Reflections on spiritual themes (and a few other things).

Month: July 2022

Perpetual Pain & Festering Wounds

American writer Flannery O’Connor had an aunt who thought the only good stories were ones that ended with someone getting shot or getting married. She liked tidy endings.

Unfortunately, real life is rarely tidy. For many people their dreams look more like nightmares. Even Christians may struggle for years with marital woes, illness, death, family feuds, financial problems, job frustrations, church problems, addictions, disappointments, and depression.

Chronic spiritual pain is nothing new. Six centuries before the time of Jesus, the prophet Jeremiah lamented, “Why has my pain been perpetual, and my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?” (Jeremiah 15.18) He was struggling with deep spiritual pain and saw no relief in sight. 

Jeremiah’s life was anything but charmed. God called him as a teenager (Jeremiah 1.1-19), and he resisted (verse 6) because God promised him a hard road (verses 7-10, 18-19). His hometown wanted him dead (11.21). Priests and prophets (26.1-9), officials (38.1-6), and kings (32.1-5) persecuted and abused him. Not only that but God forbade him to marry, to attend family funerals or feasts (16.1-9). He even forbade Jeremiah to pray for his own people (11.14-17). Jeremiah saw the nation of Judah collapse, and his beloved city of Jerusalem destroyed by the Babylonians. He chose to live in the city with the refugees after its destruction (40.1-6) but was taken to Egypt against his will (chapter 39), and legend has it that he was stoned to death. 

There’s nothing in Jeremiah’s life or ministry that we’d call neat or tidy or cheerful. Still, he was a faithful prophet of God for almost half a century. He was even once compared to Jesus (Matthew 16.14). How did he manage?

Twice in Jeremiah’s prayers, he says something that I think is the key. 

  • Jeremiah 15.15b-16: “…do not, in view of your patience, take me away; know that for your sake I endure reproach. Your words were found and I ate them, and your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I have been called by your name, O Lord God of hosts.”
  • Jeremiah 20.8b-9: “…because for me the word of the Lord has resulted in reproach and derision all day long. But if I say ‘I will not remember him or speak anymore in his name,’ then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it.”

For Jeremiah the word of the Lord was the center point of his life with God. The word of the Lord, with its commands, promises, warnings, and assurances. And so it is with us. We may suffer disappointment and pain, but God’s word and promises will never fail. “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Joshua 1.5b). In the midst of our pain we have God.

The Good Life

Garrison Keillor – “Thank you, God, for this good life, and forgive us if we don’t love it enough.” 

Keillor was right. We often fail to appreciate and even love the life and blessings that we have from God. Looking at the headlines lately has brought that home to me in many ways: The political turmoil in Afghanistan; the recent earthquake and flooding in Haiti; the flooding in middle Tennessee; the resurgence of the COVID pandemic. All of these are reminders that we are blessed. In so many ways, we live The Good Life. 

Part of the problem may be in how we define “the good life.” I Googled that phrase, and the first hit was from It gave two definitions of “the good life,” the first of which was, “the kind of life that people with a lot of money are able to have.” I should note that at the beginning of that definition were the letters “US” in italics, meaning that this is the primary definition for literate adults in the USA. The second definition is more what I would have expected, “a happy and enjoyable life.” 

The truth is, Americans equate The Good Life with material prosperity. But for Christians, that’s a slippery slope at best. Jesus himself warned, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12.15). For God’s people, The Good Life has little to do with wealth. 

A better perspective is provided by King David in Psalm 16.5-6, when he said, “The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You support my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.” It sounds like David is talking about the Israelite land inheritance. But a closer look suggests that he’s using that as a metaphor for something else, for his relationship to God. He says in verse 5, “The LORD is the portion of my inheritance.” David wasn’t thinking about land; he was thinking about the Lord.

That’s reinforced in verse 2: “I said to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good besides You.” For David, The Good Life was life in relationship with God, a godward orientation in life. 

Once we understand that having The Good Life is not dependent upon money, possessions, or circumstances, it helps us see the blessings we have. It also keeps us from constantly fretting about what we don’t have. Despite any problems we may have, in Christ we have THE ultimate good life. Let’s thank God for that, enjoy it, and share it with others.

Rich or Organized?

Question: Would you rather be organized or rich?

To answer the question requires: (1) A sense of priority – which is more important? (2) An understanding of the risks involved. (3) A willingness to trade one thing for another.

