The Lord Is With You

He Is With YouThe Old Testament story of Joseph is fascinating. Think about it. He was removed from his family, sold into slavery, and sent to a foreign country far from home. If Joseph had ever given any thought to his future – and, if you read the story, he clearly had – I’m pretty sure this is not the future that he had imagined. This was the nightmare future, the dream that you wake up from sweating and panting and ecstatic to realize that it was just a dream.

But it wasn’t a dream for Joseph. It was reality. And a very harsh and potentially devastating reality.

But there is an interesting statement that is repeated.

The first time it occurs was back when Joseph had just come to the house of Potiphar, his new Egyptian master. In other words, Joseph had recently become the property of another human being. Let that sink in for a minute.

We know that Joseph apparently eventually had great freedom in the house of Potiphar, but that wouldn’t have been the case at first. A new slave would likely have been shackled. Until they got to know him, there was no chance they were going to give him the opportunity to run away.

Picture the scene in your mind. It began several days earlier when he was thrown into a pit by his brothers. They intended to kill him, but changed their minds. Instead they sold him into slavery. Now, here he was, the property of an Egyptian army officer. It is doubtful that Joseph spoke Egyptian at that point, so there is a serious language barrier with his new owner. And he is likely chained, maybe around his ankle, so he can’t run off.

Not the most pleasant of circumstances, is it? Would you be interested in swapping your current situation for Joseph’s?

And yet there is a phrase in Scripture while Joseph is in that very situation that is stunning to me. Genesis 39:2 tells us that, “The LORD was with Joseph.”

What?! With him? The Lord was with Joseph in his slavery? In his loneliness? In his being removed from his family?

Wait a minute! If the Lord was indeed with Joseph, why didn’t he change those circumstances? Why didn’t He rescue Joseph? Why didn’t He bring vindication to Joseph? After all, Joseph hadn’t done anything wrong.

Honestly, we don’t know the answer to those questions. What we do know is that God was with him.

Later, Joseph was thrown into prison – another step down in his life. Falsely accused, Joseph goes from having worked his way up to a nice job with a corner office, to being unceremoniously tossed into prison.

But, at that point, Scripture once again affirms “But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love” (Genesis 39:21)

He was just wrongfully put into prison. He was an innocent man. God knew he was innocent. The Lord could have rescued Joseph. But He didn’t. Instead, apparently God went into that prison with him.

“But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love…” I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I know I’d rather be in prison with God than living in freedom without Him. I’d rather know His steadfast love in solitary confinement than to be in a crowd of people without His love.

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No Division

No DivisionNik Ripken has been described as the world’s leading expert on the persecuted church in Muslim contexts. For six years, he led a ministry in Somaliland, in Africa, that daily fed 50,000 people. During that time, Nik became frustrated by the evil perpetrated by the people there against one another. He couldn’t understand how people could be from the same clan, even the same family, and readily turn on one another. Then, one of the locals told him a traditional Somali saying he had heard all his life: “I and Somaliland against the world; I and my clan against Somaliland; I and my family against my clan; I and my brother against my family; and I against my brother.” [Nik Ripken, The Insanity of God, B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, TN, 2013, pg 48]

That statement comes down to this: I will do whatever is necessary to be sure that, when everything is said and done, I win. I’ll stand with you, as long as it’s in my interest. But don’t cross me, or our relationship is done. In essence, it is saying that I am more important than everyone else.

When I first read that statement, I immediately thought of the implication for the Church. As Christians, we often are willing to stand together. Together, that is, unless you disagree with me about something. Then, rather than a member of the Body of Christ, now I am a Methodist or a Baptist or a Pentecostal or … whatever. I no longer see you as being on the same team. You have become my enemy.

The same thing happens in individual congregations. We stand together … until you don’t agree with me about something. When that happens, I vilify you. You have become my enemy.

I and the Church against the enemy; I and my denomination against the Church; I and my congregation against my denomination; I and by brother against my congregation; I against my brother.

It’s the same mindset that Nik Ripken found appalling in his work in Somaliland. And it’s apparent, from an honest look at Scripture, that God finds it appalling in His Church. We are not a bunch of individuals all just doing our own thing. We have been made one in Him “that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.” (1 Corinthians 12:25)

What would happen, do you suppose, if we all really saw ourselves as – and acted like – the Body of Christ?

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Andrew

Andrew ThomasAre you ready? It could happen at any moment. You’re not exempt. Even if you’re the perfect specimen of health and you always eat your daily allotment of fruits and vegetables, there is still no guarantee. So, are you ready?

Andrew Thomas passed away yesterday. Although he lived four states away, and we generally only saw each other once a year, he was a dear friend. Don’t misunderstand. In many ways we were opposites. He was black, and I’m … not. He was originally from Great Britain; I stopped in the airport in London once on my way back from Eastern Europe. He was laid back, gentle and kind; I’m hard driving and too frequently far from gentle and kind.

And Andrew cared deeply. One evening I got stuck at the Harrisburg airport. Bad weather in other areas had radically altered flights that day. So, I faced the prospect of spending the night at the airport. Instead, Andrew came and picked me up, let me stay at his house, and took me back to the airport in the wee hours of the morning. I was clearly not an imposition in his mind. He enjoyed the opportunity to serve.

I don’t think I can recall all the people I have met who would say that Andrew had a major impact on their lives. This was especially true – although not exclusively – for worship leaders who he encouraged and mentored. There are many. Andrew was a friend to everyone. One of his Facebook friends said it well in a post on his wall this morning. “Souls that pour out the love of Jesus into everyone they meet are missed the most!”

Best of all, though, Andrew knew salvation through Jesus’ atoning work. He walked closely with his Redeemer. The words of Jesus were internalized in Andrew in a profound way. They came popping out at just the right moment, when they were most needed. And they were lived.

