Magnificent

O LORD, our God, how incredible is Your character and reputation throughout the heavens and the Earth.

When I slow down enough to really think about who You truly are – I’m in awe. It’s amazing to consider all that You’ve done so easily and completely, and yet, You love humanity (me) as Your creation unconditionally. Even though we are sinful, selfish, people, You give us both dignity and responsibility.

“O LORD, our Lord, how magnificent is Your Name throughout the Earth.” Psalm 8:1

The Power of the Cross

Cross hammer“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved.” 1 Corinthians 1:18

After sixteen centuries and more during which the cross has been a sacred symbol, it’s difficult to realize the unspeakable horror and loathing which the very mention or thought of the cross provoked during the tyranny of the Roman Empire. In the first century, the word for cross, σταυρός (latin crux), was unmentionable in polite Roman society.

When the early disciples talked about the crucified Christ, every listener from Jerusalem to Illyricum (Romans 15:19) knew that Jesus had suffered a particularly cruel and shameful death, which as a rule was reserved for the most hardened criminals, incorrigible slaves, and egregious rebels against the Roman state. Cicero (Pro Rabirio Perduellionis Reo 5.16) decries the crucifixion of a Roman citizen, exclaiming, “The very word ‘cross’ should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes, and his ears.”

The story behind Jesus’ death on the cross discloses that He was rejected by the very people He came to save (Matthew 26:1-5), was deserted by His own friends (Matthew 26:47-4869-75), was strung up by the proper authorities (Matthew 27:22-26), and, apparently, was powerless to save His own skin (Matthew 27:38-44).

Following Christ’s resurrection, Peter served as faithful follower of the Lord proclaiming,

“You know the events that took place throughout Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were under the tyranny of the Devil, because God was with Him. We ourselves are witnesses of everything He did in both the Judean country and in Jerusalem, yet they killed Him by hanging Him on a tree. God raised up this man on the third day and permitted Him to be seen.” Acts 10:37–40

the crossThe beginning of Christianity was cradled in what looks like disastrous defeat, and the unspeakable stigma of the cross exposed “Christians” to woeful contempt.  In fact, the word, “Christian” is found only three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28, 1 Peter 4:16) and when it is used, it’s a label formed by people who were not followers of Jesus to designate those who were. It’s a manufactured term with a derogatory slant, meant to be a dig.

Similar to Peter, Paul did not refer to Jesus’ death on the cross with embarrassment or skip over the awkward facts:

“I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)
“Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, because it is written: Everyone who is hung on a tree is cursed.” (Galatians 3:13)

The cross of Jesus was central to Paul’s preaching because the resurrection disclosed Christ’s suffering and death as the way of life for His believing followers in the world. Paul taught the early church that followers of the crucified Lord must also share the suffering of the cross:

“The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children, also heirs—heirs of God and coheirs with Christ—seeing that we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:16-17)
“My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead.” (Philippians 3:10)

Cross of VictoryAs followers of Jesus today, we want to share in the celebration of the cross, we would just rather avoid it’s suffering and shame. The message of the cross, however, is about trusting God’s will in submission and sacrifice (Matthew 27:36-46) rather than fighting for control or positioning for comfort. The message of the cross is an antidote to our self-glorification and self-satisfaction. The message of the cross is hope for the tired and weary, rest for the rejected refugee, grace for the humbled, and mercy for the broken sinner.

The Gospel of Christ crucified transforms the cross as a symbol of Roman terror and political domination into a symbol of God’s love and power. The cross shows that the power of God’s love is greater than human love of power. The cross reveals the love of God at its best and the sin of man at its worst. Isaac Watts said it well, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” 

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

Kingdom of Priests

telescopeSo often, especially in the US, our identity seems to get wrapped up in our possessions (homes, cars, finances, etc..) and our value is usually related to what we do (teacher, engineer, manager, etc..). But God has called us to find our worth and our purpose in our relationship with Him. He has set us apart as believers in His Son, Jesus, to magnify Him like a telescope (bring God closer) or a microscope (make Him larger) for others to see and trust Him.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)

All the figures that Peter chose to describe the church originally referred to Israel. In contrast with the highly regulated, highly structured responsibilities and duties of the priests of the Israelites, however, the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ today has a direct access to God through the Savior. We are all priests; we can come near the presence of the Lord without an intermediary. Yet our privilege as believer-priests can only really be appreciated against the background of priests under the Old Covenant. When God gave the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai, He said that Israel would be a kingdom of priests (see Exodus 19:5-6) who would stand between God and the rest of humanity representing people before God. Within the tribes of Israel, though, God set apart Aaron and his descendants to serve Him as priests to Israel.

