Christianity, Religion

“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

    Tell me, if you have understanding.

Who determined its measurements—surely you know!

    Or who stretched the line upon it?

On what were its bases sunk,

    or who laid its cornerstone,

when the morning stars sang together

and all the sons of God shouted for joy?’” Job 38: 1, 4-7

“Then Job answered the Lord and said:

‘I know that you can do all things,

    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’

Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,

things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.’” Job 42:1-3

The account of Job is one of the most unique narratives of the Hebrew Scriptures; even those who are unfamiliar with the Bible are sure to have heard reference to Job and his trials.  At its core is the issue of suffering and why those who are righteous suffer and experience hardship. Rabbis and theologians have wrestled with this book for centuries to try to answer this question because, at face value, Job appears to run contrary to many of the lessons put forth in the other books that comprise the Hebrew Wisdom Literature, especially that of Proverbs. The beauty of the account of Job is not found in understanding why things happen; instead, it is found in realizing–as Job did–the finite nature of our existence and God’s eternal sovereignty over everything that has happened and will happen.

Job’s narrative begins with a description of Job: he was blameless, upright, feared God, and turned away from evil. Additionally, he was wealthy and had a large family. Traditional wisdom would convey that these blessings of wealth were the result of his faith and commitment to God, and this type of thinking is brought to the forefront very quickly. Satan appeared one day before God and made the claim that Job’s faith in God was merely the result of God’s blessings upon Job. To test this theory, God allowed Satan to take away all the blessings which Job had received, and they would see if Job’s faith withered along with losing all of the blessings. In one fell swoop, Job lost all of his children, all of his wealth, and his health. The test was on.

The vast majority of the Book of Job is a series of dialogues between Job’s friends who repeatedly tell him that he had somehow offended God and lost His favor. Even Job’s wife grows frustrated with his commitment to righteousness in the face of this  suffering and plight and tells him to “curse God and die!” (Job 2:9). In spite of this continuous barrage from those who were supposed to be supporting him, Job patiently endured and retained his faith in God.

Job, however, is a man; in a moment of pain, anger, and frustration he cries out to God. This cry does not represent a loss of faith on Job’s part; instead, it demonstrates the futility of the human condition: we do not understand why things happen to us the way that they do. Job cries out to God and asks the age-old question, “Why is this happening to me?” He questions God’s methods; when all Job has ever shown to God was faithfulness and devotion, why would God do this in response? To Job, it just didn’t seem fair.

Shortly after Job’s cry out to the heavens, a whirlwind appears, and God speaks to Job from the whirlwind. God’s response to Job is conveyed in some of the most beautiful Hebrew poetry in all of the Bible. The answer that God gave to Job appears, at first glance, to be dismissive and a bit of tough love–almost as if God was telling Job to “man-up” and get over the situation. This, however, is not the message that God is communicating to Job.

God’s response to Job is comprised of several questions, each one designed to change the perspective of Job’s thinking, and also to remind Job that He had every little detail of the universe under control. God asks Job where he was when He laid the foundations of the Earth and set the boundaries of the sea; if the lightning asks Job where to strike; if Job has ever walked in the deepest depths of the sea; if Job has storehouses of snow and hail piled up; if Job can change the course of the stars; or if Job provides food for the ravens and for the lions? 

Job knows who can do all of these things, and he realizes the folly of his questioning God. Job realizes that his perspective on the universe is not the same as God’s, that he cannot see the “big picture.” Job cannot see how his suffering fits into the bigger scheme of things, into God’s master plan, but God–the one who has made this plan–knows how it all fits together. Job understood that he was talking about that which he did not understand, and that God has everything under control and taken care of; that no plan of His can be thwarted. Job also realized that God–the Master and Creator of the Universe–did not owe him an answer or response of any sort, yet out of His love and compassion, God gave Job one. If God cared enough to answer Job’s futile cry, then surely He would sustain Job through the ordeal he was in.

