I love how this separates God’s presence from success and his absence from failure. How many of us need to shed the circumstantial “god” for the reality of Christ. — Jason
Readers’ Choice (Originally published February 8, 2017)
Since the Lord was with him there he was comforted; it would be infinitely better to be there with God than on the throne of Pharaoh without God.
― Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Scripture: Genesis 41.14
Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit.
Reflection: The Lord Be With YouBy Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)
Scripture frequently sums up a man’s life in a single sentence. Here is the biography of Joseph sketched by inspiration: “God was with him”—so Stephen testified in his famous speech recorded in Acts.
Observe, however, that the portraits of Scripture give us not only the outer, but the inner life of the man. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks upon the heart; and so the Scriptural descriptions of men are not of their visible life alone, but of their spiritual life. Here we have Joseph as God saw him, the real Joseph.
Externally it did not always appear that God was with him, for he did not always seem to be a prosperous man; but when you come to look into the inmost soul of this servant of God, you see his true likeness—he lived in communion with the Most High, and God blessed him.
Furthermore, “The Lord was with Joseph,” but it did not screen him from temptation of the worst kind: it did not prevent his mistress casting her wicked eyes upon him. The best of men may be tempted to the worst of crimes.
The presence of God did not screen him from slander: the base woman accused him of outrageous wickedness, and God permitted Potiphar to believe her. You and I would have said, “If the Lord be with us how can this evil happen to us?” Ah, but the Lord was with him, and yet he was a slandered man.
The divine presence did not screen him from pain: he sat in prison wearing fetters till the iron entered into his soul, and yet “The Lord was with him.” That presence did not save him from disappointment. He said to the butler, “Think of me when it is well with thee”; but the butler altogether forgot him.
Everything may seem to go against you, and yet God may be with you. The Lord does not promise you that you shall have what looks like prosperity, but you shall have what is real prosperity in the best sense.
*Abridged and language updated from A Miniature Portrait Of Joseph by Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
“(C.S.) Lewis depicts the damned as rushing insistently into their hells, despite the efforts of God to persuade them not to.” — Douglas Beyer.
Michelle is praying for the salvation of a family member. Join her today in prayer. — John
Readers’ Choice (Originally published May 24, 2017)
All Hell is smaller than one pebble of [the] earthly world.
Scripture: Psalm 78:11
They forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them.
Reflection: Rushing to HellBy Steven Dilla
Hell is distance from God; heaven is intimacy with him. It is a mistake to talk about hell as a problem in need of a solution—as if each of us has been left alone to earn our own way out of such desolation and hopelessness. The reality, as unsettling as it may be, is that humanity finds itself rejecting the solution to hell which has already been provided—Christ himself.
I do not mean that the ghosts may not wish to come out of Hell, in the vague fashion wherein an envious man ‘wishes’ to be happy: but they certainly do not will even the first preliminary stages of that self-abandonment through which alone the soul can reach any good. They enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self-enslaved.
In his work Seeing Hell through the Reason and Imagination of C. S. Lewis, Douglas Beyer summarizes, “The saved go to a place prepared for them, while the damned go to a place never made for men at all. To enter heaven is to become more human than you ever succeeded in being in earth; to enter Hell, is to be banished from humanity.”
Yet because of our pride and brokenness we reject not only the place prepared, but the One who prepared it. Beyer sees this theme pervasively in Lewis’ work. He concludes, “Lewis depicts the damned as rushing insistently into their hells, despite the efforts of God to persuade them not to.”
Christ is God’s magnificent effort—not only to persuade, but to sufficiently meet every need, answer every longing, and fulfill every hope. It is in Christ that we find not merely the solution to our greatest problem, but also everything we need to thrive in life and flourish for eternity.
“The blessed,” Lewis concludes, “forever submitting to obedience, become through all eternity more and more free.”
A ReadingJesus taught us, saying: “Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to destruction is wide and spacious, and many take it…” – From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.
To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! — Psalm 123.1
We do not attribute the power of kingdoms and empires to anyone except the true God. It is He who gives happiness in the Kingdom of Heaven to the righteous. And it is He who gives kingly power on earth, both to the righteous and the unrighteous, as it pleases Him. His good pleasure is always just.
He is the one true God who never leaves the human race without justice and help. He gave a kingdom to the Romans, as He also did to the Assyrians—and even the Persians, who, as their own books testify, only worshiped two gods—to say nothing of the Hebrew people, who, as long as they were a kingdom, worshiped none save the true God.
The same One who gave to the Persians harvests gave power to Augustus and also to Nero. To avoid the necessity of going over all of those to whom He has enthroned: He who gave power to the Christian Constantine also gave it to the apostate Julian—whose gifted mind was deceived by a sacrilegious and detestable curiosity, stimulated by the love of power.
Are not all things ruled and governed by the one God as He pleases—and if His motives are hidden, are they therefore unjust?
