son

Trustworthy Joseph

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Who would you trust?

If you were God—you’re not nor am I—but imagine what it would be like for God to consider who He would entrust as a father for His newborn Son.

We live in a world where trust appears as a fragile virtue—when trust is scarce. But the world is not so different now, in that sense, as when Jesus was born almost 2000 years ago.

Israel—God’s people—were a nation under occupation by the powerful pagan Roman empire, including its ruthless soldiers.

Not so special

Look at the attention given to the British Royal family and the Queen’s grandchildren! We might expect a lot more attention and fanfare for the birth of God’s only Son (John 1:14). But it wasn’t so.

A remarkable facet of the Christmas story is how the birth of Jesus took place.

No special national attention was given to His birth until two years later (Matthew 2:1–12). And that attention proved to be tragic (Matt 2:16–18).

Sure, there was an awesome angelic announcement outside of Bethlehem (Luke 2:8, 14), but who heard it? A group of nomadic—not-so-clean nor trustworthy—shepherds. They were not people of honorable status.

Shepherds were the equivalent of the old range cowboys of America — not exactly who you’d want your daughter to marry. Not quite the royal announcement you’d expect for the birth of the King of Kings!

No ordinary man

One of the fascinating parts of the Christmas story to me is the father of the Savior of the world. Actually, Joseph was the stepfather (Luke 1:26–38).

This is made clear by Joseph’s initial plan when he heard his bride-to-be was pregnant. He knew it wasn’t his child. But here’s where the story takes an unexpected turn.

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. His mother Mary was engaged to marry Joseph, but before they married, she learned she was pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Because Mary’s husband, Joseph, was a good man, he did not want to disgrace her in public, so he planned to divorce her secretly. (Matt 1:18–19 NCV)

Joseph was not an ordinary man. At first, he may appear ordinary, as a carpenter from a small town in northern Palestine (Israel). What makes Joseph extraordinary is the trust God places in him.

Joseph was a trustworthy man

Photo by  Filip Mroz  on  Unsplash

Photo by Filip Mroz on Unsplash

Consider Joseph the man

The first thing I notice is Joseph’s character. He was “a good man.” Other Bible versions use the words just, righteous, upright, and honorable to describe Joseph. He had integrity. The kind of character God could trust.

Joseph was a compassionate and humble man

When Joseph finds out Mary—the woman he is legally promised to marry—is pregnant, he doesn’t want to publicly disgrace her. Though it was humiliating, he wasn’t vindictive. He still loved his wife-to-be.

Joseph was spiritually perceptive

His plan to quietly divorce Mary is interrupted by a dream. In the dream, an angel of the Lord informs Joseph what’s taking place.

While Joseph thought about these things, an angel of the Lord came to him in a dream. The angel said, “Joseph, descendant of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the baby in her is from the Holy Spirit.

She will give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this happened to bring about what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be pregnant. She will have a son, and they will name him Immanuel,” which means “God is with us.” (Matt 1:20–23 NCV)

Consider this remarkable message to Joseph

  • Mary is pregnant by the Holy Spirit, not another man

  • Joseph is to go forward with the marriage

  • The child will be a son, to be named Jesus, because He will be a Savior

  • This was planned by God long ago

  • The Son’s name means “God is with us”

A final insight into Joseph’s trustworthiness is his response to all of this.

Joseph responded in faith to the message from God’s angel

When Joseph woke up, he did what the Lord’s angel had told him to do. Joseph took Mary as his wife, but he did not have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to the son. And Joseph named him Jesus. (Matt 1:24–25 NCV)

  • Joseph takes Mary as his wife

  • He accepts and bears the scandalous appearance of illegitimacy

  • He abstains from sexual relations with Mary until after the child’s birth

  • He names the child Jesus

Joseph was a faithful and responsible man

More to the story

There is more to the story, of course, but you can read it yourself. The story of Christmas is found in the first two chapters of both the gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Joseph’s qualities as a man — good character, compassion and humility, spiritual perception, and faithfulness — add up to a trustworthy man.

These are qualities to be admired in any man

God is still looking for men like Joseph. Men who are trustworthy to bring the message of God’s redemption to a dark, insecure, and untrusting world.

This Christmas, think about the man to whom God entrusted as a father to care for His Son — the Savior of the world.

The Savior — crucified and risen, now seated in power in heaven — will transform any person who puts their trust in Him above all.

God is still looking for men like Joseph who are trustworthy

Are you willing to become a person like Joseph?

