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.

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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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‘Twas The Night Before Christmas


Christmas_Mary_and_Baby_Jesus011It was the night before Christmas, and Mary’s back hurt worse than at any time since she got pregnant. She felt as big as a house, and tired. Oh, so tired. The trip from Nazareth had been long and hard, and then when they finally got to Bethlehem, they couldn’t find a place to stay.

All their relatives had given their guest quarters to others. The only place available was with the animals. It gave them some protection from the elements, at least, but sleeping on the hard floor wasn’t going to help her sore back any.

But then her baby kicked. This little miracle who she was to name Jesus. He would come into this world and become know as Immanuel—God with us, or so the angel had said.

Angel. She could hardly believe an angel had actually talked to her, told her she had found favor with God, that she’d get pregnant without having intimate relations with a man, that her baby would be called the Son of God and would take the throne of David and reign forever. Forever?

The amazing thing was, her betrothed also had an encounter with an angel. She didn’t find out until she got back from visiting her cousin Elizabeth. She’d dreaded talking with Joseph. How could she explain about being pregnant? She saw how people looked at her, heard the whispers. Her own family argued about what would become of her. They knew Joseph, being an honorable man, would not want anything to do with her now.

But he did. Later he told her he’d made up his mind to divorce her quietly. He was so kind. Though he thought her unfaithful, he still wanted to spare her as much public humiliation as possible. But before he could act on his decision, an angel came to him in a dream, he said. Everything he learned verified everything Mary had heard from her angel.

Gabriel, his name was. Joseph didn’t remember his angel’s name or even if he’d given a name. He didn’t need to because there was no question he was from God and the message was God’s. Everything he said pointed to the fact that her son, the son she and Joseph would raise together, would be special. How could he not be?

And here he was, kicking inside her. It was all so scary. The angel had told her not to be afraid, but he’d been talking about a different kind of fear than what she was feeling now. How could she be a mother? She didn’t have her own mother or Elizabeth or any of the women in Nazareth to go to for help. Who could she talk to when she had to nurse her son for the first time or when he got sick or woke crying in the middle of the night? How was she to know what to do?

Then there was the actual birth. It couldn’t be long now. She’d be so glad to have this baby out. Except she knew enough about births to know she was in for hours of pain. Most likely. In all her fourteen years, she’d only heard of one birth when the baby came quickly. Most of the mothers were in agony for hours, crying out against the pain over and over. And some of the babies didn’t survive the ordeal. Some of the mothers didn’t either.

But her baby would make it, that she knew. He had a destiny, foretold by angels. Jesus. What kind of a boy would he be? What kind of a man would he become? How could he who would grow up as a carpenter’s son become a ruler of his people? Yes, he was of the ancestral line of the kings, physically through her and legally through Joseph. But no king had ruled over Israel for, what, hundreds of years. Why would anyone think her son would be any different from the many other descendants of King David?

Would he have to fight to take his rightful place? Would he be a brilliant orator and win the people to him? Maybe he’d be like Moses and show the people signs to convince them that he was of God—the son of God—so that they would follow him.

Maybe . . . but now more than her back hurt. These pains . . . weren’t just from Jesus kicking . . . She needed to talk to a midwife. Could Joseph find one in this city? If not, he’d have to help her. She couldn’t do this alone. What could she use to put around her baby’s little body? Where would she put him? Someplace where she’d know he was safe when she slept. And, oh, she needed to sleep.

But this pain . . . should she wake Joseph and send him to look for a midwife? She should have thought of that when they first arrived, but they’d been so focused on finding a place to stay. Another . . . pain. Stronger. Harder. Was this what labor felt like? Was Jesus on his way?

Published in: on December 24, 2015 at 6:22 pm  Comments (2)  
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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 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 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.

Corrie ten Boom

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.

Joseph, The Clueless?


Joseph025I 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 figures, especially 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. And 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 toward their attitude because 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 keep 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, which, by the way, showed him ruling over all 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, he might simply have 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? But Joseph’s change is not what many would expect.

