Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Steadfast love in the unlikeliest of places

And Joseph's master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. Genesis 39:20-21 (emphasis mine)

This past Sunday, my pastor continued preaching through the book of Genesis with Joseph's ongoing saga in Egypt as the text. After being nearly killed and then sold into slavery by his brothers, he is bought by Potiphar and eventually put in charge of his master's household. It looks like Joseph's situation is taking a turn for the better only to have his master's wife repeatedly harass him and falsely accuse him of rape. Then he's thrown into prison for a crime he did not commit.

I had read the account numerous times, but I had never noticed until Sunday that the writer deliberately makes the point that the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love in the prison.  If I was writing the story, I would have him exonerated of all charges and released immediately. Wouldn't a happy ending be a better demonstration of the Lord's favor? But putting him in prison for an unspecified period of time and then letting him languish for another two whole years? This only goes to show how God's thoughts are far above mine. Joseph needed to be right where he was to interpret Pharaoh's dreams, rise to second in command, and then be the means of saving the people through whom the Messiah would come. 

Although the text is silent, I couldn't help but wonder what was going through Joseph's mind as he was sitting in the pit day after day. If he was a normal sinner in need of a Savior, it couldn't have been easy, and yet, God showed His steadfast love in the unlikeliest of places and circumstances

I find this very comforting because it's easy to lose one's bearings in the middle of a trial. It's easy to wonder, "Where on earth is God in all of this?" "If He hasn't abandoned me completely, am I only an expendable cog in the machine of a higher purpose?" Have thoughts like this ever crossed your mind? 

I remember only too well pleading with the Lord for deliverance from a situation. Surely He would get the most glory if events turned in my favor, but the very opposite of what I had prayed for came to pass. At the time, I wondered, "Where is God? Does He still love me?" But in hindsight, He was with me and demonstrated His love in the unlikeliest place. And the good that came out of the unlikeliest circumstance would never have been realized had my wish for a quick exit been granted.

On the one hand, Joseph's story is unique. He had a special role in bringing forth the Messiah. However, I can take comfort from his story because it tells me about God's character. Yes, He does have an unchanging purpose. But in that purpose, He remains faithful to His own. He is with them to the end, and He will demonstrate His steadfast love in the unlikeliest of places.

"… Because God is With Us", sermon on Genesis 39-41 by J. Ryan Davidson, Grace Baptist Chapel.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Treasure the Gift

I've been teaching Ecclesiastes for the past few weeks. It's not an easy book to teach. Some of the students in my class thought it was quite dismal after the first week. And yet, in its pages, we see shades of the world we live in, despite its being written so long ago. It has opened up discussion about the differences between a life lived for self and a life lived to please God.

Last week, we studied chapter 3. We saw that the season and time for everything under the sun was a picture of the rhythm of life (Eccl. 3:1-8). God has appointed the times, and it is not for us to know exactly what they are (Act. 1:7). The times and seasons of the world are in God's hands. Even our own individual times are in his hands (Psalm 31:14-15). Isn't that a comforting truth?

In the context of this rhythm of life, God has given to the children of man business to be busy with (Eccl. 3:10). He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has put eternity into man's heart, although man does not have the capacity to grasp eternity from the beginning to the end (Eccl. 3:11). The Preacher concludes:
I perceived that there is nothing better for them to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil -- this is God's gift to man.
God gives us work to do. He provides us with our vocations. We can't see into the future, but we can see right now, and we can see what he has given us to do. This work is a gift. And notice that we're to do more than enjoy things of our own; we're to do good as well.

How often to we look ahead, and wish we had something other than what we have right now? Do we look at jobs and tasks as nothing more than stepping stones to something better? Does the cry of the world cause us to feel discontent? The world tells us we should always be looking for that something better, that something bigger, but that is not God talking. God simply wants us to work the work he has set before us to his honour and glory. Do we often forget that the work, mundane as it may be, as ordinary as it may be, is a gift from God?