“The Lord told Aaron, “You will not have an inheritance in their land; there will be no portion among them for you. I am your portion and your inheritance among the Israelites.'” (Numbers 18:20)

microscopeReading this passage (Numbers 17-18) in my personal Bible reading this morning, I was reminded that God gave all the other tribes of Israel physical land as an inheritance to possess, rule, and manage, but to the tribe of Levi, God promised to provide for their physical needs through the offerings of His people. Most importantly, God said their personal identity and their real worth was to be found in Him: “I am your portion and your inheritance.” Likewise, as believer-priests today, our identity and our worth is not determined by what we possess or even by how we perform, but by our life is hidden in Jesus Christ. In order to discover our true identity, our real value, we have to look for it, but it’s there, revealed in Christ.

“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:10)

In Colossians 3:3, Paul, likewise, says, “For you have died,  and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God.” In fact, Jesus is your life (Colossians 3:4). God has provided all we need for acceptance with Him and godly living in Jesus.

“To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. “(Revelation 1:5-6)

Doubt and Faith

daysofdoubtThere are days that I have doubts…

There are days I question the goodness of God….

There are days I look around the world and wonder…

As a believer in God, a follower of Christ, and especially, as a pastor, I’m sure some think I’m not supposed to have any doubts. But the reality is that, at times, I do.

Why do we think that faithful followers of Jesus shouldn’t have doubts? We look at Peter and his faults and are encouraged that Jesus restored him and used him greatly. We admire Paul who was a persecutor (terrorist and murderer) of the church and celebrate how Jesus transformed him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). But when we consider Thomas, who doubted the physical Resurrection of Jesus until he saw Him and touched Him, we conclude that we’re not supposed to have doubts. But the reality is, we all have both believing and doubting inside us. And it’s during those days of doubting that we have a choice to make – to believe God’s Word or trust our feelings, observations, or circumstances.

Belief is only a necessity when we don’t know with certainty. Only when we have doubt is faith needed. Where there is complete knowledge, there is no need for faith. If I told you that I had a $20 bill in my pocket, would you believe me? Probably. If I showed it to you, would it still require faith? No. Seeing is not believing – seeing is knowing. When doubt is gone, so is faith.

“Faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) It’s the uncertainty of “what is not seen” (doubting) that causes us to exercise faith (believing) and grow in our faith (maturing).

what do I believe?So a crucial question to ask ourselves is, what do I really believe?  There are great beliefs, great creeds of the church, that, for centuries, people have devoted their life to studying. There are beliefs that people have defended with their lives, sacrificed over, and even died for. In Psalm 73, Asaph begins with a statement of faith, “God is indeed good to Israel, to the pure in heart.” He says that in spite of evidence to the contrary, God is good to those who are totally committed to Him. Like the psalmist, we all carry convictions about what we believe. We can talk about them in three ways:

  1. What I say I believe (publicly). These public convictions are the beliefs that I want other people to think I believe, even though I may not really believe them. For example, guys, if a certain someone asks you, “Does this dress make my hips look too large?” What you say you believe is, “No. I didn’t even know you had hips until you mentioned them.” We make such statements for “PR” purposes, regardless of whether or not we really believe them. We get frustrated with politicians for replacing truth with things that sound true, but the reality is that we all have an inner politician who puts in overtime and his main job is crafting and communicating public policies to help us look good and get what we want.
  2. What I think I believe (privately). These private convictions are the things that I sincerely think that I believe, but it turns out they may be fickle. When circumstances change, our private beliefs are revealed to be shallow. When our health, or jobs, or relationships change, what we feel causes us to behave, and believe, differently. When the going gets tough, we jump off the bandwagon for things we think we believe.
  3. What I really believe (personally). These are the convictions that really matter. Our personal beliefs are revealed by our daily actions – by what I actually do. I don’t have to wake up and say, “Today, I’m going to demonstrate my commitment to my belief in gravity.” My attitudes and actions are always the result of what I really believe. What I really believe is what I’m fully depending upon.

