Solving The Unsolvable Dilemma

When Gabriel told Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus, he said that “the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.” Just before the angel showed up Luke noted that Mary was “pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David (Luke 1:27, 32).

At this time in history marriages were often arranged to preserve and strengthen family lines. Both Joseph and Mary could trace their family lineage through the royal line of Israel’s King David. 

Mary is betrothed to Joseph. Betrothal was considered as strong as a marriage with the only exception being that the couple didn’t yet live together nor sleep together. Betrothal usually lasted a year and would require a divorce to cancel it. 

Mary tells Joseph what Gabriel said to her and then she leaves to visit Elizabeth for the next three months! Joseph is left alone to consider his options. 

The word Luke uses for “consider” is not even close to what’s happening in Joseph’s mind. The word means to revolve around and around in your mind, like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube. 

Consider Joseph’s options. If he divorces Mary—which was apparently his first reaction—Mary would be publicly embarrassed. Not to mention that Joseph knew that God hated divorce. 

If Joseph decided to proceed with the marriage, he would either have to confess he was the father of her child—which could result in both of them being stoned—or admit that she was pregnant by another man—which would be a permanent disgrace for Mary’s family. 

In either case, both families would be shamed! 

While Joseph was still considering all these unsavory options an angel says to him, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid.” By calling him by that title he is really saying, “I know how important your family heritage is to you. I know how important Mary’s family heritage is to her. But do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife because this all fits into God’s plan. 

Would it have been easier on Joseph and Mary and their families if God could have waited until after they were married? Of course! But then it wouldn’t fit into God’s miraculous plan, because 700 years earlier God promised that Jesus would be born of an unmarried virgin. 

Fearing what’s coming in the future means we have forgotten Who already knows the future. 

God knows YOUR future too! It’s a future He already saw as good and fruitful, if you will put your trust in Him (Psalm 139:16; Jeremiah 29:11; John 15:16).

If you seem paralyzed by a no-win dilemma like Joseph was, first DON’T do what Joseph did: pray! Then DO what Joseph did after hearing the angel: obey. 

Remember Who knows you and Who knows your future, and then take each step on your journey as God directs you. 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in our series called Do Not Be Afraid, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

A Minor Introduction

The minor prophets in the Bible are pretty cool! But we have to be careful with man-made titles. For example, the “old” in Old Testament doesn’t mean outdated; nor does the “new” in New Testament mean something updated to modern times. 

In the same way, the minor prophets are only called “minor” because of the volume of their writing, not the quality of their message. In fact, their messages are actually quite major! 

The minor prophets cover a span of about 300 years, from 760 BC (Amos) to 450 BC (Malachi). You can check out this side-by-side chart to see where these prophets fit in the history of Judah and Israel. 

Here are some interesting tidbits about the minor prophets:

  • In the Hebrew Bible, these books are referred to simply as “The Twelve.” 
  • All of these prophets identify themselves in the first verse of their writing except Jonah, but he is identified in 2 Kings 14:23-25. 
  • The only others of the Twelve that are mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament are Micah, Zephaniah, Haggai, and Zechariah (see Jeremiah 26:16-19; 2 Kings 25:18-21; Ezra 5:1). 
  • The prophets consistently give us some historical context in their writings to help us place when, where, and to whom their ministry took place. 

The Twelve also show up quite liberally in the New Testament. Every one of them has either direct quotations or has their writings implicitly referred to throughout the New Testament. Here’s just a small sampling… 

  • Micah 5:2 tells us where Jesus would be born (Matthew 2:6)
  • Hosea 11:1 says Jesus would spend time in Egypt (Matthew 2:15)
  • Malachi 4:5 says an “Elijah” would precede Jesus (Matthew 17:10-11)
  • Zechariah 9:9 foretells Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-10)
  • Jonah 1:17 was used by Jesus to predict His own resurrection (Matthew 12:39-42)
  • Joel 2:28-32 was quoted by Peter on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21)
  • Amos 9:11-12 foretold all peoples coming to Jesus (Acts 15:16-17)
  • Hosea 13:14 was quoted by Paul to show how death was defeated (1 Corinthians 15:53-57)
  • Habakkuk 2:4 was also quoted by Paul to tell how righteous people live (Galatians 3:11)
  • Haggai 2:6 foretells the end times (Hebrews 12:26-29)

I look forward to diving deep into the major lessons in the minor prophets over the next several weeks, but in preparation for that let me give you 3 overarching lessons for all Bible studies:

  1. Christianity is rooted in history. The Bible is a historical record of real people, saying and doing real things in real places in the world. It’s not a collection of fables, myths, or legends. 
  2. We need to study the whole counsel of God’s Word. All of Scripture is interdependent on all the other parts of Scripture, and every part reinforces and amplifies every other part. Don’t limit your Bible reading to just one or two parts.
  3. Looking back in wonder and gratitude builds faith for today and hope for tomorrow. When we see what God has done in the past, and we realize that He is still the same God today, it builds our faith for today. And when our faith today is strengthened, it gives us a bright hope for tomorrow. 

