Repairs Underway

“Ruth in Boaz’s Field,” Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1828.

By Chuck Griffin

In this season of Lent, we spend a lot of time considering spiritual brokenness. That can lead to a basic question: How can a good, loving God leave this world in its broken condition?

The Bible actually works hard to answer that question. First, there’s the understanding that the brokenness is not what God desires. It is a result of sin, rebellion against God.

We also see, however, that God is in the process of repairing the damage, and he often uses what is broken to make repairs. I’m reminded of a man I met who made very good knives and other tools out of worn-out files.

As an example from “The Book of Judges,” take the story of Jepthah, found in chapter 11. His mother was a prostitute, causing his half-brothers to chase him away from his father’s lands to keep him from claiming any inheritance.

Jepthah did what many disenfranchised people do: He became a rebel, organizing a powerful guerrilla operation. But when God’s people came under attack, Jepthah used his forces to rescue them. The brokenness in his life actually positioned him to do God’s work.

Or look to the story in “The Book of Ruth.” Here, the widow Naomi lost both of her sons, leaving her in a precarious, life-threatening position. She was a Hebrew woman in a foreign country where she and her husband had moved, Moab.

She tried to send her childless Moabite daughters-in-law away to find husbands for themselves, but one of them, Ruth, refused. Instead, they journeyed back to Naomi’s homeland, where Ruth won the love of a man who ensured both she and Naomi would have a future.

In fact, what seems to be a simple story proves to be critically important to the story of Israel and the salvation of the world. When we see this story in the context of the Bible as a whole, we realize it’s about much more than the love between a daughter-in-law and a mother-in-law or the love between a lonely man and a needy woman.

Ultimately, Ruth and her new husband, Boaz, had sons, one of whom was a direct ancestor of King David. And that of course means they also are listed in the genealogy of Jesus Christ, who saves the world from sin.

When we see such stories in the Bible, we’re called to ask ourselves how God might be working through the brokenness around us today. We’re encouraged to understand that God sees the pain and says, “That’s terrible, but I’ll use it to my advantage.”

And of course, we’re also reminded that pain and suffering are not eternal. If God is working to repair the world, then an end to brokenness lies somewhere in our future.

Dear Lord, as we are confronted with our own brokenness, may we also be granted a glimpse of how you will transform it to your glory. Amen.

Finding Our Watchposts

Note: I’m going to try something a little different for at least a few months. Normally, I’ve developed devotions based on daily readings found in the lectionary, but I thought it would be enlightening (at least for me) to focus on Scripture I’ve tended to neglect. I’ve been writing for this blog for nearly two years, and by my count, there are 13 books of the Bible I have never even referenced, much less explored. Let’s begin by looking at a portion of Habakkuk.

Habakkuk 2:1
I will take my stand at my watchpost
    and station myself on the tower,
and look out to see what he will say to me,
    and what I will answer concerning my complaint.

By Chuck Griffin

The precise details about when Habakkuk made his prophetic statements, or who he was, are unclear. We can tell, however, that he lived in a woeful time. The people who were certain they were God’s Chosen were experiencing ongoing conquest and oppression, causing them great confusion.

Habakkuk opens with an expression of that confusion, and in the process the prophet points out a core problem we wrestle with today: How can a holy and loving God allow sin and violence to take hold so deeply that justice is perverted?

Habakkuk finds God’s initial answer unsatisfying. Essentially, God says he has raised up these invaders, clearly describing their efficiency in war and their ability to plunder at will.

While acknowledging God uses these brutal people to bring judgment and reproof on the disobedient, Habakkuk also wonders how God can tolerate ongoing evil, saying in verse 1:13, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?”

It’s a question many all around the world ask today. Yes, we are imperfect, but must we continually suffer at the hands of people who are clearly evil?

Rather than moving on to the rest of Habakkuk, I want to stop where we hear today’s focus verse, which begins the second chapter. The prophet makes a declaration that some might find impudent: I will stand like a sentry, eyes forward, expecting more of an answer from the Lord.

