Facing Our Fears


Recently a good friend of mine posted a quote from C. S. Lewis on my Facebook page. He wrote about the reaction many in the mid-twentieth century had to the atom bomb. Living under the cloud of possible annihilation was something no one had known before, and it engendered fear.

I found what Lewis said to be quite interesting because I saw similarities, too. I lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis and saw any number of people installing bomb shelters and storing up dried foods. I don’t remember anything like the run on grocery stores we are seeing today, but the emotional reaction is so similar.

Here’s what Lewis wrote:

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.’

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

(“On Living in an Atomic Age,” 1948 in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays by C.S. Lewis)

Fear is pretty much always with us. I had a personal experience that taught me a lot about fear when I was a young teacher living in Southern California. One summer we received report after report of a serial killer the press dubbed, the Night Stalker. We were informed that many of the victims lived near the freeway and that the killer entered through an unlocked door or open window.

This was summer, and hot, so I was sleeping with open windows and even an open door, albeit a locked screen. I lived a mere two blocks from a freeway. And one of the killings was in my town. Night after night I had to face the fear that this killer would take advantage of my circumstances and I would be his next victim.

It seems a little silly now, all these years later, realizing how slim the odds were that he would actually attack me. But the very random nature of his crimes created greater fear.

I was forced to face what I believe. Either I could trust God in the face of what felt like dangerous circumstances, or not.

This was not something that was an easy fix. The killing rampage went on for months. And each hot summer night I had to decide if I should close the windows and bolt and lock the door—which would mean a sleepless night amid the high temperatures—or do what I would normally do, which was to lock the screen and go to bed.

I’m still fearful of many things, but that summer I came face to face with the choice of trusting Jesus for my life—or not.

I didn’t write down my thought process, so I can’t be more specific. Did God use a sermon? Some passage of Scripture? Counsel from a friend? I don’t remember. But I know that I had to choose to trust God.

And I’ve chosen to trust Him time and time again when I’ve been face with dangerous things or hard things or new things and unknown.

Yes, I was scared as a young person during the Missile Crisis. I remember asking my mom what our family would do if the air raid siren sounded. At that point I was looking to the adults to have answers. I knew the fear, but I didn’t need to act to change what I was feeling. I needed to trust that they’d make the right decisions for me.

But my parents were trusting God and His promises. Ultimately I figured that out, and I suspect that served me well when I was faced with my own fear that fateful summer of the Night Stalker.

What I’ve learned since only reinforces what I learned then: God is faithful. Which doesn’t mean that I will automatically be spared hard things. I haven’t been. But even in the hard things, God shows Himself to be faithful. He watches over His people like a shepherd does his sheep. He gathers the lambs and carries them close, right next to his heart.

That’s the same God who will walk with us through this virus thing, and the ensuing panic and fear our friends and neighbors, and even we ourselves, may be tempted to display.

Published in: on March 17, 2020 at 5:26 pm  Comments Off on Facing Our Fears  
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What’s The Answer?


Lots of people are now talking about the latest virus spreading around the world, in part because of the measures the governments are taking to stem the spread, and in part because of the overreaction of people who apparently think toilet paper is a sanitizer.

I can guarantee that more toilet paper will not stop the virus from encroaching. So what’s a person to do?

I’ve thought about the fact that experiencing an illness with no known cure and which is highly contagious, is new to the twenty-first century. A hundred years ago there was an influenza in the pre-antibiotics days that killed thousands. My mom’s older half sister died of it when she was 15.

In centuries earlier, people dealt with the Black Plague and cholera and yellow fever and any number of other deadly diseases. People in those times understood that life didn’t come with a guarantee. You lived with hope, but you held your life loosely, viewing it as God’s to protect or to move “across the river.”

But in this new technological era, we know nothing about incurable, fast moving, deadly illness. AIDES came close, but the general population wasn’t necessarily at risk. You had some control over being exposed. Not so with an air-born virus. Or one that stays on a surface an infected person (or a carrier who has the virus but not the symptoms) has touched.

Suddenly life seems out of our control. The only way we can “fix” things, apparently, is to buy lots of toilet paper! And canned goods. And now, today, produce, as if that will not go bad within a week or two.