So we have three different kinds of beliefs, what I say I believe, what I think I believe, and what I really believe, and that’s were life happens. How do circumstances reveal what I really believe? In Psalm 73:2 Asaph wrote, “But as for me, my feet almost slipped; my steps nearly went astray.” Asaph publicly said he believed in God, but when he began to look around as his private circumstances changed, he began to have some serious doubts about God’s goodness and justice.

  1. Doubt begins with material envy. Asaph said, “For I envied the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” (Psalm 73:3). Later on he wrote, “Look at them—the wicked! They are always at ease, and they increase their wealth” (vs. 12). We see the rich getting richer. Cheaters winning. Liars are getting promoted. Everything seems to be going their way.
  2. Doubts surface with physical suffering. “They have an easy time until they die, and their bodies are well fed. They are not in trouble like others; they are not afflicted like most people.” (Psalm 73:4-5) When our wealth and then our health declines we begin to wonder, get discouraged, and doubt. Others who reject God altogether seem more care-free and don’t seem to have the same problems we have. They don’t have as much physical suffering as believers do. Their bodies are healthy and sleek (naturally—they can afford the best of everything). They escape many of the troubles and tragedies of decent people like ourselves. And even if trouble should hit them, they are heavily insured against every conceivable form of loss. Regarding the wicked, British preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, wrote in the 19th century, “They have a quiet death; gliding into eternity without a struggle”
  3. Doubts are sustained from the verbal mistreatment by others. “They mock, and they speak maliciously; they arrogantly threaten oppression. They set their mouths against heaven, and their tongues strut across the earth.” (Psalm 73:8-9) The wicked and the selfish boast proudly and act as if God doesn’t care how they live.
  4. Doubts are solidified from the personal afflictions we experience. Why do bad things happen to good people? Like the psalmist we question, “Did I purify my heart and wash my hands in innocence for nothing? For I am afflicted all day long and punished every morning.” (Psalm 73:13-14) Like Asaph we begin to wonder, “What good has it done me to live a decent, honest, respectable life?” The hours I’ve spent in prayer. The time spent in the Word. The time and money I’ve given to the Lord. The active testimony for Jesus, both public and private. All I’ve got for it has been a daily dose of suffering and punishment. Is this life of faith really worth the cost? In the face of doubts, we have a choice to make.

I believeWhy should I really believe? I believe God during days and nights of doubt because things in life are not always as they look or feel. “When I tried to understand all this, it seemed hopeless… until… I entered God’s sanctuary… then I understood their future destiny…” (Psalm 73:17-18). When we step back and get God’s perspective, then we realize the outcome of the deeds, the wickedness, the selfishness, and the faithlessness of those who reject Him. More importantly, when we step away from what’s going on and look up to God, we find He is good, He is loving, He is faithful.

Faith involves certain beliefs. Faith involves an attitude of hope and confidence. But at it’s root, faith is trusting a Person. Go back and read that again. Faith is trusting God and His Word. Only when we depend upon God and His Word can we understand life completely and know Him intimately.

Don’t miss how the psalmist repeatedly speaks directly to God with the pronouns “I” and “You” in the following verses:

When I became embittered and my innermost being was wounded, I was stupid and didn’t understand; I was an unthinking animal toward You. Yet I am always with YouYou hold my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me up in glory. Who do I have in heaven but You? And I desire nothing on earth but You. (Psalm 73:21-25)

Asaph is dealing personally and directly with God. He was talking with God at the heart level. Why should we really believe in God? Consider the following:

Regardless of how we feel, God is faithful to us in our failures. Even when we have doubts, become bitter, or become totally consumed by envy of others, Jesus never leaves His followers. The Good Shepherd waits for us and often pursues us. We begin the Christian life by seeing God’s grace and love in spite of our sin. And as we try to live the Christian life, we sometimes have doubts – like the psalmist and like Thomas. When we come to our senses again, we realize in a fresh and deeper way His faithful love and forgiveness of our sin.

