Storms and Rainbows

storms and rainbows

Rainbows in the sky seem almost magical. Even though science can explain the presence of rainbows, God is the one who created the science and the elements that make up a rainbow. So rainbows still inspire awe and wonder and delight.

The first time we see a rainbow in Scripture is in Genesis 9, just after the great flood has dissipated and Noah and his family come out of the ark to live again on dry land.

God shares with Noah the details of His covenant with him in Genesis 9:1-17. God says the sign of His covenant is the rainbow, which will be a reminder that “the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh” (verse 15).

I never thought about it before, but I imagine after such a harrowing experience as the flood, perhaps Noah and his family wondered if it could happen again. They might be nervous about coming out of the ark and starting over. Before the flood, the land had been watered by a mist. Afterward, Noah’s family might have been terrified the next time they felt raindrops. But God reassures them and millions of subsequent readers that God will never again cause a worldwide flood.

This doesn’t mean that God won’t judge sin any more. He will. But not in that way.

God has to judge sin, for a number of reasons. But He prefers that people turn from their sin rather than face judgment. He told Ezekiel to tell Israel, “Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11).

The rainbow reminds us of God’s mercy, of the new start He offers.

The next time we see a rainbow in the Bible is in Ezekiel 1, where Ezekiel records “a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal” (verse 4). Out of the storm cloud came fantastic creatures like those never seen on earth before or since. He sees them darting around amidst the lightning.

Then Ezekiel sees something he doesn’t quite have the words to describe. Eight times Ezekiel uses the word “appearance.” He keeps saying “like” and “likeness.” “It was something like this”: “The likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him” (verses 26-27). Ezekiel says a few verses later this was “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.”

And above this bright creature on a throne Ezekiel sees “the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain” (verse 28).

Noah saw a rainbow after the worst storm of his life. Ezekiel saw a rainbow during a storm, after which God gave him a commission to warn His erring children to turn from their ways and come back to Him.

It’s amazing that a rainbow is around God’s throne as well as in the sky after rain. It’s like God put a little piece of His throne in the heavens to remind us of His beauty, majesty, and glory.

But the rainbow also reminds us of God’s grace, mercy, and faithfulness.

We see the rainbow a third time in Revelation 4, when John sees a vision of God’s throne. Like Ezekiel, John speaks in terms of appearances and likenesses. “Behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.” “ From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder” (verses 3-5). A storm is brewing. Just a couple of chapters later, the seals of God’s judgment open up upon the earth.

In Be Worshipful (Psalms 1-89): Glorifying God for Who He Is, Warren W. Wiersbe says at the end of Psalm 29:

After the thunder, lightning, wind, and rain comes the calm after the storm when “the LORD blesses his people with peace” (v. 11 NIV; and see 107: 29). Noah saw the rainbow of the covenant after the storm (Gen. 9: 8–17), the apostle John saw it before the storm (Rev. 4: 3), and Ezekiel saw the rainbow in the midst of the storm (Ezek. 1: 26–28). We always have God’s promise to encourage us (p. 116, emphasis mine).

Before the storm, in the midst of the storm, after the storm—in every situation we have the reminder that God’s heart is for restoration, that He blesses His people with peace.

Rainbows are a sign of God's covenant

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

(Thanks to Dr. Wiersbe for setting in motion the thoughts for this post.)

When It’s Good to Be Dependent

As parents, we ultimately work ourselves out of a job. As much as we love our children and miss them when they leave home, we want them to be able to stand on their own two feet as responsible adults. We’ll always listen, support, and help them when they need it, if we’re able. But there is every likelihood we’ll be gone before they are, so they need to function independently.

Spiritually, though, we never outgrow our dependence on God. In fact, we mature more spiritually the more we realize our need for dependence on God.