The problem, of course, is that our lives are not our own. We did nothing to bring about our birth and can do nothing to stave off the enemy of our soul and body: death. We don’t like having to face our mortality, but there it is.

So, what’s the answer? When the deadly virus stares us in the face, do we panic buy? Climb into our bomb shelters and pull the sanitized curtains around us?

I’ve seen some people act out of panic and buy things they clearly don’t need simply because they are trying to build a hedge against the desperation they feel. I’ve seen others mock the very problem, as if it is no problem at all. Most people have made some small concessions, a change here or there to their life style.

Some changes, of course, are foisted upon us by governments shutting down schools, the NCAA cancelling March Madness, the NBA bringing a halt to their season, and MLB putting a stop to spring training.

Other changes have come as people in leadership make decisions to cancel conferences or meetings, including church gatherings.

These changes must be dealt with and they can bring more fear along with them. They make the seriousness of this virus seem more real, more dangerous. I mean, a National Emergency? Various counties mandating quarantines?

Are these changes the answer?

Not to the fear people feel. Not to the reality of our mortality. That’s still there, whether we avoid contact with others or not. Whether we panic or self-quarantine or mock or make small concessions.

Fortunately, God does not leave us without counsel for such a time as this. Here’s a key verse from Psalm 16, though there are more great verses following. This one makes the point I think we need most:

I have set the LORD continually before me;
Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

I read that and thought of Peter, walking on water, heading toward Jesus . . . until he looked away at the wind and the waves.

In a traumatic situation such as a spreading virus, it’s tempting to look at the “wind and the waves,” and consequently start to sink into fear. It’s a temptation for us all, I think. But, God lets us know that He’s beside us. Whatever He calls us to go through, He’ll be right there with us. He will not now, or ever, leave us or forsake us.

Of course, for that to be true, He has to be part of our lives to begin with.

For anyone who puts his or her trust in Jesus, we have an anchor, a Father who holds us by the hand, in times of joy, sorrow, danger, peace. He does not leave us or forsake us.

It’s up to us to keep our eyes on Him. As Colossians 3 says

if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (vv 1-2)

Here are three practical things, based on Scripture, that we can or cannot do:

  1. Christians should behave in a way that marks us as Christians. We should still be kind to our neighbors, to the people in the never-ending grocery line.
  2. We should resist the urge to take over for God. We can’t hedge ourselves against death. Our times are in God’s hands. Buying extra canned goods will not extend our lives a single day beyond God’s plan for our lives.
  3. We should remember that God is faithful, not just in good times. He is faithful even when the storm swamps the boat, even when we’re pushed into the fiery furnace, even when we’re trapped between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army. He’s faithful when we face a giant and all we have is a sling. He is faithful when we’re beaten and imprisoned for our stand for Jesus. He is not faithful in fair weather, only to abandon us in foul.
  4. We should pray. Pray for God’s comfort for the fearful (and that might include us), for protection, for His mercy so that He would stay His hand, even when we deserve His righteous judgment.

I’m sure there are lots of other things to talk about in regard to what we can do to be good neighbors and friends and family members. Already I’ve had several people check up on me just to be sure I’m doing OK. That’s kind and caring, and it’s a cool thing to do for others.

Who knows what else God might direct his people to do if we keep our eyes fixed on Him.

Published in: on March 16, 2020 at 5:47 pm  Comments (9)  
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And We Wait


There’s only been one generation in all of history that actually waited for the promised Messiah and saw Him come. All the rest of us wait. The people who believed God before Jesus came, waited for the promised Messiah.

We know this from Scripture but also from history. Any number of false messiahs claimed they were the one promised by God, and for a time groups of people believed them. Until Rome killed them.

From the early pages in Genesis, God promised to crush Satan’s head, the very thing Jesus did by defeating death, by freeing us from sin and guilt and the Law.

Many prophecies told the Jewish people to expect a King, but also to expect a suffering Savior. The King, they embraced. The suffering Savior, they overlooked.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem before His last Passover on earth, the people flocked to Him, expecting Him to declare Himself the promised King. They had waited and watched, and many thought Jesus was the One.