I respect the prophet’s dutiful stance, and I have no doubt God wants to meet us and answer us in these moments. As evidence, I would note that the Holy Spirit-inspired Bible offers us several psalms that, when recited, allow us to loudly lodge a complaint. For example, Jesus quoted a portion of Psalm 22 from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

We will spend more time in Habakkuk this week, hearing more of God’s response, and what Habakkuk says from there. For now, let’s consider this: Where are we confused? Do we have the courage to climb dutifully onto our watchtower, that place of prayer that will be different for each of us?

From there, can we admit our inner turmoil to God, listening for his reply, regardless of what it might be?

Lord, make us brave enough to hear what you say so that your words change us, shaping us into the holy beings you would have us be. Amen.

Forward Looking

Micah 4:6-8 (NRSV)

In that day, says the Lord,
    I will assemble the lame
and gather those who have been driven away,
    and those whom I have afflicted.
The lame I will make the remnant,
    and those who were cast off, a strong nation;
and the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion
    now and forevermore.

And you, O tower of the flock,
    hill of daughter Zion,
to you it shall come,
    the former dominion shall come,
    the sovereignty of daughter Jerusalem.

By Chuck Griffin

As the season of Advent ends and Christmas is upon us, let’s take one last look at where the story of the infant Christ is headed.

It moves from childhood to adulthood to his death—and astonishingly, beyond death, to his resurrection and promises that all of creation will be renewed.

We sometimes forget that we are not beyond the story, but in the middle of it. It’s important we cling tightly to the promise there is more to come, that all will be set right.

Why does God not rescue those who suffer, or the outcasts, or the ones who bear the scars brought on by their own sins or the sins of others? It’s a question often heard, and the answer is straightforward: He’s doing so right now. The process is ongoing. The world is turning upside down as people continually are offered escape from sin through belief in Jesus Christ.

We don’t ask firefighters why they aren’t rescuing the trapped when they’re breaking down the door of a burning house. We don’t ask the doctor why he isn’t healing a patient when he’s in the middle of setting a broken leg. Even if the situation appears frightening or painful, we are grateful someone is moving events in the right direction.

This Christmas season, remember to give thanks not only for what happened in Bethlehem, but what was made possible. The hope seen in the manger is our hope for the future.

Lord, the details of how your promise will be fulfilled can seem mysterious, but we know that great day to come will bring eternal life in your presence. Hallelujah! Amen.

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.

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.

Toddling Toward the Kingdom

Luke 18:15-17 (NRSV)

People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”


My colleague John Grimm, a LifeTalk contributor, wrote last Thursday about the importance of transmitting the gospel from generation to generation. And it’s clear from today’s text that Jesus sees little children as having a special ability to hear the gospel.

Over the years, I have had parents tell me of their children declaring at age 5 or 6 that they believe in Jesus. Often, the parents want to know if I think the belief is somehow “real.”

Yes, it’s real. Nowhere in the Bible does it say we have to grow to adulthood, make a comparative study of religions and take philosophy classes before we are qualified to believe. We need to grow as disciples throughout our lives, but faith in Jesus is not an intellectual exercise.

It was difficult for Jesus to go to the cross, but that’s because out of love for humanity he was doing all the work, bearing the burden of every sin committed. Salvation is simple for us because all we have to do is believe in the work’s effectiveness. Jesus loves me, this I know, and for a child, salvation is a straightforward proposition.

Theologically, we do have much to work through as we get older. Concepts like soteriology (how salvation works) and theodicy (the answer to why evil continues to persist) are enough to keep our minds busy for a lifetime. But even the complicated questions require simple, childlike faith as a starting point in the search for answers.

Blessed are the children. Blessed are all who come to Christ with childlike wonder.

Lord, help us to recover and maintain the faith of a child, even as we make our way through the complicated world of adulthood. Amen.

From Glory to Horror to Hope

Matthew 2:13-18

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

So strange—at this point in the Christmas story, we’ve heard of angelic announcements and a virgin birth, events so miraculous they’re highlighted in the night sky, drawing wise men from distant lands. And then this horror happens.

As terrible as the slaughter of these innocent children is to contemplate, perhaps the account does help us process the horrors we have seen. It’s not unusual for people to ask, “How can God let such things happen?”