In Psalm 30, David said, “As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” By your favor, O Lord, you made my mountain stand strong; you hid your face; I was dismayed” (verses 6-7). Warren Wiersbe says “prosperity” here means “careless ease, a carefree self-assurance because things are going well” (Be Worshipful [Psalms 1-89]: Glorifying God for Who He Is, p. 116).

That happens all too easily, doesn’t it? When things are going well, we forget God is the One who made them go well. We get comfortable, and we forget our need for God . . . until a crisis comes up. The Bible is replete with examples of individuals and nations who went through that pattern.

My friend J. D. Wininger is a rancher who wrote recently about depending on God through unpredictable weather. His area faced eighteen months of drought last year. Now they’ve had so much rain, he can’t harvest some crops or plant others. I’ve often thought that the life of a farmer or rancher is one of felt dependence on God through all the things that can happen to influence the outcome of crops and herds.

But people in other occupations are just as dependent, even if they don’t know it. Employees think everything is going fine, until they receive notice that their particular job has been phased out, or their company is closing or has been bought by someone else. A new technology can put a whole industry out of business.

As the recent pandemic showed us, one part of society affects another. Suddenly we couldn’t count on finding basic supplies at the grocery store or even a bed in the hospital when needed.

And it’s not just in the area of physical provision that the rug can be pulled out from under us. We can be on top of the world socially. Then a poorly-worded tweet gets us “canceled.” Or a rumor or misunderstanding turns friends against us. David wrote, “All who hate me whisper together about me; they imagine the worst for me . . . Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me” (Psalm 41:7, 9). Job lamented, “My relatives have failed me, my close friends have forgotten me. . . All my intimate friends abhor me, and those whom I loved have turned against me” (Job 19:14, 19).

Many of us have had the experience of being in perfect health one day only to be hit with a debilitating illness out of the blue. Or a loved one who seemed fine is found to have cancer that has been growing for months.

Does God shake things up for us sometimes as a thump on the head to remind us that we need Him? I don’t think so. He’s a loving father, not a capricious one.

We live in a fallen world and have an active enemy. God allows suffering for many reasons.

But I think He does teach us through His Word and through life experiences to remember to depend on Him for everything. He reminds us that He is our creator, provider, protector, friend. He promises to meet all our needs. He promises to be with us in any trial.

When we forget any of those things and become self-reliant, we usually get ourselves into trouble. I did a study once on what happens when we want our own way. It’s not pleasant.

Recently I was praying over a recurrent physical issue. As pondering and prayer intermingled, my thoughts ran something like this; “You know, most people don’t even think about this, much less pray about it. Am I going to have to pray about this every day? Can’t I just ask You to take care of it now and forever?”

The “Lord’s prayer” came to mind, where Jesus instructed His disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Our daily bread. Not enough for the week, or a lifetime. But just what we need for today.

One day King Asa of Judah faced a much larger army from Ethiopia that had come against Judah (2 Chronicles 14). “And Asa cried to the Lord his God, ‘O Lord, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O Lord, you are our God; let not man prevail against you’” (verse 11).

I looked up the Hebrew word translated “rely” and read some of those occurrences here. The word can also be translated, lean, stay, and rest.


Isn’t that what happens when we rely on God? We don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen. We can trust and obey.

Jean Sophia Pigott caught this idea of resting in the Lord in her marvelous hymn, “Jesus, I am Resting, Resting.”

Simply trusting thee, Lord Jesus,
I behold thee as thou art,
And thy love, so pure, so changeless,
Satisfies my heart;
Satisfies its deepest longings,
Meets, supplies its ev’ry need,
Compasseth me round with blessings:
Thine is love indeed.

As God’s child, I never outgrow my need for Him. I never become independent from Him. The farther I go in life, the more I realize I need Him for everything, great and small.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5).

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Healing from Past Hurts

Before Jonathan Goforth became a widely-used missionary to China, he was a farm boy eager to go to Knox College in Toronto in the 1880s. Jonathan originally wanted to go into politics, but God saved him and called him to the ministry.