People had asked John the Baptist if he was the one. They wanted so much to see the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy in their time. They wanted to have a King that would defeat Rome and free Israel once and for all from political tyranny. John said no, he wasn’t the one. But of Jesus he said, Behold, the Lamb of God.

The Lamb? Not, the King?

Not the King, yet.

So many missed the bigger picture. They missed that the Messiah was not just for Israel. They missed that His Kingdom was not an earthly or a political kingdom. Yes, they waited for the Messiah, but in some measure, they didn’t understand what they were waiting for.

A handful of people got the message—pretty much hand delivered to them by God. Mary received the announcement that Messiah would be her son. And the angel Gabriel also told her why the Messiah was coming: “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” (Luke 1:33)

Interestingly, her soon-to-be husband received even more information:

She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” (Matt 1:21-23)

Then there were John the Baptist’s parents. And the shepherds and the prophetess Anna and the godly priest Simeon and the magi traveling from the east. All were looking for and expecting the Messiah. And all saw the promise fulfilled. Their wait was over. Sort of.

Some undoubtedly began a new wait, the one we share today—the wait for the Messiah to return.

I know, kind of crazy to talk about the return of the King during Christmas time when we celebrate His first coming. But I think seeing the promise of His first arrival come to fruition gives hope as we wait for His second coming.

We live in a day that was similar to what the first century people waiting for Messiah experienced. There were problems morally, socially, even within the ranks of religion. They wanted a King who would set things right.

And so many people today want the same thing. They are empty, without purpose, filling their lives with pleasures that grow stale, thinking there should be more.

And there is. Waiting for the Suffering Savior to come as the triumphant King, is an awesome joy. It’s like the bridesmaids waiting for the bridegroom to show in one of the parables. Or for the tenant workers waiting for the landowner to show and evaluate their work. It’s a glory and an honor to be found when the King comes, faithfully carrying out the tasks we’ve been assigned.

That’s why Scripture says over an over to stand firm, to “hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end” (Heb. 3:6b). It’s why we’re not to grow weary in well-doing. We have the promise that Christ is worth waiting for.

And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:4)

So yes, we wait, just like those Jews so long ago waited for the Messiah to come. And because Jesus fulfilled the prophecies about the Suffering Servant, because He came as an unblemished Lamb and shed His blood for the sins of the world, we can know with certainty that He will also come again.

God doesn’t do things half way.

Published in: on December 3, 2019 at 5:36 pm  Comments (3)  
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When There’s No Water


July officially started the new rainy season, though for SoCal, that is kind of like saying, each year we start with two months of 0 inches just so we can put down figures for 12 months. This kind of “dry spell” is actually normal. The problem manifests itself if November comes and goes and we still have not had significant rain. Or if January, February, and March don’t give us some meaningful moisture.

A good year for us is around 33 inches. Compare that to the Carolinas which likely received 33 inches in this last storm.

All this to say, I know what it’s like to live in a place with no water. Except, we have technology now that allows us to bring water in from places that have more than they’re using. Not everyone is happy with this arrangement. But that’s not the point of this post.

The real subject is waking up and realizing there is not enough water to, you know, live. Because water is one of those commodities that we actually can not do without.

The descendants of Jacob, the Hebrews newly escaped from Egypt, came to a place where there was no water. And they were well over 600,000 people. The men of the age to fight number 600,000, so add in the elderly, the women, and the children, and there are probably twice as many people, conservatively speaking—all without water. And don’t forget the animals. These folks were shepherds. They had their flocks and their cattle to take care of, too.

So when they’d been on the road for a while and they didn’t come upon any water, they were concerned. Rightly so. This was not a minor issue, a little inconvenience. This was a life-and-death matter.

So what did they do? You’d think they would cried out to God. What else could you do? I mean, He’s omniscient—He’d know where they could get water. And He’s omnipotent—He could bring rain at the drop of a hat. Crying out to God would seem like a wise, intelligent thing to do.

But the Hebrews? They decided to grumble against Moses instead. You should have left us in Egypt, they said. We told you this journey was not a good idea, they said. We want to choose another ruler, someone who will take us back to Egypt, they said.

Remember. Egypt was a mess. Dead army, dead firstborn sons, dead or diseased cattle, devastated crops, people who were afraid of Moses and had driven the people of Israel from their land.

