When the World is Against You!

When the World is Against You!

I have no doubt most of us can recall a season of life when we felt the world was against us. This was the experience of the patriarch Jacob, father of the twelve tribes of Israel, and recipient of the Lord’s great promises to his forefather Abraham.

(Genesis 25-36) Jacob’s troubles began as a young man fleeing the anger of his twin brother, Esau, whose birthright and blessing Jacob had swiped with the help of his mother, Rachel. Jacob ends up working like a slave for 20 years under a dishonest relative, Laban, before he is able to return to his father’s land. Even though the Lord ensured Jacob’s growth and prosperity after those 20 years, it was a long, perilous season of life for him.

After a crippling time in prayer with the Lord, Jacob, reaching a makeshift peace with Esau, was able to settle back into his homeland and eke out an existence with continual challenges.

(Genesis 37-41) One such challenge was with his second youngest, Joseph, whom Jacob favored, which favouritism incited jealously in his older sons.

Their jealousy grew into hatred. And one day they sold Joseph as a slave into Egypt. To cover their tracks they faked a fatal animal attack to their father Jacob, which plummeted him into deep, unrelenting sorrow.

(Genesis 42) Fast forward about 15 years. Their father has never recovered, and he copes by holding close Joseph’s younger brother, Benjamin. Yet, by this time the older brothers deeply regret their evil toward Joseph and the grief it caused their father, a heavy burden they secretly carry.

During this time frame, utterly unknown to his family, the Lord had raised Joseph to second in command in Egypt, the superpower of the day.

In time the Lord also brought a severe famine on the mediterranean world. Yet, the Lord had abundantly prepared Egypt in advance for the famine through Joseph. In order to avoid starvation, Jacob sent his 10 older sons to Egypt to buy grain.

Thus, Joseph meets his brothers, whom he recognizes though they do not recognize him, thinking he was long dead. Joseph seizes the opportunity to test them to discern if any change has occurred in them for the good and to know the wellbeing of his father and younger brother.

Joseph, having charged his brothers with espionage, required them to produce their youngest brother, Benjamin, to prove their story and so continue to purchase grain. Believing God arranged for their judgment, and that their family was facing an existential crisis, the older brothers readily offer themselves in Benjamin’s place. Thus, it is evident to Joseph that his brothers have changed, and also that his father and younger brother are well.

Forced to comply, with the prospect of further losing his youngest son and one of his older sons, Jacob hits rock bottom and cries out (Genesis 42:36 NIV): “Everything is against me!”

In this moment, humanly speaking, Jacob’s long, difficult story appears anything but blessed of the Lord God.

Yet, the good news is that, even though Jacob and his sons could not see that through everything that came to pass, including the evil done to Joseph, God sovereignly worked for their true good and his glory!

God’s plan was simply beyond their comprehension.

Next time you feel the world is against you, even though you know not how, fully trust God is working out everything for the good of all who are in Christ (Romans 8:28-30).

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Rest!

Rest!

Are you experiencing an unsustainably exhausting and seemingly unending stretch in life? Are you run off your feet spinning plates with no discernible purpose or end in sight? Is the world taking more from you than it is giving back? Are you beyond what a good night sleep or a week away can fix? Are you on the verge of making a poor decision out of desperation?

While important changes may be necessary in overwhelming times, there is a much more basic answer. It is the Sabbath Day of Rest God designed for humankind (Genesis 2:1-3). But how can a religious day in the week make any difference? This special day presses us to examine where we draw our strength from for living life.

The Bible speaks of a universal day of rest ordained by God from the beginning of time (Exodus 20:8-11), to which Christ continues to extend an invitation.

Now the invitation assumes a problem. At present we are alienated from our Creator and are hence missing out on the rest he intended for us. This has been the case since our first parents took the forbidden fruit and launched us down a path of supposed self-sufficiency.

The millennia following Adam and Eve prove this self-willed path has not worked out for us, as is obvious from the perpetual, deep unrest of our world.

Sadly, when we ignore the Sabbath Day of Rest God made for us we not only lose its rich meaning and experience for life—that we can truly rest in God, being sustained and renewed in him (Isaiah 40:28-31)—we end up slave-driving ourselves and each other into exhaustion and depression (Deuteronomy 5:12-15).

Yet, through faith, Sabbath observance can give great hope in our on going struggle with life. In Christ Jesus, the Sabbath Day looks ahead to when God brings humankind and creation into perfection, into his eternal rest and delight (Hebrews 3:1 to 4:16, Revelation 21:1 to 22:5). When the going gets tough the Sabbath keeps us looking ahead to the future hope of the gospel (James 5:7-8).

