When the Bottom Falls Out, Part 1

Job 1:20-22 (NLT)

Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship. He said, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!”  In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God.


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

People have always asked the questions, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and “Where is God?” when it appears our world is spiraling out of control. Even though it is no longer breaking news, some reading this can still recall the tragic Surfside, Fla., high-rise building collapse that occurred on June 24, with a final death toll of 98.

In last Saturday’s early hours, another devastating earthquake struck Haiti, with about 1,300 reported dead thus far and thousands more injured. Search and rescue teams continue their search for survivors with distraught and grief-stricken family members of the missing hoping somehow for a miracle. The clock continues to tick. 

Theodicy is the part of theology that attempts to provide an explanation for the problem of evil in our world. If you have been a Christian or believer for some time, there is no doubt you have heard people utter the phrase, “God is good, all the time, and all the time God is good.” But how can a good God allow evil things to happen? 

The simple answer is that the Bible assures us that our God is a good God and while some things occur in our world as a result of pervasive sin and human brokenness. Regardless of what we face, we can trust in the unfailing steadfastness and goodness of God. The idea that God would offer his innocent Son Jesus as propitiation for the sin of the world is a mystery that defies human logic.

No story in the Bible speaks more than Job to the challenges evil poses. The opening chapter tells us, “One day the members of the heavenly court came to present themselves before the Lord, and the Accuser, Satan, came with them. ‘Where have you come from?’ The Lord asked Satan. Satan answered the Lord, ‘I have been patrolling the earth, watching everything that goes on.’” (Job 1:6-7.) 

Peter, who was specifically targeted by Satan (Luke 22:31-32), later wrote to warn other believers, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are.” (1 Peter 5:8-9.)

Originally an angel of the Lord, Satan became corrupt and rebelled against God because of his pride, leading to his expulsion from God’s presence. Satan continues to stand against anything good and will always oppose anything good.

The fact that Satan came to present himself before God tells us that God is superior to Satan. God created all things and no one created God. Then in a strange twist, we read from the story that the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless–a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.” (Job 1:8.)

Satan responded that Job had good reason to fear God because he enjoyed the Lord’s protection and everything seemed to be going well for him. Satan then suggested that if all the good things in the life of Job were taken from him, he would surely curse God. (Job 1:9-11.) It is true that some folks serve God when things are going well for them and turn away from God when the bottom falls out of their world. 

But the Lord had strong confidence in Job and gave permission for him to be tested by Satan. The Lord told Satan, “Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don’t harm him physically.” (Job 1:12.) Satan left the Lord’s presence and in a series of cataclysmic events, Job lost everything. (Job 1:2-3, 13-19.)

As we would expect, Job was hit very hard by the unexpected turn of events and stood up and tore his robe in grief. He shaved his head and fell to the ground in worship, speaking these poignant words: “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!”

How will you react when the bottom falls out of your world? Will your character come shining through or will you walk away from the Lord? May God grant us grace to persevere like Job. 

Merciful God, your Son warned us that we would face trials and tribulations in this world. Like Job, help us to be of good cheer even in the face of situations we cannot understand. Let us always trust in your goodness. We pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Feeling Betrayed

Our devotionals for Holy Week continue. The following ran on Luminary UMC’s website for Holy Wednesday last year, and received a lot of comments. It seems we’ve all felt betrayed at one time or another.

John 13:21-27 (NLT)

Now Jesus was deeply troubled, and he exclaimed, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me!”

The disciples looked at each other, wondering whom he could mean. The disciple Jesus loved was sitting next to Jesus at the table. Simon Peter motioned to him to ask, “Who’s he talking about?” So that disciple leaned over to Jesus and asked, “Lord, who is it?”

Jesus responded, “It is the one to whom I give the bread I dip in the bowl.” And when he had dipped it, he gave it to Judas, son of Simon Iscariot. When Judas had eaten the bread, Satan entered into him. Then Jesus told him, “Hurry and do what you’re going to do.”


By Chuck Griffin

If you have a strong reaction to this story, you’ve probably been betrayed. A co-worker, a friend, a relative, a spouse—someone not only let you down, the person actually turned on you, consciously violating a long-established trust.

The closer the relationship, the worse the pain caused by the betrayal. It usually is hard for the victim of betrayal to let go, to forgive.

Most cultures hold betrayers in very low esteem. In Dante’s fictional account of hell, punishments grew progressively more severe moving inward, and the heart of the inner circle was for betrayers who remained frozen in painfully contorted positions. In the very center, Satan munched on the people Dante considered to be the three greatest traitors, Judas Iscariot, Brutus and Cassius.