This is an easy lesson to learn in a vacuum, so to speak, when all we are doing is exegeting text and seeking an understanding of what it means; it is a much different lesson to apply in reality when we are dealing with the loss of a loved one, or a devastating financial setback, or some other severe trial. In those times, we also cry out to God and question His methods and His fairness. The account of Job shows us that He hears us when we do this; however, we must realize our position in the scheme of things. In those times, we must remember that this world does not revolve around us and that nowhere were we ever promised that hardship would never befall us. We must not forget that we are part of a bigger picture, a master plan that God–the Ancient of Days–worked out before the dawn of time and that our suffering fits somehow and someway into that plan. We must remember the example of Joseph and how he endured being sold into slavery and years of false imprisonment so that he could save his family and his people in the time of famine. It is not our duty to understand why things happen to us, it is our duty to honor God and worship Him in all that we do and through all that we endure–as Job said “Though he slay me, I will hope in him,” (Job 13:15).

We might not ever understand why we suffer, and we may never see the good which may come from it, but we can take comfort in knowing that the God of the Universe already knows how this trial ends. He has planned it out and prepared you for it. Your trials are not in vain, they are part of a greater plan which will bring honor and glory to Him–even in your suffering and affliction you can bring honor to Him. Most importantly, God will sustain you and be with you throughout the ordeal and suffering you find yourself in. Remain faithful to Him, as He will most surely remain faithful to you.

Disclaimer: I don’t often get personal in these posts, but this will be an exception. I wrote this piece on Friday (July 26) so that it would be ready to go to post on Tuesday (today) morning. In the span between Friday and Tuesday, I have had my own crash course on perspective, and given the opportunity to learn firsthand if I can “practice what I preach.” What I have learned is this:

  • God continues to be sovereign over all things 
  • He is in control of my situation and circumstances 
  • Because He is sovereign and in control, I will praise Him
  • I will continue to praise Him, regardless of what happens to me, or how things in this world turn out. 

Artwork: “Job Praying,” Marc Chagall, 1960

High Places.

Christianity, Religion

“Abijah slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city of David. And Asa his son reigned in his place. In his days the land had rest for ten years.  And Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God. He took away the foreign altars and the high places and broke down the pillars and cut down the Asherim and commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandments. He also took out of all the cities of Judah the high places and the incense altars. And the kingdom had rest under him.” II Chronicles 14:1-5.

The books of I and II Chronicles are often, sadly, overlooked by Christians. Following the lengthy narratives contained in the books of Samuel and Kings, the Chronicles appear to merely do just what their name implies—be an entire chronicle of the history of Israel back to the time of Adam. The Chronicles retell much of the same information initially mentioned in other texts, and significant passages Chronicles almost match passages in other books word-for-word. 

Chronicles, like the other Biblical books,  are inspired and in the canon for a purpose; however; that purpose may be a little obscured when looking at Chronicles outside of a Hebrew Bible. For the Chronicles, as in real estate, location is everything. In the order of the Hebrew Canon, the Chronicles are the final book of the scriptures. The repetition of information is for a purpose; it is to drive the information home and ingrain it in the mind of the believer. For example: throughout the Chronicles, the phrases “did what was good in the sight of the Lord,” or “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” are repeated again and again to describe the various kings of Israel and Judah. This repetition was intentional; God was hammering into His peoples’ minds the traits of the godly leaders for which to look, and the traits of the evil leader to avoid. This emphasis on being able to recognize a godly ruler was also for a purpose. The Chronicles conclude with Cyrus of Persia conquering Babylon and allowing the Jews to return home and rebuild the temple to their God. With the Babylonian Exile coming to an end, there was hope for restoration, and there was hope that a new king like David—a Messiah—would be sent to rebuild the temple and restore the kingdom. The final book of the Hebrew Bible concludes with a high degree of messianic expectation, and the Chronicler wanted to help the people of Israel remember the good rulers of the past so they would recognize the perfect ruler to come.

King Asa, who lived centuries before the Exile, was a prime example of the good, David-like king for whom Israel longed. He lived up to the high standard left by his great-great-grandfather, David. Asa was a man who feared God and sought after Him with his whole heart, and because of this, Asa was a good king. He is, tragically, one of only a few good kings described in the Chronicles.

