How Good God Is

Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. (Ruth 2:1-3 ESV)

Faithfulness is underrated. Just yesterday we celebrated two teams winning the big game to make it into the Super Bowl. No one talked about their workouts. No one saw the hours spent in the gym, the grueling practices, the ice baths to soothe aching muscles. Everyone watched as Russell Wilson threw the touchdown pass that could not have been more precise. Seahawks fans celebrated the touchdown–not the workouts. Faithfulness is underrated.

Ruth was faithful. She did what she knew to do. She was a Moabite on Hebrew soil. Her family heritage was nothing to write home about. Her family roots twist and turn their way back to an opportunistic man named Lot whose daughters got him drunk and had sex with them. She had no claim to fame.

She was hungry. Her hunger drove her to the fields. Faithfulness kept her there. I love the way the writer says it: she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz. No one happens to do anything–God is completely in control of the course of events of human history. We call that the sovereignty of God. Your faithfulness (doing what you know to do now) and God’s sovereignty form a crossroads to the future God intends for you.

Ruth did not go into the field that day knowing anything would come of it but some leftover grain. She faithfully went so that she could feed her (bitter) mother-in-law. That’s faithfulness: doing what she knew to do then. God sovereignly intervened and gave her favor in Boaz’s sight…a point that will become critical later in Ruth’s (and Naomi’s) story.

J. I. Packer says this:

“Guidance, like all God’s acts of blessing under the covenant of grace, is a sovereign act. Not merely does God will to guide us in the sense of showing us his way, that we may tread it; he wills also to guide us in the more fundamental sense of ensuring that, whatever happens, whatever mistakes we may make, we shall come safely home. Slippings and strayings there will be, no doubt, but the everlasting arms are beneath us; we shall be caught, rescued, restored. This is God’s promise; this is how good he is.”

Ruth, the meandering Moabitess, is about to find out just how good God is.

Take Heart

Read this slowly and deliberately.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Hebrews 11:32-38 ESV)

The great lie of the 21st century is that if you have faith all will go well with you. Authors suggest you can actually have your best life now. When tempted to believe this lie, Hebrews 11 is your goto reading. In this list 22 scenarios are described: 10 have good outcomes, 12 end dismally. Some stopped the mouths of lions while others were flogged. Some quenched the power of fire while others were killed by the sword. Some were made strong out of weakness while others were destitute.

This proves that faith cannot be measured by outcomes.

Faith does not mean changing your outcome. Faith is changing your outlook. Martin Luther said, “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times.” Sometimes the greatest faith is demonstrated in the most difficult circumstances.

This will take another 7 minutes and 38 seconds. Worship God by listening to this song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MfBQ30Ta9w. Let the words soak into your very being.

Take heart.

His Way Was Right

Timing is everything. Yogi Berra, former MLB player and coach, said, “You don’t have to swing hard to hit a home run. If you got the timing, it’ll go.” According to Paul, Jesus’ birth was right on time. In Galatians he writes:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5 ESV)

Scholars have identified several factors that made the arrival of Jesus and the spread of Christianity so timely. Check these out:

  • Pax Romana–Rome was a massive empire controlling most of the known world. While Palestine squirmed under Rome’s heavy hand at times, the reality is that Rome’s dominance created peace over most of the known world. This Roman peace paved the way for Jesus’ message and the ability of the Apostles to travel unhindered and spread the Christian message.
  • Developed roads–Because of a highly developed system of roads, the Gospel message could spread quickly and efficiently.
  • Common language–Greek had become the common language of the Roman empire, and it was a variety of Greek that was easy for the common person to understand and write. Language has always been critical to the spread of the Gospel. It was no different in the 1st century.
  • Anticipation by Israel–Rome’s heavy hand made Israel long for someone to step in and release them from oppression. While their view of a Messiah was very different from Jesus’ life and ministry, they were looking for the long awaited Messiah.

God’s timing is perfect.

Years ago I discovered John Oxenham’s poem (God’s Handwriting) and have returned to it many times:

He writes in characters too grand
For our short sight to understand;
We catch but broken strokes, and try
To fathom all the mystery
Of withered hopes, of death, of life,
The endless war, the useless strife,–
But there, with larger, clearer sight,
We shall see this–

HIS WAY WAS RIGHT

Waiting: God’s University

Years have passed. Joseph is almost 40 years old. His dream that got him in such trouble has taken him from the pit, to Potiphar’s house, and to the prison. Now he is Prime Minister of Egypt. Perhaps he reflected on that dream so many years ago:

Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. (Genesis 37:5-8 ESV)

Now, years later, they show up. He never realized his dream would come to fruition like this. He was no longer a smug teenager; he had become a responsible adult. His ego had long ago been checked by suffering and the harsh reality of responsibility. His brothers and father got hungry–so hungry that Jacob sent Joseph’s brothers to Egypt to get some food. When Joseph saw them he wept. As a matter of fact he sent them out of his presence so they couldn’t see him crying and his weeping could be heard throughout the palace.