For if you are awaiting an opportunity, not for liberty to speak the truth, but for license to revile, may you remember Cicero, who says concerning some, “Oh, wretched are those at liberty to sin!” Whoever deems himself happy because of license to revile, he would be far happier if that were not allowed at all.
The cause of the greatness of the Roman empire is neither fortuitous nor fatal. (Some call things fortuitous which have either no causes or causes which do not proceed from some intelligible order; others call that which happens independently of the will of God and man fatal.) In a word, human kingdoms are established by divine providence.
Now, against the sacrilegious and impious darings of reason, we assert both that God knows all things before they come to pass, and that we do by our free will whatsoever we know and feel to be done by us only because we will it.
God is supreme and true—He can never be believed to have left the kingdoms of men, their dominations and servitudes, outside of the laws of His providence.
*Abridged and adapted from The City of God.
The RefrainOur God is in heaven; whatever he wills to do, he does.
It is the job of the Holy Spirit to dismantle everything which we trust more than God. Anything less would be unloving if God is as good as the scriptures reveal him to be. The Egyptian plagues attest to this.
The Nile is Egypt’s most valuable natural resource. The ancients would have trembled when it turned to blood in the first plague. Hapi, the father of Egypt’s gods (and god of the Nile itself), would have been believed to have lost control.
Each plague systematically defeated another of ancient Egypt’s gods. The idols’ lack of control was exposed. Their efficacy to restore life was unveiled.
The gods Heka, Geb, and Khepfi were shamed by the plagues involving insects. Apis, Menvis, and Hathor were defeated by the plague of livestock. Thoth, the god of health, proved powerless while Egypt writhed in the pain of boils. Nut and Isis were revealed as impotent through the plagues of hail and locusts.
The plague of darkness was a fierce warning—Yahweh had overpowered Ra. Arguably at the top of Egypt’s gods, Ra was the god of the sun and a central figure in ancient Egyptian worship.
Even then, Pharaoh would not concede.
The final plague is an extension of the previous, a darker darkness. Each of Egypt’s firstborn would have been dedicated to Ra, and Pharaoh’s son was considered an incarnation of Ra himself. The death of the firstborn was a brutal and crushing end to the empty gods they placed their trust in.
Idolatry always destroys our greatest joy. Our commitment to our idols cuts away at the people and things which matter most in our lives. Each idol delivers a silhouette of the real experience—and their falsehood can be as difficult for us to see now as it was for Egypt to see then.
In comparison to Egypt’s gods, modern idols have names which sound normal—approval, pleasure, comfort, power, control—but they act the same. We draw our identity from them. We arrange our lives around them. And, at our time of greatest need, they abandon us.
Ask an American about the most historically significant event of 1776 and you will most certainly hear about the signing of the declaration, independence from Great Britain, and the birthday of our nation. But 1776 also significantly marks the publication of Adam Smith’s influential Wealth of Nations, widely considered the first modern work in the field of economics and a work that remains widely influential today. Both Wealth of Nations and The Declaration of Independence are publications that have inarguably shaped the world in ways beyond even what the original authors imagined.
All the same, historian Mark Noll suggests there is a third publication of 1776 that may have been even more historically influential than both of these momentous options. In a lecture at Harvard University, he argued: “I say with calculated awareness of what else was going on in Philadelphia [the signing of the Declaration of Independence], and in Scotland, where Adam Smith published his Wealth of Nations, that of all world-historical occurrences in that year, the publication of August Montagu Toplady’s hymn [Rock of Ages] may have been the most consequential.”(1)
This may seem a surprising choice—particularly for those who want to relegate the role of religion to far more primitive histories. Noll’s suggestion asks that we look not only beyond national histories, but beyond the version of history that wants to claim that there has always been a split between the sacred and the secular. Toplady’s hymn is one of the two most reprinted hymns in Christian history, but its words remind us of a history far beyond even this:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee; Let the water and the blood, From Thy riven side which flowed, Be of sin the double cure, Cleanse me from its guilt and power. Not the labours of my hands, Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know, Could my tears for ever flow, All for sin could not atone: Thou must save, and Thou alone. Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy Cross I cling; Naked, come to Thee for dress; Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly; Wash me, Saviour, or I die.
Toplady’s hymn calls its hearers to identify with a greater citizenship. Beyond denomination, beyond nation, beyond the misleading divide of sacred and secular, public and private, beyond the labors of our hands, there was a time when humanity understood we are creatures and there is a creator—a creator with a redemptive plan. Like many confessions throughout the history of the church, Toplady’s hymn bids us to see beyond the individual, the individual nation, and our individual understandings of history to the cloud of witnesses described by the writer of Hebrews, to the identity we have shared with creatures of all time.
History is filled with the ebb and flow of influences and events, but of the creator who is for us there is no greater, unswerving influence. As James writes, “[God] does not change like the shifting shadows” (1:17). As David praised, and Hannah prayed, and saints and sinners will continue to discover, there is a Rock of Ages. Hidden in the Trinity, clinging to the Cross, loved by the Son whose suffering is a gift, we are free indeed.