During the reign of Solomon, Asa’s great-grandfather, pagan worship once lured Israel away from God, and this occurred at the encouragement of Solomon. Idols and altars to false gods appeared all over the land, and the people forsook their God. We often wonder how this continually happened in the Old Testament narratives, but when reading the Hebrew Scriptures, we must remember it is a minority report of sorts. It is an account of Israel’s spiritual history written by the faithful, and the faithful were never the majority. Two points prove this fact: first, the Babylonian Exile–had the majority of Israel and Judah been loyal to God, such judgment would not have been necessary. Secondly, acceptance of pagan altars was so widespread that it took an act of the king to remove them. The broader society of Israel and Judah at this time was so accepting of the pagan practices that it took action by the highest official in the land, the king, to get the people to realize their faults.

But Asa did remove the pagan high places, and he worked to turn his kingdom of Judah back to God. He led by example. He did not tolerate pagan worship, even though the masses did. He took a stand for God and did what was right. Asa lived as God expected His people to live; he made no excuses, and he did not sweep sin under the rug. As a result, Asa and the Kingdom of Judah experienced a time of peace. Asa’s reign is one of the few high points of the period of the Divided Kingdom. His people would remember him as a king who sought after God, and who led his people to worship God. In this regard, Asa very much resembled his shepherd ancestor, David.

Things have not changed very much since Asa’s day. Society-at-large worships at the pagan altars and high places today still, just as they did so many centuries ago. Idolatry and sin go uncondemned and are encouraged. All of humanity’s darkest, basest, most carnal desires get flaunted for all to see and to accept. There are still today those who–as they did in Asa’s day and later in Christ’s day– put their faith in the cultural association they have with God. They have convinced themselves that since some righteous ancestor, perhaps a grandmother or great-great-grandfather was a firmly-believing and sincere follower of God, that their salvation is secure as well, and they continue to live as they so choose. Cultural Christianity is no more an appropriate approach to following Christ than were the nominal religious practices of those in Asa’s day who gave lip service to God and continued to worship false gods in the high places. Being a sincere follower of God is no more en vogue today than it was in Israelite society at any point during their history.  Thankfully, for the committed believer, God never changes and He remains just as firmly committed to those who seek Him as He has always been.

The high places are not limited to the broad culture; even believers continue to wrestle and struggle daily with sin. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live,” (‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:12-13‬). Yes, we have been bought and redeemed by the blood of Christ. But our flesh is still fallen, and we wrestle with that. As Paul said, we must put to death the deeds and sins of the body, for they will lead us to death. This process of confronting our sin is on-going and will never end in this life. We will wrestle daily with sin. But, we must also confess that sin to God and ask His forgiveness for it. For a believer to live with unconfronted and unconfessed sin in their life is just as much of an affront to God as were the pagan altars in ancient Israel. We can not be like Asa and tear down the high places in the culture if we are unwilling to first tear down the high places in our own hearts. We cannot change society if we are not radically different from that society.

Sin is a serious topic; it should be of our utmost concern. It seeks to burrow itself deep into our innermost being and to define us and control us. It is a ravenous beast, crouching at the door of our hearts, and its sole desire is to destroy us. Christ died to liberate us from sin, and to remove its grip from our lives; He died so that He might kill that beast which was seeking to kill us. He took our sins—all the ones we’ve committed and will ever commit—upon Himself, and He paid the price of those sins for us. He sent His Spirit to live within us so that we might be empowered to avoid sin and temptation, and to strengthen us as we wrestle daily with the sinful desires of our fallen flesh. Christ died to enable us to remove the high places and the sins in our hearts. The question before us is this: will we rise to the occasion, much like Asa of the Old Testament, and daily tear down the high places and altars of sin hidden in our hearts? Or will we choose to be like everyone else, and wallow in and celebrate our sin, and keep the high places in our hearts intact? Will we choose to be radically different, or will be like everyone else? Will we choose to follow God in such a manner that we become that minority at odds with the broader society, or will we seek to glorify ourselves and mock our crucified Savior, just as the rest of the world does? 

What are the high places in your heart? What is keeping your heart from fully submitting to God? Confess to Him your sins and tear down those secret altars of sin in your heart. Then live radically different. 

Artwork: “The Man and the Wooden Idol,” Marc Chagall, circa 1927.