As a teenager Joseph never saw the dream playing out like this. As a grown man he had a dilemma. Would he accept the ones who sold him into slavery? No doubt he had already forgiven them. Now he had the upper hand. Now he could make them serve him. Would all those years in Potiphar’s house resisting the advances of Potiphar’s wife now be avenged? He could make them pay for his forgotten years in the prison.

It’s funny how waiting on God often has more to do with preparing us for His plan for our lives than the actual plan itself. God will accomplish His purposes. We call that the sovereignty of God–His ultimate control over the course of human (and your personal) history. We spend much of our lives in training. There are some things God has for you that you simply cannot handle right now.

Waiting is God’s opportunity to refine you, to mold you into the man or woman He intends you to be. Your experiencing God in the waiting years enables you to handle the responsibility of the fulfillment of His plans. In case you feel alone, consider this list of “Who’s Who” in God’s story:

  • Abraham was 100 and Sarah 90 when Isaac was born.
  • Moses spent 40 years on the backside of the desert…and returned to Egypt at the young age of 80!
  • David was God’s anointed king–and ran from Saul for at least 7 years.
  • Paul the Apostle met Jesus on the Damascus Road and went into training for most likely 10 years before he ever preached!
  • And most profoundly, Jesus, the Son of God, was born to Mary and lived in obscurity for 30 years before performing his first miracle or preaching his first sermon. God in human flesh was the Christmas gift that wasn’t fully unwrapped for 30 years!

Waiting is the norm in God’s economy.

You may feel that you are in a holding pattern…that nothing significant is happening. You’re in good company. And God isn’t finished with you yet.

After Two Whole Years

After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile…

Two long years passed. His brothers had sold him. Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him. The cupbearer forgot him. He waited. Then Pharaoh had a dream. Joseph didn’t know Pharaoh had a dream until Pharaoh sent for him. Genesis 41:14 recounts the events: Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit. And when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh.

I am convinced that all of Scripture is inspired by God and useful. I have often wondered why the writer included this detail. In a story with such high stakes, why would the writer talk about shaving and changing clothes. I am convinced that while the prison may have changed Joseph on the outside, it did nothing to affect him on the inside. Though Joseph had waited years for this moment, he didn’t rush into Pharaoh’s court. He shaved. He changed his clothes. And then he appeared before Pharaoh.

And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” (Isaiah 41:15-16)

This is Joseph’s moment of glory–and he deflects it to his God. The pit had not thwarted Joseph’s faith. False accusations did not derail Joseph’s resolve.  The prison had not not made Joseph bitter–he was better.

Joseph interpreted the dream. Pharaoh was blown away. He responded:

Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God? Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck. And he made him ride in his second chariot. And they called out before him, “Bow the knee!” Thus he set him over all the land of Egypt. (Genesis 41:39-43)

In one day Joseph moved from the prison to the palace. In one day Joseph transitioned from taking care of criminals (and being accused of being one himself), to saving a nation from starvation. For the next seven years Joseph led the people to grow and save grain and other produce. Because of the imminent famine, Egypt must be ready. Joseph was 30 years old when he became the Prime Minister of Egypt. Half of his young life had passed and his dream hadn’t been fulfilled. Now he could see the possible fulfillment of those long-ago dreams!

He married and had two boys. Their names reveal Joseph’s heart.

Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” (Genesis 41:51-52)

God saved Joseph so that Joseph could save a nation. Joseph saved a nation so that the nation could save his own brothers and dad. God preserved Joseph’s brothers because God promised Joseph’ great-great grandfather (Abraham) he would. While Joseph waited, he had no idea the great plan God was unfolding.

The cupbearer may have forgotten him but God hadn’t. HIs brothers may have tried to kill him, but God preserved him. Potiphar’s wife may have tried to seduce him, but God strengthened him.

God waited with Joseph.

Joseph waited on God.

His dream became a reality.

