“When our feelings betray us”: meditation on Genesis 32:9, 12

August 14, 2019

Genesis 32:9, 12: And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good’… But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.'”

Jacob is preparing to meet his brother, Esau, twenty years after Jacob robbed him of both his birthright and his father’s blessing. Esau vowed to murder him back then. Will he still be angry? Jacob assumes the worst. Most of Genesis 32 recounts Jacob’s plan to appease his brother with generous gifts of livestock. “After that,” he thinks, “I can face him, and perhaps he will forgive me” (v. 20).

In the midst of his fear, Jacob prays a prayer in which he reminds God of his promises to protect him, prosper him, and do right by him.

Of course, if God’s promises are true, why is Jacob afraid? Doesn’t he know that he will be invincible—literally un-killable—until God brings him safely home? Even if Esau were still angry (which he isn’t), he would be unable to harm his brother.

But I know why Jacob is afraid in spite of God’s promises—because I know my own heart. In his moment of greatest fear, Jacob’s feelings have betrayed him, as feelings often do. Jacob’s only defense against his feelings—and our only defense—is the word of God: “The Lord who said to me…” “You have said…”

My point is, contrary to that great REO Speedwagon power ballad, we can fight our feelings—at least our feelings of fear, doubt, and despair—with the objective truth of God’s Word.

So let’s start fighting!


“The power is in Jesus’ word, not my faith in that word”: meditation on Luke 5:4-5

August 12, 2019

Luke 5:4-5: And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”

Everything in Peter’s experience, including fruitless hours of fishing the night before, told him that Jesus’ word would fail. If the fish weren’t biting at night, they wouldn’t be biting in the daylight. Besides, Jesus is no fisherman: he had made his living as a carpenter. “Stay in your lane, Jesus!”

But notice: Peter’s lack of faith doesn’t prevent Jesus from working the miracle.

What a relief—the power is in Jesus’ word, not my faith in that word! In other words, my faith is in Jesus; my faith is not in my faith in Jesus.

Here’s how this helps me: To say the least, I often don’t feel as if I’m a highly favored “son” of God in whom my Father is well pleased; I often don’t feel as if all my sins are forgiven; I often don’t feel as if the Father could love me as much as he loves his only begotten Son Jesus. My experience often tells me that God’s promises can’t be true.

But in what or whom will I trust? My feelings, my experience, my intuitions? Or Jesus?

Given my bent toward self-deception, who’s more likely to be telling the truth—Jesus or me? I choose to believe Jesus.

#ESVJournalingBible #BibleJournaling


“For as many days as you have afflicted us”: meditation on Psalm 90:15

August 9, 2019

Psalm 90:15: Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.

Pastor Tim Keller, in his sermon on Psalm 88, perhaps the bleakest chapter in scripture, said that even that psalm “whispers God’s grace” to us. Otherwise, apart from grace, why would God—in his “living and abiding word” (1 Peter 1:25) no less—risk having his character impugned like this?

Psalm 90, meanwhile, is only slightly more hopeful: the psalmist (Moses, in this case) at least hopes that something good awaits him and his people on the other side of their suffering. But I appreciate the psalm’s candor: “You, God, have afflicted us; you, Lord, are responsible for the evil that has come our way.”

Many of us modern-day Christians are so anxious to protect God’s character (“My God would never cause suffering!”) that we end up impugning his power: “By all means, God hates that this is happening to you, but what can he do about it?” A few pastors and theologians appeal to Satan and spiritual warfare, as if that solves the problem: “The devil causes suffering, not God.” (Yes, but, who created the devil and permits him to have power over us?)

No, the Bible affirms this difficult truth: When God afflicts us, he does so for our good—indeed, for our ultimate happiness. Besides, if this is true, at least you’ll know who to blame!

