Struggling in the storm

Jesus had not planned to feed a crowd. Earlier that day he had invited his disciples to come away to a quiet place where they could get some rest and talk in peace, but a large crowd of 5,000 men and who knows how many women and children had interrupted their plans. Perhaps it was from compassion that Jesus told the disciples to get in the boat and row across the Sea of Galilee while he dismissed the crowd.

Whether Jesus intended to be compassionate or not, it appears the disciples didn’t like the idea. The NIV says he made them get into the boat.… Read the rest

Where is joy?

“You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” — Psalm 16:11 (NIV)

As I write this, the New Orleans Saints just won the Super Bowl. That fills their fans with joy. We all know what it means to realize a hoped-for outcome, especially if for any reason success was ever in doubt.

Everyone but team members, though, only observed the Super Bowl win and the season leading up to it. We did not experience it. The rest of us must now return to our own realities, which may seem grim and threatening.… Read the rest

When I am afraid. . . I will not be afraid

“When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” — Psalm 56:3-4 (NIV)

“Fear not.” That’s the message of lots of angels in the Bible, and some times the Lord himself when he appeared. John’s first epistle reminds us that perfect love casts out fear. And yet we all fear.

Some of us fear many things. All of us fear sometimes. Unemployed? Sick with a catastrophic disease? Seriously injured? Recently widowed? These only scratch the surface of major, long-term uncertainties that can cause the hardiest of us to fear.… Read the rest

Seed sown in rocky places: the dangers of shallow faith

In gardening or farming, sun gives life to well-rooted plants, but death to others. That is why, in Jesus’ parable of the sower, seedlings in rocky places and scorched by the sun represent people who hear the word of God and fall away in times of trouble and persecution.

American Christians may not suffer persecution, or at least not to the extent that Christians in other places and times have, but no one gets through life without trouble and affliction. I don’t suppose that many would compare persecution, trouble, and affliction to the sun, but Jesus did.

The sun is good; it gives power and light.… Read the rest

Speaking what’s right of God: thoughts from Job on pride and humility

The Book of Job presents tremendous difficulties to anyone who really wants to understand it. In the prologue, we learn that Job was perfect in God’s sight, but to teach a lesson to Satan, God stripped Job of his wealth, his health, and his children. Three friends come to comfort him, but get into a nasty argument instead. Through it all, we see human pride at its worst.

All of them say things that sound very religious. Without careful study it is hard to pick out the rightness and wrongness of anyone’s comments. Then God shows up. What he says appears to have nothing to do with anything anyone said earlier.… Read the rest

Strange instruction from Scripture: Praise God in suffering


Light after darkness

What does the Bible say to do when something wonderful happens? Praise God. That’s obvious enough. What does the Bible say to do when something awful happens? When life is so awful that we wonder if God cares at all? Praise God. Now that’s just not fair!

But it works. When we’re suffering and feel like God doesn’t care, that’s all it is: just a feeling. In reality, he does care, but not necessarily the way we’d find most comfortable. We want to get out of our troubles as quickly as possible. He wants to give us long-term joy and conform us to the image of Christ.… Read the rest

Why everything–anything–goes wrong

“When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them “adam.” — Genesis 5:1 (NIV, marginal reading)

It is best to regard Adam and Eve not so much the first individuals as generic humanity. Both male and female are “adam,” and God intended them to be the god of this world. His answer to Job in Job 38-42 then is not the mean-spirited rant it may first appear. It is the job description of the god of this world, which he intended the human race collectively to fulfill.… Read the rest

Protected in the shadow of God’s wings

“Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.” — Psalm 57:1 (NIV)

David, anointed king of Israel, hid in a cave from the wrath of Saul, anointed but deposed king of Israel. Through Samuel, Saul knew that God had decided to remove him as king. After a while, he recognized David as his eventual replacement. Instead of retiring gracefully, Saul sought to defy God and kill David.

Probably no one in American society is in such danger with, in human terms, so little support and so few resources.… Read the rest

The peace Jesus gives

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubles and do not be afraid.” — John 14:27 (NIV)

“Give peace a chance,” says one bumper sticker. “War is not the answer,” says another. The U.S. government operates a long-running Middle East peace process.  We all want peace, but there doesn’t seem to be much of it.

I remember well what too many Vietnam-era peace rallies were like; in the name of peace, people shouted angry slogans, got into fierce arguments, sometimes even threw bricks through windows or set buildings on fire.… Read the rest

The pain God allows, and doesn’t

“The steps of a man are established by the Lord, and He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, because the Lord is the One who holds his hand.”–Psalm 37:23-24 (NASB)

I went through years of struggle with doubting that God really loved me. Now that that is settled,  I’m learning so much more. And in case anyone else is struggling, God not only loves you, he delights when you walk in the way he has established for you.

God does not delight in rebellion, of course. Doubts of God’s love come to people who think they’re doing all the right things, but troubles keep crashing in upon them.… Read the rest