The Prince of Peace

One of the most peculiar stories in the Bible also happens to be one of the most familiar.

It tells of an event that took place shortly after Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, when some foreigners—called ‘Magi’—showed up in Jerusalem, unannounced (Matthew 2:1-12). Traditionally, we have come to know them as the “Three Kings of Orient,” but the Bible never gives a number or labels them as royalty. So don’t believe every Christmas carol you hear. 

These Magi were likely astrologers from Babylon, Persia, or Arabia who had—rightly—seen and interpreted a sign in the stars that an important king was about to be born. Figuring this king would be born in the royal palace, they made a long journey to the City of David, Jerusalem, home of Rome’s puppet-king, Herod the Great. They came looking for a new prince–possibly in the royal household–but found none. Instead, they stirred up trouble, because “[w]hen Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:3).

It would be troubling, wouldn’t it, that strange and foreign, non-Jewish purveyors of occult practices and magic would show up unannounced to announce a royal birth before the royal family itself was even aware of it? It was certainly troubling to King Herod the Great, who was so famously paranoid of competition that he had one of his wives and two of his own sons executed. And in this instance, if these Magi were correct, this sign must refer to another challenger to the crown.

Intent to flush out and end the threat, Herod quickly made use of the religious leaders and scholars to nail down the anticipated prophetic birthplace of the anticipated Jewish King, the Messiah. Likely running through Herod’s mind was that there was an uprising amongst the people, intent on replacing him and enthroning one of their own in his place. He then surreptitiously sent these Magi to Bethlehem and commanded them to report back after they found the child. However, after finding Jesus and his parents, they are tipped off to Herod’s scheming and sneak out of the country undetected.

Herod is troubled and furious because he realizes that this baby—this upstart king—is dangerous. So in the wake of the Magi’s secret defection from Palestine, Herod responds with characteristic violence: “Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men” (Matthew 2:16). 

Kings do not like it when their kingdoms are threatened.

But to see a baby as a threat? How could a small child, born to an insignificant peasant couple, possibly be a threat?

Interestingly, this is exactly what the prophets anticipate:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

What does this mean?

It means that this child-king will shake the foundations of every existing power structure until they topple, taking the authority to rule upon himself. He will eventually overthrow every political power and subdue every opposing authority. So as crazy as he was, Herod was right to be troubled. The child promised was not simply “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” but the conquering Prince of Peace who has come to upend ALL human kingdoms.

As the Prince of Peace, “of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.” In other words, his kingdom will last forever and it will spread forever. It will be a Kingdom of Peace—the Hebrew term here is shalom. Shalom refers to a state in which all things are as they should be, where instead of conflict, there is universal flourishing and wholeness: “justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.”

Don’t miss what happens here: the Prince of Peace brings peace, not by allowing everyone to do what they want, but through upending all human kingdoms—dismantling them and throwing them down. 

Yes, this includes your kingdom, and it includes mine.

You see, every single one of us spends our lives building up our own kingdoms. And even if we call ourselves “Christians,” what we often mean by that is that we simply want Jesus to protect our kingdom. We demand that he guard our self-rule and self-reliance. We’re not interested in him actually ruling. 

But Baby Jesus has come to call us all out: to remind us that as the Prince of Peace, he will countenance no rival. He will not give place to usurpers and challengers to his throne.

And yes, like Herod, we want to silence the infant King. We don’t do it so brazenly as Herod, sending our troops to murder innocent children. Instead, we do it by relegating Jesus to the manger. We keep him bound in swaddling cloths, a perpetual infant, day after day, year after year. Like Ricky Bobby, we prefer Baby Jesus, because when Jesus stays in diapers, he’s not a threat. We like baby Jesus because he doesn’t demand anything from us. If he stays a harmless child, who requires nothing of us, then we have nothing to lose.

But Jesus didn’t stay a baby. And he’s not harmless.

No, Jesus grew up to become a man. And that man said some hard things, challenged established authority, and then gave himself over to be arrested, tortured, and murdered by those who saw him as a threat to their kingdoms. And that man who died didn’t stay dead, but came back to life—conquering even the dark hold of the kingdom of death.

