Archive for August, 2019

“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.