Exiles and Sojourners.

Christianity, Religion

“Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” 1 Peter 2:11

“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ…” Philippians 3:20.

One of the central themes of the Bible is homelessness. This thread runs throughout both Testaments and creates an apparent uniformity between the Old and New Testaments. Throughout the Scriptures, there are two common ways in which this motif of homelessness plays out: exile and sojourning, or traveling and wandering.

The theme of homelessness appears in the very first chapters of the Bible; in Genesis 3, mankind is forced out of Eden as a result of the Fall. Because of sin, humanity lost access to the home that God had created for them and thus became exiles in creation. From the beginning of Scripture, we learn that mankind is in spiritual exile, and the rest of Scripture is about God leading man back to Himself.

The process of returning from exile would be long and leads to the secondary homelessness motif of sojourning. God set in motion humanity’s return by calling Abraham to leave his homeland and to follow Him to a land that He would give to him. If Abraham did this, God would bless all the nations of the Earth through Him. Abraham followed God, and for the rest of his life, Abraham was a sojourner–a traveler, a wanderer, a pilgrim–following God to the Promised Land. This narrative repeats itself throughout the narratives of the Genesis patriarchs and culminates in the Exodus narrative with Moses leading Abraham’s descendants out of Egypt back to Canaan–back to the land promised to Abraham. This return to the Promised Land–just like man’s return from spiritual exile–would not be easy. The Israelites would continue to test God while en route to Canaan, and this ultimately resulted in their being forced to wander and sojourn in the desert for forty years. The sins of the generation being freed from slavery in Egypt forced Israel to be exiled in the wilderness until that generation died, and then a new generation would inherit the Promised Land. The land would be inherited; however, after several generations, because of sin and spiritual infidelity to God, exile came again. The cycle had repeated itself: just as Adam and Eve were forced into exile due to sin, Israel would be forced into exile because of its sin. It would seem that man was no closer to being delivered from spiritual exile at the close of the Old Testament than he was at the first moment of his exile. God, however, was still at work.

Fast forward several hundred years: the Babylonian Captivity had long been over, and the Jews allowed to return to their homeland. Jesus of Nazareth was preaching throughout the Judean countryside. The message that He preached did not sync with the established teachings of works, self-righteousness, and slavish devotion to the Law that the other rabbis taught. Instead, Jesus preached a radical message that the Kingdom of God was here and that those who genuinely sought to please God were going to live a life of complete reliance upon God for everything–as wanderers would need to rely upon someone else to provide for them. Furthermore, Christ taught that the committed and sincere follower of God would understand that, since we are all exiles and sojourners, we must love and take care of one another. His teachings reinforced the narrative of homelessness and sojourning; a man once approached Jesus and told Him that he would follow Jesus anywhere. To be sure that this man understood this part of the cost of being His follower, Christ told him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head,” (Luke 9:58.) In His own life, Christ embodied the motif of the sojourner; He was the New Adam, the New Abraham, and the New Moses.

Many began to recognize that Jesus was the Messiah, the Anointed One, who was sent by God to restore Israel and to be the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham to bless the nations. Many thought that He would be a leader like Moses, who led Israel out of slavery in Egypt and wandering and exile in the desert, or like David, who ruled Israel when they were faithful to God; before they were exiled again. Maybe Christ would overthrow Roman occupation of Judea and recreate the Kingdom of Israel, as it had been in David’s day, and things would be as they should; Israel would once again occupy and inhabit the Promised Land. Then the exile would indeed be over.

Christ did come to end the exile, but not a political exile; He came to end the much more severe spiritual exile. Christ came to end the exile that was begun when Adam and Even were forced out of Eden; He came to restore humanity’s relationship with God. He would do so, not by force or by revival, but by letting His enemies kill Him. His death and His blood would complete the long and arduous process that God had planned to bring mankind back to Himself. Fallen humanity was now redeemed, and those who were redeemed would one day enjoy the home that God had prepared for them.