And that man lives even now, at the right hand of the throne of God, wielding all power and all authority in the universe. And from there, he will return again to judge and conquer and subdue every and any kingdom that sets itself up against him—including yours and mine.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Therefore, your kingdom has no chance. But let me promise you this: His Kingdom is so much better! He is the only king who can give you peace—and oh, does he promise to give you peace!—when you lay down your arms and bend the knee to King Jesus, the Prince of Peace. 

The government shall be upon his shoulders. Of its increase—and the increase of peace—there will be no end.  Amen.

Photo by Robert Thiemann on Unsplash


Gathering Again: Thinking Through Re-opening Church

As a pastor, the past month and a half has been a very interesting time. I’ve learned to livestream, regularly preached at a camera lens, mastered the art of Zoom, and fought for consistency and calm in the midst of anxiety. As much as we hate the term, we’ve all entered a “new normal.” And the newest normal is, without a doubt, the increasingly common angst and desire to return to the “old normal.”

Now, as states throughout the country begin to ease restrictions on social distancing, re-open businesses, and seek to return to normal, church leaders especially are wrestling with what it looks like to “re-open” church. In our own town, where there has only been one confirmed case of COVID-19, several smaller churches never closed. Others have begun meeting prior to the state giving the green light. There are so many questions as this takes place, and there are absolutely no easy answers. In every group of people, a broad spectrum of opinion likely exists.

So how do church leaders walk through re-opening (or not) in a way that honors and obeys God, loves people, and leads followers of Jesus to live out their faith in the midst of ever-changing circumstances? How do we strengthen the faith of the fearful, and focus the love of those who are given to conspiracy theories?

I’m not sure I have the answers, but I have gathered a number of resources to help our leaders think through these decisions in the coming weeks and months.

When Should We Practice Civil Disobedience?  A helpful, well-argued, clear, and timely article for everyone, but especially for church leaders, as we consider what gathering might look like in the coming weeks and months. The next question, though, is what should it look like when we are given the green light to gather again?

Forsaking the Assembly?  A thoughtful evaluation of Hebrews 10:25 in light of our current pandemic situation. Is it sinful not to meet together, in light of this verse?

How to Reopen a Church Safely  A helpful guide from an epidemiologist on how churches should phase in re-opening during the COVID-19 crisis. Church leaders all over are wrestling through this question right now, and I found this a helpful resource for me as a pastor and our elders as we seek to move forward while taking all factors into account.

Ministry Grid: Online Training  This is a free training resource form Lifeway for pastors and church leaders to think through and strategize church life in the coming weeks and months.

9Marks: Pastors Thinking Through Re-Opening Again This is a helpful conversation between Jonathan Leeman and Michael Lawrence.

CDC Guidance on Churches Re-Opening Joe Carter’s summary and thoughts on CDC guidance for churches.

Navigating Opposing Opinions  If COVID-19 has done one thing, it’s divided people. Not that we need much help in that, but in the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen division increasing between believers around this issue. This article is helpful in thinking through navigating through this time relationally: with grace.





Gleanings (May 4 2020)

Five articles I’ve recently found helpful from around the web:

The Medium is the Message: Zoom Style  Some profound thoughts of how we are seeing McCluhan’s truism rear its head again in this time of quarantine:  “Which is not to say that one should avoid video-conferencing altogether or that it does not have certain virtues. Right now, most everything is operating in a less than ideal manner, and we’re fumbling our way toward some version of “good enough.” But in order to use these tools well, it’s worth reckoning with what Zoom or Skype can and cannot do. We should understand how they might be undermining our stated objectives, and we should be clear about what we are asking of others when we mandate their use.”

Prayer Guide for Ramadan A resource to help you pray for Muslims during Ramadan. Sign up for these daily e-mails through Frontiers USA.

Not the Hero This is a brilliant call to embrace humility: “As Christians, we do grave damage when we attempt to insert ourselves into the heroic role of every story. We do it with good intention, a desire to demonstrate faith, and articulate the distinction of our hope, but there are times when the church must not be the hero. There are times when we are made to sit and receive along with the world.”