In contrast to our personal and cultural reactions, Jesus seemed resigned to betrayal. Of course, by this point in the story, he knew exactly where he was headed, down to the minute, I suspect.

Jesus didn’t do anything to change Judas when he gave him the morsel of bread; Judas’ heart was already turned toward sin. In the act, Jesus simply identified who among the 12 was most deeply broken. The sharing of the gravy-dipped bread makes me sad, though.

To eat with someone on such a night—in this case, to literally break bread—is an intimate moment. Earlier in the evening Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet, Judas included, compounding the intimacy. But none of those acts could turn the betrayer from his plan.

On that night, Judas truly was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And once your mind is so firmly set in such a terrible direction, it is easy for Satan or one of his minions to enter and lead the way.

I do wonder about something, though. The Bible tells us that Judas died shortly after the betrayal. (The accounts of his death in Matthew 27 and Acts 1 are difficult to reconcile, but in each one he ends up dead.) Had he lived, how would the resurrected Jesus have treated his betrayer?

The closest analogy we have is Peter, who proved to be the worst of the deniers once Jesus had been arrested. Near the end of the Gospel of John, we see Jesus forgive and restore Peter. Again, the scene is intimate, on a beach near a charcoal fire, a breakfast of fish and bread cooked and waiting for some very ashamed men.

Had Judas lived, carrying with him the remorse and repentance he seems to bear in Matthew 27:3-4, I suspect he would have found forgiveness, too. Such radical forgiveness would be typical of the Savior we serve.

Lord, where we have been betrayed, let us find a way to forgive during this Holy Wednesday, and where we have betrayed others, may we be forgiven. Amen.

Almeida Júnior, “Remorse of Judas,” 1880

Even the Worst

1 Timothy 1:12-20 (NLT)

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him, even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus.

This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. All honor and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.

Timothy, my son, here are my instructions for you, based on the prophetic words spoken about you earlier. May they help you fight well in the Lord’s battles. Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked. Hymenaeus and Alexander are two examples. I threw them out and handed them over to Satan so they might learn not to blaspheme God.


If you’ve spent much time trying to lead people to Jesus Christ, you may have encountered an unexpected problem.

A lot of lost people reflect on their worst sins, and they think Christianity simply sounds too easy. “How could God ever forgive that,” they ask, referencing the sin. Others consider the sins of infamous evil people and then struggle with the simplicity of salvation.

All we have to do is confess and turn away from our sins and believe? Really? Regardless of who we are or what we’ve done?

Yep. Believe that Christ’s work on the cross is effective and you’re saved from eternal death, the appropriate result of sin. Instead, receive eternal life, a gift so joyous it benefits this life now.

Over time, all who take this initial step do need to understand the proper response to this great gift of salvation, a response driven by the ongoing gift of the Holy Spirit in believers’ lives. They should find themselves moving into full alignment with God, which is mostly about allowing God to go to work.

But salvation itself really is that simple.

Once saved—to use the Methodist term, “justified”—that ongoing alignment is important because it keeps us from backsliding. Paul made it clear that a believer’s faith can be “shipwrecked.” Having escaped the power of sin, we don’t want to steer toward the rocks and end up in the clutches of Satan once again.

Believers, simply keep in mind that God is always close. Open your Bible. Open your hearts to your savior in prayer. Take time to worship. Satan will flee.

Lord, thank you for how easy you have made salvation. Help us to communicate the simplicity of your plan to those who have yet to accept it for themselves. Amen.

A Healthy Fear

Death of Ananias, Raphael, 1515.

Acts 5:1-11 (NRSV)

But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. “Ananias,” Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!” Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it. The young men came and wrapped up his body, then carried him out and buried him.

After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price.” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.


Just to be sure we are all on the same page, I should point out what most careful readers will observe. This harsh, shocking story is not about money.

It is instead about the very serious nature of Christians’ relationship with their church, “church” being a gathering of people sharing a mutual belief in Jesus Christ, and the mission flowing from that belief.

Readers of the Bible have struggled for centuries with this story, finding themselves confused by the rapid judgment falling upon this couple. Was there no room for them to repent and find grace?

Peter’s words and a particular Greek verb in the text, one used only when divine judgment is at hand, make it clear the answer is “no.” Working through the hearts of this couple, Satan had dared to enter the holy group established by God to spread the gospel over all the earth.

Such deceit from this couple could not be tolerated. These two likely were hoping to leverage their false gift into acclaim, and their acclaim into power, and God could not allow the devil to embed himself so deeply in the fledgling church.