In recent weeks, nothing has given me more satisfaction and more comfort than the ordinary things in my life: cooking for my visiting children, a walk with my husband, a day of sunshine to clean the windows, reading the Psalms on the deck while the sun is coming up, hanging clothes on the clothes line. I'm thankful that God has drawn my attention to these things, these ordinary things. I'm especially thankful for the ladies he's given me to teach week by week. This is what God has appointed for me right now. It's his gift to me. Is there anything better?

Let us all treasure the gift of what God has given to do as readily as we treasure every other gift he gives us.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

No purpose of yours can be thwarted

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…1

The opening lines from A Tale of Two Cities give an uncanny description of the headlines from the last few weeks. Natural disaster, turmoil, injustice, and the list goes on. If you take all of human history into account, maybe it's not the absolute worst of times, but the current picture isn't pretty. Of course, its grimness could be compounded by the speed with which news travels and the glut of information that inundates us whether we like it or not. But nevertheless, it's easy to get discouraged and fearful when I consider the state of the world. The problems begin to loom larger and larger, and if I'm honest, God begins to shrink bit by bit in my estimation. At this point, it's time to turn off the news, shut down the computer, and refresh my memory with a little history lesson.

My pastor has been preaching through Genesis recently.2 In every sermon, he has been reminding us that each chapter is another step that brings us closer to the fulfillment of God's promise in Genesis 3:15. Despite thousands of years of ups and downs, wanderings here and there, wars, dire threats, and captivity, the "skull-crushing seed of the woman"3 arrived on the scene at exactly the right time and in exactly the right place. Jesus' mission was finished, fully accomplishing God's plan of salvation. (John 19:30; Hebrews 10:5-14)

What does this have to do with news-induced fear? Everything!

Page after page of Scripture clearly demonstrates Job's final realization: "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted." (Job 42:2) Isn't this the anchor our souls need in these uncertain times? God isn't a topnotch crisis manager who responds and reacts to events outside His control. He doesn't stay one step ahead of mankind's blunders. His purpose isn't a lone thread in the tapestry of human history that He managed to cleverly weave in. No. God has ordained human history so His purpose can be carried out.4

I will still grieve over the state of the world and pray that righteousness prevails. But in the end, I can't judge the Lord by my feeble sense. He is God and I am not. His ways and thoughts are higher than mine. (Isaiah 55:8-9) But He is good. He is faithful and true. And when I am faced with the onslaught of media hype and tempted to fear, I can point to His track record. I can look at the incarnation, the cross, the empty tomb, and the ascension. God fulfilled His promise in Genesis 3:15. His purpose hasn't deviated one inch, and He will fulfill his promise in Revelation 21:1-4.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

1. A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens.
2. Sermons on Genesis, Pastor J. Ryan Davidson.
3. Borrowed this phrase from Pastor Ryan.
4. My daughter gets the credit for the tapestry analogy.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Monday Musing

Believer, you can have as much of God as you want. In fact, you already do. John Snyder's words cut swiftly, deeply.

How much of God do I want? In the midst of my daily life - job, home, family, books, other entertainments - how much do I long for God? I read my Bible, and I read books about God and the Christian life. Certainly, I know Him. But how much do I want Him?

Some days God is little more than a talisman tucked into my pocket. I pull Him out and say a quick prayer when I need strength, patience, or help to live life the way I want to live it.

Some days He is a sweet idea that brings a smile to my face. I recall His marvelous grace lavished upon me, but that has little impact upon me here, right now, today.

Some days He is weapon of choice. I use Him to judge, criticize, and even ridicule others.

And yes, there are days when He is my strength, shield, foundation, and hope. I wonder if even then - in the days of feeling as if I want nothing more than to glorify Him - have I substituted the Almighty God for a god of my own creation who better suits me?

One thing is for certain. I don't have enough - not nearly enough - knowledge of God. I could walk away from everything else in my life, devote it completely to studying Him, and I would be no closer to knowing Him fully. Eternity cannot contain Him. No man can fathom Him.

And yet I have been invited to know Him. The unlikelihood of that invitation should make me greedy for Him.

