God Is In Control. Really, He Is


I just listened to a video from various citizens of Georgia who were witnessing to problems in the 2020 election. Despite so many people who have come forward, despite clear violations of state election laws, despite numerical impossibilities, despite verified anomalies such as more votes than registered voters in some counties, any number of court cases in the “contested states” have been thrown out for one reason or another. Though any number of state representatives seem convinced that there is “something to see” in regards to election fraud, so far no one with the authority to make a difference seems interested in a real study of what happened and how to make it right.

There have been hearings before legislative committees in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, too, all with the same result—some state legislators seem convinced, some people who listen to the testimony, as I have, are convinced that something happened. But no legal body with the authority to do anything has looked at the evidence.

That’s just the election, the latest of the twists and turns in 2020. Of course an ongoing issue in many states is the mandated “lock down” which state governors have implemented because of the increased number of people contracting the Chinese Communist Party Corona Virus.

The fight has become all about whether or not a governor can make these “temporary” mandates that last for nearly a year. The latest in California is that restaurants, which had been allowed to host outdoor dining by following a variety of protocols which required the businesses to buy appropriate equipment, such as outdoor lighting, tents, tables, all located at least six feet apart, suddenly, and without explanation, were no longer allowed outdoor dining. Couple this action with the restrictions on churches, which have now been declared unconstitutional, and government “servants” time and again being exposed as law-breakers of these very onerous laws.

Take, for instance, the incident in November when California Governor Newsom urged us on a Friday to avoid air travel, and if we did so, to self-quarantine. Then the following Monday, he and a dozen or so legislators boarded a plane and flew to Hawaii for a conference. “Rules for thee, and not for me,” is the way one YouTube critic puts it.

And of course all rules about mask wearing and social distancing were out the window during the Black Lives Matter protests and riots. Rules for thee if you don’t agree with me, I guess that one could be called.

But of course, the racial tensions of the summer are just one more area of 2020 madness. People robbing and looting and burning, all in the name of Black Lives Matter? And then the disparaging remarks and even threats against anyone saying all lives matter—as if black lives aren’t included in “all lives.” On the tail of these protests came the “de-fund the police” movement, and in cities that did so, an immediate and steep rise in crime.

But apparently, the message was really “black lives matter more.” That certainly seems to be the message of the critical race theory which seems to have found a foothold in some educational institutions. To the point that a high school boy in Nevada is suing a “tax-payer funded charter school” for “coercive, ideological indoctrination” in regard to this Marxist way of looking at people as either members of the oppressor group or the oppressed group.

And yet, I say, God is in control?

Aren’t the lists of things that tore society apart this year proof that God is NOT in control? It can feel that way. Especially when so many people were dying from the virus early on, when people who are hospitalized or are in a nursing home can have no visitors. Surely God is not behind all this.

Or is He?

Another way to ask the question is this: Is God sovereign? In other words, is He really the supreme ruler, the One ultimately in charge, the final authority? And if not God, then who? Satan? Would we ever say Satan has more authority than God? How about Mankind? You know, free will and all. But do we not have free will only because God gave it to us?

In fact, did He not say to Adam, eat whatever you want, just not this one thing which I’ve determined is not good for you. Because if it was good for him, God would surely have given it. So God, in his infinite wisdom and all knowing power, put one small restriction on Adam’s free will. Meaning, God was and is the ultimate authority, the Sovereign Who is in charge.

The patriarch Job struggled with the idea that God was in charge while terrible things happened to him and his family. Joseph may have struggled in the same way, though we have no record of it. What we do have is his great declaration that though his brothers had truly planned evil against him, and had carried it out, God took their actions and used them as a means to preserve and protect Joseph’s whole family.

James, the writer of the New Testament letter, addresses the issue, saying right from the start that believers should rejoice in trials because something greater than the trial itself would result.

Paul sums up the point in Romans, in a misunderstood verse:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren(8:28-29)

God causes. All things. Covid, riots, election fraud. For good.

The part that too many people miss is that the good God is doing in and through all things is to bring those of us who love Him into conformity to the image of His Son.

In other words, to refine gold, to shape it into a valuable ring, there’s a lot of heat and melting and separating out the impurities and hammering and pressing into the mold so that the ring will be just right.

God does that for us as individuals and He does it for His Church. I know He did so for Israel and other nations in the past, and since He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, I suspect He still works with nations today in the same way.

Published in: on December 28, 2020 at 5:04 pm  Comments (7)  
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Have We Made Christmas Too Beautiful?


