A Grouchy Psalm

Psalm 120 (NLT)

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

I took my troubles to the Lord;
    I cried out to him, and he answered my prayer.
Rescue me, O Lord, from liars
    and from all deceitful people.
O deceptive tongue, what will God do to you?
    How will he increase your punishment?
You will be pierced with sharp arrows
    and burned with glowing coals.

How I suffer in far-off Meshech.
    It pains me to live in distant Kedar.
I am tired of living
    among people who hate peace.
I search for peace;
    but when I speak of peace, they want war!

By Chuck Griffin

Spend some time reading and praying the psalms, and you will soon notice that there seems to be at least one for every situation.

Psalm 120 is a good example. This psalm oozes with grouchiness, a vocal complaint from someone who has grown tired of the deceit around him. Traditionally, this psalm is attributed to David, written when he was under attack by fellow Israelites and forced to live among foreigners.

The psalmist craves a life among peaceful people, people who say what they mean and mean what they say, with no calculated corruption of what God has revealed to be holy and right. When he declares these deceptive tongues will be pierced by sharp arrows and burned by hot coals, his desire for revenge becomes clear.

We’ve all been there, some of us pretty recently. Tolerance is a powerful, Christ-like virtue. But it doesn’t take long for mere humans to become angry when we realize the people we have long tolerated are themselves intolerant, actively working to obfuscate God’s revealed truth.

When we’re feeling such anger, there is nothing wrong with praying this psalm out loud. Just keep that prayer in perspective. The psalmist doesn’t speak of arrows he will launch and burning coals he will impose on these people. Instead, he uses them as symbols of the punishment that God will deliver.

We take comfort in the great promise that the righteous will be rewarded, while the deceitful and manipulative will reap what they have sown.

Our main task in troubled times is to stay right with God. Just keep taking it all to the Lord.

Dear Lord, give us Christ-like demeanors in times of strife, and continue to offer us your grace when we are burdened with anger. Amen.

From Lament to Joy

Book of Lamentations

By Chuck Griffin

No doubt, we’ve been experiencing tough times. It’s not much consolation, but we do need to remember that times have been tougher.

In the Book of Lamentations, the Promised Land is depicted as smoking ruins, and we are told that starving mothers ate their children. Never forget that the Bible can be a grisly book.

As Lamentations notes, at least the destruction of sinful Sodom and Gomorrah was quick. Jerusalem’s punishment for disobeying God was slow and agonizing, creating scenes that even the seedier side of Hollywood might hesitate to depict.

Jewish tradition holds that this series of poems was written by the prophet Jeremiah, who warned the people of Judah that God’s punishment was coming and then watched invasion, destruction and exile unfold through his long life.

I cannot fully capture for you the somber beauty of these poems in a short article. If the imagery were not crafted with elegant conciseness, most readers would quickly turn away from the dark subject matter.

In these poems, the author twists in pain as he struggles to reconcile God’s obvious anger with God’s faithful love.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness,” says the writer in chapter 3. He later says of God, “Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.”

Yes, when God removes his protective hand from a disobedient people, terrible things happen. Existence without God is hellish. In fact, the best way to define hell is as a place separated from God.

But in the midst of all this horror, the author senses one important fact about God. His love for humanity, even for each individual human, remains, and somehow, somewhere, there must be an ultimate solution to the pain sin causes.

Once again, we find the Old Testament pointing toward the New Testament, that record of the ultimate solution found in Jesus Christ. We are reminded in the midst of suffering that God finally chose to suffer with us, in the process using the cross to solve the dilemma of human disobedience. Through simple belief, our sin is erased, and we receive the promise that the horrible effects of sin will be wiped from the world one day.

At the close of Lamentations, the author prays that his people be restored to God, “unless you have utterly rejected us, and are angry with us beyond measure.”

In Christ, we find that God loves us beyond measure. With Christ in our lives, we can walk through tough times with confidence and even joy, knowing God is eternally faithful.

Lord, whatever our circumstances, restore our joy. Amen.

Preparing for Joy

Psalm 126. A Song of Ascents.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
    and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
    like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears
    reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
    bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
    carrying their sheaves.

By John Grimm

Grief takes time to work through.

Tears will arrive when they are least expected.

Misfortune can zap our dreams.

Yet the Lord has his means of restoring us.  If we have not given up, if we have not succumbed to the weeping, and if we have not been swallowed up in tragedy, then we can know how the Lord can restore us.  Some of us are cynical.  Some of us have cut ourselves off from any good because we have experienced much tragedy in our lives.  Some of us have stopped dreaming.

It is good to dream.  How can we have our fortunes restored?  How will God give us joy for which we can shout? Throughout the generations, people have paid attention to the Lord. When people pay attention to the Lord, then we see God restoring us.  That brings us joy!

We need not only have joy during Advent and Christmas.  There are more weeks to the year than the weeks of Advent.  Joy can be our shout every week of the year!  For we can notice the great things God has done for us, even if times are bad. 