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
-Psalm 34:8

Lord, give me a desire to know You today. May I never be satisfied with what I have of You. May I always want more!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Good things come in small packages

In 1990, my husband and I made a move across the country. With a young child, and still basically newly married, we were eager to find a good church and get involved.

We tried a few, but nothing really felt like it was the best place. A few of the churches we tried were larger and had excellent programs, and we did begin leaning toward one, but then, when I was looking in the yellow pages, I saw listing for a church, Wheatland Bible Church. I called the number and found out that they met in a school. We went the following Sunday, and from the moment we walked in the door, we were warmly welcomed, and never looked back.

I don't think there were more than 35 or 40 people there. There were no "programs," and for mid-week services, we met in the pastor's home. His wife would take the younger kids downstairs and do activities with them. There were a some adolescent girls who took a great liking to our young daughter, and she was allowed to go downstairs with them and they would fuss over her and play with her. On one occasion, the young people were learning the song, "Take the Name of Jesus With You," and I have memories of our daughter, not even two years old, rocking in our living room chair, saying over and over again, "precious name, oh how sweet," having been in on the teaching sessions enough to learn that little piece of the song.

The preaching was excellent. It was expositional, thorough, and reached right into our hearts.  It was preaching that was lived out before us in the lives of this humble pastor and his wife. They cared deeply about the people. The pastor had been saved through the Navigators, and he would meet regularly with my husband for bible memory work and mentoring. They were down-to-earth people who would do anything for you.

This small church was a praying church, as we gathered regularly to pray, whether it was mid-week or at other times with assigned prayer partners. We knew about each others' lives, and we had a lot of fellowship together. One Saturday, I hosted a church Scrabble tournament in our home, and that was a lot of fun. We would have church picnics in local parks, and on Saturday nights, the school allowed us to use the gym, and we played volleyball.

Nothing was elaborate. Nothing was high-tech. Another lady and I shared piano duties, and we had one song leader. We didn't have a sound system. Usually, we met in the school staff room, but when the floors were being cleaned, we often had to meet in the hallway. The pastor's wife was glad to man the nursery (my daughter was the only infant at the time), but when I had another child, it meant my husband and I taking turns with a baby who cried a lot.

We served each other. When I had surgery, I had meals brought to me, despite the small numbers. There was no "official" care group for this. Someone just organized it so that for the first week I was home, I had a dinner every night. When my husband and I moved into our first home, we had a myriad of people willing to help us move.

It was the best church experience we have ever known. We all loved each other, and we were truly a family. When our pastor and his wife had to move back to the U.S. for family reasons, we were all devastated. It was three of the best years we ever had. Unfortunately, when we hired a new pastor, there were some issues that ultimately resulted in people leaving, which meant the church was too small to carry on. Some of us moved to the same church, and others went to a different one. The church we attended after was a warm, friendly place, and we enjoyed our time there before moving back here to Ontario, but it was never like it was at our little church.

How do you measure church success? Is it the numbers? Is it the quality of the music? Is it the number of programs? After this little church, when we came back to Ontario, we began attending a church with bigger numbers, with a staffed nursery, with programs. And while we love our church, we still look back on our time in our little church as one of the best times. It was a church of people who wanted to be disciples of Christ, and who wanted to live that out. We loved each other, served each other, prayed for each other, shared with each other. As a young couple, we were privy to watch some well-established couples live out their faith. They mentored us by their lives. The standard set by the preaching of the Word meant we would never be satisfied with anything less than solid teaching.

In comparison to some churches today who host coffee shops in the foyers, book stores, and technical expertise, our church may have seemed very basic. But it was all we needed. What else do we need to grow in Christ but a group of people with shared beliefs in the gospel, willing to meet for worship, willing to invest in each other's lives? That can all happen without the bells and whistles of a big church, but a big church without people of that kind will quickly prove itself.

The important thing is to align yourself with a church and serve. Size isn't the most important thing. What matters is what's coming from the pulpit and the commitment of the people who congregate. And we can each make a difference wherever we are, to be a sincere disciple of Christ, no matter how big our church is.