I think it was a message on the radio by Pastor Greg Laurie that got me thinking about the beauty of Christmas. In some ways Christmas should be beautiful because we have a beautiful Savior whose birth we are commemorating. It’s sort of like the now-ignored idea that when we go to church we wear our “Sunday best,” because God deserves our best.

But that idea morphed into an unhealthy tradition that actually kept some people away from church. So I wonder, is our beautiful Christmas doing the same?

First, the original Christmas was far from beautiful. Even the glory of the Lord that shone upon the shepherds caused them to be terrified. Not just a little disturbed. Not just mildly agitated. Terrified! That’s not so beautiful. These were men who stayed with their sheep during the night so that they would be in position to protect them. From robbers. From wild animals. From wandering into the dark. They likely were prepared to face all kinds of danger. But God’s glory terrified them.

Of course the message the angel delivered to them was beautiful. Joy. A Savior. The long expected King, born today! But that meant He was a newborn. Who couldn’t yet focus His eyes. Who had no bladder control. Who couldn’t eat solid food. Who needed to be burped. Who had a feeding trough for a bed. He couldn’t sit up or crawl or smile or speak or do anything king-like. He could sleep and cry and breast-feed and not much more. Not so beautiful when you think about it. But there is something beautiful about babies.

But they were in a stable, or wherever the manger was located. Not a clean hospital or a nicely decorated nursery. No cute matching outfit, not even a soft receiving blanket. Just strips of cloth wrapped about Him to protect Him from whatever was in that manger. Straw? Or had Joseph cleaned it out as best he could and the Christ lay with his step-dad’s cloak beneath Him? Had Mary the help of a midwife to cut the umbilical cord, to take care of the afterbirth? Was she able to get a quick bath before the shepherds showed up? Whatever. We can be fairly certain that Jesus’s surroundings weren’t so very pastoral as we often picture them. Not so peaceful or so beautiful.

In spite of this, the shepherds believed the message the angel had delivered. This was the Christ, born to be the Savior. Their Savior. They determined to go see this thing “that had happened,” not because they were skeptical and wanted to see if what the angel said was really true, but because they believed it was true. Their faith was beautiful.

Maybe the least beautiful part of the original Christmas was the fact that Jesus came to earth to be the once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of the world. That meant He was destined for the cross of Calvary, that the red of Christmas is His blood, shed for all who believe in Him.

The green? Perhaps the evergreen of eternal life that is ours because of Christ.

So the red and green of Christmas is truly beautiful, but not that first Christmas. The suffering of death was still ahead for the baby as He lay in the manger. And the thing about shed blood, about sacrifice, is that it’s not beautiful as it is happening. It’s painful and messy and full of loss and sorrow and, in Christ’s case, betrayal, rejection, disappointment, confusion. Not beautiful.

But after the fact, the wonder of His love is proven by the nail prints in His hands, the hole in His side, the red wine that represents His blood, the broken bread that represents His body. All the evidences of Christ, alive are beautiful, sacred, filled with such meaning they cause us to weep even today.

So which is it? Is Christmas beautiful or not?

I suppose it depends on whether or not we scratch the surface. Today we make all the outside trappings beautiful—decorated trees, Christmas wrapping, music, light displays, special Christmas cookies, cozy and warm settings with snow falling outside. You know, the Kincaid picture (the kind I love so much).

But what’s underneath? If we don’t get to the Savior who brings joy and peace, who solves our sin problem, who gave Himself as God’s gift to the world, then all the external beauty we manufacture stands in stark contrast to the reality of that first Christmas. I guess it’s up to each of us to make Christmas beautiful indeed.

Published in: on December 20, 2018 at 5:44 pm  Comments (2)  
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God Knows


I find myself saying “God knows” a lot these days. God knows about the person who is living an immoral life style. God knows about the unfair treatment the church person is meting out. God knows about the corruption in our government and the lies from the politicians. God knows about the problems I see at so many different levels.

I am comforted by the fact that God knows. It’s a reminder to me that even the things that seem so out of control actually aren’t.

I think of young Joseph, gang tackled by his older brothers and hauled to a pit, even as he pleaded for his life. Did he think in those darkest moments when he was fished out of the hole and pushed into the hands of the slavers, that God knows?

Certainly, years later Joseph knew that truth. God knew and as a result had the whole circumstance under control. In fact, all the evil directed at Joseph, God turned to the good for … well, the world.