With the spiritual exile over, the task now became a waiting game. Christ’s disciples and followers had to teach the successive generations that, as redeemed followers of Christ, we are still in exile–not spiritually, but physically. This world is not our home; we must not be conformed to it, nor must we be swayed by the goings-on of this life. Our home–our citizenship, as Paul said–is somewhere higher and better; it is in the realm of God, in the Kingdom of Heaven. We are sojourners, just as Abraham was, following God where He leads us, waiting eagerly to be taken to the Land of Promise. We must live differently from the world while we are here, as Peter encouraged us. We must remember the high price Christ paid to end our spiritual exile and live accordingly.

Christ broke the cycle of homelessness and exile. He died to end our spiritual exile and to give us a home with God. The spiritual exile is over, but we are still physical exiles in this world. We are sojourners here. This world will pass away, our home with God is eternal; our citizenship does not belong to nations, our citizenship is in the Kingdom of God. Remember that and travel on, pilgrim.

Artwork: “Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress,” artist unknown, 17th Century.

Living Sacrifices.

Christianity, Religion

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Romans 12:1

The offering of animal sacrifices was common practice in Paul’s day. The Jewish tradition he came out of was heavily steeped in that ritualistic observance, as were many of the Gentile cultures of this era. The religious practices of the Greeks and Romans and many near-eastern societies shared animal sacrifices as a common practice.

For these societies, sacrifices were offered to appease any number of a pantheon of gods and deities who could become displeased with humanity. The sacrifices were used to buy favor with the gods, and hopefully to avert vengeful behavior. In the case of the Hebrews, the sacrifices had a two-fold ritualistic purpose: to atone for sin and to worship God. In the religious system of the Hebrews, sin required the shedding of blood to make one blameless before God, and when sins were committed, a sacrifice must be made to amend the wrong. The Hebrew observance of the Day of Atonement is a prime example of this. On this particular day, a goat would be sacrificed for the sins of the nation, thus atoning the people for their sins.

Elsewhere in the Old Testament, we see sacrifices used as a form of worship to God. Throughout the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures, we see people building altars to YHWH, and offering sacrifices to Him as forms of sincere and reverent worship. Abel does this, as do Noah, Abraham, Jacob, and Moses, to name a few.

Offering a sacrifice was one of the most sincere ways in which to worship God, so much so, that God only allowed this form of worship to be carried out in the Temple in Jerusalem once it was completed, and they could only be carried out by temple priests. Making a sacrifice to God was also a grave matter; it required something living to die, and it required the one making the sacrifice–especially before the institution of the priesthood– to get up close and personal with death. Offering a sacrifice was not a clean and sterilized form of worship; it was not one in which participants could opt-out. It was dirty and brutal, and there was blood. This form of worship was not for the faint of heart; it was for those who were serious about seeking after God and serious about offering genuine and sincere worship to an awesome God. Only those who took God seriously took the time to slaughter a beast to Him.

With the crucifixion of Jesus, the temple-sacrifice system had been fulfilled. Christ was the once-and-for-all atonement for all humanity, and there would be no need to continue making sacrifices in Jerusalem, nor should Gentile converts continue to make sacrifices to deities at their pagan temples. Instead, Paul–under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit–made a bold statement about what Christians should now do regarding sacrifices: they should live their lives as continuous sacrifices to God. This is not a sacrifice of atonement; Christ already accomplished that for us. Instead, we should lay ourselves down upon the altar as sacrifices, just as the saints of old laid their animal sacrifices down upon altars to God in worship.

Our most sincere and genuine worship to God comes when we lay entirely upon the altar at His feet. It is when we wrestle with our fallen flesh–our sinful desires, selfishness, malice, greed, anger, everything–and we cast those things upon the altar to be sacrificed to Him. It is when we realize we must continually plunge deeply into and be covered by the blood of Christ to live correctly as His follower. The most genuine worship we can give God is by dying to ourselves, and offering ourselves as a sacrifice–a living sacrifice–to Him each and every day. It is when we fully and totally submit to living for Him and doing His will. This form of worship isn’t for the faint of heart; it is also only for those who are serious about seeking after God and worshipping the awesome God who died to save His people.

God does not want our worship with the blood of animals; He wants our hearts covered in the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. People often cringe and complain about how bloody the Bible is. A word of warning: the Christian life, properly lived, is no less bloody. That blood is what ransomed your life.