Forgotten

Wendy and I have had our fair share of waiting on doctors. Just this year Trent has seen five different doctors–we have waited in all kinds of doctor’s offices. Once we waited…and waited…and waited only to discover that they had forgotten we were there! They felt terrible. Sometimes despite people’s best intentions they forget you. Joseph was forgotten.

While Joseph was in prison the cupbearer and the baker showed up because they offended the Pharaoh. Joseph was appointed to take care of them. One night both of them had a dream. I love how Joseph responded to them the next day. Don’t miss this. Joseph is unfairly imprisoned. He has done nothing to deserve his sentence. Listen in on his conversation with the baker and the cupbearer:

When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?” They said to him, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.” (Genesis 40:6-8 ESV)

Joseph, who could have been wallowing in self pity, noticed the troubled faces of his fellow inmates. Their dilemma? Dreams. The last thing Joseph wants to hear about is dreams. His dreams landed him in a pit, then Potiphar’s house, and now a prison. Why would he care about two foreigner’s dreams. But he did. He cared for them.

Not only did he care for them, he kept his faith in God. Do not interpretations belong to God? Joseph’s faith in God never faltered. In the midst of his unfair treatment, he trusted in a just God.

They told him their dreams. He interpreted them and then made a simple request of the cupbearer. Listen to his passionate plea:

In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office, and you shall place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand as formerly, when you were his cupbearer. Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house. For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit.” (Genesis 40:13-15 ESV)

Note Joseph’s words: Only remember me. Please do me the kindness. Get me out of this house. I was stolen. I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit. Don’t ever think Joseph got used to his unfair treatment. Do not allow yourself to believe that Joseph was super spiritual and never felt the sting of rejection. Don’t be fooled into thinking that Joseph never wrestled the fear of abandonment. He never got used to the prison. He never grew accustomed to incarceration. He wanted out.

The cupbearer’s life was spared and he was restored to his former position with the Pharaoh. But what about Joseph?

Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. (Genesis 40:23 ESV)

Forgotten? God hasn’t forgotten you. Some estimate that Joseph stayed another two years in prison after his passionate plea to the cupbearer. Tomorrow we’ll see what happened when the Pharaoh sent for him.

Joseph, the Ultimate Waiter

The last fifteen chapters of Genesis are filled with the story of a young man who learned first hand the art of “waiting.” As a young teen Joseph had a couple of dreams. His critical mistake was sharing those dreams prematurely with his brothers. When he told them that they would one day bow down to him, they didn’t receive it well.  Joseph paid dearly for that mistake.

One day his father sent him into the fields where his brothers were shepherding to take them some food. They seized the opportunity to get rid of him once for all–they grabbed him, ripping off his coat of many colors–and threw him into a pit. When traders heading to Egypt passed by, Joseph’s brothers sold him. Faced with the dilemma of what to tell their aging father, they dipped Joseph’s prized coat in animal blood and told dad he was killed. Jacob mourned, the brothers gloated and Joseph learned a new language in Egypt.

Joseph was sold as a slave to Potiphar, a high-ranking Egyptian official. He served flawlessly. His dreams seemed a not-so-likely reality as he managed Potiphar’s household. Then one day–oh the difference a day makes–Potiphar’s wife found Joseph attractive and threw herself at him. Joseph repeatedly refused.

So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate. Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her. (Genesis 39:6-10 ESV)

Joseph faithfully waited on his God. God gave him the dream and God would fulfill the dream. Though a slave, Joseph never lost sight of the God who gave him those dreams.  When he wouldn’t succumb, Potiphar’s wife accused him of trying to rape her and Potiphar threw Joseph in prison.  Again he actively waited. In a foreign land surrounded by strangers, Joseph waited longingly for His God.

Tomorrow we’ll discover the next chapter in Joseph’s life. His entire life was a holding pattern–he waited.

Perhaps you feel you’re in a holding pattern, waiting for your ship to sail. You feel bound to the shore, at a proverbial stalemate in your life. Joseph’s life is a testimony that there are no stalemates in God’s economy. Your suffering is his stage to announce his sufficient grace. Your poverty is his opportunity to show his plenty. Your emptiness is his opportunity to showcase his fullness.

Wait…longingly and faithfully.

Wait.

What a Day that Will Be

Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. For you will render to a man according to his work. (Psalm 62:11-12 ESV)

Once. Twice. This is a play on words. David is saying, “God is speaking loud and clear but we easily miss his voice.” Elihu, the young man who gave Job good advice (compared to the bad advice from his three friends) said this, “For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it.” (Job 33:14)

Here’s my question for you: What is God saying to you? How many ways has he said it to you? How many times has he repeated himself? When are you going to listen?

