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, but Joseph recognized them and 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. They also feared retribution against them for their betrayal, but Joseph was gracious and 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, still, that he 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 their father, Jacob, gave them 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, delivering own, heartfelt message to their brother, Joseph, but this story isn’t about them. It’s about Joseph.

“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”

Opening Our Eyes and Ears to the Global Church to Gain Perspective

American evangelicals can gain perspective from other believers

I recently read an article by Ed Stetzer and Andrew MacDonald, Waking Up After QAnon: How Can the Church Respond, posted by Christianity Today. The secondary headline is: Evangelicals disproportionately believed conspiracy theories in 2020. How do we recover?

I do not agree completely with everything in this article, but I think it is more “right” than wrong. The following assertion, for instance, certainly rings true to me:

“For years a segment of Christianity has sought to reclaim the United States of America as a Christian nation—or at the very least a nation founded upon Judeo-Christian values. However, they have, at the same time, witnessed the American culture (and, yes, what they see as American elites—media giants, big tech, politicians, and Hollywood) adopt a more secular and progressive agenda.”

I know this to be true because I “grew up” in Christianity in an atmosphere influenced by the Moral Majority and efforts to reclaim the Christian heritage of this country. It was a patriotic movement made “sacred” with Christian reference and fervor.

The community in which I was engaged out of college joined the effort. It seemed that some momentum was being generated in the direction of reclaiming the United States as a Christian nation…. at least while I remained in that community. When I left to go to law school, my perspective changed.

Looking back, I see that patriotic Christianity appeals to a certain narrative of faith and a desire to protect what is familiar and comfortable. It affirms a sense of place in the world as an American Christian who believes fully that the United States was blessed by God more than other nations in the world and stands alike a city set on a hill for the world to see.

While I think there may be some truth to that blessing from God, we shouldn’t confuse His blessing for a time (and for His greater purpose) with our own desires for prosperity, influence, protection of lifestyle, culture and familiar life. God raises kings, and he takes them down.

The patriotic movement in the church going back in time was influenced, in part, by the “prosperity gospel”. A certain exhilaration accompanies the thinking that we are part of a sacred movement of God’s people uniquely blessed with faith. It was a kind of manifest destiny for the church.

I imagine the 1st Century Jews saw the world similarly, though they didn’t have the prosperity or power of American Christians in 1st Century Judea. Their sense of being God’s people and being culturally “right”, however, made it difficult for them to accept that God loved Gentiles who didn’t observe Jewish rituals. It caused the first schism in the early church.

The American exceptionalism that is part of the allure of this politically-charged faith embraces modern Israel and the Jewish state. They see a kinship there, and I believe are prone to the same kind of error that the early church fell into.

Moving on from that community of my early walk in Christ and seeing faith and the world from different angles changed my perspective. I loved my time in the community of my early Christian years. They did many things right, and they were eager and earnest in their faith in refreshing ways, but I have come to see that God is bigger than our patriotic ideas of Him.

(Not that all the people in the church I attended wandered down that road. I know many of them still, and many of them did not get swept up in the patriotic fervor. They have adjusted and adapted, and their perspectives have changed also.)

The real point here is that God has a global and universal purpose. We are as much a part of that purpose as my brothers and sisters in China, or India or in the African American churches in the US.

That is not to say that everyone is right about the way they view the world from their own unique vantage points and perspectives, but it means I need to listen to them because they offer perspective that I have trouble seeing from my own, limited position. Perhaps, if we can all come together in the shared experience of Christ who died for all mankind and learn to set aside the things that divide us, we can catch a more global and universal glimpse of what God is doing in the world.

The Stetzer and MacDonald article makes the following statement regarding the headlong embrace of Donald Trump: “Christians need to understand how this foolishness not only hurts relationships in the local church and community but diminishes our witness. In such situations, our gospel witness is at stake and we cannot afford to be passive.” This is a major concern.

We may have trouble seeing the ways in which we have wandered off the narrow path unless we take time to listen to what other believes are saying.

Continue reading “Opening Our Eyes and Ears to the Global Church to Gain Perspective”

How Does a Living God Relate to a Pagan World?

We have our gods, though we don’t give them names or ascribe human personalities to them.

My thoughts today are based on the story of Paul and Barnabas while they were in Lystra, a city in central Anatolia, part of present-day Turkey. While Paul was speaking, his gaze came to rest on a man listening to him speak who was “crippled at birth”.

Paul saw the man had faith, so he loudly told the man to stand up. (Acts 14:8-10) The man sprang up, and the crowd was awed, saying, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” (Acts 14:11)

The people in Lystra were pagans. They worshiped Roman gods and, perhaps, other gods as well. They started calling Barnabas Zeus and Paul Hermes and began making preparations to worship them.

When Paul and Barnabas realized what was happening, they were appalled! They rushed into crowd, saying, “Don’t do that! We are just men like you!” (Acts 14:14-15 (paraphrasing)). Then, Paul addressed his pagan audience like this:

“[W]e bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things[i] to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”

Acts 14:15-18

This is, perhaps, the first sermon preached in the early church to people who are not Jews. The pagans did not believe one God. They didn’t understand Mosaic Law, the concept of sin or the prohibition against worshiping idols considered to be false gods.

Thus, Paul didn’t address them as he did his Jewish audiences. He didn’t appeal to Mosaic Law, or accuse them of sin, or call them to repent.

Just as the Gospel is good news to the Jews, it is good news to the pagan Gentiles. The message, however, is different. Paul urged them merely to “turn from vain things to a living God”!

