spiritual

Trustworthy Joseph

Photo by  Liane Metzler  on  Unsplash

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

Many Altars but One Gospel

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Most religions have some form of an altar as a means of worship. Primitive altars are where sacrifices, sometimes animals or humans, were made to appease a deity or god. In the Old Testament, altars were part of the worship of Israel using prescribed sacrifices for specific reasons.

Altars can also be figurative. In most traditional churches, a table or cabinet serves as an altar where certain elements of the worship service are placed. More contemporary churches might consider the front platform area as an altar.

Physical altars or places to offer gifts or sacrifices are common in many cultures around the world. I'm more familiar with Thailand and the Philippines. I've traveled and ministered in Thailand many times. It has an abundance of altars in many places.

Most religions have some form of an altar as a means of worship

Land of many altars

Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist nation, and Buddhism breeds and thrives on an animistic belief. One look around at all the spirit houses and altars or shrines erected throughout the nation makes this clear.

It is difficult to preach the Gospel in Thailand and see genuine conversions to following Christ—both culturally and spiritually. The truth can get lost in the various layers of culture and spirituality present in Thailand and in other nations.

Living in another culture different than your own helps you see things from a different perspective.  This is one of the values of true cross-cultural missions. In a sense, I had two home cultures—American and Filipino—while living in the Philippines for fifteen years.

Living in another culture than your own helps you see things from a different perspective

Although they are quite different from each other—one is western and the other eastern philosophically—a vast difference exists between both of those cultures and Thai culture, at least on the surface.

Is there really that much difference between how Christianity is practiced in America, Roman Catholicism in the Philippines, and Buddhism in Thailand? Perhaps not as much as you think.

Buddhism and altars

Buddhism with its thousands of gods is intertwined in its origin with Hinduism, an ancient religion with millions of gods or deities. How can there be so many gods?

Most ancient religions were prone to associating deity or god-likeness with creation. This is noted in the first chapter of Romans (Rom 1:25). It's termed animism—the worship of non-human things as if they had souls or spirits.

Animism exists throughout the world today, even in unexpected places and ways.

It's common to see small altars of fruit, toys, incense, and other things offered in many places to many gods throughout Thailand. Ancestor worship is also mixed into many ancient religions with animistic belief systems.

Most ancient religions were prone to associating deity or god-likeness with creation

Roman Catholic shrines

Throughout the Philippines, it is common to see both Roman Catholic statues or images along with Chinese religious symbols, where ancestor worship is common. Shrines to Mary and to the infant Jesus are found in homes, businesses, as well as in churches.

Riding in a Filipino cab one day, I noticed the driver—a Roman Catholic—had a Chinese religious symbol hanging from his mirror and a Christian image or two on his dashboard. As he drove me across town, we talked about Jesus. "He's my protector, I trust in Him," said my taxi driver. 

It made me realize how many Christians in America have a similar approach to covering all the bases. Of course, as evangelical Christians, we don't see it that way.

Many Christians in America have a covering-all-the-bases approach to their faith

American altars and shrines

People in animistic cultures have a difficult time with the typical western approach of sharing the Gospel in bits and pieces—"Jesus died for your sins" or "God so loved the world." It's difficult for them to disassociate these bits and pieces from what they already believe.

When bits of pieces of the truth spoken without their greater context come across as abstract truths. Abstract truths connected to testimonies of success and blessing as often occurs in evangelism, lack the scriptural frame of reference to be understood well.

People in such cultures can both accept and reject the Gospel readily. They pick and choose between what appeals to them and what doesn't fit their belief system and worldview of life.

Are American Christians much different than religious people in other places?

The church potluck

American Christians tend to pick and choose what does and does not appeal to them regarding the Gospel, and with doctrine and practice. It's as if the gospel and Christian beliefs are laid out on a table as with a church potluck.

Perhaps it doesn't seem this way, but consider how many different Christian churches exist. Often times, the only distinction between one church and another is the presentation or methodology of the church service itself.

There's too much to get sidetracked on with this issue, but consider what draws you to a certain church or type of worship service. What do you expect when you go to church?

American tend to pick and choose what they like and don't like about the Christian faith

Is your Christianity animistic?

For more than four decades, I've heard questions from prospective churchgoers like, "What do you have to offer that's better than the church down the street?"

Why are so many American Christians like this? Is it because we are so self-focused? Well, yes! 

We take the bits and pieces we hear of the gospel and Christianity and connect them to our own perceptions of blessing and success. In this way, our Christianity becomes more animistic than the gospel in the Bible.

Christians prefer bits and pieces of the gospel that connect to blessing and success

The western church promotes this with how we present the Gospel, Jesus, and various concepts of church-community. Consider the following questions—

What appeals to you about church, the Gospel (God's Story), and Jesus?
What is it you like or dislike? What makes you comfortable or uneasy?

Over the next couple weeks, I'll continue to look at this issue of altars and the gospel. Next week, I hope to challenge you to answer whether you come to God's altar or God's throne?

The gospel and animism—

The following articles may provoke you to thought, even upset you. I hope so. They are written by missionaries—one in Thailand and one in Zimbabwe in Africa. You can post responses on this blog or on social media— but let them be edifying and gracious

Animism and the Prosperity Gospel

Why Your Gospel May Be More Animistic Than You Think

The FOMO Tree

unsplash.com_RBico

unsplash.com_RBico

I had two personal encounters this week that illustrate the present polarization in America. The first was a young millennial guy I met in a Starbucks parking lot. I saw his lavender, yellow, and blue school bus and remarked that I had friends who had one like it back in the 70's.