People who deal in financial analysis and decision-making face these choices every day.

One Old Testament text addresses this very question: Proverbs 14.4 says, “Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, but much revenue comes by the strength of the ox.”

This proverb illustrates a common farming decision. In biblical times, owning oxen would be like owning a tractor today – it was a huge advantage. It involved additional costs but was generally considered worth the risks for the sake of extra revenue. Most farmers would gladly trade a clean manger (or stable or barn) without oxen for a smelly, messy barn with oxen. More oxen meant more crops which meant more income.

The application to business is obvious. Businesses constantly must decide about the maintaining and upgrading hardware, software, offices, furnishings, equipment, factories, fleets, and a thousand other things. It’s all about risks and rewards. 

A broader application is to the stewardship of our blessings. The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25.14-30) teaches that when we’re entrusted with blessings – money, possessions, abilities, time, opportunities, relationships – we have a God-given duty to invest in them and grow in them. We must weigh the priorities, risks, and tradeoffs to properly evaluate and make good choices. Growth is the expectation.

An even broader application is to our personal growth. At a surface level, Proverbs 14.4 is about growing one’s business. At a deeper level, it’s about any kind of growth: spiritual, relational, educational, vocational, or financial. To grow requires prudent risk-taking and pushing ourselves beyond our normal limits. Growth is still the expectation.

Solomon is telling us that we need to properly evaluate things. There’s a time and place for cleanliness and organization. There’s also a time and place for risk, work, and growth, which means there’s a place for messiness, too.

The takeaway is this: Whenever you’re confronted with an opportunity for growth, take it! By all means analyze it and measure it and weigh it. But never forget that growth is the expectation of wisdom.


When my wife and I were contemplating having a second child, we contacted our insurance agent and told him to add maternity coverage to our policy. He said he would do it, and we remember being told at one point that the extra policy rider was in place. Imagine our surprise when she got pregnant, and we discovered we didn’t have maternity coverage.

There’s a great lesson here: The best time to buy insurance is BEFORE you need it!

  • You don’t buy auto insurance after you rear-end someone.
  • You don’t buy flood insurance after heavy rains fill your basement with water.
  • You don’t get health insurance after you have a heart attack.
  • And you don’t get maternity insurance after you get pregnant.

The same principle applies to our spiritual lives. The best time to get spiritual insurance is before you need it. We should prepare for a spiritual crisis BEFORE we experience it.

In Psalm 32, David reflects upon his sin with Bathsheba. While he emphasizes the blessing of forgiveness, he also owned up to his moral failure. In verse 6 he says, “Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to you in a time when you may be found. Surely in a flood of great waters they will not reach them” (Psalm 32.6). He said to prepare for the floodwaters of temptation BEFORE they arrive.

There are three disciplines every Christian should know and practice. They act as insurance against temptation. They are Bible study, prayer, and worship.

Bible study lets us read about men and women who properly dealt with temptation. The Bible also exposes us to powerful spiritual principles. Psalm 119.11 says, “Your word I have treasured in my heart that I may not sin against you.”

Prayer lets us confess our weaknesses to God and ask for his help. Jesus said every day we should ask our Father to, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6.13).

Finally, worship gives us a forum in which we can encourage one another. The writer of Hebrews said, “…let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10.24-25).

The best way to avoid spiritual failure is spiritual insurance in the form of Bible study, prayer, and worship so that we can successfully fight our daily temptations. Make sure you’re covered.

Feel the Heat

“What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance.” (Jane Austen)

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s hot. As Austen said, inelegantly hot. It’s so hot that hens are laying hard boiled eggs and birds are using potholders to handle worms.

However, like any of our experiences, we can use this to learn about our relationship to God.

I want to consider one verse from Psalm 32. It’s one of two psalms (32 and 51) written after David admitted to his adultery with Bathsheba. In the opening verses he talks about the forgiveness of his transgression; the covering of his sin; his iniquity not being credited to him.

Then in verses 3 and 4, he remembers the effects of sin before his confession: His body wasted away; he groaned all day long. Then verse 4 says, “For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.”

David is talking about the burden of sin. Sin felt like carrying a heavy load on a hot, sweltering day. Spiritually, he felt like he was melting away in summer. David was saying that sin felt awful.

But throughout the rest of the psalm, he talks about how wonderful forgiveness felt. It was a condition of blessing; he sang songs of deliverance; he rejoiced; he shouted for joy.