Remember also. The Hebrews had cried to God because of the harsh treatment they were receiving. The Egyptians had ordered their baby boys to be killed. Not just the first born. All of them. For how long? We don’t know for sure, but obviously long enough that the people of Israel would no longer outnumber the Egyptians. They wanted zero population growth, at a minimum.

And most of all, remember that God had promised to take them out of Egypt, so clearly that Joseph charged his descendants with taking his bones, his mummified carcass, along with them when they went.

Not only did God give them this promise, but remember He gave them His protection. When darkness fell over Egypt, it did not fall in Goshen where the Hebrews lived. When hail wiped out two crops and killed the livestock left in the field, it didn’t fall in Goshen. When the locust came, when disease attacked the Egyptian animals, when their first born sons were taken, the Hebrews escaped unscathed. They saw God’s power first hand, and they experienced His protection.

I could go on. They were receiving manna every day, they had quail to eat when they asked for meat, they’d been without water before and God surprised them by giving them miraculously and then leading them to a place of abundance.

But none of it was enough.

When is enough evidence of God’s direction, provision, protection, ever enough? Sometimes the people who cry the loudest have the most evidence in front of their faces, but they simply choose to ignore it. Instead, they decide they want to go their own way, choose their own leader, deal with their own problems.

Seems silly to me, because if they had turned around at that point, they would have continued for days without water before they arrived at that place where God had taken them before. How many of them would have survived?

But God is so merciful. Despite their grumbling and complaining, God gave them what they needed. He did so miraculously and symbolically so that centuries later we could see the Rock who is Jesus, struck to provide Living Water to a wayward people.

God had a reason for testing the Hebrews. He had an example to paint for generations who would come after them. He wanted them to see His power and trust Him, but He also wants us to see His power and trust Him.

Their need for water was real and serious. Their reliance on their own “solutions” was foolish. But our God isn’t limited by weak people who keep on doing the wrong thing. Peter could deny Jesus three times, but God was able to turn him into a pillar of the Church. Paul could chase down Christians to persecute them, but God was able to turn him into a vibrant evangelist.

In fact, none of Christ’s followers can ever boast that we have life figured out, that we’re on the road to heave because we are clever enough or strong enough or good enough to make it on our own. Rather, we are the army of second chances. God saved us because we need to be saved. We are out of water, and we can’t make it on empty. So He does the impossible. He provides Living Water so that we will never thirst again.

Published in: on September 11, 2018 at 5:11 pm  Comments Off on When There’s No Water  
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God Is Able


I wrote this piece six years ago for my church, but I don’t remember the occasion. Thing is, I feel more strongly about this subject now than when I wrote it.

I’ve seen God answer prayer in ways that surprise me. Even when I believe. Even when I know He is able.

When He shows Himself faithful, it’s just pure delight. Kind of like knowing the roller coaster ride is going to be a thrill, but then actually going on the ride and being thrilled!

Anyway, this article fits with my desire to grow in my prayer life. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed. There are too many things to pray for. Sometimes I feel bored. There are too many things I’ve already prayed for. Sometimes I lack compassion and sometimes I get so emotional it’s draining. Sometimes I’m praying for people I will not ever know, this side of heaven, and have no way of learning how God has answered prayer.

But all this simply shows me how weak I am when it comes to prayer. So I’m posting this article as a reminder to me.

Ephesians 2:20 makes a bold statement about God—He is able: “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think . . .”

I can’t help but notice that this description of God comes without limits. It doesn’t say, God is able when the economy is sound or God is able when you’re young and healthy or God is able when the right people are in government.

Despite the fact that we know intellectually God is able, when difficult times bare their poison-filled fangs, we may be tempted to depend on our own strategies rather than on God. Too often the philosophy that appeals in the midst of tough circumstances is, “God helps those who help themselves.”

Actually, like most false teaching, there is a fragment of truth embedded in that maxim. We are to be responsible and obedient. We are to do the job or ministry God has called us to do. But a self-help worldview obliterates the lines between our responsibility and our dependence on God.