In spite of evidence to the contrary, God satisfies our deepest longings and supplies our greatest needs. When we’re struggling with life, the Lord wisely and tenderly lead us and blesses us. Sober reflection reminded the psalmist that God had not forgotten him but would one day provide the good things He presently withheld. God is faithful, even in times of doubt when I can’t see Him or feel Him. My heart may have doubts in the present, but God is the heartbeat of my future.

Why should we believe in God? Because He has rescued us from judgment and is our refuge from troubles. “As for me, God’s presence is my good. I have made the Lord God my refuge, so I can tell about all You do” (Psalm 73:28). We once were far from God. We once were unfaithful to Him. We once were headed for eternal punishment. But God in His mercy reached down to us with the love of His Son, Jesus, and rescued us from His judgment. Those who do not follow God faithfully will suffer eventually. However, when we depend upon Him by faith we’ll experience His blessing in the end, regardless of our present circumstances.

There are times when a decision to believe requires commitment when we don’t have complete certainty. For the most important decisions in life, this is almost always the case. When a young, naive couple vows to love and honor one another for the rest of their lives, they have no clue as to what challenges they will face. What matters is not certainty, but faithfulness. When certainty is not possible, faithfulness becomes a choice.

TrustingThis is true about the most important decisions of doubt and faith. Trusting God can lead us to deeper faith in Him and greater dependence upon Him. Contrary to how things often appear, God is indeed good to those who are pure in heart, those who are clinging to Him and His Word.

Fully devoted followers of God’s Son are not people who never doubt. We are disciples of Jesus who doubt and worship, doubt and serve, doubt and forgive, doubt and help each other with our doubts. We completely depend upon God and His Word while we wait for our doubting to – one day– turn into knowing.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Happily Ever After…

Snow WhiteEvery fairy tale has the same formula. It begins with, “Once upon a time…” and ends with, “they lived happily ever after.” Ask almost any person what they want out of life, and they’ll most likely reply, “I just want to be happy.” As Americans, the pursuit of happiness is written into the U.S. Declaration of Independence. We view it as a right. We deserve to be happy. It’s essential to our way of life. But, while we’re free to pursue happiness, there’s no guarantee we’ll find it. The secret is knowing where to look.

Most people look for happiness in their circumstances (jobs, possessions, health, entertainment, sports) or in their relationships (boyfriend/girlfriend, spouse, children, or friends) only to discover that things and people change. So looking for happiness in them never satisfies our longings.

God’s Word, however, promises true happiness to all who follow what it says. The Bible, then, is either a fairy tale that we shouldn’t take seriously, or it speaks truth that tells us how to find lasting happiness (and why we won’t if we don’t). Psalm 1 shows us that to live happily ever after, we must depend totally on God and His Word.

1 How truly happy is the person who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the pathway of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in obeying God’s commands, and he meditates on them day and night. 3 He is like a tree transplanted by irrigated water canals that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.  Psalm 1:1-3

God says there are two pathways of life open to us: one means happiness, blessedness, and fruitfulness, but the other means unhappiness, consequences, and worthlessness. Happiness is a choice, but to be happy, we must, by faith, depend on God and the commands of His Word rather than the counsel of the world, the advice of people we know, the experiences we’ve had, the circumstances we’re going through, or the emotions we feel.

Cinderella“Happy” or “Blessed,” in Hebrew (אַשְׁרֵי), is a plural of intensity. The word stems from a verb meaning to go on or advance. If you want to advance to the fullest measure of happiness, the psalmist explains we have two responsibilities that lead to one result that God produces. To the extent we fulfill our responsibilities, we can expect God to complete the result.

