Can God be in the presence of sin?

In prayer ministry work with abuse survivors, it’s common to ask Jesus to show up in the memory of the abuse. This is an effective way for Him to speak His love and care to the heart of the one who was harmed and bring healing to the wounds caused by others.

But sometimes a theology question can stop the work before it happens. “God can’t be in the presence of sin,” more than one friend has said to me, “so there’s no way Jesus could be there where that awful stuff is happening.” Continue reading “Can God be in the presence of sin?”

“Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?”

I have friends who are walking through hellish darkness in trying to recover and stay safe from evil perpetrated on them and their children that, when they entered their marriages, they had no inkling even existed.

I have friends who are trying to stay safe from being stalked by their rapists or other stalkers who for their own purposes want the world to think their target is crazy.

My friends often struggle with fear, because of flashbacks intruding into their present, and because of the very real and present threats of the wicked perpetrators.

And a Bible verse like this can send them spiraling. It just sounds like more condemnation.

But as always, it’s so, so important to look at the context.

Jesus said these words to His twelve disciples, the ones who had been with Him since the beginning of His ministry. They had seen Him

  • cleanse the temple
  • walk away from being almost stoned to death
  • bring about a miraculously huge catch of fish
  • deliver a demonized man
  • heal many people including a leper, a paralytic, two blind men, a man with a withered hand, and Peter’s mother-in-law
  • heal a sick man from a distance, without even seeing him
  • bring a man back to life
  • and preach and teach in a way that no one had ever heard anyone preach and teach, leaving them marveling time after time. They had observed His life as a life of laser focus and complete integrity, every waking moment, for months now.

That’s all a really important part of the context.

The other part is what was actually happening when Jesus said this.

The story is in Mark 4, Luke 8, and Matthew 8. The disciples were afraid because of the sudden storm that had arisen on the Sea of Galilee. In fact, they were terrified, and were sure they were going to die. Because Jesus was asleep, the disciples awoke Him. In the version in Mark, apparently they weren’t even asking for help (if they had been, they would have been showing some level of faith), but were simply aghast that He could sleep while they were dying. (In the version in Matthew, in their terror they ask Him to save them, and He refers to their faith as “little faith.”)

Even with all the miracles they’d seen Jesus do, still they were shocked to see Him be able to control nature like, you know, God.

And Jesus said, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?”

Jesus Calms the Storm by Stephen Gjertson

Part of the reason for the strong rebuke was that they had already seen Him work in so many mighty ways.

Part of the reason lies in what Jesus had said at the very beginning of the passage. “Let’s go to the other side of the lake.”

He had already told them they were going to make it to the other side.

But there’s something else I want to observe.

We don’t know with what tone of voice Jesus spoke this rebuke to his disciples.

Did he sound angry and condemning? Or did he sound simply disappointed?

I hear the words more like, “Haven’t you been with Me long enough to know that these things don’t take me by surprise? Haven’t you seen Me work one miracle after another? Didn’t you see that I had control over diseases and death, so of course I would have control over wind and waves? Didn’t you hear that I was planning to go to the other side?”

There is so much uncertainty in this life. One may think she’s marrying a man who loves God and others only to find out she’s marrying a sociopath. Her marriage may be the beginning of a nightmare from which it will take a long time to awake.

But one thing about Bible interpretation that’s really important to remember is not getting sucked into the mistake of thinking pronouns by default have to refer to you.

The whispers you get from your Lord Jesus may sound different from the way He talked to his disciples.

“Even though you can’t trust the liar who said he’d love and protect you, you can still trust Me.”

“Even though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will be with you.”

“My love is steadfast even when others have believed him and deserted you.”

For those who have seen His great work again and again and are still afraid, will He have a disappointed rebuke? Well, yes, probably.

But even then, His words to His own won’t be angry and condemning. He is a good Father and a good Shepherd who loves His children, His sheep.

We can know that each storm that arises will never take Him by surprise. And those of us who have put our faith in Him can walk the path He has called us to walk, with our hand in His. We can know that He loves His children and is with them in the storm.

“It’s not about you”

Quiz time.

What’s wrong with that statement in the title?

Answer . . .

There’s no antecedent for the “it.” 

(As a writer, editor, and English teacher, I’m troubled by a missing antecedent because of the ambiguity it creates. And yes, that sentence was a little bit “about me.”)

So I had to do some research to find out what people think the “it” refers to. Turns out different people think it refers to different things. Imagine that. Gotta love ambiguity. Continue reading ““It’s not about you””

“Your empathy is a sin” – a response to Desiring God

Umm . . . yes, he really did call it a sin, an “enticing sin,” in fact. That is, this Desiring God author truly did say that empathy is bad and even a trick of the devil. And the majority of the commenters on the Facebook post of the article and the hundreds who shared it believed the same way, many of them feeling convicted of the sin of empathy.

It’s a Screwtape-styled article, so you’re supposed to read it inside out and opposite, sometimes but not all the time, which can make it challenging to figure out, but it’s here, so I welcome you to see for yourself. Continue reading ““Your empathy is a sin” – a response to Desiring God”

A new church parable of the Good Samaritan

inspired by Valerie Jacobson, and posted in honor of #SBC2019, the convention of which has a theme this year of dealing with sexual abuse in the church.



Samaritan: What happened to you?

Wounded One: I was attacked by a sadistic robber.

Samaritan: Really? Which way did he go? I have to find him.

Wounded: Could you help me first before you bring him to justice?

Sam: Bring him to justice? No, Continue reading “A new church parable of the Good Samaritan”

“Better than I deserve”

If you’ve listened to Dave Ramsey at all, you’ve heard it as a response to “How are you?”

If you listen to country gospel, you might have heard it as a song.

If you’ve been looking, you’ve seen it in blog posts (and more blog posts) and maybe even on T shirts.

If you’ve sat under C.J. Mahaney or any of his disciples, you’ve heard it in sermons and greetings at church.

It sounds like a cute catch phrase. To some people it sounds humble.

And Biblical. Continue reading ““Better than I deserve””

Will God send leanness to your soul?

Here’s something we taught our children from the time they were old enough to understand:

Sometimes the worst punishment a person can get is what he wants.

I remmeber how astonished our children were with that teaching. It took much discussion for them to even begin to grasp it.

And of course our Biblical example was the Israelites, who turned from God and got what they wanted—lots and lots of quail. So much that it came out of their noses, as Numbers 11 so colorfully describes. Continue reading “Will God send leanness to your soul?”

Three fingers pointing back at you

It’s common for preachers and Christian writers to tell us, “When you listen to this sin being described, don’t think about anybody else; just think about yourself and search your own soul.” 

Many Christians, well-meaning and good-hearted, very much take that admonition to heart and do their best never to apply any Scriptural finger-pointing to anyone around them. 

That’s because frankly it’s a little scary and perhaps condemning, to think, “When you point the finger at someone else, you have three fingers pointing back at you.” Continue reading “Three fingers pointing back at you”