Because He sent Joseph ahead to preserve the lives of his entire family, He set in motion so many things related to Jesus—His lineage and numerous important types that show the story of salvation. There would have been no exodus if Joseph hadn’t gone to Egypt. There would have been no Passover lamb, no passing through the sea on dry land, no giving of the law, no priestly office, no serpent lifted up for the sick to look at and be healed, no daily portion of manna, and on and on.

After the fact, Joseph could tell his brothers that he got it—God knew, and what was evil, He made good. Now we can read the story and see too, the way God worked it all out. But what was Joseph thinking at the time? Wouldn’t he have been comforted if he could have glimpsed the end?

Of course, God had graciously given him just such a glimpse. Remember the dreams? God had shown Joseph his family bowing to him. Not once, but twice.

Did the memory of those dreams comfort Joseph when all seemed so horribly wrong? Did he think, I don’t know how this will happen, but God said He would put me as a ruler over my family. He knows I’m a slave now instead.

I suspect Joseph did hold onto the truth because he clearly held onto God. When his master’s wife wanted to sleep with him, he didn’t say, Your husband might find out. He said, How can I sin against God?

That’s the answer of a man who understood that God knows.

This article was first published here in October 2010.

Published in: on October 11, 2018 at 5:12 pm  Comments Off on God Knows  
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Speaking The Truth In Love Is Not Victim Shaming


I don’t want to write this post. I really, really don’t. But we in the church have picked up the verbiage and values of our culture, and it shows itself in the most ugly way.

First, the problem. In patriarchal societies, sinful men will act sinfully and they often sin against women. That’s a fact, and it has been since Adam first blamed Eve for his own disobedience.

In contemporary western culture, however, we have taken a strange turn. When men sin against women, to counsel women how they can protect themselves, is “victim shaming” and ought not to be done.

Here’s where all this is coming from. On Monday someone in a writers’ Facebook group drew our attention to a Publisher’s Weekly article about four Christian writers’ conference presenters who have been accused of and/or investigated for sexual misconduct.

One of the many people who commented said this:

The code of conduct [which conference directors are beginning to include for their staff] should apply to everyone–male and female, attendees or staff. Some of the clothing I’ve seen is really questionable, especially at a Christian conference. Not that it gives the other person any rights, but get a clue, folks. Don’t wear suggestive clothing!

Well, this opened the floodgates to the “victim shaming” accusation:
* What a sad, victim-shaming comment.
* I would love to think we’ve gotten past this way of thinking. Wow.
* that you think clothing choices lead to (and excuse) male misconduct is both shaming to women and insulting to men. [Never mind that the commenter specifically said: “Not that it gives the other person any rights.”]
* when I see someone implying that a woman brought abuse on herself because of how she dressed or what she did all my niceness goes out the window. It is never ever the victim’s fault.

And on the comments went, most taking the stance that any word to women was victim shaming. I admit, the comment was blunt and in my opinion should have carried a tone of compassion and love, but it caused me to think.

As a result, in another discussion of the PW article, I made this comment:

One thing that has dismayed me is that when someone says women can be discerning and can do something to shut down predators, their comments are considered “victim shaming.” How are we to have a conversation that will help young women if we can’t say anything about what they should do in response or as a precaution or to enhance discernment?

A friend of mine took the time to give a thoughtful answer:

The time to tell women how to protect themselves is not when we are discussing predators. It makes it seem as if we’re shifting blame. That comes during other discussions, not during the focus on predators.

It’s like when someone’s kid dies drunk driving. You don’t start lecturing on how bad it is to drink and drive to the grievers. You grieve with them and comfort them. Later, another time, another forum, you can be active in speaking against intoxicated operation of vehicles and heavy machinery.

But when women are talking about their pain and abuse is not the time to say, “Well, don’t stand so close, don’t be alone in their room or in an elevator, don’t sit next to them at a table if you know they tell racy jokes or touch a lot, don’t smile when you feel uncomfortable, speak up, etc.”

But . . . the comment that drew such ire was not directed to the victims. It specified that the men had no right to do what they did. And if not when the incident surfaces, then when?

I’d make this comparison. What if a serial rapist was on a university campus and had not been caught. This has actually happened. It isn’t a pretend scenario. On the news there will often be careful instructions about how women on that campus should call security if they must walk alone at night, stay in groups, even carry mace. Is that victim shaming? Of course not. That’s giving sensible instruction about how a woman can discourage an attack on her person from the rapist.

So I have to wonder, why are a clear warning and some helpful insights considered victim shaming? Why can’t we talk to women who may find themselves in a vulnerable situation about what they can and should do to protect themselves?

