Good Enough for Joseph

Romans 8:28 is a verse that gives us assurance and comfort. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” It’s been at the heart of our Sunday morning studies for the past couple of weeks, and I’ve tried to make it clear that not everything that happens to us is God’s will for us. The promise is that He can take anything that happens to us in a fallen world, and make something good out of it; if we love Him, and are seeking to live out His purposes in our life. Having hopefully made that clear, I hope I haven’t given you the idea that God’s activity in our life is limited to a clean-up operation.

Duane gave me another book by his second favorite preacher, Alistair Begg, several months ago. It’s on the life of Joseph, and it ended up at the bottom of the stack because I know the story. Or so I thought.

When I finally started reading The Hand of God, I not only realized how much of the story I had overlooked, but I was reminded again that God doesn’t just make good come out of the bad things that happen to us. He providentially, and even directly, causes some things to happen to us. Both good and bad.

Alistair began his first chapter by noting: “The story of Joseph is a tale of jealousy, deceit, slavery, misrepresentation, injustice, lust, rivalry, and forgiveness. It pits brother against brother. We encounter imprisonment and deep trials that do not produce self-pity, and prosperity that does not bring the accompanying pride.

“Joseph’s life encompasses all of this and more—and in it all, the overarching theme is that of the sovereign hand of God manifesting itself in His providential care over His dearly loved children and bringing about all that He has purposed in the affairs of time.”

I don’t think we can discern what God actually caused to happen to Joseph, or what He simply allowed. But it didn’t matter to Joseph. For as he told his brothers: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”

If that’s good enough for Joseph, it’s good enough for me.

God Bless, Rick

Steaks and Streams

What’s the difference between a steak dinner and just eating steak? I’ve come to the conclusion that even adding a salad, baked potato, and broccoli doesn’t turn eating steak for dinner into a steak dinner.

Last Saturday I grilled a nice sirloin on our new gas grill while Marilyn was fixing all the sides. When everything was ready, I stood at the counter and cut the steak into bite sized pieces. That alone would have shocked my rich Aunt Nellie from Chicago.

She’s the aunt who always brought a leg of lamb to Christmas at Grandma’s, and taught me you had to eat lamb with mint jelly; something that was very hard to find in rural Kansas when a farmer from the church gave us some fresh lamb from his flock. She also made it very clear that you cut your meat one piece at time, put down your knife, and then eat it.

She would have been absolutely shocked at what Marilyn and I then did with the plate of food. We carried it into the living room, sat in our easy chairs, and watched TV while devouring our meal.

When the kids were home we turned off the TV, sat around the table, and had dinner together. It was an important time of sharing what was going on, practicing good manners, and just enjoying each others company. Now, for the most part, we just eat.

Sadly, it’s not just empty nesters who do this. I recently read that the typical family now manages six or seven simultaneous streams of information during the dinner hour. I really doubt family members are using those electronic devices to stimulate conversation. At least Marilyn and I try to outguess the contestants on Wheel of Fortune.

When we do have the family over for a special occasion, we pack around the table as best we can, and actually have dinner together. And the grandkids generally make it clear they’d rather be around our table eating pot roast, than in a restaurant eating steak.

Next time I grill a steak I think I’m going to dust off the china and crystal, and Marilyn and I are going to actually have a steak dinner.

God Bless, Rick

A Beautiful Paraphrase

At my ordination into the ministry 50 years ago, my Uncle Gene gave me a copy of J.B Phillips’ paraphrase of the New Testament. Inside the front cover he had written, “Make the Word of God plain to those you teach— God will convict them if they hear Him clearly. This is my favorite translation—it is plain.”

I’m not sure that I agree the Phillips“translation” is plain, but I do find it to be beautiful. And, as I did again last Sunday morning, I’ve often quoted Romans 8:18 from it. “In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared to the magnificent future God has planned for us.”

I’ve not only found it to be beautiful, but also very comforting. In fact, I used it in the first funeral I ever preached, and have used it in almost every funeral since then.

I don’t use the Phillips for serious study, nor as a text to explore while preaching. That’s not the purpose for a paraphrase. And paraphrases do more easily reflect the biases of the individual writing it. You never want to come to a doctrinal conclusion on the basis of what you read in a paraphrase.