Often the Bible treats sin in a clinical way. It sometimes describes the most heinous sins with no expression of emotion. Or, as in Romans and Galatians, it uses legal or accounting terminology to describe how God has forgiven us in Christ. What’s unique about Psalm 32 is that it spends most of its time talking about the emotional side of sin and forgiveness. Sin should make us feel awful while forgiveness should feel awesome. God has made us so that our consciences convulse at sin and delight in righteousness.

I hope you’re surviving this spell of hot weather. Even more, I hope is that the heat will remind all of us of the burden of sin. Most of all, I pray that each of us will experience the refreshment of divine forgiveness. That’s something to really feel good about.

Scar Tissue

On the same day Jesus was raised from the dead, he appeared that evening to his apostles who thought they were seeing a ghost (Luke 24.33-37). John’s gospel says, “…he showed them both his hands and his side. The disciples then rejoiced… So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you…” (John 20.20-21). We’re then told that the apostle Thomas wasn’t there and said that unless he could see and touch the scars of Jesus, he wouldn’t believe. A week later, Jesus appeared to the apostles again, this time with Thomas present. “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Reach here with your finger, and see my hands; and reach here your hand and put it into my side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.’ Thomas answered and said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!” (Verses 27-28)

How did the disciples react to Jesus’ scars? They believed, they rejoiced, and they had peace!

When we see the scars of others, we’re often repulsed or uneasy. We feel sorry for them and wonder how they got them, or we wonder about the pain. When we think of our own scars, we feel uneasiness or shame or embarrassment. Our scars can be painful or irritating. We don’t boast about scars; we hide them.

What’s true of physical scars is also true of emotional scars. They’re painful and ugly. They never completely go away. We’re shamed by them. Whether our scars are self-inflicted or inflicted upon us by others, emotional scars hurt.

How do we get rid of scar tissue? The short answer is, we don’t. We never really get rid of scars; instead, we let Jesus transform them into beauty marks.

As we just saw, Jesus’ resurrected body still had scars. Yet, the scars resulted in faith, joy, and peace in his disciples. This suggests to me that it’s unrealistic to expect our physical, emotional, and spiritual scars to just disappear. Rather, in the hands of Jesus, they’re transformed.

The apostle Paul was once burdened with a chronic health problem, what he called his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12.7-10). He prayed three times that God would remove it. “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for [my] power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (verses 9-10). For Paul, his scars became sources of strength in Christ.

Maybe you have physical scars: disease, injury, surgery, accidents, or addictions. Maybe you have emotional scars: abuse or neglect, broken homes, marital woes, debt, job problems, neighbor problems, church problems, insult, or ridicule. Those scars will never go away. But, by the grace and power of Jesus Christ, your scars can become things of beauty and strength.


What does courage look like?

For most people, we probably think of bravery in the face of danger. The underdog facing overwhelming odds, badly outnumbered and only one bullet left. We think of…

  • Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader
  • The Avengers versus Thanos
  • David versus Goliath (1 Samuel 17)
  • Jesus versus the cross (Luke 22.39-46)

These are all legitimate examples of that kind of courage or bravery. But there’s another kind of courage that relates more to the rest of us. It’s the kind described by Mary Anne Radmacher when she said, “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’” 

Every day we need courage:

  • Courage to do the right thing
  • Courage to speak up for what’s right
  • Courage to help the needy, the outcast, and the oppressed
  • Courage to take the lead when everyone else goes into hiding
  • Courage to correct others when their mistakes threaten everyone
  • Courage to teach
  • Courage to make a difference

The words “courage” and “courageous” occur about 50 times in the Bible. In 16 places, we’re told, “be strong and courageous.” In 11 places, we’re told, “do not fear… be courageous.” In 3 places, we’re told, “be courageous and act.” So, biblical courage is the opposite of fear, it’s synonymous with strength, and it’s ultimately an action (not an emotion or feeling). 

One text stands out to me. In the days of King David, his general Joab was fighting against the Ammonites, and told his troops, “Be strong, and let us show ourselves courageous for the sake of our people and for the cities of our God; and may the LORD do what is good in His sight” (2 Samuel 10.12).

Ultimately, courage means doing the right thing, and trusting God to take care of the results.

When we live courageously, we probably won’t get much recognition. Most of us won’t get movie contracts or news coverage. Most of us won’t have statues made in our honor or be written about in history books. Sometimes we won’t even be thanked by those we helped.