Here is his resounding message in Psalm 62: power belongs to God. In other words He can do anything. Your problem doesn’t catch him by surprise. Your worries don’t trip him up. Your fears don’t frighten him. Power belongs to God. Do you get it? Will you hear it this time?

And that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. What if God were powerful but not loving. He would be a despot, a tyrant. We would run in fear of Him. An omnipotent God who isn’t love would be a terrorist. Power is his.  But also steadfast love is his.  And this makes him just. For you will render to a man according to his work.

God can do anything.

God loves you no matter what.

God sees your faithfulness…and will render to you according to your work.

Perhaps you feel unnoticed. Like a nobody. A failure. A mistake. You don’t see any good coming from your work. You’ve prayed and seemingly heard nothing. You’ve taught your son or daughter and they haven’t listened.  Take heart. The God who has power and steadfast love is just. One day…keep waiting…He will make all things right.

Advent is a reminder that the world waited for the loving, powerful God to invade their space. And He will again invade our space. If you are his, one day He will return in power and love for you.  Then He will sweep you off your feet and into His arms. The groom will embrace His bride.

What a day that will be.

All Before the Almighty

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah (Psalm 62:8 ESV)

Waiting is more bearable when you trust the person you’re waiting for. Psalm 62 is all about waiting…waiting for God, longing for Him through the ups and downs of life. Advent is about waiting–400 years of silence separated the Old Testament prophets from the angel’s announcement that the Messiah was on his way.  Imagine a world without your favorite podcast, your Christian music stations, or a stirring worship service. Would you still trust God if you didn’t hear His voice?

To a longing soul the silences of God are almost unbearable. What do you do when God is silent? How do you react when silence is as thick as the darkness around you? David says, “Trust.” Trust in him at all times.

All means all. Webster adds, “the whole, total amount, quantity or extent of.”

In short, all means “all.” Trust in God at all times. This may surprise you but sometimes it is hardest to trust God when things are good. We are prone to think we accomplished something, we figured it out, we made it happen. We trust ourselves instead of God. Sometimes we trust others instead of God. We think our spouse can fill the emptiness, our friend can fill the void, or a new relationship is all we need.  At times we trust other things instead of God. We rely on our bank account, our success at work, our academic achievements.  Often we trust our health instead of God. We feel invincible, as if nothing can happen to change our current status.

None of these is ultimately trustworthy. Money fails. Health wanes. Friends disappoint. Work wearies.

It’s almost as if you can hear the pleading in David’s voice when he says, “O people; pour out your heart before him.” When God is silent, don’t stop praying. When your praying seems ineffective, pour out your heart before him. Don’t substitute others or other things. At all times pour out your heart before the Almighty.

Why? Because God is a refuge for us. He is a safe place. He can handle your cries. David also said…

You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? (Psalm 56:8 ESV)

God counts your sleepless nights.  God bottles your tears. God journals your fears.

O, people pour out your heart before him.

Suffering…Hope’s Distant Cousin

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. (Psalm 62:5-7 ESV)

David returns to his opening thought. (see verse 1)  For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence. Why? For my hope is from him. As I am writing this the forecast is calling for snow tomorrow. I hope it snows–I really do! That idea of hope is not what David means here. Most of the time we use the word hope for “wish.” I wish it would snow tomorrow. I wish the Panthers would win. I wish…

Biblical hope is far more than a wish. Biblical hope is the sure promise of future reward. Paul talks about this kind of hope in Romans 5:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

Paul tells the believers in Rome that they can rejoice in sufferings. Why? Paul isn’t advocating an emotionless response to the very real pain of life. No! Rejoicing in suffering is possible for the same reason a mother endures the pain of giving birth to a child: the hope of holding that child in her arms as a newborn. Our hope is fixed on the glory of God–we live to honor Him. And strangely enough it comes through waiting and suffering.

Suffering initiates a domino effect: suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. Hope grows best in the soil of suffering.  Notice the distance between suffering and hope. Suffering is followed by endurance (which takes time).  Endurance is followed by character (which is built over time). Character produces hope.

For some of you this has been the worst year of your life. Your suffering is so intense that hope seems a distant dream, a far-flung idea. Don’t despair. Hope is coming! Endure–don’t quit!

David writes: He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Today, lean in on God. Wait on him–quieten yourself before him. He is your refuge, your safe place…your hope.