Mercy and Contempt

Psalm 123 (NRSV)
A Song of Ascents.

To you I lift up my eyes,
    O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
As the eyes of servants
    look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid
    to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
    until he has mercy upon us.

Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
    for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than its fill
    of the scorn of those who are at ease,
    of the contempt of the proud.

By John Grimm

I noticed something cool about my dogs.  When they are lying on the floor or on the ground, they will look up at me.  When they greet me when I arrive at home, the dogs will look up at me.  They look up to me because they know they can trust me.  Or they are looking for their next treat!

Yes, it is about trust when we are lifting up our eyes to the Lord our God.  It is God who can be trusted to give us mercy.  God will correct us, but he also has mercy for us.  Sometimes, we will have to continuously look to the Lord our God.  In the process, it will be a good idea to repent of known and unknown sins.  God hears the prayers of a repentant heart.

Now, those who have been contemptuous toward us and scorned us, what do we do about them?  As this psalm leaves out any retribution, we also leave out any retribution.  It has happened that as God has had mercy on people, those others who have had contempt and scorn towards God’s people actually turn to God.  God will take care of those who give contempt and scorn.  We need not concern ourselves with that.  We do continue to look for the one enthroned in the heavens so we may see him and receive mercy.

O Lord, more than our master or our mistress give us their attention, you give your attention to us.  When we seek you, we find you.  May we know your mercy as people give us contempt and scorn.  May even those who give us contempt and scorn receive your mercy, we ask in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

What Shall We Do by Faith?

Hebrews 11:4-7 (NRSV)

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts; he died, but through his faith he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and “he was not found, because God had taken him.” For it was attested before he was taken away that “he had pleased God.” And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith.


By Chuck Griffin

I prefer to plan. I enjoy visualizing where I want to go and devising how I am going to get there. If I cannot make my plan work, I become frustrated.

As a young man, this strategy worked well for me. A time came when people called on me to handle the planning of strategies and messages, with specific goals in mind.

As I grow older, however, I wonder if this tendency to plan can sometimes be a weakness rather than a strength. In particular, being wired in such a way can make it difficult to let God lead.

As we see in Hebrews, good things happen when we have faith that we are part of the big plan God already has put into place. The examples in the verses above are just the beginning of a long list of faithful people, one that stretches through the Bible and into the present. The reward for faith, even for Old Testament characters, amounts to salvation and a promise of eternal life.

The problem with planning is it can limit us. Planners can achieve only what is humanly possible. Aligning ourselves with God’s plan, even if it doesn’t always make sense in human terms, opens us to divine possibilities.

I don’t want to give you anything sounding like a plan, but here’s something we all should watch for in our lives. Do you ever have what seems like a holy desire to do something others might call irrational?

Let’s bathe those desires in prayer and see if they remain. If they do, God may be calling us to take an unplanned step in faith.

Lord, we should pray this prayer more often: Make us bold for you!

Bad Timing, Bad Results

“Hagar and Ishmael Sent Away,” woodblock print, Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1860.

Genesis 16:1-6 (NRSV)

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, and Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my slave-girl to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” But Abram said to Sarai, “Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she ran away from her.


This piece of a larger story can sound foreign, but there is a behavior within that should be familiar to us.

In the previous chapter in Genesis, we hear the Lord make powerful, ceremonially bound promises to the man we now know as Abraham, including the promise of a son. This son was to result in an uncountable multitude of descendants.

While no details were given regarding how the son would be born, there also were no codicils added to the promise—God simply told Abraham, “No one but your very own issue shall be your heir.”

Rather than simply accepting the promise, the ancient man and his old wife, who believed she was far beyond child-bearing years, tried to figure out what they must do to make the promise come true. The plan to impregnate a young servant sprang from Sarai’s mind, but her husband, who had witnessed God’s dramatically presented covenant, did nothing to dissuade her.

What ensues is a story of rivalry, jealousy, and some painful choices that have to be made once the real child of promise arrives.

Need I say it? God’s timing is what matters, not ours. In our haste, in our eagerness to see things the way we want them to be, we may take some of the shine off the miracle that will eventually happen.

It seems to me that the best strategy is to be faithful in our everyday tasks, trusting that God will lead us to better places and situations than we could ever devise on our own.

Lord, we are all afraid to pray for patience, but we do need it. May we rejoice one day in how perfect your timing has been throughout history. Amen.

Like a Child

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Matthew 18:1-5

About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”

Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

“And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me.”


To see how we fit into the Kingdom of Heaven, it helps to look to our earliest days.

The above verses from Matthew have some important context. Just prior, Jesus and his disciples have been discussing worldly power, the temple and taxes. (A fish ends up covering what Jesus and Peter owe.)

The disciples’ question regarding who is greatest in Jesus’ promised kingdom is similar to questions they ask elsewhere in the gospels: Who will sit nearest Jesus when he is on his throne? And what kind of power will we have?

Jesus’ response forces any thoughtful reader to consider what we had as very small children, and what we have lost as we have grown.

Some words we can meditate upon: Trust. Dependence. Simplicity. Wonder. Innocence.

As we grow older, we find ourselves surrendering such notions to survive. Power structures are in place wherever we go, and they will consume us if we don’t learn to defend ourselves, gain some control, master the system’s complexity, and ideally, learn to run the part of it affecting us.

Blessed are those who don’t have to learn these hard lessons too early in life.

It’s pretty clear to me that Jesus understood the compromises we have to make in the here and now. Sin remains in the world, and it is very dangerous, leading to terrible events that consume even the most innocent of children.

Earlier in Matthew, in the 10th chapter, Jesus said, “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves.”

This is a delicate balance for a Christian to maintain. We have to learn to navigate the world, but at the same time, we want to retain an adult version of what we had as small children.