In Defense of Homeschool  Samuel James’ well-crafted response in the Wall Street Journal in response to a Harvard Professor’s critique of homeschooling: “Contrary to some resilient stereotypes, we received a good education in a small house that was filled with books—an education that included musical training, field trips, long hours studying languages and high-level mathematics, and many, many friends. I appreciate Ms. Bartholet’s keen interest in the educational rights of children, but her views exemplify the sort of ignorance she ascribes to homeschooling families.”

Remember the Poor  Jon Bloom: “We must remember the poor among us, those in our local churches who have been furloughed or laid off and find themselves in sudden financial or some other need. We must remember the poor in our cities or regions that are particularly vulnerable. And we must remember the poor in impoverished countries who are at the greatest risk on the greatest scale. These needs are overwhelming, but we cannot allow ourselves to shut down due to the staggering size of the needs, and retreat to Netflix, while they perish.”



Gleanings (April 17 2020)

April 17, 2020

Five articles I found helpful from around the Web this week:

Zoom Fatigue  A very practical medical-theological treatise on the importance of paying attention to our bodies during a time of social isolation. Super insightful a month into quarantine.

Grieving is Leading  Jonathan Dodson on not forgetting to lead your people to lament in this difficult time. We can’t be their comforter, and perhaps we’re not supposed to be. What if God has brought us to this time so that we would run to him–and lead others to run to him–in our grief, loneliness, isolation, and despair?

How to Pray for Medical Providers  Helpful insights as we seek to support our frontline workers.

Resist Busyness  For someone like me who is constantly looking for something to “do,” the coronavirus crisis has ramped up my productivity–as well as my guilt when I’m not as productive as everyone else. This article was a necessary and helpful balm for me this week, reminding me: “settle down”.

Fighting Coronavirus Fears  As usual, John Piper draws us back to the rock solid foundation of God’s word. Helpful and encouraging.

When You Struggle With Doubt

We were on a rare date, tucked into a back corner of our favorite brewpub. Sitting across the table from my wife, I looked her in the eye and spilled the beans: “I’m struggling with…doubt.”

Maybe not the juicy confession one would anticipate from a husband to his wife, but it was a struggle I had held close for some time. As a pastor, a struggle with doubt isn’t the kind I was eager to make public. What would people think if they knew their pastor was wrestling with assurance of his faith? I was supposed to be the unwavering the one. The man with all the answers, the deepest joy, the utmost assurances. I was the one who was supposed to comfort others in their doubts.

But here I was, coming clean with my struggles.

And I found I was not alone, for my wife graciously admitted to her own struggle with doubt as well. The struggle of holding fast to faith and hope and joy in Jesus in the midst of an ugly and pain-filled world. Life is not easy, and strength-of-faith comes at a premium.

Reading the Gospels also helps me to know I’m not alone in my doubts. In fact, I’m in fairly good company.


In giving his account of Jesus’ life, Matthew the Evangelist gives a short account of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to his disciples:

“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:16-20)

Tucked in at the end of verse 17, three curious words stand out: “…but some doubted.”

Juxtaposed with “they worshiped him,” these words raise a number of questions: Who was doubting? What were they doubting? Why were they doubting? Did they keep doubting?

Matthew doesn’t answer these questions. He just leaves us with the bare existence of doubt.

And I think that’s important.


The disciples are notorious in the Gospels for their struggle with belief. This was the case even when they saw Jesus’ miracles and tasted his power.

Consider the miracle of Jesus walking on the water, recorded in Matthew 14. The disciples had just participated in another miracle, helping Jesus feed more than 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish. He had now sent them in the boat ahead of him, across the Sea of Galilee at night. It was slow going. So slow that Jesus makes better time walking. On the water.

When the disciples see him they’re terrified. No one should be walking in the middle of the sea, especially in the middle of the night! Their immediate reaction was to think he was a ghost, to which he responds: “‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid’” (Matt. 14:27). A familiar refrain with Jesus.

Then Peter does something odd. He wants to make sure it’s Jesus and decides a good litmus test would be to ask the “ghost” to command him to come out on the water. Kind of an odd request, to which Jesus simply replies: “Come.” And Peter obeys. He gets out of the boat and begins to walk toward Jesus on the water. Then here’s what happens:

“But when he [Peter] saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’” (Matt. 14:30-31, emphasis mine).

