoroughly study all of Rev. Wright’s work. His scholarship has already had a significant impact on my life. I look forward to reading this book soon after it becomes available on March 13, 2012.

See also:
God Is Becoming King (Huffington Post)

Web Production in Public Schools

We’re living in the 21st century, but public schools continue making two errors in strategy regarding journalism and computer science.

First, the “school newspaper” had its day, and it’s over now. The commercial newspaper industry continues in deep decline, usurped by the Internet. It makes no sense to continue educating young people for a medium that no longer has real value.

Second, computer science courses in most public schools in the United States, including the middle school my daughter attends, teach only how to work with word processor and spreadsheets, the same things I learned in junior high in1990 when the average Joe hadn’t even heard of the Internet. We are living in a different age, when programming and system administration are skills in high demand. Why aren’t we educating for these areas?

My proposal is simple, though it would require an investment of time and money for schools to implement.

  • Adopt open software standards. Don’t spend a dime on Mac hardware or Windows software. Go completely open source. If the school IT guys don’t like it, don’t renew their contract and find someone who can do it.
  • Offer real programming courses, utilizing Scratch or something similar.
  • Teach html, CSS and basic Javascript.
  • Integrate journalism and computer science programs by
               – Building and maintaining a school news portal using WordPress.
               – Training young people on how to write stories for the web, submitting for editorial review.

The above approach would prepare students for real-world situations and real employment possibilities. It would call for system administrators, web developers and online journalists to be equipped to accomplish the task. It’s past time for this to be the standard approach in schools.

See also:
Digital Literacy: The Guardian’s Campaign to Upgrade Computer Science and IT in Schools
Bê-á-bá com Tecnologia da informação (Tiago Dória Weblog)

A Look at Linux Educacional 3.0 (

How to Show HTML Code Without the Browser Executing It

The trouble with showing html code for an example on a webpage is that the browser automatically interprets it and displays the results. For instance, you put in code for an image to show someone how it should look, but when you view the page online you see not the code but the image. You may have even tried

, thinking that would help.  It doesn't, of course, as you will also have seen if you did that.

The answer is simple. When you want to show html code in a browser, use > for > and < for
I hope this was clear. If there are any questions, feel free to ask.