Assuming we were blessed with good parenting, our feelings of trust and dependence flowed toward those who raised us. As adults, we can sense something similar in our relationship with God.

Knowing God should restore our sense of wonder, too. If we call him Creator, an examination of his creation should be enough to boggle any mind. And through Jesus Christ, we even can regain innocence, trusting that Christ on the cross cleanses us of our sins.

There also is much to anticipate. When the kingdom completely arrives—when we stand before God, seeing our savior, with the broken world behind us—I expect our childlike states will be fully restored.

Unlike children, we will comprehend everything, but innocence will remain, and God will call us great.

Lord, in the midst of our strategizing and surviving, may we be humble, seeking to live as much as possible in your kingdom now. May our way of living make the kingdom more real to us and those around us. Amen.

Too Easy

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

2 Kings 5:1-14 (NLT)

I hope you’ve taken a few moments to read the above story of two kings, a slave girl, a powerful leper named Naaman, and a healing so simple that Naaman almost refused to accept a life-changing gift from God.

I think of this story as the Old Testament preparing us for New Testament grace. I’ve known people who actually refused to accept Christ as Savior because they thought the path to salvation sounded too easy, like religious pablum spooned out to calm the masses.

According to the 2 Kings story, the Prophet Elisha didn’t even bother to go outside his house when Naaman the Great arrived with his entourage. Instead, Elisha sent a servant out to tell the army commander to wash seven times in the Jordan River, and he would be healed.

Easy peasy!

Naaman was suspicious, though. He was very specific in describing what he had expected to happen.

“I thought he would certainly come out to meet me!” he said. “I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me! Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?”

Arrogance, preconceived notions, and a little ethnocentrism all got in the way. He almost walked away in a huff from a healing. He was blessed to be surrounded by trusted advisers who convinced him to give the prophet’s offer a try.

I’m no Elisha, but if you’re spiritually broken, let me offer you similarly simple advice. Believe Christ died on the cross to save you. You will be healed of your brokenness, your pain and your shame.

That’s it. Believe. Trust. At that point, you will be made right with God. If you’ve not been baptized, you’ll also want to be washed in the water.

You will still have to think through your new situation. You’ll have to work through some complications. Naaman had to do all that. Humbled and grateful, he decided to focus on worshiping in the right way. He also had to learn to navigate the worldliness around him while honoring the God who had healed him.

That’s all very doable, though. Trust me.

Lord, thank you for making salvation simple. We know it was not easy for Jesus; he did the work, he had to bear the pain. Let us never forget the price he paid so we may have access to healing and eternal life. Amen.

The Meaning of Manna

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Exodus 16:1-8 (NLT)

God gave the Israelites a lot of signs and miracles in Egypt and on their way out of Egypt—plagues on their captors, a pillar of cloud and fire to lead and guard their exit, the parting of the Red Sea and the drowning of the Egyptian army. We might think they would have been ready to trust God once in the desert. Trust faded as soon as they got really hungry, however.

God faithfully responded with the promise of provision. The Israelites didn’t even need to carry food with them on their journey. Instead, food rained down as quail and manna, described as a substance that makes me think of Frosted Flakes. (I like cereal, so my interpretation may be biased.)

The lesson was simple: God will provide. In fact, God wanted the Israelites to go to bed every night trusting his provision would be there for them the next day—no long-term planning needed on this journey. There was work to be done in the gathering of the food, but they always had enough. The weekly exception was when God sent them enough food for two days in anticipation of the Sabbath. God also wanted them to rest!

God still seeks the same kind of trust from us today. Pray this prayer with me: “Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread … .” Stop right there just a second.

Do we mean it? Do we live it? What does it mean to live as if we trust our bread will come on a daily basis?

The idea certainly conflicts with our 401K/pension plan/Roth IRA mindsets. We’re taught to store provisions for use 40 years or more into the future, with all of that planning affecting when we can retire. We’re sometimes even left with the strange concern that we might live too long, running out of money in the process. Can we reconcile these two very different world views?

As I ponder this, I’m first reminded of one of Jesus’ parables. He begins telling it at Luke 12:16:

“A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, ‘My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’

“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”

Then, turning to his disciples, Jesus said, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear.”

Luke 12:16-22 (NLT)

As bad as his hoarding was, the rich man’s real problem was the way he deluded himself about how much control he had, in the process failing to understand his basic relationship to God.

Preparation is prudent, but we should never let go of this basic truth: We don’t control the future. Planning  and stored provisions cannot eliminate our need for God.

There also is the issue of how we use the resources we are given. Do we live as if this life is the only one that counts? Or do we live as people who believe something greater is happening? After all, we believe that God’s kingdom is truly arriving, and that the kingdom is where we store our true treasures and live out eternity.

John Wesley had a sermon, “The Danger of Riches,” that explained his idea of how to balance proper planning and trust in God. (Wesley was working from 1 Timothy 6:9.)

In the sermon, Wesley said that God provides for the roof over our heads, food, and other basic needs. We should even save to ensure the well-being of our families and businesses we may own. Beyond those provisions, everything we are given counts as riches, and they have been given to us to use “to the glory of God.” Often, this means using our riches to help those who are less blessed materially, playing a role in God’s provision for people’s basic needs.

Even for a tither, this is a concept that requires thought. It forces a reassessment of every decision we make regarding how we handle our income and possessions, simply because we learn to say, “It’s not really mine, anyway.”

When we learn to make decisions about money and other resources in the light of God’s dawning kingdom, we not only trust God daily, we begin to participate actively in the kingdom’s growth. We let God work through us so others see their daily bread arrive.

When all Christians adopt such an attitude, God’s presence will be as visible in this world as a pillar of cloud in the sky and manna on the ground.

Lord, give us this day our daily bread, and let us be content with your gracious provisions. Amen.