Personal Application Question

Which of Joseph’s virtues do you most identify with and which one do you least identify with—his integrity of character, compassion, humility, spiritual perception, faithfulness, or his trust in God?


This post was first published in Publishous on Medium— Trustworthy Joseph

Repentance—the Heart of the Matter

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"You've turned your backs, not your faces, to me" (Jeremiah 2:27 GW). This is what God says to His people through Jeremiah. It's a recurring theme in God's messages through Jeremiah to Judah—the southern kingdom of Israel.

Judah had abandoned the living God for lifeless idols. It wasn't just misplaced worship or foolish religion, it was accompanied with gross immorality and perversion of justice. The behavior of the leaders and people was atrocious. But this wasn't God's main issue.

Although God held His people responsible for their bad behavior, His great lament was how they shunned Him. God spoke through Jeremiah to tell the people they committed two evils. Number one was that they forsook God—the fountain of life-giving water.

My people have done two things wrong. They have abandoned me, the fountain of life-giving water. They have also dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that can’t hold water. (Jer 2:123 GW)

Repentance isn't about behavior

Repentance is not about behavior, but a renewed relationship. It's a matter of reconciliation. It's a matter of the heart.

It's not that bad behavior should be ignored or overlooked, but it is secondary. It should change as a result of a changed relationship, not the other way around. When changed behavior is the focus of repentance, God's intent for it is misplaced.

Relationship has always been primary to God. When Adam and Eve gave in to the serpent's temptation, God looked for them because He knew something was wrong. The entire story of redemption began there.

Repentance is a matter of reconciliation. It's a matter of the heart.

A classic picture of repentance is given in the third of three parables in Luke 15—the Lost Son. The climax is when the lost son returns to his father.

The son's focus is on his own sin, the father looks past the son's sin and filthiness to embrace him and celebrate (Luke 15:11-32).

Forgiveness and restoration

However, we still tend to focus on sin—our own or that of others, and it's lingering effect. That's the picture of the brooding elder son in the parable of Luke 15. We want forgiveness and justice, but often have difficulty accepting forgiveness, or as it's often put, forgiving ourselves

Sadly, when we focus on our own sin or how others have sinned, and the ripple effect of sin—we lose sight of the purpose of forgiveness. 

Forgiveness is granted by God to restore our relationship. It's not a means of satisfying His divine justice or wrath against us. Jesus absorbed the penalty of sin upon Himself.

Forgiveness is granted by God to restore relationship not to satisfy divine justice

Righteousness is relational

Of course, things must be made right, but righteousness itself is relational. It's not a theological concept to be understood. Why did the father celebrate the return of his son? Because— 

"My son was dead and has come back to life. He was lost but has been found" (Luke 15:24 GW).

Repentance isn't our effort to be good but the restoration of our relationship with God. As King David requested in his own prayer of repentance, "Restore to me the joy of your salvation" (Psalm 51:12).

Repentance is not about "turning over a new leaf," as if making a New Year's resolution. It's about returning to God. There are countless examples of this throughout the Bible.

Repentance isn't our effort to be good but the restoration of our relationship with God.

Unfortunately, much well-intentioned teaching and preaching focus on changed behavior as the mark of true repentance.

How about John the Baptist's rebuke at the Jordan River (Matt 3:1-12 GW), you might ask? John spoke of true repentance, not a religious or emotional expression.

Changed behavior is the fruit of genuine repentance, not its essence.

Reconciliation

Redemption is not just forgiveness, it is about reconciliation between God and people. Repentance is returning to God. As God said, "you've turned your backs, not your faces, to me" (Jer 2:27 GW)

God wants people to turn their faces to Him, not their backs. He's not interested in what we can do to make things right because He knows it will fall short and be short-lived.

What repentance is not

Repentance is not remorse, nor emotion, or promises of better behavior. It's a change of heart. A changed heart that leads us back to God, as shown by the lost son in the parable.

Repentance is not behavior modification—"changing our ways" or "making a 180º turn"—on our own, but returning to God—the Father—and receiving His mercy and grace.

Once our relationship is restored—yes, through forgiveness on God's behalf—then true repentance results in a changed life.

Repentance needs to start from the inside—our heart—first. External change—changed behavior—follows our heart change.

When our face is turned to God, our back is turned on sin.

Repentance and redemption

There is no true redemption without genuine repentance. But the essence of repentance is returning to God regardless of any personal cost.

The good news is this—God has covered the cost of failure and sin on the Cross. Our work is to turn our face and trust back to God. Trying to change your behavior on your own is a futile effort and doomed for failure.

There is no true redemption without genuine repentance.

True repentance brings freedom

If you're trying to be a good Christian—stop it! But if you want to turn towards God—go for it!

My wife and I saw the power of repentance and reconciliation in the process of disciplining our young children. First, they needed to realize they did something wrong.

Once it was made clear what they did was wrong, our children's heads dropped and their faces turned sad. They were at a point of repentance.

When a form of correction was applied and a new path of behavior and change of heart was discussed, things were settled and the result was freedom. They were reconciled.

True repentance ought to bring freedom, not brooding or depression.

Going back to the parable in Luke, the father celebrated with the restored son, while the elder son brooded. The elder brother couldn't look past his own expectation of justice and his self-righteousness (Luke 15:28-30).

It's your choice to brood or to rejoice. I prefer joy over whining any day of the week and so does God. How about you?

Call to Remember

kutrovski.jpg

kutrovski.jpg

Eating breakfast with my dad

Most mornings my dad would have Tasters Choice instant coffee and some type of bread or toast for breakfast. As we ate together, he would share stories from his life growing up in the Soviet Union. Most of these were about the trials and tribulations of following Jesus.

My dad witnessed and heard stories of ministers imprisoned in Siberia for their faith. When my dad was drafted into the Red Army, he suffered persecution for not bearing arms. He shared stories of allegiance to one kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven.

My father's stories and many other faith stories from my grandmother had a strong impact on me. They reminded me God is always faithful and He is always good.

These stories also remind me that my faith is not only personal but a part of God's story from generations before me and will continue generations after me.

Remember everything God has done

Moses commanded the people to remember everything God did. The repetitive theme in chapter eight is to remember the relationship between God and His people.

"Remember that for 40 years the LORD your God led you on your journey in the desert." (Deut 8:2 GW)

Moses didn't just remind the people of all the good times. The exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt wasn't all rainbows and butterflies. These people went through harsh times. Yet, in the midst of their hardship, God was never absent.

"So he made you suffer from hunger and then fed you with manna, your clothes didn’t wear out, and your feet didn’t swell these past 40 years." (Deut 8:3-4 GW)

Remembering that leads to hope in the future

Remembering what God has done throughout our lives and the generations before gives us hope and a future.

Moses reminded the people of the 40 years they wandered in the desert. Even as the Israelites went through a time of refinement God was present. 

Remembering God's goodness in the past leads us to God's goodness in the future.

After Moses reminded the Israelites of God's faithfulness, he commanded them to follow the Lord and told them of the glorious promise to come. 

"The land will have enough food for you, and you will have everything you need." (Deut 8:9 GW)

The call to remember keeps us anchored in God's plan and purpose. His story is grand and dynamic.

The bigger picture

When we look back at what God has done in our lives, and the generations before us we begin to understand that it's not "all-about-me" and the present circumstances.

There is a big picture and a dynamic purpose. It started before us and will continue after us.

My Dad's stories of his faith and God's faithfulness in his life spurred me on to seek and know God. They reminded me that God was writing my story before I was even born.

God's story, me, and you

What God started years before me, he continues to work out through me and will continue to do so many generations after me.

“You saw with your own eyes all these spectacular things that the LORD did.” (Deut 11:7 GW)

Reflect on all that God's done in your life, and receive the promise of what God will do.

This is a guest post by Sergei Kutrovski (@kutrovski)

A Father's Trust

unsplash.com_SVanLoy

unsplash.com_SVanLoy

"It ain't over till it's over!" This statement attributed to baseball great Yogi Berra has proven true in many sporting events. The most recent Super Bowl comeback by the NE Patriots and the 1980 USA Olympic team's "Miracle on Ice" confirm it.

But great comebacks may not happen as often as we'd like to see. For all the great turnaround stories in life, many other people experience enduring disappointments.

I've lost interest in book and movies, even baseball games (and I love baseball) only to realize later that I gave up too early. A lot of people approach the Bible and all its stories the same way.

God's story of redemption is filled with many unexpected twists and turns, and His story isn't over till it ends—within each of our lives and throughout history.

The back story

A significant development in God's redemptive story begins with a man who is promised a son. This son would make him become the father of many generations. Abraham (also Abram), the father of Israel, would wait 25 years for this promised son.

But there's much more to the story that begins in Genesis 12. As with many intriguing stories, it has sub-plots, twists, deceit, a leading lady, villains, and battles, and much more, including a surprising climax.

This surprising climax gives us insight into how God would bring redemption for all of humanity and it's not at all what you'd expect. In fact, it's one of those surprising and gut-wrenching twists in the story.