I look forward to having you join me on this journey of discovery through the minor prophets! 

Test God In This

Lettie CowmanTest me in this…and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it (Malachi 3:10). Here is what God is saying in this verse: ‘My dear child, I still have floodgates in heaven, and they are still in service. The locks open as easily as before, and the hinges have not grown rusty. In fact, I would rather throw them open to pour out blessings than hold them back. … On My side of the floodgates, Heaven is still the same rich storehouse as always. The fountains and streams still overflow, and the treasure-rooms are still bursting with gifts. The need is not on My side but on yours. I am waiting for you to test Me in this. But you must first meet the condition I have set to bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, and thereby give Me the opportunity to act.’” —L.B. Cowman

Harsh Words

Keep it closedThis is an interesting exchange between God and His people―

God says, “You have said harsh things[*] against Me.” 

“What have we said against You,” the people asked. 

“You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God…’” (Malachi 3:13-14).

We think we know better than God.

We tell God how we think it should be.

We complain that God is letting some people get away with bad stuff, and He’s not rewarding quickly enough those who are doing good stuff.

We think God doesn’t care if we do things our own way.

We think we can better manage our lives than He can.

We act like we’re in charge.

This is speaking harsh, arrogant, rude, terrible words against God. It’s really saying, “I know better, so I should be God.” This not only removes God’s blessing, but invites His punishment.

Ouch! It’s good to examine our thoughts and words to make sure we aren’t thinking or speaking harsh things against God.

[*] Some other translations say things like “You have spoken arrogantly against Me” and “You have said terrible things about Me” and “You have spoken rude words to Me.”

Links & Quotes

link quote

“That is the religion of ninety-nine English people out of every hundred who know nothing of divine grace—we are to be as good as we can; we are to go to church or to chapel, and do all that we can, and then Jesus Christ died for us, and we shall be saved. Whereas the gospel is, that He did not do anything at all for people who think they can rely on themselves, but gave Himself for lost and ruined ones. He did not come into the world to save self-righteous people; on their own showing, they do not want to be saved.” —Charles Spurgeon

Twitter stands up to ISIS. About time!

bu-030415-1Interesting research results from The Barna Group in What Millennials Want When They Visit Church.

“The engagement of God’s power never takes the place of the engagement of our will! The power of God in sanctification never makes us passive! The power of God engages itself beneath or behind and within our will, not in place of our will. … God will never appear with power in your will in any other form than a good resolve that you make and keep.” —John Piper

“Jesus is Amen as to His righteousness. That sacred robe shall remain most fair and glorious when nature shall decay. He is Amen in every single title which He bears; your Husband, never seeking a divorce; your Head, the neck never being dislocated; your Friend, sticking closer than a brother; your Shepherd, with you in death’s dark vale; your Help and your Deliverer; your Castle and your High Tower; the Horn of your Strength, your confidence, your joy, your all in all, and Amen in all.” —Charles Spurgeon

Read this in my Archeological Study Bible and thought this rang true for our generation still today: “This generation was not guilty of the gross idolatry of its forefathers. Rather, these Israelites had embraced a kind of dead orthodoxy, in which they tried to get by with the minimum that their faith required.”

7 Bible Study Ideas From D.L. Moody

Pleasure & ProfitAs I read D.L. Moody’s book Pleasure & Profit In Bible Study, I made note of several ideas that could stimulate a great Bible study. Check out my review of this book by clicking here, then check out these great study-starters:

“If you are impatient, sit down quietly and commune with Job. If you are strong-headed, read of Moses and Peter. If you are weak-kneed, look at Elijah. If there is no song in your heart, listen to David. If you are a politician, read Daniel. If you are getting sordid, read Isaiah. If you are chilly, read of the beloved disciple. If your faith is low, read Paul. If you are getting lazy, watch James. If you are losing sight of the future, read in Revelation of the promised land.” —Richard Baxter 

“Every chapter [of Mark] but the first, seventh, eighth and fourteenth begins with ‘And,’ as if there was no pause in Christ’s ministry.”