People in western society today would be clamoring for justice and perhaps revenge. Joseph simply went about his business doing the best he knew how to do. As a result, God blessed him, first as a servant, then as a prisoner.

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 because 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. 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? I’ve not thought so, but I also know how the story ends. And I know how Joseph honored God by refusing to commit adultery with his master’s wife. Still, reading his answer to these men in the best light, I believe he took a further step forward because three years later, his response to Pharaoh 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 who could later say 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 once their father died, 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 now, if he’d ever been. But more importantly, hefa was walking humbly with his God.

Published in: on August 14, 2014 at 7:24 pm  Comments (2)  
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God Is Good


"Golden sunrise" by "Fir0002/Flagstaffotos"

“Golden sunrise” by “Fir0002/Flagstaffotos”

God is great
God is good
And we thank Him
For our food.

Amen!

The quick little pray, repeated most often because of its brevity, nevertheless says a few powerful things. But are they truthful? God is great—definitely. But is God good? Really?

Evil is everywhere. A three-year-old gets cancer, and lives. But her life includes one trip to the hospital after another to treat various aliments brought on by the procedure used to rid her of cancer.

A seventeen-year-old girl, enjoying a summer swim, breaks her neck and is a quadriplegic for the next forty-seven years, and counting.

A missionary family in Afghanistan survive an attack on their compound by five suicide bombers, but three of their colleagues are killed in another incident weeks later.

A prominent Christian pastor’s son commits suicide. A prominent Christian singer’s son dies in an accident in their driveway. The adult son of a prominent Christian evangelist dies in an auto accident on his way to a crusade.

But God is good?

Well, yes, He is. As it happens, He looks at the big picture, the greater, everlasting story. He sees and knows what we cannot know.

Joseph languished in a prison after being sold into slavery by his brothers. His brothers! Then he refused to sin against God by sleeping with his master’s wife and ended up behind bars. Where he sat, year after year. Forgotten by the government official he’d helped. But not forgotten by God.

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

And so God works, out of our view, without our understanding, to bring about results we couldn’t predict, at a price we can’t come to grips with.

Take the early missionaries, for instance, starting with William Carey.

Once Carey’s family and team had evaded and overcome the obstacles before them they endured some crushing trials. Carey’s young son, Peter, died of dysentry, his wife went insane, his co-worker squandered all their money and bankrupted the mission. Sickness afflicted them all. Furthermore, after 7 years of tireless toil in India Carey still did not have a single convert!

However, Carey provides us with an inspiring testimony of steadfast perseverance. Utterly convinced of the sovereignty of God and standing on the promises and prophecies of Scripture, Carey kept on working. The Bengali New Testament was first published in 1801 – within a year of their first convert being baptised. By 1818 there were 600 baptised and discipled church members. (“What Inspired the Greatest Century of Missionary Advance?”)

Or how about the first American missionaries?

The first American missionaries to go overseas, Adoniram and Ann Judson, endured debilitating tropical diseases and vicious opposition and imprisonment under the cruel king of Burma. They also lost children to disease and laboured for 7 years before seeing their first convert from Buddhism. Ann Judson died in the field – only 36 years old. Yet by the time Adoniram Judson had died there were over 100 000 baptised church members amongst the Karen tribe! To this day the (mostly Christian) Karen people remain steadfast in Burma – an island of Christianity in a sea of Buddhism (“What Inspired the Greatest Century of Missionary Advance?”).

Is God good? Every child who died, every husband who labored alone on the mission field, every prisoner who stood faithful to his God, every wife who went to foreign places knowing that she most likely would not see her home again—each is a person God knew from the foundation of the world and loved, so much so that He willingly chose to suffer, taking on the sins of the world, so that we might have life eternal, so that the hardship of this world, the dangers and fears and abuses and cruelties would one day pass away and we would have joy eternal.

God takes crushed reeds and releases fragrant aromas. He uses clay pots to hold water-turned-to-wine. He makes a shepherd boy into a king and a murderous persecutor of His church one of its greatest evangelists.