Well … evil remains in the world, doesn’t it? Satan and all beings who follow Satan’s lead see their impending destruction in Christ’s arrival. Their ongoing response is one of fury, an unleashing of the irrational anger at the core of their being.

Like Herod, any self-centered human can experience how frustration leads to anger, and anger can turn violent. There’s also a general brokenness to the world, the result of uncountable generations of sinful decision-making going back to the original break between humanity and God.

So even at the time of the birth of Christ, horrors persisted. And horrors will persist, for a time.

God has provided the solution, though. Somehow, the solution even will be mysteriously retroactive, wiping away every tear, to quote Revelation 21:4. We also can look to the concluding verses in Jeremiah 31:15-17, to which Matthew alluded after telling the tale of the Bethlehem children:

“There is hope for your future, says the Lord: your children shall come back to their own country.”

The work of Christ does not yet relieve us of the horrors we have witnessed or experienced, but it will. That great truth, mysterious as it is, should give us hope in all circumstances.

Lord, as we confront the dark realities of our world, give us a deeper understanding of how very temporary you will prove them to be. Amen.

The Well-Guarded Path

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Psalm 1 (NRSV)

Happy are those
   who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
   or sit in the seat of scoffers;

but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
   and on his law they meditate day and night.

They are like trees
   planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
   and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
The wicked are not so,
   but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
   nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
   but the way of the wicked will perish.

Understand God’s will and live according to it, and you will find joy, prospering in all you do. Ignore God’s will, and life will be misery and loss. It is a classic theme of wisdom literature from the Near East.

On the surface, these are beautiful ideas, concepts that fit our desire for justice. Without further development, though, they can at times seem quite empty.

If Psalm 1 represented the only theme of Scripture, I would have long ago discarded my study of the Bible. The idea being expressed does not consistently match the reality of what we observe.

Too often, seemingly good people suffer. Too often, the wicked flourish. Fortunately, Psalm 1 is just one part of an elaborate picture.

The Book of Job is an equally ancient piece of wisdom literature, and it takes us in a whole different direction. You may remember the story of Job. As it begins, he fits the pattern described in Psalm 1. He is a righteous man, walking with God and prospering mightily in terms of family and wealth.

The problem arises when Satan goes to God and speculates that Job is righteous simply because life is so good for him. Let me strike at him, Satan says, and Job will curse you, God. First, Satan is allowed to strike Job’s possessions and family. Later he’s allowed to strike at Job himself, afflicting him with terrible diseases.

In all of this, Job does not curse God, and he does not relent in his assertion to friends that he has done nothing wrong. He does complain mightily at times, though, and once he begins, he moves beyond his own problems and complains about how the wicked flourish and abuse the righteous, including orphans and widows, and God seems to do nothing.

You reach a story like Job’s in Scripture, and you realize the Bible deals with some very deep subjects. We may not find satisfying answers in Job to these deep questions about evil’s persistence, but at least the questions are asked. (There is a hint in Job 19 regarding the answer to come centuries later.)

This is why it is so important for us to engage with the Bible continually throughout our lives. If we hear what seem like simple stories and lessons as children, but never return to the Bible as we experience more complex lives, we will think Scripture is irrelevant. And in the process, we will miss so much that is useful as we grow older.

When Jesus arrives in the Bible story, his teachings help us wrestle with the deeper questions while simultaneously emphasizing the early truths we have learned.

Parables are a good example. Jesus uses them to perplex us until we ponder for a while, and in pondering we discover powerful new truths. Through Jesus, we learn that God loves us in ways the Jews had scarcely imagined. God pours out on the world what seems, from our perspective, to be a most illogical love, a love unearned and undeserved.

At the same time, Jesus teaches us to never let go of what we learned from the start. We are to come to God with the faith of a child.

Thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, it is possible for us to be placed on God’s holy path simply by believing. That alone is enough to align us with God. We are made righteous and good even though we don’t deserve these labels, and all we have to do is remain firmly planted in the grace God offers. And by the way, in the end, right and wrong will be sorted out.

Psalm 1 is true. It simply needs to be read in the context of the whole Bible story.

Lord, may we rest in a secure understanding that you are the source of righteousness, and then live accordingly. Amen.