“Matthew begins with Abraham; Mark with Malachi; Luke with John the Baptist; but John with God Himself. Matthew sets forth Christ as the Jew’s Messiah. Mark as the active worker. Luke as a man. John as a personal Savior.”

“[In John’s Gospel] the word repent does not occur once, but the word believe occurs ninety-eight times.”

“Dr. A. T. Pierson says: Let the introduction cover five P’s; place where written; person by whom written; people to whom written; purpose for which written; period at which written.” 

“Some time ago a man wanted to take my Bible home to get a few things out of it, and when it came back I found this noted in it:

  • Justification, a change of state, a new standing before God.
  • Repentance, a change of mind, a new mind about God.
  • Regeneration, a change of nature, a new heart from God.
  • Conversion, a change of life, a new life for God.
  • Adoption, a change of family, new relationship towards God.
  • Sanctification, a change of service, separation unto God.
  • Glorification, a new state, a new condition with God.”

“I was wonderfully blessed by taking the seven ‘Blesseds’ of the Revelation. … Or you may take the eight ‘overcomes’ in Revelation…. I have been greatly blessed by going through the ‘believings’ of John. Every chapter but two speaks of believing. … Take the six ‘precious’ things in Peter’s Epistles. And the seven ‘walks’ of the Epistle to the Ephesians. And the five ‘much mores’ of Romans 5. Or the two ‘receiveds’ of John 1. Or the seven ‘hearts’ in Proverbs 13, and especially an eighth. Or ‘the fear of the Lord’ in Proverbs.” 

“No scripture is exhausted by a single explanation. The flowers of God’s garden bloom, not only double, but seven-fold: they are continually pouring forth fresh fragrance.” —Charles Spurgeon

The Despised Pastor

The Despised PastorSurveys reveal that people in the United States do not have a highly favorable view of evangelical Christians, nor of pastors of evangelical Christian churches.

I agree with John Maxwell’s maxim that everything rises and falls on leadership, so this unfavorable view of evangelical Christians must be addressed first in the pastorate. The 2400-year-old words from the prophet Malachi still ring true today—

“The words of a priest’s lips should preserve knowledge of God, and people should go to him for instruction, for the priest is the messenger of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. But you priests have left God’s paths. Your instructions have caused many to stumble into sin. You have corrupted the covenant I made with the Levites,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “So I have made you despised and humiliated in the eyes of all the people. For you have not obeyed me but have shown favoritism in the way you carry out my instructions.” (Malachi 2:7-9)

Uh oh!

Is it possible, my dear fellow pastor, that if we become men and women of the Word of God that the views of the population might begin to change?

The Price Of Divorce

There is a toll for divorce, and I think the price is higher than we want to pay. There is a price…

  • Michigan divorce rates…economically
  • …emotionally
  • …physically
  • …relationally
  • …spiritually

Wait, spiritually? Here’s what God says—

Here is another thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, weeping and groaning because He pays no attention to your offerings and doesn’t accept them with pleasure. You cry out, “Why doesn’t the Lord accept my worship?” I’ll tell you why! Because the Lord witnessed the vows you and your wife made when you were young. But you have been unfaithful to her, though she remained your faithful partner, the wife of your marriage vows.

Didn’t the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are His. And what does He want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. “For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.” (Malachi 2:13-16, New Living Translation)

Illogical But True

To the natural, analytical, rational mind the following formulas are illogical:

90% > 100%

6 > 7

1 > 1

They may look illogical, but with God, they are indisputably true.

Tithing on your income (giving 10% to God) makes the rest of your money go further; so 90% > 100%.

Taking a Sabbath break from your work makes the rest of your workdays more effective; so 6 > 7. (Chick-fil-A closes all of their stores on Sunday, and  founder Truett Cathy frequently mentioned how God continues to bless this decision.)

Entering into marriage with another Christ-follower allows your life to be more productive together than either of you could be on your own; so 1 > 1.

Stop looking at what you have (or don’t have), and start looking at what God has. His ways may seem to defy conventional wisdom, but He’s an unprecedented God. His promises are true. All you have to do is trust His ways, and obey.

%d bloggers like this: