God’s Plans Are Bigger than We Often Perceive, and He is Working Them Out Sometimes Despite Us

God promised Abraham, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”.

In the service this morning, the message was about Joseph. As often happens, I saw something I hadn’t seen before. The depth and nuance and intricate tapestry that is Scripture often works that way.

I will get to the point, but first, I need to build the backstory. Most readers know of Joseph, so I will be brief. Joseph was the youngest of the 12 sons of Jacob. Jacob was the son of Isaac, the famous son of Abraham. Abraham was the man of faith to whom God gave the following promise:

“Go from your country [land] and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 12:1-3 ESV)

I added the emphasis and will come back to it. In the meantime, we need to recall that Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, who were jealous of him. They plotted to kill him and left him for dead in the bottom of a well.  He was “rescued” by a passing caravan that sold him into slavery in Egypt.

We could say much about the story of Joseph, but I want to fast forward. Joseph’s life teetered on the edge of utter desperation. He experienced a series of very high highs and very low lows. God ultimately blessed Joseph and elevated him to the second most powerful position in Egypt because of Joseph’s faithful use of the gifts and wisdom God gave him.

Many years after his brothers left him for dead, Joseph superintended a massive grain storage plan for Egypt that positioned his “adoptive” country to weather a long, severe famine and provide food for all its people and other nations besides. That same famine prompted his brothers to travel to Egypt when they were on the verge starvation and desperation.

When they arrived and got inline to buy grain, they had no idea they were appearing before their brother, Joseph. Joseph asked them to go back to Canaan and bring his father, Jacob, back down to Egypt with them.


Joseph’s brothers, his father and the whole tribe returned to Egypt. When they returned and finally realized the powerful man who sent them for their father was Joseph, they were ashamed, and they feared retribution against them for their betrayal, but Joseph was gracious, and he gave them favorable living conditions until Jacob died.

This is the point of the story that was addressed in the service today. Joseph’s brothers were fearful that he still held a grudge after Jacob died and would pay them back for their betrayal. (Gen. 50: 15) They didn’t immediately go to Joseph. Instead, they sent a message to Joseph containing instructions to them from their father to say to Joseph: “’I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’” (Gen. 50: 17)

Much could be said about the fact that they sent their father’s instructions to them, rather than their own, heartfelt message to their brother, Joseph, but this story isn’t about them. It’s about Joseph.

Joseph wept upon receiving the message. When his brothers finally come to him in person and offered themselves as slaves, Joseph said this (which is the launching point for the real import of what I have to say today);

“Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” (Gen. 50:19-21 ESV) (Emphasis added)

Continue reading “God’s Plans Are Bigger than We Often Perceive, and He is Working Them Out Sometimes Despite Us”

Did Jesus Come to Fulfill the Law or to Abolish the Law?

“We were held in custody under the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law became our guardian to lead us to Christ….”

Much confusion in the early church arose out of the relationship of the Law to the “good news” that we now call the Gospel (which means good news). The confusion continues today. I continue to wrestle with the tension, myself.

Two passages come to mind that seem to be directly counter to each other. They establish a paradox – a seeming inconsistency – that needs to be resolved. Compare what Jesus said as recorded by Matthew, to the instruction of Paul to the Ephesians:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill themFor truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)


“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has torn down the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing in His flesh the law of commandments and decrees.” (Ephesians. 2:13-14)

In one place, Jesus said he did not come to abolish the law; and, in the other place, Paul says Jesus abolished the law. Which is it?

The answer is both. If we view this apparent dichotomy as a paradox, rather than a contradiction, we can make some sense of it.

First of all, we need to consider the context. When Jesus said he did not come to abolish the law, he was talking about his coming in the flesh. Jesus was God who became incarnate. Jesus was God who emptied Himself of all that separated Himself from His creation and became part of it in the form of a human being. (Phil. 2:5-8) Thus, when God became man and came to us, He did not come to abolish the law.

We also need to look at the larger context of the Law. The Law was a covenant (an agreement) with Israel. It was given to Moses for the descendants of Abraham after He brought them out of slavery in Egypt. God was faithful to this covenant, but the people were no. They filed at every turn.

This was a problem, because God promised to bless the people based on them holding up their part of the bargain, but they failed to do that. God was true to keep His part of the bargain, but He could not be true to keep His promise to bless them because they did not keep their part of the bargain.

When Jesus made the statement that he did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it, he was putting that statement into the context of time and purpose. He was saying that the purpose for which he came was to fulfill the law, and now was the time.

Jesus came to fulfill the Law in the flesh as a man. When he said on the cross, “It is finished”, he was proclaiming that he had finished accomplishing the fulfillment of the Law in his human body. He lived it out perfectly. He was obedient to it unto death.

Jesus did what no man had done. God became a man so that he could keep man’s part of the bargain, and that enabled God to keep His promise to bless mankind. God, in a sense, carried out the terms and fulfilled both sides of the covenant.