Praying for Andrew’s wife, Caron, and children, Kim and Stefan.

Andrew Thomas, my friend, I look forward to seeing you again, as we gather before the throne of grace.

So, back to my original question: Are you ready? “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27) Ready? Andrew Thomas was.

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Acceptance

acceptanceWe all have a basic need. At the core of our being, there is a nagging question, a wondering. It is a deep and profound ponderance to which an answer is essential. The question, both simple and profound, is this: Am I fully and completely accepted? Could someone really love me just as I am?

It is, in essence, the fairy tale that everyone – deep inside – dreams about. It’s the Beast being loved by Beauty. It is the commoner chosen to be the bride of the handsome prince. It’s the homeless Ebola-stricken orphan from Liberia adopted into the wealthy British family. It is the prostitute repeatedly pursued by her faithful husband.

To be accepted – fully accepted – is the epitome of our hope. Yet, at the same time, we realize that such acceptance is too far beyond our wildest dreams. Why? Because we know, on the inside, that we are not worthy of such acceptance. We are undeserving. We have absolutely no right to expect such acceptance. Homeless, ugly, disease-ridden whores like us deserve only rejection. Fairy tale endings only happen in fairy tales. Intrinsically, we know this.

So, we have three choices of response to our deep need for acceptance.

  1. We can embrace false acceptance offered by the world. In other words, we suppress the truth of our unacceptability with a lie. I’m not really as bad as all that.
  2. We wallow in our non-acceptance, knowing that we will always be homeless, ugly, sickly beasts, worth nothing unless we are bought and sold. We live constantly in a woe-is-me state, recognizing that we can never make ourselves acceptable.
  3. We see a tiny glimpse of God’s lavish mercy and acceptance. We receive the grace extended to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and we revel in knowing that the Lord Most High loves and accepts us, warts and all.

“He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him… In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us…” (Ephesians 1:4, 7-8)

He chose us!

We are blameless and holy in His sight!

We have been granted forgiveness!

He has lavished His grace upon us!

This year, find your worth – your true acceptance – in Him alone.

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The Perfect Christmas Gift

Perfect Christmas GiftI’m pretty sure we don’t fully comprehend all that Jesus did by coming to earth, dying, and rising again. If we really and truly grasped the totality of His work, it would radically change us. Take, for example, a simple brief verse from the book of Hebrews.

“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:14)

That verse is referring to us, you and me. We are the ones who are being sanctified. The NIV phrases it as “those who are being made holy.” You and I are being conformed, more and more, into His likeness. (Romans 8:29, Ephesians 1:4)

Yet, just prior to that phrase, it says that Jesus “has perfected for all time…” Has perfected. We’re being sanctified, but we’re already – past tense – made perfect.

In the first verse of this same chapter, we are told that the law and the animal sacrifices couldn’t make us perfect. It’s true. They couldn’t. But Jesus did it through His death and resurrection. We are, right now, perfect. In God’s sight, you and I are perfect.

That’s a hard idea to grasp. I still see my flaws. I know how easily I am tempted toward areas of sin. I live in a body that often seems to have a stronger push toward wrong than right. Yet, according to the eternal Word of God, Jesus has already perfected me for all time.

And, by the way, He did the same for you, too. It was the perfect Christmas gift!

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Not Just Another Book

BibleIn my travels over the years, I have encountered too many people who have given up on reading the Bible. They have read it through – perhaps more than once – and they know what it says. They understand the overall concept and see no reason to continue reading on a regular basis.

I would suggest that such people have a shallow understanding of what Scripture really is.

Eugene Peterson, in his book, Eat This Book, said, “The most frequent way we have of getting rid of the puzzling or unpleasant difficulties in the Bible is to systematize it, organizing it according to some scheme or other that summarizes “what the Bible teaches.” If we know what the Bible teaches, we don’t have to read it anymore, don’t have to enter the story and immerse ourselves in the odd and unflattering and uncongenial way in which this story develops, including so many people and circumstances that have nothing to do, we think, with us.” (Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book, p. 66)

Rather than not reading Scripture, what we really need to do is to immerse ourselves in it, to lose ourselves in the eternal Word of God. Allow that Word to permeate you and alter your thinking.

As you approach the Word of God, don’t just look at it as reading another book. Instead, see it as a true interaction with the Lord. You’re not just reading a book; you’re coming before the most high God. Make Psalm 119:18, your prayer: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”

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Not the Cheap Imitation

imitation“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

Have you ever really looked at and thought about this verse? The wording seems odd to me; the phrasing is quirky. It’s as though John started to write something and then altered course. He was headed in one direction and took a slight detour in order to make what he was going to say even stronger.

As a writer, I can almost picture John starting his sentence, “In this is love…,” and then pausing in thought. Apparently, he realized he first needed to tell what love is not. Before he could show the real thing, he needed to do away with the false idea. “Not that we have loved God…” In essence, John is telling us, “Our ‘love’ for God isn’t really love. Oh, there may be some small dimension of love in our ‘love’ for God, but I’m talking about real love, true love, love in all its fullness.”

Now, I’m no Greek scholar, but every translation I checked – even those that are more paraphrases than translations – worded it pretty much the same way. There’s the beginning – “This is love…,” then the stutter step, “not us loving God,” and then the real thing, “that He loved us.” God’s love for us far surpasses, and is far more important than, our love for Him.

I hear so many people today talk about our love for God, as though that’s the epitome, the end-all, the final word. But it’s not. Don’t misunderstand, we should love God. That’s abundantly and repeatedly clear from His Word. Yet, our love for Him will never be more than a mere shadow – a cheap imitation – of His love for us, the real love, demonstrated through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

I challenge you to be far less concerned about your love for God, and far more concerned about His love for you. Rest in His love today.

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