Lastly, Jesus is the way into the rest of God (Matthew 11:25-30, John 14:1, 6). Thus, we are further reminded of new life every Sabbath Day. This is why the Sabbath shifted from Saturday to Sunday, and is also known as the Lord’s Day, the Christian Sabbath, as it is the day Christ rose from the dead, giving new life and hope to all who trust in him (Romans 6:4, 2 Corinthians 5:17).

Therefore, make the most of the Sabbath Day of Rest for the glory of God and your good! Start with participating in corporate Sunday worship as regularly as you are able. In this way you will be reminded where your true rest is both now and forever.

You are invited.

(See my podcast series for a deeper discussion of the Christian Sabbath.)

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Clearing a Hurdle to Easter

Clearing a Hurdle to Easter

The sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, recorded in Genesis 22:1-19, has been on of those texts that has drawn serious objection to biblical Christian faith.

Consider a few insights that can help those who are genuinely seeking the Lord to see the truth of what actually happened.

(1) This account is a test of Abraham’s heart. Does he love God with his entire being or will he put something of the created order, even his only son Isaac, before the Creator? Abraham passes the test because he knows God, that God is truly good, that God keeps his promises (Genesis 22:12, Hebrews 11:8-13, 17-19), and so he refuses to idolize any earthly thing, even his only son. Thus, the Lord both spares Isaac and also swears he will surely fulfill his promises to Abraham, which promises flood over in benefit on to the nations (Genesis 22:18).

But still, how can such an extreme test be justified? Simply because we live in what theologians call a “fallen world.” We are all born into a world that, without warrant, has set itself against God by setting the creature over the Creator (Romans 1:21-23). Hence, we all need to be tested so we can see where our hearts are actually at, so that we might fully surrender ourselves to the Lord Jesus.

Abraham’s unquestionable obedience of faith also reveals the genuineness of his heart and character. Nehemiah 9:5-8 highlights this when it says God found Abraham’s heart faithful to him and for this reason vowed to fulfill all his promises to him.

(2) The account of Genesis 22:1-19 is a critical gospel-allegory. The bottomline is that no matter how good Abraham tried to be, no matter how good Isaac tried to be, no matter how much they believed the word of the Lord, they could never be good enough for they were in very nature sinners in need of a substitutionary atonement. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). There would have been no way forward for them, or for anyone, without an acceptable sacrifice for sin. This symbolic sacrifice the Lord provided for Isaac and Abraham through a ram (Genesis 22:13).

Genesis 22:1-19 is teaching us that, either we suffer eternally for our sins or a substitute is provided for us. The ram the Lord provided on the mountain that day for Isaac and Abraham was a small picture of and glimpse into what God planned from the foundations of the earth, the once for all sacrifice of his only Son, Jesus Christ (John 3:16).

Therefore, in light of these two major insights, objections to this account of Abraham and Isaac lose their force, and those who’s souls are quickened and hearts opened know they can utterly trust Jesus, and hope in him above all.

May this help you move forward in the true meaning of Easter (John 1:29).

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The Truth Series: Now that I Know I Genuinely Believe the Truth … (Part 21)

The Truth Series: Now that I Know I Genuinely Believe the Truth … (Part 21)

The previous five articles, which together comprised Part Three of The Truth Series, were focused on what it means to truly be a Christian. Thus, it would be appropriate to tie up the entirety of this series, all three parts, with a small glimpse into the essence and practical nature of genuine faith in Jesus. This is a faith which takes root in the here and now and then grows to full fruition at Jesus’ return.

After much pestering from Marsha, Suzi, an ex-catholic hostile to Christianity, finally visited our church home group. She immediately fell in love with our family feel. A few months down the road I discovered that Suzi would grate over the times we remembered to pray for our weekly meal, keeping track of when we forgot and remembered. One week I announced we were going to walk through the Story of God together. This is where Suzi drew the line and ceased participating in our group. But that only lasted a few weeks and she was back with us. So we began the Story of God. Suzi struggled through the first session, was calmer in the second session, and by the third session she was eagerly engaged in the Story of God. However, a couple of months later, Suzi was hit on her front lawn by a runaway vehicle and was seriously injured. Being self-employed as a housecleaner she was unable to work for the following year and half. A slow moving insurance process left her with no idea how she would pay her rent for the next few months, eat, much less prepare for the Christmas season that was upon us. What Suzi did not yet realize is that we loved her with the love that our Heavenly Father had for us. I immediately put out the call to our church home group to chip in and pay for the needed months of rent, food, and Christmas for her household. After some initial unwillingness in our group, due to our own struggles and fears, God’s grace won out and the floodgates of generosity opened wide and Suzi did not have to worry about anything until the insurance company began compensating her. Marsha, herself a jaded skeptic who loved hanging out with us, was stunned by such gospel empowered love!

However flawed we are as Christians, this story reflects a key way in which we can know that we actually believe the truth of God’s Gospel Story. Our church home group was a small dim flame easily seen in an ever darkening world, a foretaste of what is to come someday in fullness and perfection (Matthew 5:13-16).