His mother, noted among the neighbours for her fine needlecraft, worked far into the night putting her best effort on the finishing touches to shirt or collar for the dear boy who was to be the scholar of the family (Rosalind Goforth, Goforth of China, p. 29).

Jonathan’s heart thrilled as he thought how soon he was to live and work with other young men who, like himself, had given themselves to the most sacred, holy calling of winning men to Christ. He had visions on reaching Knox of prayer-meetings and Bible study-groups where, in company with kindred spirits, he could dig deeper into his beloved Bible. So his joyous, optimistic spirit had reached fever heat when he arrived in Toronto and entered Knox College (p. 30).

However, instead of finding kindred spirits, Jonathan became the object of ridicule. “He was unconventional to a degree, and utterly unacquainted with city habits and ways” (p. 31). He realized his lovingly homemade clothes “would not pass muster.” He didn’t have much money, but he bought some cloth to take to a seamstress for a more appropriate outfit. But some of his fellow students found out.

Late that night a number of them came into his room, secured their victim, then, cutting a hole at one end of the material . . . they put his head through and forcing him out into the corridor, made him run the full length up and down through a barrage of hilarious students (p. 31).

Later, Jonathan became involved in a ministry to reach people in the slums. His “enthusiastic innocence” annoyed and amused his fellow students.

He became a subject for an ‘Initiation Ceremony’; hailed at midnight before his judges, students of Knox College, he was subjected, I learned, to indignities, and warned against further breaches of good form by his tales of his ‘experiences with sinners’ (p. 33).

Goforth was deeply hurt, not so much for himself, but that such a thing should happen in a Christian college (p. 33).

Jonathan reported the latter incident to the principal, who soothed his feelings but took no action against what he deemed “a silly prank of foolish boys.”

Many of us have experienced hurt from the past. Sometimes it’s been in the form of passive neglect. We have easily made friends in other schools or neighborhoods, but for some reason, in a new place, we can’t seem to make headway socially. People aren’t actively rude or mean, but we always remain at the bottom of the social pecking order, never really a part of the group.

Other times, like Jonathan, people experience active hazing, ridicule, meanness. Sometimes one person becomes the one everyone likes to pick on or make fun of.

Though I am thinking of incidents from school days, some of these things happen in later life as well.

And some incidents continue to hurt for decades.

What can we do to heal from them?

Draw close to God. After the first incident mentioned above, Jonathan

. . .knelt with his Bible before him and struggled through the greatest humiliation and the first great disappointment of his life. The dreams he had been indulging in but a few days before had vanished, and before him, for a time at least, lay a lone road (p. 32).

We see something similar in Joseph’s story in Genesis 37-50. His own brothers stripped him of the special coat their father had made for him, threw him into a pit, ignored his distress and cries (Genesis 42:21), and sold him into slavery. Then at his first place of service, he was lied about and imprisoned.

Just a few chapters later, we see Joseph taken out of prison and made Pharaoh’s right hand man. So, everything worked out for him in the end. But those chapters represent years of being alone. We see just a glimpse of Joseph’s suffering in the name he chose for his children: “Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. ‘For,’ he said, ‘God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.The name of the second he called Ephraim, ‘For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction'” (Genesis 41:51-52).

Though God made us to live in community, He seems to sometimes call His people to walk alone with Him for a time. David “encouraged himself in the Lord” (1 Samuel 30:6) when his followers turned against him, desiring to stone him. Joseph had to have done the same thing for him to later be able to face his brothers with grace and forgiveness and faith. Two life-changing encounters God had with Jacob happened while Jacob was alone. Paul spent a few years alone before becoming accepted by the other apostles and starting his ministry.

Though all others forsake us, Jesus never will. We can pour out our souls to Him.

Look to the right and see:
there is none who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;
no one cares for my soul.

I cry to you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”
Attend to my cry,
for I am brought very low!