Christ laid down His life as a sacrifice for you. Dedicate living yours as a sacrifice to Him. 

Artwork: “In the Slaughterhouse,” Lovis Corinth, 1893. 

For Good.

Christianity, Religion

“But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” Genesis 50:19-21.

The saga of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis is a familiar one, full of family turmoil and division, bad blood, divisiveness, heartache,sorrow, and redemption. Joseph was his father’s favorite son, and also the son of his father’s favorite wife. Due to this, he enjoyed a connection with his father that none of his other brothers experienced. This favoritism, coupled with Joseph’s youthful boisterousness, caused his brothers to resent him, and lead Joseph’s brothers to seek to find a way to be rid of him. Their eldest brother, Reuben, would not let the younger brothers kill Joseph, so several of the brothers agreed to sell him as a slave to some passing traders. After this, the brothers told their aged father, Israel,  that his beloved son was dead, killed by wild beasts. To fully sell the deception to their father, they tore up the special cloak that Israel had given to Joseph and spattered it with animal blood.

After being sold to the traders, Joseph was taken to Egypt, where his story did not get much better. After rising to some prominence as a servant in the house of Potiphar, he was falsely accused of rape and imprisoned for several years. Even in prison, God was with Joseph and allowed those who were overseeing him see that he could be trusted and given responsibilities. While in prison, Joseph used his God-given ability to interpret dreams in an encounter with two disgraced members of Pharaoh’s court– Pharaoh’s butler and baker. This encounter with the butler would be significant, but only after the passage of much more time. 

After a curious turn of events, Joseph found himself before Pharaoh, interpreting for him a dream that none of Pharaoh’s court magicians and interpreters could understand. The meaning of the dream was that a famine was coming soon and that Egypt must begin stockpiling food for survival. Joseph’s ability so impressed Pharaoh that he pardoned Joseph of his crime–that he had never committed–and elevated Joseph to be his top deputy. There was no one in Egypt more powerful than Joseph, other than Pharaoh himself.

Fast-forward to the middle of the famine years. Hunger was widespread, and there was no food anywhere. Egypt, however, was flourishing because of the plans that had been put in place by Joseph. People came to Egypt from all of the surrounding lands to buy food. Even Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy food, for there was none in their land. After a tense series of back-and-forths between the two parties, Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers. He was the same Joseph who they had sold into slavery all those years before, and in so doing, unkowingly began a series of events that led him to be before them again that day. There was a beautiful reunion, and all of Joseph’s family–the brothers, Israel, everyone– was brought to Egypt to be together.

Everything was fine until Israel died. With their father dead, the brothers feared that Joseph would now take his revenge.

But Joseph had no such intention. He had long ago made his peace with the situation; He had placed his trust in God and His will. Joseph now understood that he had endured everything that he went through so that he could save his people. He had to endure the rejection of his brothers, the separation from his family, the false imprisonment so that he could one day be elevated by Pharaoh and save his people during the time of famine. There was much more on the line than just Joseph and his comfort; had he not been in Egypt before the famine, there’d be no food stored up for his people to buy, and they would have died. If Israel and Abraham’s line died out, what would become of the promise that God made to Abraham? How would all the nations be blessed? Joseph’s suffering was for a greater good. He was able to save his family, and he had no ill will against his brothers. He wanted now only to enjoy the time they had remaining together.

Too often, we are hurt by those close to us and never recover from that wrong. We squander our most valuable resource–time–being focused on the hurt and those who hurt us and never healing from it, instead of trying to see how God might be at work in and through that pain. Joseph chose to trust God and make his peace with the situation, and he was able to move on with his life. If we find ourselves unable to move on from similar pain in our life, perhaps it is because we are not doing as Joseph did. Maybe it is because we are choosing to hold on to the pain instead of letting go and trusting that God is preparing us for something at that moment. 