We should read this story as a reminder to take very seriously the vows we make as Christians, be they the words we say at baptism and confirmation or commitments we make later. We especially need to be sure that any actions we take to support or participate in the life of the church are intended for the glory of God.

The devil still seeks to find entry, and God still sees his holy, catholic church of believers to be precious and worth defending.

Lord, help us to search our hearts continually as we serve the kingdom through the church. May our motives be pure. Amen.

Ready

Occasionally, a piece of Scripture is so clearly instructional that a preacher or a devotional writer mostly needs to get out of its way and let the original author continue doing his holy work.

Ephesians 6:10-17 is one of those texts. I’ll offer a few starter questions here and there, but please, take time to meditate on the words and hear what they say to you. What a great way to start a work week during a difficult year!

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.

Do we genuinely believe we can draw strength from God? It’s not difficult to see God as simultaneously mighty and inaccessible. How do we know his power is fully available to us?

Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

We tend to imagine other humans when we think of our enemies. How does it affect our outlook when we acknowledge there are unseen powers at work around us, and that these powers are the real enemy?

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.

Are we bothered by the idea of this being a “battle”? What do warlike images say to us about the focus and commitment required of every Christian? How does God’s armor differ from our own?

Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

These verses continue the battle imagery, but we also need to think about them more literally. How will truth-telling, truth-seeking, and the pursuit of righteousness improve our chances in this world?

Does the story of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection give us lasting peace? If not, have we considered the story from start to finish recently?

When faced with evil, do we first trust that our faith in Jesus Christ is enough to protect us? Do we have a sense of assurance about our faith that gives us great confidence?

And lastly, do we know and trust God’s word enough that we are confident we can use it to defeat evil?

Dear Lord, thank you for reminding us that we are a people fully equipped to face whatever might come our way. Help us to be a people who trust and tap into the power you offer us every day, making a difference for your kingdom. Amen.

Being Immediate

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Revelation 15:1-4 (NLT)

Then I saw in heaven another marvelous event of great significance. Seven angels were holding the seven last plagues, which would bring God’s wrath to completion. I saw before me what seemed to be a glass sea mixed with fire. And on it stood all the people who had been victorious over the beast and his statue and the number representing his name. They were all holding harps that God had given them. And they were singing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb:

“Great and marvelous are your works,
    O Lord God, the Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
    O King of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
    and glorify your name?
    For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship before you,
    for your righteous deeds have been revealed.”

When exploring ideas about the end of time, thoughtful Christians have to piece together a lot of Scripture from various books of the Bible.

As we see in today’s text and the verses further into Revelation, we are promised there will be an end to the influence of evil, a completion of Christ’s work on the cross. Sin and death have already been defanged by Jesus’ sacrifice, but they still have to be put down completely, rabid dogs of Satan that they are.

Much of the Book of Revelation is highly symbolic, the images depicting events in the past, present and future. Complicating interpretation further, the reader’s perspective in Revelation keeps changing between heaven and earth.

As we study and process what is written there, one conclusion seems certain to me. We should sense a responsibility to let people know that heaven and earth will be remade one day, for the better, after terrible birth pangs. God is very much at work in the world.

Simultaneously, we should understand that we cannot know with any real certainty the what, where and who of Revelation, the apocalyptic sections of the Book of Daniel, or other biblical references to the last days, and we certainly cannot know the when.

“No one knows when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself,” Jesus said. “Only the Father knows.” (Matthew 24:36.)

To process and live out what we are taught about the end times, I find it useful to cling to “immediacy,” the idea that God’s redemptive work in this world could end and Christ could return at any moment.

In the same section of Matthew, Jesus’ words continue:

When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.

Matthew 24:37-39

I think it’s dangerous when people claim certain events have to happen before Christ returns in full—even as believers, we can be lulled into apathy by such thoughts. The Apostle Peter had this in mind when he wrote, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8.)

A proper understanding of our own mortality should also give us a sense of immediacy about conforming to the will of God. None of us truly knows whether a particular day might be our last. We tend to imagine observing the end of days with an earthly view, when there’s a significant chance we will have a very different perspective.

So, what to do? Well, today’s text has one image that should give us inspiration and joy. This side of heaven or the other, let’s be sure that first, we are praising God, who through Jesus Christ has saved us from what should have been the eternal grip of sin and death.

Let’s praise God here on earth with our voices and whatever musical instruments we may have on hand, just as we will praise him one day in a new heaven and earth. Perhaps we will even lift these praises with harps in hands, standing on something like a brilliant sea of fire-imbued glass.

Lord, let today be about you, and then let each day that follows be the same. Amen.


Website image courtesy FantasyStock at fantasystock@deviantart.com.