An unexpected ask

Isaac, the promised son, was Abraham's treasured son, born to him at the ripe old age of 100 (Genesis 21:1-7). He had another son with another woman (Genesis 16 and Gen 21:9-21), but that's another story within Abraham's story.

When Isaac was at least a teenager or perhaps a young man, God asked Abraham to do something so shocking to us that many get stuck on it and miss the intent and purpose of the story. Here's the shocking ask of God—

Later God tested Abraham and called to him, “Abraham!” “Yes, here I am!” he answered. 
God said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will show you.” (Gen 22:1-2 GW)

It's important to read the whole story (Gen 22:1-14) in its whole context. The whole context includes a promise that follows the unfolding of this story with the shocking ask of God. But I'll get to that later.

Trust or blind obedience?

An important piece of context is the time and culture of Abraham. The sacrifice of children to the god Molech was common in those days and in that region of the world. Abraham was well aware of this. This was long before Moses and the Law that forbade such practices.

But there's something deeper in all of this. God made a personal covenant with Abraham regarding this promised son connected to the promised land. By this time, God reminded Abraham four times about this promise (Gen 12:1-3; 13:14-16; 15:4-6; 17:4-8).

Perhaps Abraham was puzzled by God's request but he trusted God implicitly. This was not blind obedience.  We gain insight to this as Abraham and Isaac go to the mountain as instructed by God—

Then Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and gave it to his son Isaac. Abraham carried the burning coals and the knife. The two of them went on together. 
Isaac spoke up and said, “Father?” “Yes, Son?” Abraham answered. Isaac asked, “We have the burning coals and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 
Abraham answered, “God will provide a lamb for the burnt offering, Son.” The two of them went on together. (Gen 22:6-8 GW)

God will provide

Abraham's answer to Isaac remains a mystery as they proceed to the mountain for the sacrifice. Abraham built an altar out of rocks, laid the wood on it, tied up Isaac, and put him on the wood.

As Abraham grabbed the knife to slay his promised son, he's stopped by an angel of the Lord and more insight is given—

But the Messenger of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Yes?” he answered. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you did not refuse to give me your son, your only son.” (Gen 22:11-12 GW)

The big picture and the greater story

If you're still hung up on why God would ask Abraham to sacrifice his son, I understand. But take a step back to see the bigger picture. Seeing the big picture reveals the greater story.

It was never God's intention for Abraham to kill Isaac. It was a test (Gen 22:1). It was an act of trust by Abraham (Heb 11:17-19). It was an illustration of when God would reverse the course of history through His own Son.

This story is a prophetic illustration of God's plan of redemption, as shared about in an earlier post. Redemption is about restoration, not just settling humanity's account with God because of sin. The illustration is seen in view of the life and death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

Some important parts of the bigger picture

  • the mountain in the land of Moriah (Gen 22:2) represents Golgotha where Christ was crucified (Matt 27:33)
  • Abraham saw the place on the third day of travel (Gen 22:4) just as Jesus looked beyond the shame of the cross to His resurrection on the third day (Matt 16:21; Heb 12:2)
  • the men were told to stay behind (Gen 22:5) just as Jesus did with His disciples as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt 26:36)
  • the wood that Isaac carried (Gen 22:6) is a picture of Jesus carrying His cross (John 19:16-17)
  • Abraham's statement that God would provide a lamb (Gen 22:8) is echoed centuries later by John the Baptizer when he see Jesus, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29)

But why...?

I realize it's hard to look past the shocking request of Abraham by God. This requires faith. Not an abstract belief but genuine personal trust in God (Heb 11:6).

We all have questions, even doubts when it comes to faith and trusting God. This is the nature of faith. It requires us to see beyond the obvious or at least, what others see or might believe.

The simple lesson for life application is to ask ourselves if we're willing to trust God with everything and everyone in our life. But there's more to it than that.

Not many of us are asked to sacrifice a son but God does ask us to trust Him. Not just hold a belief of trust but to trust Him day in and day out with our life.

This only develops as we know God in a deeper more personally intimate way and that depth of relationship requires time and a willingness to trust God. That's real faith, the kind Abraham had.

How much of your life are you willing to trust God with?

More Than A Prophet

So much has been said and written about Jesus Christ over the centuries. Much of it is good and edifying, but not all of it.

Jesus—the man from Nazareth—had a polarizing effect on people. Many who followed Him were not those you'd expect. In fact, many theologians and religious leaders opposed Him.

But there's far more to the person of Jesus Christ than what is known historically. Who He is and the purpose of His presence on earth is often misunderstood.