Many people draw comfort from favorite Bible verses. But what are we supposed to make of verses that aren’t comforting at all? Especially when they appear nestled among some of the grandest promises in Scripture?
In the Bible open on my desk as I write this post, Psalm 104 is titled “Praise to the Sovereign Lord for His Creation and Providence.” It extols God for creating the world and every living thing upon it. It describes in loving detail how he cares tenderly for all the birds and animals—which, it says, he made for the service of humanity.
But that psalm is not sweetness and light from beginning to end.… Read the rest
How do respond to a lingering crisis? Does quietness and trust make it to the top of your list? If it doesn’t, you’re not alone. Yet God says that’s where we get his strength. What comes of failure or even outright refusal to get quiet before God?
In Isaiah 30:15 God says, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.” Isaiah spent his career telling the people of Israel what it took to have God work for them and not against them, but hardly anyone paid attention. Israel’s constant bad response to a persistent problem can teach us a lot about why we see and experience so many problems today.… Read the rest
Acts 26 records part of a conversation Paul had with Festus, Agrippa, and Bernice. Officially, those three dignitaries were the Roman governor, the King of Judea, and his wife. A man with his mind set on his circumstances (that is, on the flesh) would have conducted himself very differently than Paul did. He shows us faith in action.
God is our refuge, says Psalm 46, an ever present help in trouble. Everyone knows trouble. Some people know a lot of trouble:
- Job loss and other financial distress
- Relationship troubles, which can include various toxic relationships or the loss of loved ones.
- Sickness and injury
- Oppression and persecution
- War and violence
- All manner of natural disasters
We commonly call the natural disasters “acts of God.” It takes robust faith to believe that God is our help in trouble.
“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” has been a favorite American hymn for about 200 years. The second verse notoriously starts, “Here I raise mine Ebenezer.” I say notoriously, because it has been generations since large numbers of church goers have understood the meaning of “Ebenezer.” It’s a stone of remembrance, set up by the judge and prophet Samuel on an occasion well worth remembering.
When Samuel was a child, two worthless priests under judgment from God decided to take the ark of the covenant into battle with the Philistines. Since they had no relationship with God and no regard for him, they must have regarded the ark as some kind of magic box that would turn the tide of battle.… Read the rest
The season of Lent recalls Jesus’ 40-day temptation in the wilderness. All Christians sooner or later go through their own spiritual wilderness. And so, in the Old Testament, did one of the Sons of Korah, who left behind Psalms 42 and 43to instruct and comfort us in our own struggles with wilderness experience.
These two psalms appear to have been originally one song of three verses with refrain: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (I use “verse” in the sense of familiar songs or hymns, not in the sense of a verse of scripture.)
Today’s news seems bad all around. Pollsters find an unprecedented level of pessimism and anger at the ineptitude of our national government. Besides the sour economy and a bipartisan failure of leadership, we are beset with a number of foreign challenges. Do we have to shut out current events in order to find anything to be glad about this Christmas? Probably so for people who only celebrate the season. Not at all for people who understand the meaning of Christmas and celebrate the birth of the Savior.
The prophet Isaiah lived in bleak times. Early in his ministry an ungodly king, Ahaz, made a cowardly alliance with the Assyrian empire, which reduced the once proud kingdom of Judah to vassal status.… Read the rest
In this Christmas season, many of us bustle around trying to get ready for Christmas. We take to the streets to buy decorations, presents, and special holiday foods. We take to the highways to travel. While we get ready to go to Christmas, are we observing Advent and preparing to go to Bethlehem? Christmas is where we celebrate an anniversary. Bethlehem is where we meet Jesus. If we don’t make it to Bethlehem, making it to Christmas counts for nothing. And whatever the condition of the streets and highways we drive on for Christmas, the way to Bethlehem requires major roadwork.… Read the rest
Today, we’re in an economic meltdown. People are suffering in these hard times. It appears now that when people act in their own self-interest—save, pay down debt, do the kinds of things that we all should have been doing in the first place—it makes the general economic climate even worse. Unfortunately, the scope of the trouble is so large and complex that looking for someone to blame is a lot easier than deciding what to do about it. So goes the coming election cycle.
Where is God in all this? Can we cry out to him for help, or is this mess somehow his judgment?… Read the rest
The fool says in his heart there is no God (Psalm 14:1). Some folks over the past 200 years have become durn fool enough to say it out loud. People have been questioning God far longer than they have questioned his existence. The questions mainly come from disappointment, and the disappointment comes mainly from a false sense of our own innocence. When things don’t go well, people turn to God for help, too often as a last resort. At such times, they focus on their own needs, their own helplessness, but not on the reality of sin.
I’m adapting this post from a Sunday school lesson on Isaiah 44:21-26, but all the prophets had basically the same message.… Read the rest