The truth is, the evil we decry lies at the feet of sin and of humankind’s disobedience. God alone stands before us pointing the way out of the quagmire of our own making. We stumble, but He holds our hand. The waters pour over us, but He is with us. We walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but His rod and staff comfort us.

The death we decry and the ruination we fear simply are not the end of the story. The enemy of our souls seeks to blind our eyes so that we do not see the goodness of our God and the eternal hope He offers.

Sunrise over waterThankfully we have God’s sure promise—He is today as He was yesterday and the day before and the day before. In fact, He is as He was when He spoke this world into being and called everything He had made, good.

Only a good God can make good things only and always. Only a good God can redeem and rescue from the dominion of darkness in order to bring us into the kingdom of His beloved Son—that would be Jesus who is the living proof that the resurrection to everlasting life is our sure hope. We will, in fact, one day walk in newness of life, encompassed by the unadulterated goodness of God.

Published in: on July 8, 2014 at 8:56 pm  Comments Off on God Is Good  
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Sex And The Bible


Samson004I’m not sure where the idea has come from that Christians are prudish as opposed to moral. I don’t see the two meaning the same thing, and neither does the New Oxford American Dictionary. But what about the Bible? Is it prudish?

Not quite. No sooner does the writer of Genesis recount the creation of Adam and Eve but he reports, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25).

Some people unfamiliar with the Bible have the strange idea that the first sin had to do with sex. I think that myth is reflective of a sex-crazed society, because it has nothing to do with reality.

Sex was part of creation which God declared to be good. In addition, His first command, even before “From the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat,” was “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” Translated, that means, Have sex with your wife and have kids.

After Man sinned and God removed humans from the garden, sex remained as much a part of the historical record as any other human activity. In Genesis 4, for example, the Bible notes that Lamech took two wives—presumably the first to have bigamist relationships.

After the flood, when Noah and his family landed on dry land, the Bible notes that Ham, his youngest son, “saw the nakedness of his father” while Noah, drunk from wine, was passed out. Something happened, clearly, because when Ham’s brothers learned what he’d done, they “covered the nakedness of their father.” Noah awoke and “knew what his youngest son had done to him.”

Not a clear picture of what kinky thing happened in this family, but the event is not omitted either. Neither are the homosexual desires of the men in Sodom and Gomorrah who wanted to rape Lot and the two angels who had come to take him out of the city.

The Bible doesn’t shy away from revealing Sarah’s attempt to “help God out” with the son He’d promised Abraham by giving her husband Hagar, her servant, as a mistress, since she herself was beyond child-bearing years.

Then there’s Jacob and the trickery of Laban which put Leah in the wedding tent the night Jacob thought he was having sex with Rachel. A week later, after completing his sexual obligation to his first wife, he then married the woman he loved. But throughout the years, Jacob’s sex life is about as open as . . . oh, say, David’s.

First, though he loved Rachel, he continued to sleep with Leah, as evidenced by the four sons she birthed. Rachel, on the other hand, was barren, and demanded Jacob give her sons. He responded by saying, Am I God who has closed your womb? Notice, he didn’t say, OK, I’ll move back in with you. Apparently, Rachel’s barrenness was not due to a lack of sex between her and her husband.

Rachel’s jealousy led her to give Jacob her servant as a mistress. He didn’t object and had two sons by that woman. Leah didn’t want Rachel to get ahead of her, so she gave Jacob her servant as mistress. In the course of time she delivered two sons as well.

But Jacob still loved Rachel and apparently was now living with her exclusively. Except one day Rachel asked Leah to share the mandrakes one of her sons had found in the field. Leah ended up agreeing . . . if she could sleep with Jacob that night.

And Leah once more got pregnant. And again. And again.

But at some point Jacob went back to Rachel because God opened her womb, and she gave birth to a son named Joseph.

Joseph—this would be the boy whose jealous brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt where he fended off the advances of his master’s wife and landed in jail because of it. Let me be clear. This was not some mild flirtation. The Bible says Potiphar’s wife approached Joseph day after day and said, Lie with me.

Then there’s Joseph’s brother Judah, whose daughter-in-law tricked him into sleeping with her (he thought she was a prostitute—so much more upright!)—and had twins by him.

Should I go on to the gang rape and murder Judges records or the mass kidnapping of women the Israelite leaders engineered so the men of Benjamin would have wives. Then there are Samson’s exploits with various women and David’s adultery.

I’m sorry. If someone thinks Christians are prudish it’s because a) they don’t know what’s in the Bible; or b) they’re talking about professing Christians who don’t read the Bible and are formulating their attitudes about sex from some other place.

Because, yes, many of the examples I mentioned above are not what we’d call ideal examples of a sexual relationship. But that’s part of the point. The Bible doesn’t pull any punches about sex or any other topic. Jesus Himself had some clear instruction about lust, and He didn’t shy away from telling the Samaritan woman precisely what her marital status was (You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t your husband).

He didn’t camp on her sexual failings, however. He didn’t tell her to marry the man she was living with and then come back to see Him. But He also didn’t hesitate to tell the woman caught in the act of adultery that she should sin no more.

Prudish? The Bible is not prudish. People who read the Bible will see the good, the beautiful, the disturbing, the vile within its pages. A Christian who pays attention to what God says about sex through the lives and decrees and admonitions in Scripture can hardly have a prudish attitude toward sex.

The Bible doesn’t shy away from the topic of sex, but it also never presents sex as mankind’s problem. But don’t take my word for it; read it yourself.

Published in: on May 1, 2014 at 6:32 pm  Comments (2)  
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Quiz – The First Christmas According To The Bible


christmas-1412789-mOver the years, a popular post during the Christmas season, has been this quiz. Consequently, I’m dusting it off and bringing it front and center once again.

We know all about the first Christmas, right? I mean we hear about the details in Christmas carols and programs and sermons, see them depicted on cards and church bulletins and manger scenes. But do we know the Biblical version? Here’s a fun little quiz to find out. (Feel free to print it out and pass it along if you’re interested). Answers at the bottom.

Directions: based on what the Bible says, decide if the following statements are true or false. (Hint: for the sake of this quiz, if the Bible is silent on the matter, it should be considered false).

1. Jesus’s birth was predicted to Joseph by an angel in a dream.

2. Mary was a virgin at the time of Jesus’s birth.

3. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph’s place of residence.

4. The innkeeper told Joseph there was no room in the inn

5. Jesus was born on a cold winter’s night.

6. The stable was a wooden structure.

7. There were kings from the east who visited Jesus after he was born.

8. There were three of these visitors.

9. These visitors followed a star from the East to Jerusalem in search of the Christ child.

10. The star which the visitors saw was an especially bright star.

11. The visitors arrived on camels.

12. Herod told the visitors to go to Bethlehem.

13. These visitors came to Jesus and saw Him in the manger where he had been placed after birth.

14. These visitors were joined by shepherds who came to worship Jesus.

15. The shepherds also saw the star which had guided the other visitors.

16. A host of angels appeared to the shepherds and sang praised to God.

17. In a dream God warned Mary that Jesus’s life was in danger.

18. Mary and Joseph took Jesus back to Nazareth to escape the danger.

19. Mary remained a virgin and never had any other children.

20. God can do the impossible, which makes belief in the Christmas miracles possible.

Answers alert!