(Psalm 142: 4-6)

Trust God’s providence. When Joseph finally met up with his brothers years later, he was able to say that God had sent him ahead of them to provide for them in famine (Genesis 45:4-8). Rosalind Goforth said of Jonathan’s “lone road” that “It is not hard to see God’s hand in this, forcing him out as it did into an independence of action which so characterized his whole after life” (p. 32). This doesn’t mean Goforth became a “lone ranger.” But he pioneered missions in many areas and had to stand against the tide of modernism when it crept in.

Wrongdoers aren’t off the hook just because God brings good out of their bad. But God has promised “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

The example of passive neglect I mentioned earlier was my experience when we moved to a new area just before I went into 8th grade. I was so miserable, my mom had to almost literally push me from the car when she took me to school. Finally I found one other friend and then other acquaintances.

But I found out later God had a reason for keeping me from the popular group. Things were going on among them that would not have been good for me to be a part of. Plus, it would be just three years later before we moved to Houston and my life changed when I came to know the Lord. As hard as it was to move, it would have been even harder if I were more firmly entrenched with the group there. Plus, If I had gotten involved with them, my heart might not have been receptive to God later.

Some have used past wrongs to be more sensitive to others facing the same thing or to actively advocate for them.

Don’t get back at them. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:19-21).

Forgive and do them good. We might never again run into people who have hurt us. But they can keep hurting us if we hold onto bitterness. Jesus said, “Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you” (Luke 6:27-28, NLT).

And Jesus provided an example Himself. “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:21-23).

Separate truth from the flawed vessel that contains it. Some who felt neglected or hurt at church have walked away from Christian community entirely. But that would be a mistake. As we get to know God and His Word better, we can discern His truth from the false actions of others who profess His name. I’ve always loved what Jackie Hill Perry once tweeted (though she is no longer on Twitter): “Do you know who God used to heal me of my church hurt? The church.” If we’ve come from a bad church situation, we can pray for His leading to the place He would have us.

Disconnect if necessary. Some hurts from school days are the result of the immaturity of fellow students. But some people keep their penchant for hurting people, either with ridicule or hurtful remarks or worse. Romans 12:18 tells us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” While we need to obey this admonition, it frankly admits that there are some people that we can’t live peaceably with.

Let it go. Sometimes, long after such hurtful incidents are over, our thoughts can wander back to them. It can take a while to process and heal. But we can get stuck replaying such incidents over and over, especially if we’re feeling down for other reasons. We can remind ourselves, “That’s over. God loves me and cares for me. He’s brought better friends into my life (if not, we can pray for them). He’s given me His grace and work to do.”

I am not a counselor, and my advice is only from experience and Scripture. There are some issues that are deeper than the kinds of things I’ve talked about. Some may experience post-traumatic stress. In these cases, it would be helpful to talk with a pastor, counselor, or trusted mature friend. Abuse needs to be dealt with.

Before Jonathan Goforth graduated, “every student who had taken part in what had hurt and humiliated him . . . had, before he left the college, come to him expressing their regret” (Goforth of China, p. 34).

Further, though his fellow students originally “set him down as a crank” for his “missionary enthusiasm,” “this did not cool his ardor, and his enthusiasm proved contagious. Gradually there developed among the student body a remarkable interest in the cause of foreign missions” (p. 53). When Jonathan’s home church could not afford to send him to the mission field, fellow students raised funds to send him.

Not everyone who experiences hurt and humiliation sees such a turnaround. But it can happen. Until it does, keep walking with God, resting in His love and grace, doing His will.

Updated to add: Donna has a beauitful post this week titled Wounded Healers which takes these thoughts a step further. Go often uses our wounds to develop a sensitivity to others and a place of ministry to them of the same comfort we’ve received (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Mary’s Three Encounters with Jesus’ Feet

The first time we meet Mary of Bethany in the Bible, her family is hosting Jesus. Mary’s sister, Martha, was “distracted with much serving.” Luke 10:38-42 doesn’t say the disciples were with them or whether Martha was even preparing a meal, though I had always assumed both. Jesus was teaching, so probably more people were there than Him and the siblings. But however many people were there and whatever Martha was doing for them, she was “anxious and troubled.” I’ve been in poor Martha’s shoes many times. I can only imagine how frenzied I would be, wanting everything to be just right, if someone as important as Jesus was in my home.