But that is not the end of the story.

Continue reading “Did Jesus Come to Fulfill the Law or to Abolish the Law?”

Loving the Sojourner Because God Loves the Sojourner

The terms, aliens, strangers and sojourners, were found throughout Scripture, and the Bible has a lot to say about them.

During the second half of the Obama administration and leading up to and through much of the Trump administration, immigrants were much in the news. The country was divided over how immigrants should be handled: whether we should build a wall and be more restrictive at the borders; how strictly we should enforce the laws; whether the laws should be changed; whether immigrants from certain countries should be restricted or prohibited; and so on.

Much of the public “discussion” was inflamed with political rhetoric. The tone was angry on both “sides”. It seemed that most people were talking past each other. People took extreme positions. The issues were couched in all or nothing language, as if the choices were to open the borders wide or shut them down completely.

As I talked with people privately on both “sides”, though, the tenor and tone was different. I didn’t speak with anyone who advocated open borders with no security or regulations. I didn’t speak with anyone who wanted to close the borders and keep everyone out. Most people really fell in the middle; it was the inflamed rhetoric that created the appearance that people were amassed at the polar extremes, like angry mobs with pitchforks in their hands.

The heat of the immigration discussion has died down, but the issues haven’t gone away. President Biden has undone most or all of the executive orders issued by President Trump to tighten up border security and other immigration controls, but the laws haven’t changed.

We can expect less and enforcement and efforts to , but the laws haven’t changed. The issues haven’t been resolved. Our immigration system is still not very workable, and issues are bound to boil to the surface again and demand attention.

I first seriously dug into the “issue” of immigration in the Obama administration. I was buffeted by the opposing winds of the political rhetoric, but I wanted to know how Christians should view immigration… if there was a definitive Christian position to be taken. Most Christians knew were well-versed in the political rhetoric, but I wasn’t hearing a biblically focused critique of the subject.

The Syrian refugee crisis was flooding the news and my conscience. I had to confess that I didn’t know where God stood. I didn’t know what the Bible said on immigration, if anything. I wanted to step back from the political fray and do my own searching of Scripture and meditation to let God speak to me on the issue.


I spent a weekend searching the Scriptures. I discovered that the Bible has much to say on the subject. The terms, aliens, strangers and sojourners, were found throughout Scripture from the Old Testament to the New Testament, and those terms permeated everything from start to finish.

I found that Scripture speaks very clearly and directly on subject and left me little room to wonder how we ought to respond to immigration issues in our current day. I wrote about it for the first time in November 12, 2014 in the article, Immigration: the Strangers Among Us.

God’s “view” of immigrants is closely aligned with how God relationship with Abraham and his descendants. We might forget that told Abraham his descendants “would be foreigners in a strange land, and that they would be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years”. (Gen. 15:13; and Acts 7:6) Thus, Abraham’s faith prompted him to live “like a stranger in a foreign country” (as did Isaac and Jacob) (Heb. 11:9)

“For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

Hebrews 11:10

In fact, this status of being an alien and a stranger on the earth applies to all people of faith in the past:

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

Hebrews 11:13-16

The status of God’s people as aliens and strangers was built into the very fabric of the their relationship with God and emphasized by centuries of living with that status.

Continue reading “Loving the Sojourner Because God Loves the Sojourner”

The Story of Abraham and God’s Redemption of all Mankind – Part 3

God works through the hot mess of our choices to accomplish His purposes.

I am covering some ground in the story of God’s redemption of mankind through Abraham and his progeny. This is a story of God redeeming people because of their faith (trust in God), not for their morality. It’s also a story of God accomplishing His purposes through people despite their messiness.

Abraham and Sarah were childless for 25 years after God gave Abraham promises that He would give Abraham a land for his descendants who would be numerous and that God would bless all the nations through them. On the basis of those promises, Abraham left his ancestral home and journeyed to “a land God would show him”. 

Through those 25 years, Abraham and Sarah continued to live their lives. The moved many times over those years, in and out of the land of Canaan, which is the land God promised to them.

Abraham wavered at times. At one point, when God visited Abraham, Abraham questioned God, saying, “[Y]ou have given me no offspring….”, and telling God (as if He didn’t know), “[T]he heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus.” (Gen. 15:2-3)

God God didn’t waiver, though. He renewed the promise, saying, “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son [out of your loins] shall be your heir.” (Gen. 15:4)

Years went by. Abraham and Sarah had been in Canaan for 10 years already (Gen. 16:3), and Abraham was 86 years old. (Gen. 16:16), Sarah got impatient and offered her Egyptian servant, Hagar to Abraham, they conceived, and Hagar gave birth to Ishmael. (Gen. 16:1-4)

We find out that this wasn’t God’s plan either, but He let 13 more years go by before letting Abraham know. Abraham was 99 years old when God visited again!