Lord, we know people who have stopped dreaming.  We know that you can restore joy to each person and each nation.  May we know joy in our lives as we see you restoring us and our fortunes that are found in you alone.  Fill our lungs so we may give shouts of joy, even today!  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.

What’s in Your Cabinet?

By Chuck Griffin

This Sunday’s worship at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be different, focusing specifically on healing. A formal Service of Healing, including communion and anointing with oil, seems appropriate as we continue to make our way through a pandemic that is impacting the world in so many ways. Of course, we have to acknowledge that because of the pandemic, many people will not be comfortable attending in person. The service will be viewable online.

If you would like someone’s name placed on the prayer rail during the service, simply email me, and I will make sure that happens.

Today’s Preparatory Bible Passage

“For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:6)


Cake and ice cream. Shoes and socks. Salt and pepper. Wife and husband. Sticks and stones, and their modern cousins, bats and balls. Or to quote Forrest Gump, “Jenny and me was like peas and carrots.”

There are many things in the world that can function alone, but that work better in conjunction with something else.

Let’s add this to the list: medicine and faith.

If we are to seek healing, we need to understand both are gifts from God. God pours his love into the world, and through faith some are reunited with the source of eternal life. God pours his knowledge and wisdom into the world, and some are so mentally blessed by the gift that from generation to generation, humans are better able to alleviate suffering.

A friend recently told me about a grandmother who kept her medicine cabinet stocked, but who also kept an empty bottle there labeled “Faith.” It was her reminder to get a dose of everything she needed to be well.

People of the Bible had little in the way of medicine and relied heavily on faith. We have so much in the way of medical care that we sometimes treat faith as an afterthought. Does this conversation sound familiar?

Friend: “I’m so sorry you’re suffering. What can I do for you?”

Suffering person: “Well, not much, really. Just pray for me.”

In this hurting world, we Christians should prayerfully pursue healing with the same kind of determination that dedicated doctors, nurses and researchers employ in their daily lives. Where healing is concerned, we all have God-given roles, and those roles work together for the betterment of those around us.

Lord, may we see an outbreak of healing, the kind of events that declare your kingdom is present. Amen.

The Woolly Jesus

Revelation 1:9-18 (NRSV)

By Chuck Griffin

Life seldom goes as planned. In fact, I wonder if life ever goes as planned.

A few years ago, I read an Associated Press obituary about a pilot named Denny Fitch. Back in 1989, he was riding home in an empty seat on a United Airlines DC-10 bound for Chicago.

While in the air, the tail engine on the jet exploded. Shrapnel from the engine sliced through all three of the jet’s hydraulic systems. When Denny heard the explosion, he made his way to the cockpit to see if the flight crew needed any help—after all, he also was a flight instructor for United.

Turns out they needed the help. They pretty much had lost all control of the plane, except for one option: They could make the jet go up and down, left and right by increasing and decreasing power to the remaining wing engines. Denny sat down in the only available space, the floor, and helped steer a jet carrying 300 people in this crude manner toward Sioux City airport, their best option. That’s where the jet crashed, but in a somewhat controlled manner; half the people on board survived.

In an interview for a documentary, Denny talked about the unpredictability of life: “What makes you so sure you’re going to make it home tonight? I was 46 years old the day I walked into that cockpit. I had the world ahead of me. I was a captain on a major airline. I had a beautiful healthy family, loving wife, great future. And at 4 o’clock I’m trying to stay alive.”

That’s how life goes. Bad things happen in a broken world where sin and its biggest effect, death, still have a hold. I’m not sure which is more disconcerting, the evil humans inflict on each other or the evil that just happens because some force of nature like wind or fire smacks us down. Both can make us question God’s presence. We all experience events throughout our lives that can wear us down.

It’s hard to make it to adulthood without losing to death someone you love. And then there are the other pains we experience. We love someone but are not loved back. Our careers jump the tracks, despite how hard we work. We feel like we’re careening out of control.

Whoever he was, John, the John who wrote down what we now call the book of Revelation, must have felt he was careening. We don’t know much about him, but he tells us he was persecuted. He was on the island of Patmos in exile because he had professed belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

But then he saw the woolly haired Jesus, and everything changed. His suffering and his disappointments had context.

John’s vision of Jesus was different than our Gospel-inspired images. “I saw one like the Son of Man,” John writes, “clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.”

Don’t be too literal when reading Revelation, but don’t discount the power of symbolic speech, either. This is the glorified Jesus, the post-resurrection Jesus. This is humanity blended with deity, pure and holy. Power, strength and authority radiate from the Savior.

This vision, and other visions in John’s Revelation, remind us that the world is not out of control, even if it seems so for a time. Christ came for a reason, to set the world right. His resurrection is the first sign of the work being done today, the restoration and healing of the world.

And Christ will be seen again.

Lord Jesus, Maranatha. Come Lord, come. Amen.