I think of Joseph, and one of the PW commenters actually mentioned him, when he was propositioned day after day by his boss’s wife. It wasn’t his fault, the commenter pointed out. So very true. But what did Joseph do? He ran!

Clearly that woman had power over him, but Joseph didn’t “go with the flow” or decide that she was just harmlessly flirting with him or that he could get further ahead if he let her have her way. He made a decision that what she was pressing him to do was wrong before God, and he left.

Reminds me of what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:18a—“Flee immorality.”

Today we talk about having boundaries, and in my opinion, that’s just another way of saying flee. Keep an inappropriate relationship at arm’s distance, or further, if necessary.

I know when I was young, I would have appreciated some wise counsel in this area. Because I was naive and stupid. I actually faced a couple scary situations, largely of my own making. Well, sure, not that the guys involved were free to have their way, but because I gave them the wrong impression—that I was available and willing. I was just goofing around, having fun, and these were strangers who I never saw again, but the situation could have had a very different ending, but for the grace of God.

Reminds me of a time I was taking a neighbor’s son home from school. He kept flashing gang signs out the window. I finally pulled over and told him in no uncertain terms that what he was doing could get us killed. Not that a real gang member (my neighbor’s son was not) would have the right to attack someone flashing signs at him. But the end result would be the same: we’d be innocent, and dead.

That may sound extreme, but listen to women who have faced abuse or harassment. They will say how much it has affected their lives, their marriages. We’re talking about something dangerous, so to basically say, Don’t tell women how to keep this man who wants to exert his power over you from doing so because that is victim shaming, in my opinion simply perpetuates the problem.

I get that the women who are suffering, who are dealing with confrontation and with forgiveness, and what all that means, don’t need to hear what they could have done in the past. That isn’t helpful to them. But it would be greatly helpful for the women coming along behind them to know that they don’t have to expect the same to happen. There are boundaries that the can draw, even if it means they lose something temporarily, as Joseph did. Sometimes there’s a cost, and that can be intimidating. Which is why we should talk about these things instead of hiding them under cover of the world’s “victim shaming” accusation.

The Pharaoh Who Didn’t Know Joseph


Joseph saved his family. Well, God did, through Joseph. He said it clearly to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” But it just dawned on me, the “many people” were also the Egyptians.

How many of them would have died during a seven-year drought if God hadn’t warned Pharaoh, through Joseph, so that they saved grain during the years of plenty?

Joseph was a hero. His father was an honored elder, so much so that many Egyptian dignitaries accompanied Joseph and his brothers to Canaan to bury Jacob in the family burial plot when he died.

But then the Pharaoh who didn’t know Joseph came to power.

First off, he was afraid of the people of Israel. After all, they were so many! And of course he started playing the “what if” game. What if, in a battle against our enemies, they join the opposition?

That kind of thinking would have not taken hold if the people of Israel and the Egyptians were still friends. If the Egyptians were still treating them with respect. But apparently that wasn’t the case.

I’ve wondered, how did a people go from being protected to being enslaved. The roots were there in Joseph’s day. Scripture records that the Egyptians found it loathsome to eat with the Hebrews, which meant Joseph, even as the second in command of the nation, ate by himself.

Also back in that day, Joseph told his brothers that the Egyptians despised shepherds—which, of course, was exactly how the Hebrews made their livelihood.

So already the roots of division were in the society—elements of prejudice and disrespect.

Add in that Pharaoh “suggested” that some of Joseph’s newly arrived family could also care for his flocks and herds. Let the Hebrews do the dirty job, the Egyptians hated.

And would Joseph’s family have balked at this? Hardly! They saw Pharaoh and Egypt as their salvation. They would have died if they stayed home. Instead they were provided with abundant pasture land and the food they needed to survive the drought. Was caring for Pharaoh’s livestock too much to ask? Not at all.

Except, the foundation for slavery was undoubtedly laid right there. If the Hebrews did what Pharaoh asked when it came to the animals, why not ask them to “help” with the construction of a couple storage cities?

By the time the Pharaoh came to power who didn’t know Joseph, the Hebrews were not only numerous, they were invaluable. That’s the second horn of this ugly animal the Egyptians had created. Not only did they fear the Hebrews, they needed them and they didn’t want to lose them. So as part of the “what if” game, the Pharaoh postulated, What if they leave?