It was a throw-back moment seeing him with a 'fro and full beard, tie-dyed shirt, and beads telling me of the protests he and his group had gone to on behalf of Native Americans. It was reminiscent of the hippie movement of my day.

My second encounter came at a dinner with friends. During casual conversation, one of the older persons expressed his agreement with the current crackdown on illegal immigration, but with a broad, derogatory statement about all immigrants.

Both individuals are convinced of their very different views on current cultural issues. What a contrast! How did we, as citizens of the United States, get so polarized? It's nothing new and yet, it's not political. It goes deeper than that.

Back at the beginning

Last week, I looked at the beginning of the story of redemption in the Bible. The primary reason the Father sent His Son Jesus as the Redeemer of humanity is God's original purpose for creating humankind—humans were originally created in His image (Gen 1:26-27).

Each person, since the beginning of creation, has the imprint of God. But God's original purpose and design went awry.

After forming the first man (adam in Hebrew) from the basic elements of earth and breathing life into him, God placed him in a beautiful garden—a paradise. In the middle of this well-watered paradise, God planted two trees—the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:7-9).

God gave the man permission to eat the fruit of all the trees except one—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

God also created a life partner for the man who fit him perfectly. The man (ish in Hebrew) called her woman (ishshah in Hebrew) because she was literally part of him (Gen 2:20-22). They lived together naked and without shame, innocent of any evil (Gen 2:24-25).

God was content with all that He created and He said it was all good (Gen 1:31–2:3).

The beginning of FOMO

This is not a fairy tale. There is no "happily ever after" in this story. Although the first man and woman were in a state of innocence in paradise, it didn't continue that way.

Among all the creatures God created, one was especially clever—the serpent. He could speak to the humans and one day he approached the woman and questioned if God told them not to eat the fruit of any tree (Gen 3:1).

The woman clarified there was only one tree they weren't to eat from—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The serpent countered this truth with the first lie—

You won’t die. God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you’ll see what’s really going on. You’ll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil. (Gen 3:4-5 MSG)

Here is the first occurrence of FOMO—the fear of missing out. The serpent's question created doubt and his lie stirred up a well-spring of insatiable curiosity. He deceived her into thinking God was holding out something better from then than what they knew.

FOMO is not based in culture, trends, or even curiosity but now it's embedded in our human nature. We and our self-will don't want to miss out on something better. We don't want to be denied what we want or could have.

The fall

And so, the woman looked at this beautiful tree and its desirable fruit that would make a person wise. She reached out, took the fruit, and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband.

After they ate the fruit, their new insight made them realize they were naked. They saw each other without the innocence they knew before. Shame set in, so they hurried to cover it with a garment of fig leaves (Gen 3:6-7).

They fell from the perfect relationship of trust they knew with God. They crossed a line, one they couldn't erase. Only their Creator would be able to restore the relationship back to what it had been.

Most of the time, I hear the fall of humanity reduced to an issue of disobedience. Consequently, redemption is focused on dealing with sin. Indeed, it was disobedience to God's command not to eat of that tree which is sin—it missed the mark of what God intended.

But, it's the lack of trust in God that led to FOMO and led to their selfish choice of disobedience. It is not just a matter of bad morality but a bad choice and broken trust.

The story so far

This isn't the end of the story but here's a summary of what's taken place so far.

God created the earth and universe and all that exists including all life on earth. He created a man and woman who were naked and unashamed and placed them in paradise with two exceptional trees, they were not to eat the fruit of one.

A talking creature deceived the woman into thinking God was holding something back from her and her husband, so they ate the fruit of the forbidden tree. As soon as they ate, they realized they were naked and tried to cover their shame with leaves from a tree.

The story continues, but here are two important things to remember about God's redemption of humanity so far—

  1. All humans were created in the image of God—we all have God's imprint in us
  2. Trust was broken between God and the man and woman, which precipitated a selfish, willful decision on the part of the man and woman to rebel against God's authority

Next week

Next, I'll look at the consequences of this break in the relationship of trust between God and the man and woman (Adam and Eve), and the consequences for the serpent.

We'll also get a glimpse of God's plan to restore what was lost in paradise.

Until then... if you have some thoughts or questions on all of this, please comment below or on Word-Strong's FaceBook page.

Thanks for reading and sharing!

Embedded

Journalists embedded with combat troops made the Viet Nam conflict the first televised war. Network news brought the war into American living rooms every evening. It was an undeclared war that brought continuing protests on college campuses, at military induction centers, and government monuments for over a decade.

Televising this "conflict" fought on the other side of the world created a tug-a-war for the American psyche. The embedded journalists revealed the realities of the daily struggle of war, as thousands of young soldiers died in an undeclared war that divided a nation.

It was not a bright spot in American history, but it brought about a more honest view of combat and politics that lingers today.

New Clothing

Where do you shop for clothes? Do you go to thrift stores, big-box discount chain stores, trendy boutiques, or high-end stores? Or is most of your shopping online?

When do you shop? Do you wait for clearance sales or Black Fridays? Are you a last minute shopper or do you plan your shopping trips?

We Americans, known for our consumeristic culture, are overly focused on clothing. It's more than just covering our nakedness, it's often part of our identity.

But really, how important should it be? It depends on the clothing.