In contrast, Abraham illustrates an uncomplicated trust in God. Genesis 12:1-9 records that God told Abraham to leave home and go to a new land. His response? I’m on my way. He did not wrest control from God and say, “Okay, God, I’ll move when my family situation is stable, when I’ve sent ahead to find a good plot of land we can buy, when I can afford this move or have figured out the safest route.” No. Scripture says, “He went out, not knowing where he was going” (Heb. 11:8b).

That kind of obedience was possible because Abraham believed God was able. He could lead him, protect him, give him a miracle son, raise that boy from the dead if necessary, and make Abraham the Father of nations.

God is able, beyond what we ask or think. Of course, if we never ask . . .

Published in: on September 10, 2018 at 4:43 pm  Comments Off on God Is Able  
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Is Self-Confidence A Good Thing?


2011_medal_ceremony

This post first appeared here in June 2013 as part of a short series of “Evangelical Myths.”

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, self-confidence means “a feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgment.” Is there any conflict between that trait and what Scripture admonishes in Proverbs:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him
And He will make your paths straight. (3:5-6)

Clearly, self-confidence and God-confidence are two different things and they hardly seem compatible. How can a person trust God with his whole heart and trust in his own judgment?

It’s hard to let go of the idea that we are to be self-confident, though. After all, public education has spent long hours drilling into the heads of school children the need to believe in ourselves.

Could it be that all that education is paying off, to the point that Christians now consider whether or not they will do what God says or do what they think is right?

How many young people claiming the name of Christ are having sex with people they aren’t married to? Do they do this because they’re convinced the Bible has been misinterpreted all these years? Or do they do so because they are leaning on their own understanding, and their own understanding says, where’s the harm, everyone else is, it’s what I want.

Or how about the ones who have stopped going to church? Do they have an argument to give to Paul’s admonition to believers not to forsake assembling together? Most don’t. They stay home from church because they’re leaning on their own understanding which tells them if they are too tired or if church is boring or if church is all about rules or if the music at church is old-fashioned, then they don’t have to go.

The point is, our great self-confidence has given us to believe that we get to be the final say on all matters. After all, we’ve been taught to trust our judgment. So if God’s judgment is one thing and ours is another, then we’ll opt for ours.

God’s counsel is in direct opposition to this self-confidence instruction of the culture. He tells us to trust Him completely, to commit our ways to Him.

James addresses this issue. After telling his readers to submit to God, he says this:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. (4:13-16 – emphasis added)

Planning and living according to our own wisdom, without submitting ourselves to God, is something we do out of arrogance.

As I see it, the teaching on self-confidence has us trusting God’s gift rather than God, the Giver. It’s the same thing Solomon got caught doing. God gifted him with wisdom, and he then relied on his understanding, not on God.

Jeremiah gives this perspective:

Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord. (9:23-24 – emphasis added)

When you think about it, trusting in ourselves rather than in God makes little sense. God is all knowing; I am not. God is good; I have a sin nature. God is infallible; I make all kinds of mistakes. Need I go on?

There really is nothing about my judgment that commends it over God’s, and yet so often I confidently ignore God’s counsel and commands and do what I think best, for no other reason than that it is my judgment to do so.

The point that we miss in all this is that when I trust God and don’t lean on my own understanding, He makes my paths straight. Does that mean easy to navigate, clear, without detours or delays?

Look at what Psalm 37 says:

Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it. (v. 5)

Do it? Do what? The very next verse explains:

He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your judgment as the noonday. (v. 6)

Trusting God, then, actually enhances my judgment. I rely on Him, He shines the light on my ability. It’s the same concept Peter explained in his first letter: “Therefore humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time” (5:6).

In short, if we’re busy exerting ourselves, exercising our self-confidence, we’ll miss the opportunity to have God exalt us instead.

Published in: on January 31, 2018 at 5:03 pm  Comments (2)  
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Man’s Way Versus God’s Plan – A Reprise


One View Of God's Sovereignty

Some time ago I saw a humorous depiction of what Man expects in life versus what God gives us, similar to the one I recreated above(though I don’t remember the captions).

I suspect the point, besides the humor, was to show how we believe our way with God will be easy, free of suffering and hardship, when, in fact, God never promised such a thing.

When I saw the original, I laughed, but then I thought, How unlike God. My thinking was that the picture, not identifying any reason why God would take us into rough terrain, makes Him seem arbitrary and cruel, even masochistic, as if He’s yanking our chain simply to see us suffer.