But what matters for God’s people is that God knows what we did, he’ll take care of the outcome, and he’ll take care of us in the end. “Be strong and courageous.”

Is God at Work in You?

Is God at work in you?

When I ask that question, I’m not asking if you’re religious. Or if you’re spiritual. Or if you’re a regular churchgoer. Or if you’re a good person. Or if you do a lot of good works.

You can be any of these things or all of them, and still lack God’s presence within you. In the New Testament era, most Pharisees could have checked off all these items. But Jesus said that instead of being full of God, they were full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew 23.27-28).

Two passages from Philippians come to mind when I think about God working in us.

  • Philippians 1.6 – “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good workin you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
  • Philippians 2.12-13 – “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as inmy presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”Both texts state that God was at work in the lives of the Christians in Philippi.

The first text emphasized Paul’s confidence that God was still at work in them, thatwhat God had started he would finish. What comfort to know that the day we obeyed Christ as Lord was the day God began to change us. What assurance to know that he won’t finish working on us until the day Jesus returns.

The second text emphasized Paul’s expectation of them, that they must continue to work even if Paul wasn’t around, because they were doing God’s work. How challenging to adopt God’s will as our own. How sobering to know that God has expectations for us.


  1. Look for changed priorities. If God is at work within us, what’s important to himbecomes important to us. What we once valued will no longer be valuable; what weonce neglected becomes significant.
  2. Look for changed relationships. If God is at work within us, our friendships and familyrelationships will change. We learn to look at others through the eyes of Jesus. We learnto love others as God does.
  3. Look for changed attitudes. If God is at work within us, we’ll no longer think the waythe world thinks. Our attitudes about time, money, work, politics, entertainment, morality, possessions, status, race, poverty, and religion will radically shift. If we’ve been Christians for some time, and we still resemble our unbelieving neighbors, we need to ask if we’re letting God work within us.

Years ago, my twin sister had a keychain that said, “Be patient. God isn’t finished with me yet.” For all of us in Christ, that’s really good news.

Run With Horses

Horses are amazing creatures. No other animal so easily combines beauty and spirit, strength and speed. Horses can run as fast as 55 m.p.h. for a few seconds. In 1973, Secretariat ran the fastest Kentucky Derby ever, averaging over 37 m.p.h. What would it be like to run with horses?

In Jeremiah 12.5, the Lord asked the prophet, “If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, then how can you compete with horses? If you fall down in a land of peace, how will you do in the thicket of Jordan?” 

Jeremiah was complaining to the Lord about his troubles. He had just learned in the previous chapter that the people in his hometown of Anathoth – even some of this own family members – wanted him dead. So, he complained to the Lord (12.1-4). He complained that the unrighteous were prospering (12.1). He asked that the Lord punish the wicked (12.3), including those in his own family. He wondered how much more the country could endure (12.4). 

The Lord’s answer was a mild rebuke. The imagery was drawn from the military. He tells Jeremiah that if running with foot soldiers was tiresome, then what would he do if he had to run with cavalry horses? If marching on a wide, level plain was hard, what would happen when he had to traipse through a jungle? In other words, “Jeremiah, if you think your life has been hard up to this point, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” 

Indeed, Jeremiah lived to see the decline and demise of not only the nation of Judah, but also his beloved city Jerusalem. He was never permitted to marry; his own family rejected him; he had few friends and many, many enemies. Near the end of his life, he was taken against his will from Jerusalem to Egypt. As far as we know, he died in Egypt, a place he didn’t want to be.

Like Jeremiah, all of us have disappointments, hardships, and frustrations in life. Like Jeremiah, we’re sometimes tempted to just quit. Like Jeremiah, we complain to the Lord about how bad we have it. And as with Jeremiah, the Lord patiently hears our complaints, rebukes us for our impatience, and tells us to keep going, to keep trying.

But implicit in the Lord’s rebuke of Jeremiah was a glimmer of hope. Jeremiah faded early but finished strong. All because the Lord gave him a glimpse of what could be: “Jeremiah, you CAN run with horses. Quit worrying, quit complaining, and start trusting me.” 

What a thrilling thought – that we can run with horses as we serve the Lord! So, for today, get ready to run with the horses!

(This was inspired by the book Run With the Horses, by the late Eugene Peterson.)