While not being inspired by God as are the Scriptures themselves, they can however be inspirational, and they do have their place in personal reading. In fact, many of us are reading through The Daily Message this year, which is Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible.

I do have to admit that while reading Peterson’s paraphrase this year I’ve often found myself wondering where in the world he got something. And at times I believe he tried too hard to be contemporary, and as a result his choice of words and phrases are already dated. I even found myself laughing last Saturday while reading through the daily passage, which actually happened to be the text I’d be preaching on the next day.

Paul does say that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth, but Peterson may get just a little too picturesque.“We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and more joyful our expectancy.”

I doubt that I’ll be using that in a funeral any time soon.

God Bless, Rick

How to Defeat a Dragon

While reading A Landscape with Dragons: The Battle for Your Childs Mind, I was reminded of the importance of both mothers and fathers, and what each brings into the raising of children.

The author opens with an account of how his mom and dad each addressed the fear of a monster that kept him awake at night. His dad charged into the room with a stick and assured him that the monster had been driven from the closet. That sufficed for a night, but the monster returned. His mom then had him and his brother draw pictures of the monster, and then cut them up and burn them. That took care of the dragon they had seen so clearly in their imagination.

Mr. O’brien uses that incident to open a very interesting book that addresses the imagination of children, and how serious thought should be given on how to respond to their fears, and how discernment must be exercised in evaluating, and perhaps even limiting, what they read and watch. I found his thoughts about responding to their fears especially insightful.

“These are frequently called ‘irrational fears’, as if they were completely groundless, when in fact some of them may be well grounded indeed, though not based in the visible world. These I prefer to call metaphysical fears, or cosmic fears, and they are of a spiritual nature. It is a wise parent who recognizes the first awakenings of these mute dreads as the first buds of a spiritual faculty.”

“In a seeing-is-believing culture, which denies the existence of the supernatural world, the tendency is to repress all fears of invisible things. But if a child’s fear of monsters under the bed or dragons in the closet always are ridiculed as nonsense, his spiritual guard is in danger of being lowered, with the consequence of his becoming more vulnerable to spiritual evil and less sensitive to spiritual good.

“As his awareness of the presence of evil in the world expands, we must help him to overcome his real and imaginary fears with courage based upon faith that God is more powerful than evil. Just as my mother led me and my brother to destroy the dragon, so God leads us forward in battle against the enemy. We do not overcome evil with our own power, of course, but with Christ. Our children’s fears provide opportunities to learn this.”

God Bless, Rick

A Cosmos Centered in Love

As you are no doubt aware, some of us have been reading and discussing Love Thy Body by Nancy Pearcey on Sunday nights since September. Our final session will be this week at 6:30, and I would like to invite everyone to join us. To help encourage you to come, I’m giving the author one more chance to convince you of the importance of the issues we’ve been exploring.

“In every decision we make, we are affirming a worldview. We may think we are just acting on our feelings of the moment, but in reality we are expressing our convictions about the cosmos. Either we are expressing a biblical worldview or we are being co-opted by a secular worldview. The secular moral revolution is built on the conviction that nature has no moral meaning, and that we are inherently disconnected, autonomous atoms connecting only by choice. As Morse writes, (in The Sexual Revolution Reconsidered) ‘We act as if we believe that we are alone in a meaningless and indifferent universe, as if we ourselves have no intrinsic value, that our sexual acts have no meaning apart from the meaning we assign them, that our sexual acts are simply the actions of mindless particles bumping into each other from no particular cause at all, and with no particular purpose in mind.’

Christianity offers a genuine alternative to an empty, pointless cosmos. It says that we are not alone, that the universe is meaningful, that we do have intrinsic value, that sexuality has its own purpose or telos, that human community is real, and that there is objective truth, goodness, and beauty. Most of all, we are not products of mindless chance but the creation of a loving Creator.

Each one of us was loved into existence, and we have the high calling of inviting others into the astonishingly rich experience of living in a cosmos centered in love.”

We will begin this Sunday by briefly reviewing how we have allowed society to redefined abortion, marriage, gender, and parenthood. You really need to be here.

God Bless, Rick