But also, the first panel shows Man in the most positive light. Yes, he expects an easy path, but he’s steadily moving forward, growing, improving, reaching toward that final destination.

Actually, I don’t think either panel captures reality clearly. First, the truth about Humankind is that we wander, take wrong turns, leave the path, go our own way. We aren’t focused on moving further up and further in as we should be.

Man's Actual Plan

The above diagram is a more accurate depiction of the path we take. But there’s another version.

God's Work To Move Us Toward Him

God, because of our waywardness and because of His love for us, directs us back to Himself.

That’s it. Like a loving Father, He spanks our hands or puts us in time out or grounds us or takes away our cell phone or car keys or whatever it takes to move us away from our willfulness because He loves us too much to see us go the wrong way. He is most definitely not capricious and He is NOT cruel.

But His kindness and mercy mean He will sometimes withhold the rain or let the Philistines conquer the land or keep us in the wilderness because He wants us to know Him, follow Him, trust Him, love Him instead of going our own way.

– – – – –
My apologies to any actual artists! 😉 This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in May 2014.

Which Comes First? – Thoughts On The Psalms


A few years back my pastor at the time discussed a study of the book of Psalms by Walter Bruegemann in which he categorized the various psalms in three groups: Orientation, Disorientation, or Reorientation.

The Orientation psalms view the world based on an orientation toward God. They praise Him all-out. They speak of His mercy, His wonders, His glory. There are no shadows in those psalms. Psalm 100 would be an example of an orientation psalm, I believe.

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness;
Come before Him with joyful singing.
Know that the Lord Himself is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving
And His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
For the Lord is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations.

They “express a confident, serene settlement of faith issues.” They “give expression . . . to the reality that God is trustworthy and reliable.” (Quotes from Spirituality of the Psalms by Walter Bruegemann).

As you might guess, then, the Disorientation psalms view the world as broken. They are the psalms that Job might have written at his lowest point. They could be considered laments. They mourn for what is lost and plead for God to hear and answer. And then they end. Psalm 88 is an example of a Disorientation psalm, ending with these lines:

They have surrounded me like water all day long;
They have encompassed me altogether.
You have removed lover and friend far from me;
My acquaintances are in darkness.

Then come the Reorientation psalms. These are songs that begin with questions, with a focus on the broken world, and then reach a turning point in which the psalmist sees the world more completely because he’s now taking God into account. Psalm 73 is a good example of a Reorientation psalm:

When I pondered to understand this,
It was troublesome in my sight
Until I came into the sanctuary of God;
Then I perceived their end. (vv 16-17)

The Reorientation psalms seem clearly to begin with a problem—affliction by enemies or an observation of the prosperity of the wicked or an unanswered prayer. As the psalmist cries out to God, he finds the answer to his situation in God.

But what about the Orientation and Disorientation psalms—which comes first? The implication from what my pastor said was that Orientation came first, then “reality” set in—or at least hardship did. In other words, all is well, so people praise God unreservedly. Then all hell breaks loose and people lament. At some point there’s a realignment of perspective that takes into consideration both the greatness of God and the disappointments of life.

But must it be so? Why couldn’t the order be Disorientation, brought on by the Fall, Reorientation, when the truth of God sinks in, and Orientation, when all is seen as under His sovereign ordering, so praise is not dependent upon circumstances in the least.

I’m mindful of this because of something I read by the late literary agent Lee Hough who was battling cancer for a year or more. As he awaited learning the effect of his latest treatments, he wrote in part

So, again, the cancer is back. Now what?

Whether I’m healed of cancer in this life or not – God is good.

Whether I’m healed of cancer in this life or not – God is faithful.

Whether I’m healed of cancer in this life or not – God is merciful.

Whether I’m healed of cancer in this life or not – God is loving.

His life was disoriented, but his faith was firmly oriented. What private laments did he and his wife express? I couldn’t say. But God was the hero of Lee’s story since he first began writing about his experience with cancer.

It is in reading his praise of God, his unswerving trust in God, his undiminished confidence in God’s character that my faith grows. Obviously, Lee did not write out of a naive trust in God when all was bright and sunny, with his future here on earth looking rosy. He wrote from the unknown, from the valley of the shadow, caught between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea. He wrote as one “going, not knowing.”