God said again, “I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you” (Gen. 17:6); and, “The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you.” (Gen.17:8)

How would Abraham have taken that?

God had made this same promise since Abraham stood in Haran imagining the land God was promising him and the descendants he would have, but that was 25 years ago! Abraham was now 99, and Sara was 90. The likelihood that the two of them would have a child together was slim to none.

Thirteen years prior, Abraham had a son. His name was Ishmael. Surely, Abraham thought by that point that Ishmael was the fulfillment of God’s promise, but it wasn’t so.

After almost 25 years, God finally gave Abraham some missing details:

“As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” (Gen. 17:15-16)

Abraham’s response isn’t surprising:

“If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” (Gen. 17:18)

Abraham had not only come to accept that Ishmael was the fulfillment of God’s promise; Abraham had embraced it. Abraham undoubtedly loved Ishmael, despite his abrasiveness. Thus, his response to God’s new direction was, “What about Ishmael?!”

Why did God wait 25 years from the time He first promised to fill the land with Abraham’s descendants to give Abraham all the details? Why did God let Abraham sleep with Sarah’s servant and have another son first? Why did God wait 13 more years before letting Abraham in on the additional details?

I’m not sure I know the answers. It was obviously God’s plan, though, to fulfill the promise to Abraham through Sarah, his half-sister, the daughter of Abraham’s father, Terah. God also wasn’t done with using the line of Terah in this story.

Continue reading “The Story of Abraham and God’s Redemption of all Mankind – Part 3”

The Story of Abraham and God’s Redemption of Mankind – Part 2

God works out His purposes through the messiness of human history.

The story of God’s redemption of mankind in the Bible funnels through one man, Abraham from Mesopotamia. I introduced Abraham (known as Abram then) and his family in Part 1 of this series of articles.

Abram’s sister, Sarai, became his wife. Both of them were children of their father, Terah, by different mothers. Terah’s son, Haran, died in their homeland (Ur). The family with Lot, Haran’s son, left Ur and and traveled to a place they called Haran in southern Turkey, just north of Aleppo Syria.

Terah and Nahor remained in Haran, but God gave Abram the direction, “Go to the land that I will show you”, and the promise, “I will make you a great nation….”, and “Through you every family on earth will be blessed”. (Gen. 12:1-3) Thus, at the age of 75, Abram and Sarah left Haran and continued on to Canaan, and Lot went with them.

When they arrived at Shechem in Canaan, God renewed the promise as Abram looked out over the land: “I’m going to give this land to your descendants.” Abram built an altar there, Then, he continued on to the high country in Canaan, between Bethel and Ai, where he also built an altar and worshiped God. (Gen. 12:7-8)

Though God had promised him twice at this point to give Abram this land, Abram continued on. They traveled south out of Canaan, into the Negev desert, and they kept going further south to Egypt because of famine. (Gen 12:9-10)

Abram remained in Egypt long enough to accumulate some wealth before he started moving again. (Gen. 13:2) It is written that Abram “traveled from place to place” when he left Egypt. He seemed to be wandering.

He traveled north again, back to the Negev and eventually back to Bethel and Ai, where he settled down. (Gen. 13:3-4) It must have been some time, as he and Lot had accumulated so many animals their herds and servants couldn’t coexist peacefully. Thus, they parted ways. (Gen 13:5-13)

Lot settled south of Canaan in the Jordan Valley. Abram remained in Canaan, and God gave him the same promise a third time: “Look north, south, east, and west of where you are. I will give all the land you see to you and to your descendants….”; and “I will also give you as many descendants as the dust of the earth.” (Gen. 13:15-16)

Still, Abram moves again, this time south about 35 miles to another part of Canaan known as Hebron. Many years pass. Abram seems to be waiting for God to do what he said, and, for the first time, Abram begins to show signs of doubt that God’s promises would come to pass, . Perhaps, this is why God promises him a fourth time: “Your own son will be your heir” (Gen. 15:4); and “I will give this land to your descendants.” (Gen. 15:18)

When Abram was 86, however, Sarai takes matters into her own hands and offers her Egyptian servant, Hagar, to Abram. Abram agrees, Hagar conceives, but all is not well in the Abram household. Hagar disrespects the barren Sarai, and Sarai mistreats Hagar so badly that she runs away. (Gen 16)

God comforts Hagar in her distress and says of Ishmael, “He will be free and wild”, but “[h]e will fight with everyone, and everyone will fight with him….,” and “[h]e will have conflicts with all his relatives.” (Gen. 16:12)

It seems that nothing is going right for Abram, and God promise takes on a sour taste. Is this the son through whom God will bless all the nations? This wild and contentious boy? Is the son of Sarai’s now despised Egyptian servant Abram’s heritage?

Continue reading “The Story of Abraham and God’s Redemption of Mankind – Part 2”