This is the only other time in the entire New Testament where this little Greek word, translated “doubt”—the same word found in Matthew 28:17—is used. In this context, it probably means something more like to “hesitate” or “waver”. Peter’s hesitation causes him to fear, and fear is what often causes disciples to sink. Thankfully, Peter has enough faith to cry out to Jesus for help!

Likewise, when face-to-face with the risen Christ himself, doubt remained in the hearts of some of the disciples. Fear and faith dwelt in their hearts simultaneously. Worship and doubt co-existed.

Which gives me hope that my own struggles to believe, and the smallness of my faith, don’t disqualify me. In fact, Jesus says we only need a little bit of faith—a mustard seed will do. That’s enough for him to work with. Because if faith is a gift anyway, then it’s Jesus’ to bestow and it’s also his to grow.


Like these disciples, many of us find our worship intermixed with doubt. This isn’t an excuse to nurture our doubt, but perhaps it gives us a hopeful notion of Jesus’ grace to us in the midst of our doubt.

The story of “doubting Thomas” is a great lesson for us, because Thomas wasn’t hesitant in his doubt. He was pretty firm about it. He required proof: “‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe’” (John 20:25b). In response to Thomas’ skepticism, Jesus doesn’t tell the other ten disciples: “Hey, forget that Thomas. I never liked the guy anyway!” No, he comes to Thomas and meets him square in the middle of his doubts and offers his hands and side for Thomas to examine.

What a beautiful grace to us in the midst of our doubt! Sometimes it’s in the place of our honest doubts and hesitations that Jesus meets us most profoundly. So don’t be afraid—bring your doubts to him. He can handle it, and he’s the only one who can remove your doubts and strengthen your faith!


For me, my doubt often revolves around myself. I doubt my worthiness. I doubt the strength or authenticity of my own faith. I wonder if Peter—who had denied Jesus three times—was one of the doubting disciples of Matthew 28:17. Maybe, like me, these disciples doubted they were good enough to be on Jesus’ team.

So the reasons for my doubt are various—fear, skepticism, self-questioning. So how do I move from doubt to faith? From hesitation to worship? Jesus himself answers this question in the next three verses of Matthew 28.

In what has come to be known as “The Great Commission,” Jesus makes three things clear: it’s all about him, he’s chosen us to tell his story, and his presence is a game-changer.

First, Jesus calls them to look to his authority and his power. Our tendency is to judge our worthiness by looking to our own strength or weaknesses, abilities or failings, victories or defeats. But Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18). Which means that the only strengths, abilities, and victories that matters are his. Our faith is only as strong as its object. Thankfully, the object of our faith is the strongest Person in the universe!

Second, Jesus picks them to carry his story. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20a). Jesus gives honor to these disciples by giving them a place in his mission. A seat at the table. A position on the team. Nothing in this commission is centered on the disciples. It’s all about Jesus—his story, his message, his church, his glory.

My doubts arise when I look at myself, but Jesus calls me not to look at myself at all. He calls me to keep my eyes on him while I turn my eyes to the nations.

Finally, Jesus promises them his presence. “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20b). He won’t abandon them. He will be with them every step of the way. The presence of the risen Christ, presently with his people in the Person of the Holy Spirit, works in us to keep our eyes on Jesus.

When Peter attempted to walk on the water, Jesus asked him why he doubted—that is, why he wavered. The wavering Jesus was referencing had to do with where Peter’s eyes were directed. In other words, “Why did you take your eyes off of me?” Because when Peter looked away from Jesus, only then did he begin to fear.

Doubt is nothing more than wavering in our view of the Risen Christ, turning our eyes to our circumstances, our own achievements or failures, or all the other things our hearts desire. Faith is looking to the only One who can save us, the only One who can rescue us, and the only One who is worthy of our trust. When we look to Jesus, our faith grows, because the object of our faith becomes bigger in our eyes.

And when Jesus is bigger to us, doubt and hesitation don’t have anything to hold onto.

Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash

Parents, Don’t Miss This Opportunity

by Mike Phay

There are certain pages of the Bible I always hesitate to turn.

I love the creative beauty and wonderful potential of Genesis 1-2. It kills me to turn to Genesis 3, which opens with the craftiness of a serpent and the fall of humanity. Sin enters the picture and ruins everything. Hopes are dashed and the story will never be the same.