And his words make me think of Paul’s:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:38-39)

It seems to me, the clearer we see God—when we no longer put our eyes on the enemies chasing us or the friends betraying us or the cancer, the famine, the lost income, or the prosperous cheats—when we see God without distractions because we know nothing can separate us from His love, I think our praise will be like Orientation psalms, like the praise of the angels around God’s throne. The more nearly we understand Him, the more clearly we’ll sing His praise—not because of ignorance of suffering or out of naiveté. Rather, because of an awareness of suffering and evil, knowing that God is greater than all of it. Therein lines the purest praise, I think.

This post is a revised edition of one that first appeared here in February 2013.

Published in: on January 10, 2018 at 5:37 pm  Comments (3)  
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Hope For What We Do Not See



Photo by Wu Jianxiong on Unsplash

In all likelihood atheists would call hoping for what we do not see, blind faith. Consequently I’ve been accused more than once of having the equivalent of blind faith because I believe in and hope for heaven.

The apostle Paul took a very different view of hoping for what we do not see when he wrote this to the church in Rome: “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” (Romans 8:24-25).

When I was a little kid, I hoped for all kinds of things without actually seeing them until the minute they arrived. I hoped for, longed for, anticipated my birthday and Christmas and outings to the mountains and visiting our old malt shop where we could buy real malts and recess and summer. I could legitimately hope for those things because someone I trusted told me they were on the horizon.

I pretty much believed the authorities in my life. So when my dad held my hand when we crossed the street, I didn’t feel the need to research whether or not it was safer to walk in tandem or to run across on my own. When my parents said to look both ways before crossing when I was a little older, I didn’t feel the need to take a count of the number of cars on that street coming from the left and the number from the right. When I was really young and my mom said, “Don’t put that in your mouth,” I didn’t stop to take an analysis of the germs that might be on whatever I was planning to sample.

The fact is, I trusted my parents’ determination of the situation. They were older, wiser, understood the world and the way it works far better than I did. Certainly I hoped that holding my dad’s hand would bring me safely across the street, that looking both ways would keep me from being hit by a car, that by putting down the dirty whatever, something I could put in my mouth would eventually appear.

In the same way, we all accept certain authorities and we listen to them, believe them, trust them, hope for what they say will happen.

The hope of heaven, the hope of salvation, the hope of mercy and forgiveness is no different. We Christians have the most credible source for what we believe—the revelation given us by Omniscience. God who knows all things has given us a peek at Himself and at His plans, and asks us to trust Him for the rest.

The secret as Paul explained, is perseverance. So many Old Testament believers hoped for the coming of the Messiah. But they died before He arrived. Was their hope in vain? Not at all. Because the hope of salvation is a present and a future event. We who put our faith in God have peace with God and we will have peace on earth with our Messiah King on the throne.

So because Christ came, because He paid the price for sin, we who believe in Him have forgiveness of sins, but we also long for and look forward to the day when He will begin His eternal reign.

We hope for what we do not see. We have a credible source for our hope, but if we give up and stop hoping, the question arises—did we actually ever believe? If we had believed, wouldn’t we still believe?

It’s kind of like a marriage. When a bride and groom exchange vows, they undoubtedly believe each other. So when they say something like, “for rich or for poor, in sickness or in health” they hope that, come what may, their spouse will be by their side. They don’t see the reality ahead of time. But the husband or the wife believes the other to be credible.

But what if one spouse turns and runs as soon as something hard happens? Isn’t the first question about the truthfulness of her commitment? Or his? Did he ever really love me?

That’s pretty much where we are with God. We hope for what we do not see, and we keep on hoping, not because we see heaven growing closer, but because our love for God grows. We trusted Him when we came to Him in repentance, and the longer we walk with Him, the more we trust Him. Why? Perseverance on our part. But more importantly, God’s faithfulness. He gives us reason to persevere, just as He gives us reason to hope in the first place.

Published in: on January 3, 2018 at 5:53 pm  Comments (9)  
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Stability


The new year has kicked in, and for me personally, stability is on my mind more than anything else. Maybe I’ll make it my word for the year. The reason is simple, the lingering effect of my stroke is that I lack stability. Not as much as I did close to the event, for sure. But the fact is, I’m still less stable than I use to be.