He said to his people, “Behold, the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we. Come, let us deal wisely with them, or else they will multiply and in the event of war, they will also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us and depart from the land.” (Exodus 1:9-10, emphasis added)

His way of “dealing wisely?” First he brought in taskmasters to oversee the Hebrews’ work. Next to assigned the Hebrew midwives to kill the baby boys when they were born. That plan didn’t work, so he passed the law that the boys should be exposed as infants—thrown in the river, killed, by their parents.

I think it’s safe to say, this man who did not know Joseph also did not know God.

Think for a second with me: why would he order only the boys to be killed? What would become of those baby girls when they grew up? No Hebrew men to marry. Would the Egyptians take them as wives? Or more likely take those slaves for their harems?

We have no idea how long this edict lasted or how many babies died. Was it a generation of Hebrews, which would mean there weren’t many men Moses’s age who were involved in the Exodus. But that’s another story.

From this Pharaoh who didn’t know Joseph, I think it’s easy to see how fear changes everything. From offering friendship, mutual cooperation, protection, and shared benefits to slavery and murder.

Fear wasn’t alone. There was some greed there, too. This Pharaoh wanted to use people, particularly those he saw as inferior.

Are there lessons in this story for Americans today in conjunction with immigration? I’d say so. And I’d say they are these: don’t let fear dictate policy, in this story called “dealing with them wisely”; and second, don’t use people. Don’t use them as a political football, and don’t use them to further the American economy

Not heeding those two simple points may have the same kind of dire consequences for the US that they had for Egypt back in the day.

Published in: on September 4, 2018 at 5:08 pm  Comments Off on The Pharaoh Who Didn’t Know Joseph  
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Joseph, The Clueless?


I love the story of Joseph. I just think too often in the past I idolized him. I think I did that with a lot of the Bible people if at some point they shone forth as heroes of the faith.

I now see Joseph differently. After all, he was an ordinary human like the rest of us.

Here’s what we know: he was his daddy’s favorite.

All the brothers knew he was, to the point that they became so jealous they could hardly speak to him.

His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms. (Gen. 37:4)

Funny thing, Joseph seemed clueless about their attitude. Once he had a dream that could only be interpreted as Joseph ruling over his brothers, and he didn’t hesitate to tell them about it.

Their response was exactly what you’d imagine:

Then his brothers said to him, “Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

But clueless Joseph wasn’t done. He had another dream, this one showing that not only his brothers would worship him but his parents would also. You’d think he would have seen his brothers’ response the last time he told them his dream, and maybe kept this one to himself. But no. He couldn’t resist, which earned him a derogatory nickname with his brothers: That Dreamer.

I have to wonder, actually, if Joseph was so clueless. Perhaps pride would better explain for his actions.

After all, Joseph was young and handsome, the favorite of his father, blessed with spiritual insight that allowed him to have prophetic dreams, and those showed him ruling over his older brothers and his parents.

So maybe Joseph wasn’t so much unaware of his brothers’ reaction to him and to his dreams as he was proud to “share.” Scripture doesn’t tell us Joseph was proud, but his actions suggest either a cluelessness or a prideful heart.

Is it possible to know which? Perhaps. I think we can see something true about Joseph later in life that contradicts the idea that he was clueless. Of course, it’s possible that he had changed. Who wouldn’t, after his brothers sold him into slavery, after his master’s wife accused him of attempted rape, and after getting thrown in prison unjustly? Joseph definitely did change, but perhaps not in the way many would expect.

If Joseph had lived today in western society he likely would have clamored for justice and perhaps revenge. Instead, the real life Joseph simply went about his business doing the best he knew how to do. As a result, God blessed him, first as a servant, as a prisoner, and eventually as a ruler.

There came a day, however, when two of his fellow prisoners woke up troubled. The important thing here is that Joseph noticed.

When Joseph came to them in the morning and observed them, behold, they were dejected. He asked Pharaoh’s officials who were with him in confinement in his master’s house, “Why are your faces so sad today?” (Gen. 40:6-7)

Mr. Clueless didn’t need someone to jab an elbow in his ribs and point to the two miserable servants of the king. He didn’t need someone spelling out that these two were upset about something. Rather, Joseph had changed—one way or the other.

Either he’d grown some sensitivity in Egypt, or he’d never been clueless in the first place. In fact, he might have been a discerning guy all along. In which case, his telling the brothers who couldn’t even speak in a friendly manner to him, all about the “I’ll one day rule over you” dream just might have been little brother Joseph rubbing their noses in his favored standing and future greatness.

I tend to think the latter was true, but God still had a lesson to teach Joseph. After he accurately interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s two servants, Joseph asked the one returning to the palace to remember him. In other words, he’d done this guy a favor and was asking for a little back-scratching in return.

But God didn’t want Joseph depending on his own ways, his own manipulations. Consequently, he sat in that prison for another three years.

When at last Pharaoh’s servant did remember Joseph, it was because his master needed someone who could interpret dreams. Notice the difference in Joseph’s two responses to people asking for dream interpretations. First to the two servants three years earlier when they were in prison:

Then they said to him, “We have had a dream and there is no one to interpret it.” Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please.”

In his response was Joseph claiming to be God?

Surely not. I mean I never thought so in the past, but I know how the story ends. I believe he took a further step forward three years later, because his response to Pharaoh requesting an interpretation of his dream, was completely unambiguous:

Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” (Gen. 41:15-16)

Joseph the clueless became Joseph the humble. Later he even said to his brothers, with no animosity in his heart,

And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. (Gen. 50:20)

Joseph was in a position of power and could have brought the wrath of Pharaoh down on his brothers. He could have said, Told ya so! Instead, he wept when his brothers, fearful of Joseph’s revenge, asked for forgiveness. Then he assured them that they had no reason to fear him: “But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?” (Gen. 50:19).

He certainly wasn’t clueless at that point, if he’d ever been. But more importantly, he was walking humbly with his God.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in August, 2014.

Published in: on August 31, 2018 at 5:40 pm  Comments (4)  
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God And His Mysterious Ways


Some people try to define God’s work, and therefore to define God—sort of like trying to photograph a double rainbow that stretches across the sky. If you could just snap the picture, then you’d have the rainbow for always.

God doesn’t operate in such a way that we can ever capture Him. Yet—and here’s one of the most mysterious of His Ways—He voluntarily, willfully declares my heart His home.

As far as “mysterious ways” is concerned, I think of Joseph resisting the sexual temptations Potiphar’s wife threw at him day after day, only to end up in prison. Well, not “end up” because he moved from the outhouse to the penthouse in a mere thirteen years. Thirteen years that undoubtedly had Joseph thinking nothing would ever change, that his life was going to continue on and on and on in the dungeon. But it didn’t. God had big things in store for Joseph.

I think of the little slave girl, an Israelite captive torn from her home, probably from her family, refusing to be bitter or to seek revenge but reaching out to bless the man she worked for by telling him of the prophet of God who could cure him of his leprosy. As a result, the mighty Aramean officer ended up declaring, “Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel” (2 Kings 5:20).

Then there is Samson. What an amazing thing that God used that philanderer. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have chosen him. He was supposed to be a Nazarene from birth, but he broke the parameters more than once that defined that special relationship with God. He seemed self-absorbed and more inclined to use God than serve Him. But God was pleased to include him as a judge of Israel, pleased to make him a means to free His people from the oppressive rule of the Philistines.

Or how about the beauty pageant that ended up sparing the lives of hundreds of Jews? I remember when I first heard about Esther, I was horrified that Mordecai didn’t try to sequester her away or make a run for the hills. Instead, he truly seemed to be encouraging her, and she seemed to want to win the role as queen. Except, unlike the fairy tales, this was no monogamous happy-together-ever-after story. No! Esther got to be part of the kings harem (think of all the women he slept with before he slept with her and finally decided she was queen material). And yet, God used her in that place to save hundreds, maybe thousands.

What about in contemporary times? God used the death of five young husbands, some also fathers, to save a group of people who had never heard of Jesus, at the same time turning the hearts of countless believers to become involved in missions.

He used a spinster lady in the latter end of middle-aged through to her “golden years” to teach a generation what forgiveness really means, to spread the gospel of God’s incredible power over death and destruction and hatred and evil.

He is using the humble submission of an athletic teenage girl who suffered a catastrophic, debilitating accident, who has lived life for forty-five years as a quadriplegic and continues to tell of her love for her Lord.

I would have done things differently, I’m sure. Look how talented Joni Eareckson Tada is—as an artist, a writer, a speaker. How much more could she do if she weren’t in a wheelchair? What a silly person I am. Who would have heard of Joni if she hadn’t been the girl who drew holding her pen in her mouth? And what would she be talking about now or who would listen? Isn’t it her willing submission in the face of her adversity that makes her life so winsome?

God knows these things. He knows what it takes. But to us, because we don’t know what it takes, His ways will always appear mysterious.

God moves in a mysterious way
his wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
of never failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs
and works his sovereign will.

You fearful saints, fresh courage take;
the clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
in blessings on your head.

His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
and scan his work in vain:
God is his own interpreter,
and he will make it plain.
– by William Cowper

– – – – –

This article is a reprint of one originally posted May 2011 and reprised in October 2014.

Heroes Of Christmas – Joseph


OK, most people would count Joseph as either a hero of Christmas or a bit player. After all, Scripture doesn’t say much about his role other than that he went to register for the census along with Mary. Even that statement makes him seem sort of like a butler or bodyguard. I mean, Mary had to get to Bethlehem some way in order to fulfill the prophecy about the Messiah’s birth place, right? So why not on Joseph’s coattails?

The thing about Joseph—he shows his mettle between the lines.

First he showed himself to be a kind, thoughtful person when he first realized Mary was pregnant. He knew he wasn’t the father, so by all natural means, that meant Mary had been unfaithful to him.

His choices: break up with her publicly or break up with her privately. In that culture, an engagement was binding, and no one broke an agreement lightly. In the case of an unfaithful wife or an unfaithful woman promised in marriage, the jilted would-be husband could legitimately ask for the woman to be treated as an adulteress. That meant stoning.

Joseph didn’t want that for Mary. In other words, thinking she had wronged him, he still did not want to treat her in like kind.

While he was thinking all this through, an angel appeared to him in a dream and told him to go ahead and take Mary as his wife. So, option three, one Joseph hadn’t considered before.

Without a complaint, he did what he was told. How tempting to say, Really? I have to raise a boy that isn’t my own? I have to stand by a woman who will undoubtedly receive the scorn of our neighbors? I have to take her down to Bethlehem, looking like that? I mean, all the relatives will be there. What will they think?

None of that.

What he did do was obey the angel. He married the woman and keep her a virgin until after Jesus was born. Kept her a virgin. That’s nothing to ignore in this story. If Joseph had claimed his lawful conjugal rights, Jesus’s status as the Son of God would be forever in question. Accusations could easily be leveled that this idea about a conception apart from the human order of things was just a convenient story.

But if Joseph kept Mary a virgin, what other explanation was there except that God had performed a miracle?

Further, he didn’t complain that he had the responsibility to deliver that baby safely into the world. Maybe he didn’t actually do the delivering. He might have hunted up one of Bethlehem’s midwives instead. But either way, it fell on him to see that Mary was cared for. That Jesus was cared for. Did he worry and fret and pace while Mary was in labor? Was he kneeling beside her, holding her hand? Did he wipe sweat from her forehead? Did he cut the umbilical cord? Did he procure the cloths that she used to wrap Jesus in? Was it his idea to put Him in the manger?

Joseph didn’t complain that Mary would be the mother of the Christ child but he would be just the stepdad. He didn’t shrink back from a life that would be lived in the shadow of his wife and his stepson.

In fact, he embraced the responsibility. First he made sure Mary’s little baby was circumcised, as Jewish law required. And he named Him Jesus, as the angel had told him to do. When a second angel warned him in a dream—not them, not Mary, just Joseph—that Herod was coming after Jesus to kill him, he got his little family on the road and headed for Egypt.

He obviously kept his ear to the ground, because he knew when Herod died, when he could safely return home.

He didn’t shrink from all that was required of him, even when he had to make personal sacrifices. He listened to God’s messengers. He didn’t insist on his own way. He was kind and protective and obedient—a real Christmas hero.

Published in: on December 22, 2017 at 5:10 pm  Comments (4)  
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God And His Mysterious Ways


Joni Eareckson Tada is celebrating an anniversary this year—a personal one. Fifty years ago when she was 17 she had a debilitating accident that left her a quadriplegic. In her honor I’m re-posting this article, with a few minor edits and revisions.

– – – – –

Some people try to define God’s work, and therefore to define God—sort of like trying to photograph a double rainbow that stretches across the sky. If you could just snap the picture, then you’d have the rainbow for always.

God doesn’t operate in such a way that we can ever capture Him. Yet—and here is one of the most mysterious of His Ways—He voluntarily, willfully declares my heart His home.

I think of Joseph resisting the sexual temptations that Potiphar’s wife threw at him day after day, only to end up in prison. Well, not “end up” because he moved from the outhouse to the penthouse in a mere thirteen years—thirteen years that undoubtedly had Joseph thinking nothing would ever change, that his life was going to continue on and on and on in the dungeon. But it didn’t. God had big things in store for Joseph.

I think of the little slave girl, an Israelite captive torn from her home, probably from her family, refusing to be bitter or to seek revenge but reaching out to bless the man she worked for by telling him of the prophet of God who could cure his leprosy. As a result, the mighty Aramean officer ended up declaring, “Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel” (2 Kings 5:20).