In the very next book–Exodus–the wonders of God’s miraculous salvation are, unfortunately, interspersed with unfortunate complaining and idol-worship.

The anticipation of Numbers 13 and the anticipation of entering the Promised Land fizzles as the twelve spies return, and ten of them give a negative report and fill the hearts of the people with fear. A big mistake which leaves the new nation squandering 40 years in the wilderness.

The same thing happens when we turn from the last page of the Book of Joshua, and find waiting for us the Book of Judges. Joshua, of course, warns us of what is coming as he addresses the assembled Israelites at the end of his life: “You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good” (Joshua 24:19-20). And the people, self-reliant as ever, respond: “No, but we will serve the LORD” (v. 21). In other words: “We got this. We’re good.” Yeah right. We know what’s coming. Just turn the page:

“When Joshua dismissed the people, the people of Israel went each to his inheritance to take possession of the land. And the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the LORD had done for Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of 110 years. And they buried him within the boundaries of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel. And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD…”  –Judges 2:6-11

So Joshua was spot on. He knew what the Israelites were capable of. He’d been watching them try and fail for decades. And he knew that this would continue.


But we find in this passage an interesting observation about just how this failure took place. Namely, we find a disconnect from one generation to another. It seems that there are three generations represented here:

First, Joshua’s generation, consisting of all those who died in the wilderness plus Joshua and Caleb.

Second, there is the generation of “the elders who outlived Joshua.” These are those who were allowed into the Promised Land and through warfare had been used of God to conquer the land. Many of this generation had witnessed the Exodus from Egypt as young people, and 40 years later, had helped to conquer the land. Others were born in the wilderness, but through the conquest had “seen all the great works that the LORD had done for Israel.”

Third, there is the generation that was born and raised after the conquest. This is the “baby boom” generation who did not know warfare, and had simply inherited the blessings secured by God in the prior generation.

The first two generations had seen the mighty works of God. They had participated in great things. Apparently, they “knew the LORD.” However, their children didn’t know the LORD. Why? What happened?

The people of Israel had failed to pass on the faith–namely, the Law–to the next generation. They had disobeyed God’s clear directive, laid out in Deuteronomy 6:4-7:

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

Somewhere along the line, diligence had faltered. The people had settled, they had become complacent. They may have become busied with all of the details of this new life in this new land: rebuilding cities, establishing farms, having families, getting married, feeding themselves, and dealing with the pesky Canaanites who were left in the land.

But in the midst of their busy-ness, they had missed the most important things: attending to the God who was with them (not just in the past, but in the present), and passing on that faith to their children.

In Psalm 78:1-8, the lyricist Asaph brings a much-needed corrective appeal to Israel:

“Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.

He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.”


We live in a strangely unique time here in the Spring of 2020, when the entire world is on lockdown. We’re all in quarantine in one way or another. Here in the United States, public schools have been closed for weeks,  most of them for the remainder of the school year. Home-schooling is the new norm. Many families have an increased amount of time with their children.

This is no accident.

God is not surprised by the advent of this pandemic. He has not been knocked back on his heels or caught sleeping. He is sovereign over everything, even this virus. And he is sovereign over the reality for some of you that your kids are now at home with you full time instead of at school for 30 hours every week. On top of that, if you are forced to stay home because of drastic changes in your employment or the necessity of caring for your children, many of the things that used to “busy” you are now on the back burner.

So what are you doing with this gift of time? Are you taking advantage of this incredible opportunity to pass on your faith to your children? Are you picking up the mantle of responsibility as the primary disciple-maker of your children?

Parents, make the most of this opportunity. Don’t squander it. Don’t hide from your children the great and glorious realities of the Bible, of the Gospel, and of our faith.

Let’s use this gift of time to pass on our faith to our children so that they might set their hope in God.


There are so many resources out there for you to use as parents as you disciple your children. Here are a few that I would recommend:

  • Justin Whitmel Earley, who wrote The Common Rule has put together a helpful guide called “Spiritual Rhythms for Quarantine
  • The New City Catechism is a great resource for helping children grasp the core truths of the Christian faith. One Question & Answer each week.
  • Truth78(formerly Children Desiring God) has great resources for at-home discipleship for parents and children.