I like the way C.S. Lewis, with typical English understatement, puts it: “If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.”[1]

1. C.S. Lewis, “Money Trouble” in The C.S. Lewis Bible, NRSV (New York: HarperOne, 2010), 1123.


“Is God enough for me?”: meditation on Psalm 78:20

July 13, 2019

Psalm 78:20: “He struck the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed. Can he also give bread or provide meat for his people?”

Of course God could have given Israel bread and meat in the wilderness, but he chose not to. Israel’s test was to find satisfaction in God alone—not “God plus bread” or “God plus meat.” I’m convinced that God’s ultimate purpose for the trials that I face is similar: “Is God enough for you, Brent, or do you think you need something else?”

What about you?

#BibleJournaling #ESVJournalingBible


“The source of our confidence”: meditation on Psalm 78:4

July 12, 2019

Psalm 78:4: We will not hide them from their children, but will tell a future generation the praiseworthy acts of the Lord, his might, and the wondrous works he has performed.


“The blessing we need versus the blessing we want”: meditation on Genesis 27:41

July 6, 2019

Genesis 27:41: Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”

I can relate to Esau’s anger, if not his murderous rage. I am someone for whom the sins of anger and covetousness have been constant and unwelcome traveling companions in my life. Nevertheless, from a Christian point of view, Esau has no reason to feel embittered. By all means, his father, Isaac, has treated him unfairly. But who’s ultimately in charge? Doesn’t Esau’s heavenly Father have the power and will to redeem this wrong?

While our Father doesn’t distribute his earthly blessings evenly, he always gives us precisely the blessings we need in order to find true and lasting happiness—which only comes through a personal relationship with Jesus. If Jesus is what we want, he’ll ensure that Jesus is what we’ll get. “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). “If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

I don’t get angry because my Father isn’t giving me the blessing I need; I get angry because he isn’t giving me the blessing I want, which someone else possesses. To say the least, that’s my problem; I want the wrong things.

If Jesus is my only treasure (Matthew 13:44-46), I’m already rich. Why covet the earthly treasures of others? #ESVJournalingBible #BibleJournaling


“My success in ministry depends on people praying for me”: meditation on Psalm 72:15

June 28, 2019

Psalm 72:15: “May he live long! May gold from Sheba be given to him. May prayer be offered for him continually, and may he be blessed all day long.” (CSB)

Psalm 72 is a prayer written by Solomon for the king of Israel—for himself and for all future kings. It’s also a psalm that points toward the Messiah.

In verse 15, Solomon makes a connection between prayers offered for him and the blessings he will receive. While the apostle Paul is no king, he makes a similar point in Philippians 1:19. Paul is in prison, yet he is confident that God’s purposes will be fulfilled through him, whether through life or death: “for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.” Through your prayers and the help of the Spirit… Paul will be successful, he says, not merely through his own prayers and the “help of the Spirit,” but the prayers of others for him.

If this is true for Paul in his ministry, how is it not true for me in my own?

I am confident in my new season of ministry that the Spirit is going to work powerfully through me. Yet I haven’t considered until now how much my success will depend on others… especially their prayers! I rarely even think to ask for prayer. Why? Am I too proud?

If so, I repent! I will fail as a pastor if my flock doesn’t pray for me. So, please, pray!


“What does God want to make possible”: meditation on Matthew 14:28-30

June 24, 2019

Matthew 14:28-30And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.”

Some recent Christian interpreters criticize Peter in this scripture for being impulsive and foolhardy. Jesus, they say, disapproves of Peter’s actions—even though Peter is literally doing what Jesus commands him to do.

Personally, I refuse to criticize Peter for risking his life to obey Jesus.

Besides, I wonder if these commentators who criticize Peter aren’t doing so for another reason: a lack of faith. They simply don’t believe we should ask Jesus for anything that requires a miracle on God’s part to fulfill! If it takes a supernatural event for God to answer our request, then we’re asking too much! We should instead be like the other eleven disciples and remain in the boat: “It’s safer here. It’s more comfortable. Besides, look the wind! Look at those powerful waves! We’ll drown if we leave this boat! I mean, sure… Jesus is telling us it’s O.K., but what are we supposed to do? Take him at his word? Believe what he tells us? Or trust ourselves—because, after all, we know more than he does?” 