I was trying to explain the sensation to a friend, and finally landed on this: I feel like I’m always walking on ice. That’s not quite right, but it’s close. You see, I can feel unstable even when I’m not walking. Until recently. I’ve had about a week now that I can stand without holding on to anything—the wall, furniture, my cane—and feel quite stable. That’s progress, let me assure you!

Because stability is on my mind so much, I can’t help but expand on the idea to our western society and the world at large. I have to conclude that we are all struggling with stability to some degree.

Of course wars and rumors of war, terrorism and riots, all contribute to this. So do natural disasters—hurricanes in the Caribbean and the southern US, earthquakes in Mexico, biting below-freezing temperatures in the northeast, wild fires in SoCal.

Then there are the ongoing problems of sex-trafficking, poverty, crime, famine, oppression, abuse—some here at home and some abroad.

The world is not a stable place right now.

All this and I haven’t mentioned US politics. I could carry on for quite a while on that subject, but I’m more interested in what’s behind our lack of stability, not the actually teetering from side to side that we’re experiencing.

As I see it, all these issues have the same cause: we have compromised truth. Sometimes we compromise truth in favor of power. We think a certain person or nation or party needs to be in control, so we look the other way when truth is in question. Bernie Sanders isn’t a Democrat? Well, never mind. We want him instead of someone else. Marco Rubio is not advocating for amnesty? Well, never mind, it’s convenient to say he is because we want someone else to be in power. You get the picture.

This careless handling of the truth extends from the obvious to the less obvious, but it has slipped into our culture so easily because the postmodern philosophy that we embrace believes truth is relative. Some of the time.

Actually, when it’s convenient, people stand up and clamor for the truth. At least the truth as they have constructed it. Consequently, we have “safe places” and “trigger alerts” to make sure that whatever I think might be an offense to me, doesn’t touch my ears. Because if I feel it’s an offense, then it IS an offense. In the same way that males who feel like they are women, actually can claim to be women.

We are on slippery ground, very unstable, because we’ve sold truth. Or traded it away. We certainly don’t cling to the rock solid, authoritative, veracity much any more.

In fact, one thing that sends people scurrying for their safe place is to say that YOU KNOW. I mean, what an audacious thing. No one can know anything. Don’t you know that?!

Ironic isn’t it. The only thing we know for certain is that we can’t know anything for certain.

Reminds me of the position of atheists. The universe is so vast we can’t possibly know all things, and that’s OK. But we know for certain there is no God.

Well, I know for certain there is a God. The Most High God, in fact. Creator of heaven and earth.

I know Christians who cringe at such a statement. What would it take, some say, for you to question your belief in God? Aren’t you being sort of pig-headed and dogmatic?

I try to explain: how can I un-know what I already know. I am in a relationship with the God of the universe. He’s my Father, my Friend, my Savior, my Lord. Am I supposed to pretend that something can be laid out for me to rip up that relationship?

The fact is, my knowledge of the Truth about God is not relative. It’s not based on how I feel or some kind of brain stimuli. God would exist whether I believed in Him or not. God existed before I came on the scene and He will exist long after I’m gone.

Knowledge of God brings stability. There’s an anchor that keeps other relationships and morality and purposes in place. Some things aren’t floating off in left field while others are defying gravity. On the contrary, just like the laws of physics that allow for us to do things like fly airplanes, the truth of God makes sense of life.

Was it CS Lewis who first said his belief in God is like his belief in the sun. Not because he can see it, but by it he can see everything else.

The truth of God applied brings the stability we need.

Trying to fix the world by any other means is a losing prospect. You can’t dig enough wells in Africa or bring down enough criminals or feed and clothe enough people in poverty. Not that we should sit on our hands. But the real life-changing action we can take is to speak the truth in love.

In love.

Otherwise, as 1 Corinthians says, we’ll be nothing but noisy gongs and clanging cymbals.

To be on balance we really need to be standing on the rock of truth and speaking from that place in love. Everything else is a slippery slope.

Published in: on January 2, 2018 at 5:45 pm  Comments (4)  
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