I’ve always thought of Martha as the older sibling and Mary the younger. I’m not sure where their brother, Lazarus, fits in, but I’ve assumed the middle.

Mary is found at Jesus’ feet, listening to His teaching. Rabbis didn’t usually teach women, but Jesus welcomed Mary. Mary’s posture indicates she looked up to Jesus, both literally and figuratively. She was so caught up in what He was saying, she seemingly didn’t even notice Martha’s bustling about.

Martha spies Mary listening to Jesus. With older-sister indignation, Martha says, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”

I don’t know how well Martha knew Jesus at this time. John 11-5 says “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” Jesus is often spoken of as coming to or from Bethany, so He probably visited with these siblings many times. But the beginning of this incident simply says, “A woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house” (Luke 10:38), as if they hadn’t known each other before. Martha is quite bold to speak to the Lord so, especially if this is their first encounter. She seemed confident that the Lord would side with her in her busy service.

But He didn’t. He acknowledged her care and concern, but He said, “One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Nancy Leigh DeMoss Wolgemuth paraphrases Jesus saying to Martha, “Your company means more to Me than your cooking. You are more important to Me than anything you can do for Me” (Place of Quiet Rest, p. 43).  

The second time we see the sisters, Lazarus is seriously ill (John 11). They send for Jesus, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” So by this time, the relationship between Jesus and the siblings is deep and well-established.

But Jesus purposefully waits to come and see them. By the time He arrives, Lazarus has been dead four days and has already been buried.

Martha comes away from the mourners to talk with Jesus. But Mary, coming a little later, “fell at his feet, saying to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.'” Both women expressed faith, but in different ways. Mary was not afraid to share her sorrow and anguish. Perhaps she was also hurt and confused that Jesus had not come sooner. She laid it all at Jesus’ feet.

“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4).

The final time we see Mary of Bethany is in John 12, just six days before Jesus’ final Passover with His disciples. Martha is serving once again, but uncomplainingly this time. Mary takes “a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” (This appears to be a different incident from that in Luke 7:36-50, though there are a few similarities.)

Mary’s action brought criticism. Judas wondered aloud why this ointment could not have been sold and distributed to the poor (not, Scripture indicates, because he was concerned about the poor, but because he kept the money for the group and helped himself to it.) He not only thought such extravagance was a waste on Jesus, but he coveted it for himself.

But Jesus came to Mary’s defense once again. “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial.” A pound of ointment would have been much more than was needed for a pair of feet, so perhaps Jesus was saying that the rest would be used for His burial.

However, the New Living Translation says, “She did this in preparation for my burial,” and a few others have similar wording. If this is correct, Mary got what so many others missed: that Jesus was going to die.

I tried to discover what significance might be attached to anointing feet in Bible times. Scripture speaks of washing feet. People wore sandals on dusty, unpaved roads. So a host would have a servant wash the feet of guests. Jesus does this, taking on the role of a servant, in the Upper Room at the last supper. One article suggested Mary’s anointing Jesus’ feet is a foreshadowing of what Jesus would do.

Jesus is the Christ or Messiah, both of which mean “anointed one.” One article indicated Mary’s anointing was in recognition of Jesus as the Christ, the promised Messiah.

Isaiah 52:7 proclaims, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’” Perhaps Mary was so thankful for the feet of Him who brought the good news of salvation to her that she wanted to anoint them.

But Jesus references His upcoming burial in connection with Mary’s anointing.

Several things stand out to me about Mary.