It’s OK to Be Sad

by Mike Phay

(this post originally appeared at For The Church)

You’ve been in that moment—at the crux of life and pain—either yourself, or with someone you love. Holding their hand. Sitting quietly. Not knowing what to say, worried that the wrong thing will escape from your lips.

You’ve been in desperate straits. You’ve been in the midst of the crucible, in the heat of the trial. You’ve struggled and wrestled with God, as Jacob did at Peniel (Genesis 32:22-32).

You just found out you have cancer and have been given three months to live. Your child just died tragically. You’ve lost everything that you own. You can’t get out of bed in the morning because the depression is too deep, too heavy. Your wife has left you. Your family is in shambles. You’re struggling to find your identity after a job loss career-ending injury. You just want to end it all.

Because we’ve all been there, statements like this seem ridiculous:

“Count it all joy, brothers and sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds…” (James 1:2)

“When you meet trials of various kinds” makes sense.

But “count it all joy” seems like a slap in the face when all that you’re really asking for is the easy way out, the smooth and happy, suffering-lite, cancer and abandonment and barrenness and shame and conflict-free version of life.

“Why me?” you ask.

“Well, why not you? Would you rather it happen to someone else?”

“Oh, that’s a good point…and yes, actually, that would be nice.”

Joy vs. Happiness

But the joy that James is speaking of in this verse is not the trite kind of happiness that is detached from the difficult realities of life. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit that transcends the emotion of happiness. It is deeper. More eternal. Anchored in God himself.

And it would seem that joy cannot truly be experienced if trials are ignored. Those who understand, recognize, and endure trials, rather than seeking to avoid or escape them, are the only ones who will be able to experience true joy. Joy, the kind that James is speaking of here, requires trials.

Our American condition is such that we count ourselves experts in avoiding or escaping trials. We want them to stay away–to keep their distance. This is a fairly normal human preference. Even Jesus asked that he be able to avoid the suffering that was coming to his way.

In the midst of trials, we vary between the escape mechanisms of burying our head in the sand and ignoring our trials, or focusing our energy on having them end as soon as possible. Consider, for example, the way in which you pray. When a trial comes into your life, is your first impulse to pray that it would end, or to pray that you would find it to be a source of joy? That, of course, is a rhetorical question.

Avoidance or escape. These are our defaults.

But James is inviting us to actually consider the trials of our lives as sources of joy.

What James is not doing, as we might assume, is discounting the nature of our trials. He’s not ignoring the suffering that they bring, the pain that they instill, the tragedy and the incomprehensible sense of isolation and abandonment that we feel in the midst of them.

James is not saying that trials won’t be hard.

Be Sad for Sad Things

The Scriptures very clearly call us to weep for things. They give us room to mourn and to lament. The world is not the way that it should be. We can see that simply by opening our eyes and getting out of bed in the morning.

We are clearly commanded to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

Jesus himself assures us that God smiles on the people who just can’t help but be broken at the brokenness of life: “Blessed are those who mourn” (Matthew 5:4).

There is, according to the author of Ecclesiastes, “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (3:4).

If you were to take a simple survey of the book of Psalms—the collection of 150 Hebrew prayers and songs that are found in the center of our English Bibles—you will find 45% of them (68 of 150) are psalms of lament. In other words, almost half of Israel’s worship music was tinged with sadness, weeping, and mourning, all with the recognition that life is hard and the world is filled with tragedy and suffering.

Think about that for a second. Israel was actually so much better at living in the real world than we are today. I mean, how many of our worship songs actually mention or wrestle with the depth and severity of the human condition? Of human suffering?

How many of those of us who call ourselves Christians actually make ourselves more and more irrelevant just because we’ve become convinced we need to paste a fake smile on our face and act happy all the time because “that’s what good Christians do”?

But tears should frequent the faces of the saints. Just ask Jeremiah.

We are given place in our human experience, before God and the world, to treat the broken world just as it is: broken. To mourn and to cry and to weep and to be sad over things that call for it. That require it, even.

As pastor and author Zack Eswine writes: “It is an act of faith and wisdom to be sad about sad things.”