Even more powerful than the example of Joseph is the example of Jesus Christ. Jesus willingly left all the glory of Heaven to come to a sinful and rebellious creation who sought not after God. His own people rejected Him and turned Him over to the Romans on false charges for execution. He was beaten and mocked and ridiculed by all–both then and today–and yet He still willingly went to his death. Christ endured all that He did because, if He did not, there would be no salvation for humanity. Without the shedding of blood, there would be no reconciliation with God. Without someone to take the punishment of sin, God’s wrath and judgment would still be upon us. But Christ did it all willingly because His suffering was for the greater good. Our sins put Him to death, yet He still made peace for us.

Whatever you’ve been through, or are going through, God is in it, and He will use it for good. Trust in Him.  Make peace with those who have wronged you, for the wrong might be for the greater good.

Artwork: “Joseph Recognized By His Brothers,” Marc Chagall.

Take Heart.

Christianity, Religion

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

After leaving the upper room with His disciples on the first night of Passover, Christ and the Eleven made their way through the streets of Jerusalem to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Judas would later arrive with soldiers to betray Jesus. During the trek to the garden, Jesus gave the disciples His final teachings, and told them what they would endure in the future. The disciples were still not understanding everything that Jesus was telling them, their understanding would come with time and seeing the resurrected Christ, but for now, He was telling them that it was time for Him to return to the Father. Very soon, the series of events that would culminate in His crucifixion would begin to unfold; very soon the very moment that Christ was sent to Earth for would be upon Him.

The future that Jesus spoke of to the Eleven was on which promised hardship. The world had never been a friend of Christ, so the disciples should not expect the world to treat them any differently. There would be sorrow and pain, and there would be tribulation. These things were all experienced by Christ, and since the follower is not greater than the master, those who follow Christ were to expect these same things.

Despite this, Christ promised His disciples and followers joy and peace. The Christ-follower will experience the peace–the assurance of knowing–that God is in control and with them, despite the trials of the world all around them. Jesus is quick to point out to the disciples that following Him is not an immunity against tribulation; in fact, following Christ is the reason why believers are at odds with the world and why believers experience tribulation at the hands of the world. But the believer can find comfort and take courage from one fundamental fact: Christ had conquered the world.

Here, even before going to Calvary, Christ had already overcome this fallen and rebellious world. Jesus gave His word of personal assurance to the Eleven to further reinforces this fact. The battle had yet to be fought, and Christ was already victorious. He had lived a perfect and blameless life for thirty-three years. He had endured every snare and trap set before Him by the Adversary and withstood each and every single one without sin. He did what we could not do so that He could give us that which we could not attain–deliverance from our sins. With His crucifixion and death, this victory would be fixed, and there would be nothing that could change it.

The question for us today is this: do our lives reflect the level of confidence that Christ gives us? Do we take heart in His victory? Do we live with the peace that He promised us, regardless of the situation in which we find ourselves? Or do we anxiously fret ourselves away, drawing more and more grief and sorrow from the current events of the world around us, and lament the hardships that we see the culture imposing on us because of our religious beliefs? Christ promised tribulation; if you want to avoid them, follow the world instead of Christ. You can’t believe that Jesus already overcame the world and still continue to worry about everything that the world throws at us. You either believe Jesus at His word, or you don’t. You either take heart in the victory He already claimed and delivered upon, or you put your confidence in something else to deliver you. The heart that claims Christ as its King cannot simultaneously give itself over to fear and worry about the things of this world. 

Living in this world is not easy; bad news and heartache are around every corner. But this broken world and its broken system have been defeated and overcome. Trust in Christ– the One who overcame it–and He will give you joy that no one or nothing can take away from you.

Artwork: “Christ in the Grapevine,” Natalya Rusetska. 

You Can’t Go It Alone.

Christianity, Religion

“For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians‬ ‭5:9-11‬

Nearly all of the believers in the early Church were certain that Christ would return soon, almost surely within their lifetimes. There was a fervor of expectation regarding Christ’s imminent return. Time, however, went on and the return was delayed, and this delay began to pose some significant theological questions for many believers—chiefly the question of what happens to believers who die before Christ returns? As His return appeared to be further away, many more believers would die before He came back for His Church, and there were many who worried—and even taught—that these dead believers would miss out on His return. Such was the case for those in the Church in Thessalonica.