– – –

Answers:
1. true – though His birth was also predicted to Mary
2. true – see Matthew 1:24-25
3. false – they were from Nazareth and only went to Bethlehem because it was required by the government
4. false – the innkeeper doesn’t make an appearance in the Biblical account
5. false – the Bible doesn’t say what kind of a night it was
6. false – the Bible doesn’t describe the stable
7. false – the eastern visitors were magi or wisemen specializing in such studies as astrology
8. false – the Bible doesn’t specify how many magi there were—only that they presented three types of gifts
9. false – they saw a star in the East and went to Jerusalem where they would expect to find a king; they then followed the star from Jerusalem to Bethlehem
10. false – the Bible never refers to the star as bright
11. false – the Bible doesn’t mention camels
12. true – after learning from the scribes where Messiah was to be born, Herod told the magi
13. false – the magi came to a house.
14. false – the magi didn’t arrive the night Jesus was born; the shepherds who were already in Judea went immediately after they heard the birth announcement
15. false – the Bible doesn’t mention that the shepherds saw the star
16. false – Scripture doesn’t say these angels sang
17. false – God warned Joseph, not Mary
18. false – they went to Egypt, not Nazareth
19. false – Mary had a number of other children, among them James who wrote the book of the Bible that bears his name.
20. true – Gabriel stated this to Mary when she asked how she being a virgin could give birth to a son (Luke 1:37)

Questions? Read Matthew 1:18-2:15; Luke 1:26-38; Luke 2:1-20. Or feel free to ask them here.

Published in: on December 4, 2013 at 6:28 pm  Comments Off on Quiz – The First Christmas According To The Bible  
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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 to hear God’s miraculous provision. The point is, going into their circumstances, none of these people knew what awaited them. The faith of both was equally strong.

Abraham was that kind of 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 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 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?

Published in: on May 10, 2013 at 5:51 pm  Comments Off on But Even If He Doesn’t …  
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What The Bible Says About Promotion


Truth be told, the Bible doesn’t directly address the subject of promotion. Nevertheless, I think I discovered a principle that applies. It’s called generosity.

When people generously give, whether it is of their material wealth, their time, their ideas, their work effort, or whatever else it might be, people respond, usually by telling others. Or, more accurately, by praising the individual to others.

I think there is a fine line between genuine generosity and the kind of tit-for-tat promotion that smacks of “bought and paid for” buzz. And I found an example of that fine line in a real Old Testament account.

I’m referring to Joseph. Twenty-eight or -nine year old Joseph, by this time. He was still in prison and had just interpreted the dream of a fellow prisoner, the king’s cupbearer. According to the dream, the man would be reinstated to his job in three days. And Joseph asked a tit for a tat.

Tell the king about me, he said. I’ve been kidnapped and besides I am no criminal, yet I’m languishing in this prison. I’ve helped you, now please help me.

But the cupbearer forgot.

Maybe intentionally, at least in the beginning. After all, he had just returned to the king’s good graces and undoubtedly didn’t want to start back to work asking for special favors. Day after day slipped by and no mention of Joseph.

Until the king had a dream.

Now the cupbearer had a reason to mention Joseph. Not for Joseph’s sake, but for the king’s. No tit for tat here. The cupbearer had a chance to help the king because … who knows, maybe he wanted nothing more than to help the king. Maybe he was hoping for a tat in return.

The point is, Joseph’s bargain making didn’t bring about his release. His generosity did.

Well, of course, God actually did. And it was in His perfect time. If Joseph had been released earlier because the cupbearer came through, perhaps he would not have been in position to help his family or be reconciled to them.

But Joseph stayed in place, by God’s decree, until the time was right. Until the time when he could provide the interpretation of the king’s dream, the advice about what to do in light of the revelation, and the wherewithal to pull it off.

He himself later told his brothers God had sent him ahead that he might provide the means of deliverance for his family. In other words, that he might become a type of Christ, the Redeemer.

Because of Joseph’s special place in history, I can’t say that self promotion was wrong because it didn’t work for him. Rather, it just wasn’t what God had in mind for Joseph.

And that’s the real lesson I learned here. I may think I know a good way to work things out, and it’s not wrong for me to try it, but the most important thing is for me to be and do what God calls me to, and trust that He will take care of spreading the word in His perfect time.

This article was originally posted in August 2008 under the title “Biblical Promotion

Published in: on August 2, 2012 at 5:45 pm  Comments (2)  
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