Let me encourage you, then, to be sad about sad things. See and experience and lament the world as it really is. This isn’t some kind of manifesto towards a hopeless life of cynicism and depression, but rather a reality check that actually allows us to enter into the real life of real people with a real message from a real God of real Good News. Not just real good news, but really Good News!

Instead of encouraging you to do the things we are naturally prone to do—avoiding or escaping suffering—I’m encouraging you to enter in and walk with people in their pain. Why? Because that’s what Jesus did. And therein lies the really Good News, and real joy. Jesus, the perfect Son of God—“who for the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2)—saw fit to enter the real world and to take on your suffering. He chose to walk with you in the trial. He wept over your sin and your pain. He loves you intensely.

Instead of giving you an intellectually satisfying answer for you pain, God gives you a soul-satisfying Savior in the midst of your pain.

Love in a Time of Quarantine

by Mike Phay

It’s been a strange couple of weeks. Schools are closed, social distancing is the norm, restaurants can only serve take-out, and many folks have lost their jobs. The stock market has taken a nose-dive and the health of the economy is in question. And none of us knows how long this is going to last.

I’ve noticed two divergent responses to all that has happened. One was illustrated in crowds of Oregonians flouting our governor’s urging to stay home and flocking to the beach, the Gorge, and our beautiful State Parks. Others fail to see the need to diverge from life-as-normal because they don’t feel at-risk. This response of noncompliance rejects seemingly unreasonable and needless restrictions on individual and societal freedoms.

The opposite response is observed in the bare shelves of the toilet paper aisles of every grocery store in Prineville. When the security of having enough is threatened, we fear scarcity. This threat triggers a fight and flight response: competing with one another over what we perceive to be limited supplies, and hunkering down with what we have. This response of anxiety is preoccupied with a frightening and unknown future.

Obviously these are extremes, and most of us fall somewhere in between. Regardless, each of these responses is based in fear. This is obvious for those whose hearts and minds are experiencing anxiety. But how is noncompliance fear-based? Because it’s driven by the fear of losing what is valued most: unobstructed freedom and self-direction.

Grounded in Love

A Christian response in this time of crisis is reflected in neither of these extremes.

It is not a response of anxiety, as the Apostle Paul wrote: “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). Similarly: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Neither is it a noncompliant response that elevates one’s own rights as supreme: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Christians are called to willingly and joyfully lay down their rights for others—just like Jesus did (see Philippians 2:5-8).

Rather, in times of great uncertainty, the Christian response is to be grounded in love. For “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18a).

So the question is, how do we love in a time like this?

First, we love others with a non-anxious presence.

To be non-anxious when it seems like everything around us is rife with worry and concern begins by nurturing a foundational trust in an all-powerful, sovereign, trustworthy, and faithful Savior. God is not surprised by the crisis taking place across the globe, and he is not anxious about how it’s going to play out. In fact, he will use it to carry out his redemptive purposes in the world and in our community. We can rest in that reality, and even join him in his redemptive work.

Choosing to live as a non-anxious presence means proactively pursuing trust over fear. As a church, we are choosing to love and bless our neighbors through embodying the deep trust that marks our faith, and living that out in front of our friends, neighbors, and family.

Second, we love by submitting to authorities.

In Romans 13:1-2, we read: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

I find many people who choose non-compliance to government directives during this time because they don’t believe this coronavirus is a threat to them. They are young and healthy. But what they don’t recognize is the clear data-driven fact that as with any virus—and maybe even more so because of it’s long incubation period of 14 days—this thing thrives and spreads through carriers, many of whom will experience little or no symptoms.

So it’s actually an act of love to submit to the authorities when they ask us to “Stay at Home” and impose restrictions that seem like an overreaction. Submission and compliance is a way that we can love others by giving up our rights to protect the lives of others.

Third, we love through prayer.

Prayer is an act of faith that recognizes a radical dependence on a power that is greater than us. It is an act of desperate need. Curiously, as we are being asked to stay home, many of us are being forced to do nothing. We can’t go out and be with people. Some can’t go to work because their jobs are non-existent. In short, there is nothing we can do. We are powerless. We need help.