Paul heard about the controversy in Thessalonica at the church he helped establish, and, as Paul did, he wrote them a letter to help them understand the truth. In this letter of gentle correction and reassurance, Paul gives some of the most detailed teaching on the end of time found in the New Testament outside of Revelation. Paul comforts and reassures the Thessalonian believers that their dead loved ones would be called up by Christ in the resurrection at the time and  that no believer—dead or alive—would miss it.

As Paul concluded his letter, he reinforced his point—that all believers will be present for the resurrection when Christ comes—by reminding the Thessalonians that God destined us for salvation so that “whether we are awake or asleep (dead) we might live with him (Jesus).” Paul went on to exhort the Thessalonians to encourage and build one another up, “just as you are doing.”

This last line, this bit of encouragement, might seem a bit out of place given everything that had been discussed up to this point; however, this is exactly the right place for this advice. Paul is here addressing the question “what do we do now?” and his answer is simple: keep worshipping God, and keep building up one another.

We often ignore this fact, but when a body of believers comes together in worship, that time is just as much about strengthening and growing that corporate body as it is worshipping God. It is in the practice of coming together and worshipping together that we learn to build one another up and learn to carry one another’s burdens. Communal corporate worship is for giving glory to God and edifying—strengthening—the body, and sadly, so many Christians today decide to forgo that Christian fellowship and community. Many today believe that they can worship more “freely” and more “truly” unencumbered by a church family. Others feel that until they find a church that does things the “right” way–their way–they will go it alone. Both these attitudes are sad and wrong, and at their most basic point, entirely contradictory to what Christ teaches us.

Christ does not want monks, ascetics, or hermits to go and live gloriously and nobly alone in His name. Nor does Christ desire that His Church be a random assortment of detached and separated individual body parts. He wants His Church to be one body, together in one baptism, confessing one faith in one Savior. He wants His people to be together, to worship together, and to fellowship together.

There are no perfect churches, just as there are no perfect Christians, and this is exactly why we need one another. We need communion and fellowship and accountability with fellow brothers and sisters. We need people to weep with us when we weep, to rejoice with us when we rejoice, and to call us out when we are not living worthy of the calling placed upon us. It is only by dealing with people that you learn how to develop and use patience and love and understanding. It is only when you worship together with your church family that you feel the edification it brings. To attempt a Christian life any other way is to a disservice to the calling of being a Christ follower.

You can’t go it alone. Find a body of believers to join, and plug in. Then do as Paul said, encourage and build one another up, until the Lord comes.

Artwork: “Automat,” Edward Hopper, 1927.


Christianity, Religion

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” ‭‭John‬ ‭8:31-36‬

Today is Independence Day in the United States; it is the day in which Americans celebrate self-rule and all the many freedoms that those who founded the country fought to obtain for it. This is a day filled with family gatherings, cookouts, and fireworks. For people in the US, it is the high holiday of the summer.

What good, though, is being politically free if one is still enslaved to sin? The freedoms afforded by one’s citizenship ends at death; being born in one country or another never saved anyone’s soul for eternity. One can live as freely as they choose, that will not grant them entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.  Attaching eternal significance to one’s nationality is idolatrous—it is no different than the Pharisees in Christ’s day who said “we are children of Abraham and have never been enslaved.” Salvation does not come through national origin, or heritage.

Christ corrects this wrong thinking, and His words are no less true today than they were then. Unless one has been set free by the Son, they are still shackled to their sins. The freedom granted by Christ is the only one of eternal significance; this is the only freedom that matters, or that can grant one citizenship in the Kingdom.

The freedom given by Christ can only be found in submitting to Him and declaring Him the Lord and King of your life. It is only found in being washed in His blood that He freely shed to save humanity from being damned and eternally enslaved to sin and death. His freedom comes when we say that we are not free on our own; that we are lost and trapped in the chains that we have forged link by link in our fallen states. It is only when we realize that we must be dependent on Christ that we become truly independent.

Remember today the only Independence Day that matters—the day that Christ died to emancipate you from sin and death. The freedom He provides is eternal and sure. It can never be taken away from you. It is upheld not by force or arms, but by His love and His mighty hand. Be washed in His blood and enjoy your new citizenship, and the true freedom it brings.

Artwork: “Resurrection,” Natalya Rusetska