The first responsibility is our devotion to obeying God’s Word. “How truly happy is the person… whose delight is in obeying God’s commands.” What does it mean to delight in God’s Word? The word is used in the Old Testament (Gen. 34:19; Esther 2:14) of a man delighting in a woman. Oh, yeah! That’s what I’m talking about! Have you noticed that when a young man delights in a woman, he rearranges his priorities so that suddenly he has plenty of time to spend with her? And he doesn’t do it because he has to; he wants to! Nothing interferes with his time with the object of his delight! Do we delight in obeying God’s Word in that way? The Bible, after all, is God’s love letter to us. When we read the Bible, we’re reading the counsel of a loving, all-wise Heavenly Father as to how we should live. His commandments are given for us to delight in, not just knowing or studying them, but obeying them for our lasting happiness, our personal protection, our ultimate good. It should be no more of a duty to spend time in with God in His Word so that we can obey Him than it is for a young man to devote his time with the beautiful woman he adores. The way to true happiness is to delight in God’s Word.

The second responsibility is our meditation on God’s Word. “How truly happy is the person… who meditates on God’s commands day and night.” Meditation is to reading what digestion is to eating: chewing on it, letting it become part of you. We’re to meditate on God’s commands continually (“day and night”), which implies thinking about the Word well enough to impact our decisions all day long. Whatever shapes our thinking will eventually shape our lives. The only way for us to find happiness that lasts is to be continually meditating on, thinking about, and chewing on the Word of God and how it applies to how we think, what be believe, and how we behave within every relationship, every attitude, and every decision. As we delight in obeying and meditating upon God and His Word, we will find true happiness.

Transformed by God's WordThe result that God produces is our transformation for His glory and our good. The person who delights in obeying God’s Word and meditates on it is “like a tree planted by streams of water.” This is a tree that has been intentionally transplanted, deliberately cultivated, and is continuously nourished by a planned irrigation system so that its roots have a constant supply of water. With roots that are firmly established, this tree is able to withstand days of drought and the severest of storms. Its leaves do not wilt or fade so it’s fruitful to God and provides shade to others.

Through His transformation, God promises our ultimate happiness: “In whatever he does, he prospers.” This is not a guarantee of future financial worth, but a promise that the person fully depending on God’s Word is always useful and fruitful to the Lord. Prosperity is not by physical wealth, physical health, or popularity, but primarily by spiritual growth with God and capacity for life with people and in service. The point of the tree simile, then, is to give a picture of the lasting happiness we will find when we turn away from Godless thinking, believing, and living and look, instead, to a life with God through faith in Jesus based on His Word.

Only by depending on God and living by the unchanging truth of His Word will we live happily ever after. And that’s no fairy tale!

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

 

Who are you?

Thank You, Texas Rangers!Who am I? I work at a church as a pastor, but that’s not who I am. I am a husband and a father, but who I am is not defined by my family roles and responsibilities. I’m a huge Texas Ranger’s fan, but my identity is not wrapped up with their success or their slumps. So who am I? Good question.

Who I am is not a function of what I do. Nor is my worth determined by how I measure up in my performance as a pastor, husband, father, or fan. Who I am is not based on anything I do or how well (or poorly) I do it.

So who are you?

  • Is your identity based on what you do? A teacher, a coach, a software engineer, a student, an athlete, a musician, doctor, etc…?
  • Is your identity based on how you perform? Grades, touchdowns, home runs, skateboard tricks, musical abilities, job skills, etc…?
  • Is your identity based on where you came from? Your family, ethnicity, country, school, neighborhood, etc…?
  • Is your identity based on what you own or have? Money, computers, iTouch, video games, home, clothes, cars, physical fitness, etc…?
  • Is your identity based on who you know or hang around? Skaters, athletes, brainiacs, musicians, engineers, teachers, clubs, church, etc…?

Who are you? The problem with determining your personal identity, worth, or value from any of these is that all of them are temporary and will eventually become meaningless and will ultimately leave you feeling worthless.