If you are a follower of Jesus, this may be exactly what God wants you to embrace during this time. Recognize that this is a time when we must ask God to move, or else we’re toast. We must cry out to him for help. We must love others by lifting them up in prayer: those who are sick; first responders and medical personnel who are taking on the brunt of the workload; our local, state, national, and world leaders as they are faced with serious and unprecedented decisions. There is so much to pray for, and right now, many of us have nothing but time to pray!

Fourth, we love by readily meeting needs.

There are some things that you can do to lead with love rather than fear. The list is endless, but here a few things that come to my mind: Financially support local businesses that are taking a hit during this time. Keep your eyes out for needs in the community on Facebook. Donate medical supplies. Share your toilet paper. Check on your neighbors and offer to pick up groceries or prescriptions—or cook a meal—for those who need to stay isolated for their own safety. Sign up with to help meet needs for foster kids and families. Give blood safely at a Red Cross ( blood drive.

These are just a few of the hundreds of opportunities to love by meeting the needs of others throughout our community. This is a unique time to lean in.

Just make sure you stay six feet apart.

The Web’s Top 5 – July 26, 2019

These are the Top 5 things I found on the web this week:

Delighting in the Trinity

Nine short videos by Mike Reeves, focused on helping us to delight in God’s nature as Trinity. Worth 12 minutes of your week!

Love Your Neighbor and Speak the Truth

Rosaria Butterfield: “To be clear, I was not converted out of homosexuality. I was converted out of unbelief. I didn’t swap out a lifestyle. I died to a life I loved. Conversion to Christ made me face the question squarely: did my lesbianism reflect who I am (which is what I believed in 1999), or did my lesbianism distort who I am through the fall of Adam?”

A Secular Take on the Sabbath

An interesting interview about the case for a 24/6 lifestyle. A practical, pragmatic take on the Sabbath that serves to show–in my opinion–many of the benefits of this life-giving commandment. From The Art of Manliness.

Being a Man Like Jesus

Such a great article on Christlike masculinity. These are the kinds of men we need in our churches today: “But such is not the vision of he who made man. Instead of blunting his sharp edges, God has a different solution for creating good men: rebirth, looking to Christ, and training in righteousness. Godliness must balance his natural perils. He achieves mature manhood through adding the fruit of the Spirit, not subtracting his God-designed nature. Kindness, self-control, compassion flavor his strength, courage, determination — not eclipse them.”

Does a Traditional Marriage Ethic Harm LGBTQ People?

Preston Sprinkle has, in my opinion, done a great job in opening and keeping a respectful conversation in the space of gender, sexuality, and faith. You may not agree with everything he says, but the resources he is developing through the Center for Faith, Sexuality, and Gender are top-notch. This is a two-part blog post. The second part is here.


Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

The Web’s Top 5 – May 24, 2019

These are the Top 5 things I found on the web this week:

Sunday from Heaven

It’s easy for us to think of Sunday morning as a snooze-fest. But what if we were to see it from God’s perspective?  “How can we overlook Sunday mornings unless we’ve grown dull to the constellation of incomparable beauties that come together in those ninety precious minutes? In some real sense, what we experience in worship together is the closest to heaven we come in this life. No matter how familiar or mundane it may feel in any given week, what happens on Sunday morning is a wonder to anticipate, behold, and enjoy.”

Human Relationships Are Becoming Luxury Goods

“So as wealthy kids are growing up with less screen time, poor kids are growing up with more. How comfortable someone is with human engagement could become a new class marker.”

Politics & Opinions

Again, Joshua Gibbs: “I would like to know what qualities of life make for a legitimate opinion on politics. If a man is a good cook, I take his opinion on restaurants seriously. If a man is a good car mechanic, I take seriously his opinion on what kind of car I should buy. But what qualifies a common man to have his opinion on politics taken seriously?”

Evangelism for the Rest of Us

A helpful workshop from 9Marks.

Becoming a Name Wizard

I resonated with this helpful article, because I’ve noticed my ability to learn peoples’ names at church has increased exponentially when I took ownership for them as people: “The power of a Name Wizard, I discovered, lies in the commitment to learn and use names. That’s not the same as remembering names. Becoming a Name Wizard, then, is much more about the heart than the brain.”

Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

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