I’m preaching to myself. When confronted with a problem, I usually ask, “What is possible given this set of circumstances?” (Never mind that “with God all things are possible”!)

Dear God, give me faith to look at a problem and say, “What does God want to make possible?”


“No man can prevent God from blessing you”: meditation on Genesis 25:23

June 19, 2019

Genesis 25:23And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.”

The story arc that begins with this verse and continues through chapter 33 describes many unlikely ways in which God blesses and prospers Jacob—often in spite of himself! For instance, according to the ancient law of primogeniture, Esau, Jacob’s firstborn twin brother, should receive the birthright and blessing of his father, Isaac. But God has another plan, which the wily Jacob is more than eager to implement, however unwittingly.

Since God chose Jacob rather than Esau to carry forward his covenant promises through Abraham (see Genesis 12:2-3), why doesn’t God simply enable Jacob to be born first? Wouldn’t that have been far less trouble for everyone involved? Yes, but since when does our Father seem interested in sparing us, his chosen ones, from trouble? Moreover, how often do we look back on this trouble and think, “While I hated it at the time, I now see that it was good for me”?

One of the most harmful sins I commit is comparing myself with others—in my case often fellow ordained clergy, including district superintendents and bishops—and believing that I’m not getting what I need from them. Or, indeed, that they are standing in the way of something I need. Success is a zero sum game, I fear, and there’s only so much of it to go around. (Again, I’m not proud of this; it’s a sin to feel this way!)

To say the least, this scripture says otherwise. If God wants me to have something, he will ensure that I have it. No one and nothing—not the will of man or even powerful institutions—can impede God’s sovereign choices. And because I am in Christ, I can be sure that what God chooses for me will always be in my best interest.

So God is saying to me, through today’s scripture, “Trust me, Brent! Don’t be afraid that I’m giving you anything other than what is best for you at this and every other moment! No one and nothing can stand in the way of the blessing with which I want to bless you. No one and nothing can prevent you from receiving my very best for you!”


“Suffering is a part of the plan”: meditation on Genesis 25:22

June 17, 2019

Genesis 25:22: “The children struggled together within her, and she said, ‘If it is thus, why is this happening to me?’ So she went to inquire of the Lord.”

“Why is this happening to me?” Like the rest of us, Rebekah believes that answering God’s call and fulfilling his plan for her life is supposed to be easy—or at least easier than any alternative—if we are doing it right. Indeed, this seductive idea is at the root of Satan’s question to Jesus in the wilderness: “If you are the Son of God, you are entitled to a far easier life than this! Surely your Father doesn’t want you to starve out here! Use your power to transform these stones into bread.” (See Matthew 4:3)

We who are adopted as “sons” (both men and women) of God through faith should expect no better treatment from Satan. When we suffer, his temptations will be along the same lines: “You are a ‘son’ of God, adopted into God’s family, made holy with Christ’s holiness, as highly favored as God’s only begotten Son, and loved by your Father exactly as much. Why is this happening to you? You deserve better. Or maybe you’re not who you think you are. Maybe God doesn’t love you as much as you think.” And resentment and fear soon follow.

Don’t listen to the devil!

Suffering is a part of God’s plan for our lives. Rebekah should have said—not, “If it is thus, why is this happening”—but, “Because it is thus, here’s why it’s happening.” “Because I am answering God’s call, this is one reason why life is incredibly difficult right now. Because I am doing his will, this is one reason why life is a struggle.”

Here comes the hard part: Trusting that God, who is big and powerful enough to prevent suffering, is also big and powerful enough to allow it for reasons we finite, sinful humans can’t understand. Trusting that God has a better blessing than we can imagine on the other side of suffering. And trusting that he has perfectly equipped us through his Spirit to handle it.