In_ChristYour true worth and your greatest value in life has everything to do with who you are in Christ Jesus. Listen to what Paul says, If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17  “In Christ” is a phrase Paul used repeatedly to talk about a believer’s spiritual, eternal, unchanging, and unconditional relationship to Christ.

If you have trusted Jesus, the Son of God, as the One who died in your place and rose from the dead to give you new life – you are a new creation. In Christ, you have really become a new person. Your identity – who you really are – is based on your relationship with Jesus and what He has done rather than what you do, how you do it, where you came from, what you have, and who you know. Who are you? A new creation, a new person who is free to be YOU.

In Christ, you have incredible worth! The old way of living by having to doing good works, trying be good, having to perform, measure up, fit in, or win approval is O-V-E-R. The new way, the best way of living is “in Christ” because in Him you are completely loved, totally accepted, and forever valued.

Barry ZitoBarry Zito, once known as one of the most dominating pitchers in Major League baseball, explained how God had used his injury to figure out who he really was in Christ. In 2002, playing for the Oakland A’s, he won 23 games and won the Cy Young Award as the league’s best pitcher. But in 2010 he was cut from the San Francisco Giants starting roster. The next season he was plagued by injuries and poor performances. His worth as a person was so wrapped up in who he was as a pitcher that how he felt about himself was either good or bad based on how he performed. Zito said. “Sometimes you have to go through difficulty and trials to really get broken down. I realized I’d been doing it alone.”

Zito tattooBy the end of 2012, Zito had returned to his peak performance, winning his last 14 starts and leading the Giants to a World Series title over the Detroit Tigers. Before the playoffs began, Zito got a tattoo of a golden calf on the inside of his right bicep. He said, “It signifies the idolatry and value that I was putting on earthly things and human recognition.” More than being a great MLB pitcher earning millions of dollars, Zito’s greatest value is who he is in Christ.

Who are you? What is it that makes you important? Is it what you do? How you perform? Where you came from? How much money you make? Who you hang around?  In Christ, you are priceless!

God planned it for good

dog-growlingTwo boys were walking along a street when they encountered a large dog blocking the sidewalk. “Don’t be afraid,” one of the boys told his more timid friend. “Look at his tail, how it wags. When a dog wags his tail he won’t bite you.” “That may be,” admitted the other, “but look at that wild gleam in his eye and his big teeth. He looks like he wants to eat us alive. … Which end are we going to believe?” You may have felt like those two boys when you’ve had to face adversity in your life. Sometimes we aren’t quite convinced whether to believe the wagging tail of God’s promises or that wild gleam in the eye of the adversity confronting us.

In Genesis 37-50, Joseph was able to see how God planned years of adversity in his life to ultimately bring about a good result. God encourages us to “consider it all joy” when we encounter various trials (James 1:2). God promises that He is working “all things together for good to those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Still, we wonder, “What if we consider adversity a joy and it comes back to bite us?” In the end, it all comes down to trust. God’s Word assures us that we can trust Him to fulfill His promises as we demonstrate our faith in Him through all the adversities of life.

As Joseph looked back over the course of his life to see God’s loving control through his personal adversity (betrayal, false accusations, unjust imprisonment, abandonment), he could also look ahead to God’s fulfilled promise to his family by faith.

20 You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people.
21 Therefore don’t be afraid. I will take care of you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
22 Joseph and his father’s household remained in Egypt. Joseph lived 110 years. 23 He saw Ephraim’s sons to the third generation; the sons of Manasseh’s son Machir were recognized by Joseph. 24 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will certainly come to your aid and bring you up from this land to the land He promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” 25 So Joseph made the sons of Israel take an oath: “When God comes to your aid, you are to carry my bones up from here.” 26 Joseph died at the age of 110. They embalmed him and placed him in a coffin in Egypt. Genesis 50:20–26

Joseph lived to see God’s blessing on his children’s children. He died 54 years after his father’s death when he was 110 years old. He found God to be absolutely trustworthy – through all things.

As believers in our promise-keeping God, we know that He will surely come to our aid, in spite of death and discouragement. The nature of our adversity alone does not determine its spiritual value in our lives. It is our reaction to adversity, the way we deal with it, the way we respond to God, that makes it valuable. God is extremely interested in how we respond to adversity because our response determines whether or not it is going to bring about its intended result.