Her humility. In each of these encounters, Mary is at Jesus’ feet. I had known about each of these incidents, but I just recently made the connection that they all involved Jesus’ feet. James tells us, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6)

Her devotion. She was caught up in listening to and worshiping Jesus, no matter what else was going on around her. She was willing to give sacrificially to show how much she valued Him.

Her lack of self-consciousness. Scripture doesn’t indicate any of her actions were done for self-glory or attention from others.

Her lack of defending herself. She let the Lord handle criticism of her. She knew He understood, even if others didn’t.

Her confidence. She knew Jesus well enough to trust Him with both her worship and her sorrow.

Her intent listening. She hung on His every word.

Her perception. By listening, truly listening to Jesus, she apparently understood what others did not about His coming death.

The only words of Mary that the Bible records are after Lazarus’ death. Obviously, those are the only words of hers that the Holy Spirit wanted to reveal in Scripture. But this and Martha’s outspokenness seem to indicate that Mary was the quiet one. Another Mary, Jesus’ mother, “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Mary of Bethany seems the same type of person. Jesus loved both sisters, and physical quietness is not necessarily more spiritual than outspokenness. But “a gentle and quiet spirit . . . in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4).

Mary could not have known that her humble and loving actions would become inspiration for Jesus followers for more than 2,000 years.

We can’t sit at Jesus’ feet physically, but we can join Mary there spiritually as we humbly and intently listening to His Word and lay our sorrow, confusion, questions, and loss before feet of the One who knows, loves, and cares for us best. We can worship with abandon, giving our all in His honor.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Thankful God Is Not a Stranger

Thankful God Is not a Stranger

“I was so thankful, when this happened, that God was not a stranger to me.”

I don’t remember when or where or from whom I heard this. I don’t recall the context or what the “this” was that happened. But this statement has stayed with me for decades.

In my early Christian life, when something negative happened, I’d be shaken. I wonder if this was happening because I’d done something wrong. I’d feel that God was far away. I knew He loved me, but I didn’t feel so loved. I’d ponder all the “what ifs,” which would shake me up even more.

After a few decades of walking with the Lord, I can’t say I’m not still shaken in a crisis. But I’ve wrestled through reasons God allows suffering. I’ve experienced His grace through trials. I know He has reasons for what He allows and He’ll be with me through it all. I may not like certain circumstances, and I may pray to get out of them as soon as possible. But my confidence in God isn’t shaken.

So I can echo and “amen” the unknown author of my beginning statement. God sometimes uses crises to bring people to Himself, or bring them back to Himself if their hearts are wandering. But it’s so much easier to go through a crisis with the God you know and can place your full confidence in. We can be like the psalmist, “not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD” (Psalm 112:7).

However, we don’t just need God in crises, do we? We need Him for everything. “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). We need His wisdom to know how to handle situations that come up. We need His love to show to others. We need His strength in our weakness, His grace when we fail, His encouragement when we’re low.

He conveys these things to us through a couple of means: His Word and His Holy Spirit. But have you ever noticed that the passage about letting God’s Word dwell in you richly in Colossians 3 and being filled with the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 5 are parallel? The same “results” are listed for each one. The Holy Spirit inspired the Word of God, so of course that’s what He would use to equip us. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Scripture meets our need for the day as well as fortifying us for the future.

Sometimes that “equipping” comes through other people as they share God’s Word with us. But we need to dig into God’s Word for ourselves as well. Someone has said that God gives birds their food, but He doesn’t throw it into their nests (I’ve heard that attributed to Luther, Spurgeon, and Josiah Gilbert Holland). Though the saying was probably meant to show the need to work for a living, I think it has an application to learning God’s Word as well. God has given us such treasure in Scripture, but we need to read it and mine for it.

Anyone who has been married for several years can tell you that they thought they knew and loved their spouse on their wedding day, but that was nothing compared to ten or twenty or thirty years later. That’s true of long-term friendships as well. Shared conversations, experiences, good times and trials, have deepened the relationship as they got to know each other more thoroughly over the years.