Then there is Samson. What an amazing thing that God used that philanderer. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have chosen him. He was supposed to be a Nazarite from birth, but more than once he broke the parameters that defined that special relationship with God. He seemed self-absorbed and more inclined to use God than serve Him. But God was pleased to include him as a judge of Israel, pleased to make him a means to free His people from the oppressive rule of the Philistines.

Or how about the beauty pageant that ended up sparing the lives of hundreds of Jews? I remember when I first heard about Esther, I was horrified that Mordecai didn’t try to sequester her away or make a run for the hills. Instead, he truly seemed to be encouraging her, and she seemed to want to win the role as queen. Except, unlike the fairy tales, this was no monogamous happy-together-forever story. No! Esther got to be part of the kings harem (think of all the women he slept with before he slept with her and finally decided she was queen material). And yet, God used her in that place to save hundreds, maybe thousands.

What about in contemporary times? God used the death of five young husbands, some also fathers, to save a group of people who had never heard of Jesus, at the same time turning the hearts of countless believers to become involved in missions.

Corrie ten Boom

He used a spinster lady in the latter end of middle-age, all the way to her “golden years” to teach a generation what forgiveness really means, to spread the gospel of God’s incredible power over death and destruction and hatred and evil.

He is using the humble submission of a once athletic teenage girl who suffered a catastrophic, debilitating accident, who has lived life for fifty years as a quadriplegic and who continues to tell of her love for her Lord.

I would have done things differently, I’m sure. Look how talented Joni Eareckson Tada is—as an artist, a writer, a speaker. How much more could she do if she weren’t in a wheelchair? What a silly person I am. Who would have heard of Joni if she hadn’t been the girl who drew holding her pen in her mouth? And what would she be talking about now or who would listen? Isn’t it her willing submission in the face of her adversity that makes her life so winsome?

God knows these things. He knows what it takes. But to us, because we don’t know what it takes, His ways will always appear mysterious.

God moves in a mysterious way
his wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
of never failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs
and works his sovereign will.

You fearful saints, fresh courage take;
the clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
in blessings on your head.

His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
and scan his work in vain:
God is his own interpreter,
and he will make it plain.
– by William Cowper

– – – – –

This article is an edited reprint of one originally posted May 2011.

But Even If He Doesn’t …


Joseph016I find myself drawn to heroes who faced impossible circumstances with unwavering trust. Some of them, whether people we know from Scripture or from extra-Biblical sources, died, some of them lived to recount for the world God’s miraculous provision.

The point is, going into their circumstances, none of these people knew what awaited them. The faith of both those who lived and those who died was equally strong.

Abraham was that kind of “strong faith” person—more than once. Initially God told him to go to a land He would show the then young Abram, so he went, not knowing where he was going.

Later, as an older man with the son he’d waited his whole life for, he went again, knowing where this time but faced with the task of giving up the son he loved so much.

We know this side of the event that God provided a ram to substitute for Abraham’s son and that He gave him the Promised Land to be the home of his people. But Abraham was on that side and didn’t see what we see. He made his choices based on his faith and trust in God.

That’s appealing to me.

Joseph spent thirteen years as a slave and kept his faith in God—not knowing he would end up the second in command to Pharaoh.

Daniel’s three friends had no way of knowing they’d walk out of a furnace heated so hot it killed the guards that put them inside, but they believed God was capable of rescuing them.

Daniel himself prayed even though he knew he’d end up with the lions, and didn’t know he’d survive the night.

On the other hand, Stephen died because he preached Jesus Christ as Messiah. Jim Elliott died taking the gospel to an indigenous people group in South America, Corrie ten Boom’s sister Betsy died in the German concentration camp despite her faithful witness and unselfish life.

Yet these people who don’t appear victorious are just as compelling to me. They faced death and they didn’t waver, they didn’t back down or give into the temptation to call in question God’s character.

I think the thing is, I realize that each of those people—the ones who came through the trial happily, even miraculously, and the ones who died, shared the same faith. They knew that God was trustworthy. They didn’t measure His goodness or love or mercy or provision or faithfulness based on the stuff of this world, not even their life breath.

Habakkuk said it best, I think:

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

The point is, God is worthy of our exultation whether we have the stuff of this world or not. He is the God of our salvation. He has transferred us from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of His beloved Son. What else do we need as proof of His love and care?

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in May 2013.

Published in: on September 14, 2016 at 6:52 pm  Comments Off on But Even If He Doesn’t …  
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