Joseph shows us how to respond to God by faith through all things – especially through adversity.

1. Accept God’s perspective of adversity. When tragedy strikes or difficult times overtake us, our worldview, and our view of God, comes under attack. Questions of fear reach the surface of our consciousness. We begin to worry and doubt.

road-blockIf we are only marginally interested in maturing as followers of Jesus Christ will have a difficult time with adversity. Our tendency will be to blame God or blame others, and become bitter. Instead of seeing adversity as something God is trying to do for us, we will see it only as something He is doing to us. If our perspective of life is comfort, convenience, and pleasure, we will have very little tolerance for adversity. We will see difficulty as a road block rather than a part of God’s plan for us. But when we truly embrace God’s perspective by faith, adversity takes on a whole new meaning. We see pain as an integral part of what God is doing in our lives. Like Joseph, we begin to understand that adversity is a means to God’s greater good.

The person who has God’s perspective in this life and the life to come will always emerge victorious. Like Joseph, however, we are often forced to deal with the prolonged silence of God in the midst of grave adversity. When God is silent, you have only one reasonable option – trust Him. Hang in there, wait on Him. Yet, often He remains silent. God’s silence is always amplified by the anguish of adversity. Then more than ever we need a word from God. Joseph was able, by faith, to trust God’s perspective and plan to bring about something good through the painful years of difficulty – “the survival of many people.”

We learn from Joseph’s perspective that God’s silence is in no way indicative of His activity or involvement in our lives. God may seem far away, but He hasn’t forgotten. He may be quiet, but He hasn’t quit on you. He may be silent, but He’s not still. Trust Him.

2. Rely on God’s promises through adversity. The book of Genesis ends with the Promise yet unfulfilled, but with the expectancy of God’s deliverance. Like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when they died, Joseph’s greatest concern was the fulfillment of God’s promise (cf. Genesis 24:1–7; 28:1–4; 47:29–31). Like his father before him, Joseph requested that his bones be taken out of the land of Egypt when God returns them to the Promised Land. His repeated expression “God will certainly come to your aid” guarantees that the fulfillment of God’s promises lay in the future (as Exodus 3:16–17 affirms). The Hebrew verb pāqad, “come to your aid” also translated, “visitation,” usually carries the connotation that destinies would be changed because God is faithful to His promises. Joseph expressed his complete belief that God would keep His promise to give the land of Canaan to the Israelites (vs. 24). Hundreds of years later, Moses would keep the Israelites’ oath by taking Joseph’s bones with the people into the wilderness (Exodus 13:19). Finally, Joshua would bury the bones of Joseph at Shechem after the conquest of Canaan (Joshua 24:32). The writer of Hebrews says, “Faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1). What’s amazing to me is that God, through writer of Hebrews, approves Joseph for believing the wagging tail of His promises. Joseph is praised, not for his faith through adversity, but specifically for his faith in God’s promise that was not yet visible (Hebrews 11:22).

night-drivingOver the past year, I’ve had the privilege of teaching our oldest son, Michael, how to drive. Recently, while driving at night on two-lane road, I reminded him of what you have to do to keep from crashing into the oncoming vehicle – avert your eyes from the blinding light of the oncoming traffic to, instead, focus on the road ahead and the white line on the right that leads the way. In the same way, the oncoming difficulties of adversity can often blind us, but when we avert our eyes away from it and focus, instead, on the promises of God, we find He’ll lead us through the darkest nights. God keeps His promises. Trust Him.

3. Embrace God’s purposes for adversity. God planned all of Joseph’s suffering for His good purposes. Perhaps the reason so many of us struggle so intensely with adversity is that we have yet to embrace God’s purposes for it. Adversity is not just a tool that God uses. It’s God’s most effective tool for the growth and development of our spiritual lives. The circumstances and events that we see as roadblocks are oftentimes the very building blocks that lead us down roads of intense spiritual growth. God uses all things, especially adversity, even the evil of others, to bring about His ultimate purpose in our lives.