The same is true in our relationship with God. Eternal life starts with coming to know God in repentance and faith: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). But we get to know Him better as we read the Bible, pray, exercise faith, and depend on Him through various circumstances.

The better we know Him, the less likely we are to fall apart in a crisis, to be deceived or led astray, to walk away from our faith. We’ll never be perfect til we get to heaven, but we grow in grace and knowledge of him.

If you don’t know God, I invite you to learn more here. And if you do, keep getting to know Him better and better.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Called to Sacrifice

called to sacrifice

Several years ago, a man in our church who had spent much of his life as a missionary in Africa spoke of not liking the word “sacrifice” in reference to his service. He said it was his privilege to serve the Lord and not at all a sacrifice.

David Livingstone said something similar:

People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink, but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall hereafter be revealed in, and for, us. I never made a sacrifice. Of this we ought not to talk, when we remember the great sacrifice which HE made who left His Father’s throne on high to give Himself for us. (Speech to students at Cambridge University, December 4, 1857.)

I understand what these dear men meant. God did so much for us, and loves us so much. How can we help but lovingly serve Him in return?

Yet the Bible calls us to sacrifice.

We don’t sacrifice as people did in the Old Testament. The sacrifices for sin were fulfilled in Christ. The book of Hebrews goes into great detail about how so much of the OT sacrificial system symbolism comes to fruition in Jesus.

And according to Galatians (as well as many other places in the NT), we are no longer under the OT law.

But 1 Peter 2:4-5 tells us: “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

What are these spiritual sacrifices?

A broken and contrite heart. In David’s psalm of repentance, he says, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:16-17). Even under the OT system, God didn’t want His people to simply go through a rite. He wanted their hearts.

Our bodies. Romans 12:1-2 tells us, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” We don’t just yield our hearts or souls, but our very bodies. “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Praise. Hebrews 13:15 says, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” Why would praising Him be considered a sacrifice? Perhaps because we’re turning our thoughts and words away from selfish pursuits to think of Him. Perhaps because some situations are hard to praise God for. Praising Him reminds us of His power, His care, His wisdom even when life is hard.

Service and giving to others. Hebrews 13 goes on to say, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (verse 16). When the Philippians sent a gift to Paul, he wrote back, “I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18).

Love. “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2). When we love others, we set aside our own desires and needs to minister to them.

When you minister to people, sometimes you feel spent. That’s because you have been. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “ Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.” We pour out, and it’s okay to feel drained. Paul reminds us later in chapter 4 that God will supply all our needs (verse 19) and we can do all things through Him who strengthens us (verse 13).

What makes a sacrifice a sacrifice? has this as one meaning of sacrifice: “Forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of one considered to have a greater value or claim.” When David was repentant for taking a census that he wasn’t supposed to in 1 Chronicles 21, God told him to “go up and raise an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite” (verse 18). When David tried to pay for the threshing floor, Ornan wanted to give it to him. But David replied, “I will not take for the Lord what is yours, nor offer burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (verse 24). Sacrifices cost something.

But God doesn’t want us to moan and groan or whine about sacrificing to Him. Nor does He want us to be prideful about it. Our definition of sacrifice above says we give something of value “for the sake of one considered to have a greater value.” We give to Him not only because He gave to us, but also because we love and value Him.

We appreciate more than we can say the soldiers, firefighters, and policemen who endanger themselves for others, even to the point of giving their lives. But dying physically is not the only way to lay down our lives. Soldiers also sacrifice time with their families and normal comforts for our protection. We admire missionaries and mission workers who work much more than a 9 to 5 job in places far from home.

Yet sacrifice does not occur only in the big things. We lay down our lives, dying to our own will, being poured out in everyday love and service. We seek grace to welcome an interrupter kindly when we longed for a few moments alone. A husband works hard to provide for his family. A mom wakes up at night to feed or comfort her children. A friend makes time for a long phone call. Volunteers at a church work day give up leisure or family time to pull together on a project.