By “vain things” Paul meant their gods, the idols that the pagans worshiped. Instead of calling them idols, as he would have done to a Jewish audience, he referred to them descriptively by their character – their worthlessness, emptiness and utter inability to accomplish anything.

We have a hard time relating to idol worship in the 21st Century. Idol worship is so Bronze Age! Our ancestors long ago stopped believing in gods and sacrificing to them, right?

Tim Keller, in his sermon, The Gospel for the Pagan, paints a different story. These pagans were not so different from us.

In a polytheistic society, of course, people worshiped and sacrificed to a variety of gods. There was no supreme god. People had to decide what gods to worship. Thus, people chose gods to worship based on how those gods could help them.


A a merchant might sacrifice to the god of commerce. A farmer might sacrifice to the god of agriculture. Other people might sacrifice to the god of art and music, or love and beauty, or a combination of gods, depending on what was most important to them.

Keller says that sacrificing to the god(s) of choice was, in effect, worshiping the things people valued most. By sacrificing to the gods of commerce, agriculture, art and music, love and beauty, etc., they were worshiping whatever it was the god represented.  Whatever a person sought help for was the thing from which they sought meaning in life, hope and fulfillment.

Thus, says Keller, “vain things” (idols) are things that “promise fulfillment, but leave you empty”.

We may think of ancient pagans as a brutish and unsophisticated lot, but we are no different than they in the sense that we sacrifice for the things we think will fulfill and satisfy us. The only difference is that we have dispensed with the representative gods.

The person who values career, or accomplishment or being respected by peers as a matter of first priority will sacrifice for those things. The person who thinks that love, romance and family are the highest forms of meaning will devout primary attention to those things. The person who loves art and music will sacrifice for those things and from them seek meaning and fulfillment.

We aren’t that different, really from our pagan ancestors, though we might scoff at the idea of gods, as in idols. We have our gods, though. We just don’t call them names or ascribe human personalities to them.

Paul’s message to the pagans in Lystra was, “These are worthless things!” They can’t fulfill you. Only the Living God can do that. His message has more application to us in the 21st Century than we might think at first glance.

Continue reading “How Does a Living God Relate to a Pagan World?”

An Exercise in Viewing Justice from God’s Perspective


In Justice from a Human Perspective, I explored the phenomenon that the vast majority of people have an inner sense of justice that is pricked every time they experience injustice themselves or by people they know and love. The very protest, “That’s not fair!” implies that the protester believes others should recognize it.

We have an innate sense of justice, and we innately feel that others should recognize the justice or injustice we see and feel. We do have have much general agreement, but the disagreements are many at the same time. Those disagreements might be attributable to our perspectives, which are limited and, therefore, subjective.

Thus, we can’t anchor an objective standard of justice in people. It must be anchored in something more immutable, like God (see Justice from God’s Perspective), but how do we know justice from God’s perspective?

I submit that we don’t… we can’t, unless He reveals it to us.

In the Bible we what purports to be a record of God’s communication and involvement in the history of men. While, I admit that we can learn something about justice in other religious books and literature, for many reasons I think the fullest and most accurate record of God’s revelation, generally, and of justice, specifically, is found in Scripture.

You might disagree with me, but stick with me as I consider the following story about Jesus that provides us some perspective on the issue.

Continue reading “An Exercise in Viewing Justice from God’s Perspective”

Perspective in the Reminder of Our Own Mortality

The lack of control that we feel is real, but there is purpose behind the chaos.


From the moment the Chinese government woke up to the significance of the corona virus threat, they kicked their efforts into high gear. I have a friend who described to me what it was like for his parents, who live in China. We have all heard reports of the virtual lock down of the country by the government.

That’s what totalitarian governments do. They exert the collective power of man by the force of governmental control en masse. Totalitarian governments rest on a foundation of top down, human power. The philosophies that gird them are largely humanistic, not reliant on divine power, but on the iron fist of self-governance.

Not that democracies, republics and other forms of government don’t rely equally on variations of collective human power, control and ingenuity. They all do. And we do the same on a personal level. In the face of the present corona virus threat, we have all taken personal measures to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our neighbors. As well we should.

Ultimately, though, the corona virus reminds us of things we can’t control, though we try.  Underneath the collective and individual determination to take control of this virus Thing that threatens us, and all the things that threaten us, runs an undercurrent of uncertainty and uneasiness, sometimes even dread. It ebbs and flows from conscious to unconscious. Some of us are more aware of it than others.

Its roots are found in the same place: try as we might, we know that we don’t ultimately control the outcomes. We don’t ultimately control our own fate.

Beginning with our own birth and the circumstances, time and geography in the world into which we were born, we are not in control. We didn’t choose any of it. If we strip away the façade, we don’t control our own lives.

We don’t control our nature or nurture. We don’t control the generations of DNA we carry in our genes, and we don’t control the way our parents raised us, the classrooms in which we were educated, the circle of friends that influenced us and the myriad influences that shaped us.

Things happen in our lives that we don’t control. We could be sailing along at a good clip when a rogue wave comes “out of nowhere” and knocks us overboard. The car we didn’t see coming, the cancer growing inside us, the closing of the place we always worked, an unseen virus that shuts down the state and national economy, putting hundreds of thousands out of work for who knows how long.

When we really think about it, there are so many things that we don’t control in our everyday lives that it can be quite overwhelming to spend much time thinking about it. It’s no wonder the undercurrent of alternating uncertainty, uneasiness and dread ebbs and flows in our conscious and unconscious minds. It causes many of us to panic and worry.

What’s the solution?

Continue reading “Perspective in the Reminder of Our Own Mortality”