Joseph embraced God’s specific purpose for the adversity in his life: the survival of many people. In the same way, Jesus embraced the Father’s will to suffer and die to bring about the salvation of all those who trust in Him.

So what is God’s purpose for adversity? Paul makes it clear:

28 We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. Romans 8:28–29

God’s ultimate, goal is that we be conformed to the image of His Son – in other words, Christ-likeness. His aim for us as followers of Jesus is not to make us happy, materially prosperous, or famous, but to make us Christlike. He now uses “all things,” the sad as well as the glad, the painful as well as the pleasant, the things that perplex and disappoint as well as the things they eagerly strive and pray for, to further His eternal purpose for us. In His infinite wisdom He knows what is needed to bring about that transformation.

God’s goal for us in not that we merely imitate the behavior of Christ. His ultimate desire is that the life of Christ be lived through us.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:19-20).

Christ-likeness is not “self” camouflaged in Christian activities. It is a lifestyle that flows from the very life of Christ Himself and His sufferings as He indwells the believer.

What does all this have to do with adversity? God is not satisfied with well-mannered, respectable “self” on the throne of our lives. He wants to remove all traces of “self” so that we can be presented to Christ holy and blameless (Ephesians 1:3-4). One way God accomplishes that is by sending adversity into our lives. Adversity stirs us up and causes us to look at life differently. We are force to deal with things on a deeper level. Nothing causes “self” to cave in like suffering. And once our religious façade begins to wear thin, God moves in and begins to teach us what real Christ-likeness is all about. “Self” is concerned with preservation. God wants the “self” life crucified. He does not want it dressed up, patched up, under control, renovated, decorated, or ordained. He wants it crucified.

Christ-likeness is not about behavior modification or self-improvement. Christ-likeness is not simply the imitation of a life – it is the impartation of new life – His life. Adversity is God’s most effective tool to make us live, think, and love like Jesus Christ.

Debbie, my wife’s sister, has had more adversity over the last year than anyone should have to endure. One year ago, she and her husband, Jeff, were working through some difficult issues in their marriage. On Veteran’s Day, November 11, they had an argument. Jeff angrily reacted by getting on his motorcycle and driving at an excessive speed on a two-lane road in rural Mississippi. He lost control and crashed. Care Flight transported him to Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg where their daughter, Kaelyn, goes to college at the University of Southern Miss. At first, it seemed that God had spared Jeff’s life and that he would, over much time, recover. Our thoughts and prayers began to turn toward how his choices and the crash would impact their marriage and family. Debbie had many unanswerable questions. “Why would God allow this when their marriage seemed to be getting better?” “Why would Jeff put our family through this pain?”

Wolfe FuneralOver Thanksgiving, Jeff’s health began to decline and his body began to shut down. He died just a short time later on December 1. Debbie and Kaelyn’s grief and pain was, and continues to be, beyond measure. More questions rose to the surface. As they began putting the pieces of their lives back together, even more adversity came their way. Over Spring Break, a tornado ripped through Hattiesburg and the USM campus where Kaelyn goes to school. This summer, they discovered that someone had stolen Jeff’s identity and filed a US Tax Return under his Social Security number. The resulting financial mess, personal headaches, and continuing heartaches are very real. Yet, with all the pain and all of the adversity, something incredible, something amazing, is happening in Debbie’s life. She has responded by faith that “God is good, all the time.”

She is demonstrating heroic faith in the LORD God to fulfill His promises by conforming her to live like Christ through all these things. God’s ultimate purpose is being accomplished through her blinding adversities. There are still many questions left unanswered, but she is trusting that “God planned it for good to bring about the present result” (Gen. 50:20). Those watching Debbie and Kaelyn live and grieve can clearly see God’s ultimate good – Jesus living through them. God has been good, thru so much that has been bad, to make both of them more alive through His Son.

Whatever you’re facing today, you can choose to avert your eyes to see beyond the growling teeth of adversity confronting you to believe the wagging tail of God’s promises to transform you. Whatever your difficulty, God planned it for good. Trust Him.