Thus, genuine disciples of Jesus are spiritually new creatures at heart who are stumbling forward in their efforts to grow into their new identity in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17, Philippians 1:6). But take heart, as the Lord Jesus taught us, ‘those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will someday be filled to the full’ (Matthew 5:6).

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The Truth Series: How Do I Genuinely Know I Believe the Truth? (Part 20)

The Truth Series: How Do I Genuinely Know I Believe the Truth? (Part 20)

We can know that we truly believe when we start longing for Jesus’ return and for him to make all things right and new. Jesus spoke succinctly of a new world to come, a new creation, where absolutely everything will be as it was originally meant to be and so much more than any one could hope or imagine (Matthew 19:27-30). Jesus will be Lord of every heart, God will be all in all, and his blessing will fully rest on all things without end (1 Corinthians 15:20-28, Philippians 2:9-11, 2 Peter 3:8-13). This is the tremendous, out of this world, promise, hope, joy, and longing we gain in Jesus.

Furthermore, we begin to live the life of the future in the here and now. That is, the restoring and redeeming life of Christ that is implanted in us is further expressed through us as a foretaste of the everlasting renewal to come when Jesus’ returns in all his glory and the fullness of his kingdom (Matthew 25:34-40, Luke 10:25-37, Colossians 3:1 to 4:2). Our lives become a small but clear witness to that which is to come—like a small flame that is easily seen in a broad dark space (Matthew 5:13-16, Philippians 2:5-18).

Consequently, we soon begin to realize that this present world is no longer our home, for Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world (John 18:33-38). In this world, as Jesus taught, we are hated and persecuted, and we have become aliens and sojourners who no longer fit (Matthew 10:5-33, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12, Hebrews 11:32-38, 1 Peter 1:3-9, 2:11-12, 4:3-5, 1 John 3:1-3). This is also why we increasingly look, long, and wait for our true home, the heavenly country and city that God is preparing for us in Christ by his Holy Spirit (Philippians 3:20-21, Hebrews 11:13-16, 2 Peter 3:13).

When we return to worshipping the Father, through his Son Jesus in the power of his Holy Spirit, we will begin to deeply yearn for Jesus’ return, to be with him forever, and for his everlasting renewal of the world and universe (John 14:1-3, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Revelation 21:1 to 22:5).

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The Truth Series: How do I know I genuinely believe the truth? (Part 19)

The Truth Series: How do I know I genuinely believe the truth? (Part 19)

We can know that we truly believe when we desire to join with Jesus’ people and heed his final words. Jesus’ parting words to his disciples are a concise commission to continue his mission of salvation together to all peoples to the end of the ages (Matthew 28:16-20). When we become his disciples his commission becomes our heart’s desire. So, you know you believe when you begin gathering with God’s People and sharing the redeeming truths of Jesus.

The gospel message is clear: If the entire problem with the world is that people are estranged from God, then reconciliation to God in Jesus as the Christ is the message all must hear and receive (Mark 1:14-15, John 3:1-21, 34, Romans 10:14-17). We, who have experienced this reconciliation, want the same for others.

The mission of Jesus is two-fold: First, is his mission in and to his people as they follow him (Mark 1:17a, Jude 1:20-21, John 17:17). Second, is his mission through his people to others who have yet to believe in him (Mark 1:17b, Jude 1:22-23, John 17:20). All Jesus’ disciples are called, in one way or another, to both aspects of his mission.

However, it is a challenging mission in the midst of a world that does not want to believe (Matthew 10:16-39, John 15:18-25, Romans 8:5-9). Yet, we need not fear participation, but rather to walk in faith and be used of Jesus in his redeeming mission (Matthew 10:40-42, John 15:16-17, 26-27, Acts 8:4-8, 18:1-11).

Furthermore, when we come to believe we will want to be a part of Jesus’ Church—his people—who are being renewed in preparation for a new world to come (Ephesians 4:1-16, Colossians 3:12-17, Hebrews 10:19-25, Revelation 21:1-8). While there is great joy, purpose, support, encouragement, and belonging in a local church there are also relational struggles, trials, and problems as people, who were once self-serving rebels, are now trying to learn to live as redeemed image bearers in Christ. It is not a clean, easy process at times. Yet, the good news is that the Church is the Father’s training ground for his children and is critical to his mission in us and through us. We can take heart, for our Father has given us his Spirit of grace to enable, empower, and help us to live and serve together in his mission (Ephesians 2:1-3, 8-10, Philippians 2:1-11).

When we return to worshipping the Father, through his Son Jesus in the power of his Holy Spirit, we desire to be among his people and we long for others to likewise hear the gospel and return home with us (Hebrews 10:24-25, Luke 15:11-32, 2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

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