Missionary and writer Elisabeth Elliot often used the phrase, “My life for yours.” We give ourselves to Him first of all, and then serve Him by serving others.

So we don’t have to shy away from the word “sacrifice.” God calls us to it. All that we are and have belongs to Him anyway. But when we yield everything back to Him, “such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16).

spiritual sacrifices

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Resurrection Hope Beyond Easter

We think of Easter as the joyful end of a long period of sadness. Even if we don’t formally practice Lent, we spend the time leading up to Easter contemplating the last week of Jesus’s life, His trial, and His crucifixion. We mourn over our sinfulness, which required such a price for atonement.

But then we burst forth into joy and praise on Easter Day. Christ is risen! He overcame death and the grave!

And then Monday we go back to our normal routine. We don’t think much about the resurrection again until next Easter or until someone dies. Then we’re encouraged that we’ll see our missing loved ones again.

But the resurrection changed everything. It touches our lives much more than one day a year.

Here are some ways resurrection hope affects our lives:

Testifies that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4).

Dismantles our fear of death. Hebrews 2:14-15 tells us, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”

In Isobel Kuhn’s books, she cites that many Lisu people came to faith in Christ due to the resurrection. Their previous beliefs held no hope after the grave. They thought death was the end of the body, soul, and spirit. Some mourned inconsolably at a loved one’s grave or cowered in abject terror at the thought of their own end. Learning who Jesus was, the salvation He accomplished for their forgiveness, and the hope of eternal life transformed them.

Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25).

Allows Christ to live in us. Paul said part of the ministry given to him was to preach “the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). We not only have His fellowship, comfort, and so much more, we have His power to live. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Assures justice will be done. When the King comes to reign, everything will be as it should be.

Removes death’s sting. 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 says:

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ death breaks the power of sin in our lives. We still have to fight the old nature and resist the devil, but they have no more authority over us.

Gives meaning to our labor. 1 Corinthians 15 is the great “resurrection chapter.” After 57 verses about the resurrection, Paul says, “Therefore, my beloved brothers“—because of all he had said about the resurrection up til now—“be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” We can be steady in our labor for God, even if we don’t see any results. Galatians 6:9 puts it another way: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

Gives comfort and hope in our sorrow. Our grief when a loved one dies is tempered by the fact that we’ll see them again.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

We still grieve and miss them sorely, but we have great joy to look forward to.

Gives perspective to our sufferings. When we’re suffering, our pain can take over our minds and emotions. Suffering seems endless. It outweighs everything else. But as heavy as suffering is, in heaven, our time of suffering will seem “light” and “momentary.” “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17). Romans 8:18 puts it this way: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Provides a new address. Philippians 3:20 tells us, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Warren Wiersbe says in his commentary on Philippians, Be Joyful, “We look at earth from heaven’s point of view” (p. 95). Our time here is relatively brief, and eternity is long.

Promises reward for our service. The Bible speaks of crowns that will be rewarded to various believers. Jesus said that when we have a feast, we should not only invite friends and loved ones. We should gather in those who can’t repay us, “and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14).

Shows forth God’s power. One of the things Paul prays that the Ephesians might know is “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:19-20). Paul’s burning desire was “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11).

Gives focus for our daily walk. 1 Corinthians 4:18 says, “as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” Paul says, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

Because of the resurrection, we know this life is not all there is. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4). One of our former pastors used to frequently quote from a little chorus by Al Smith, “May I do each day’s work for Jesus, With eternity’s values in view.”

I love this stanza in “I’ve Found a Friend” by James G. Small:

I’ve found a friend, O such a friend!
All power to Him is given,
To guard me on my onward course,
And bring me safe to Heaven.
The eternal glories gleam afar,
To nerve my faint endeavor;
So now to watch, to work, to war,
And then to rest forever.

May the “eternal glories” that “gleam afar” nerve our own “faint endeavors.” May we carry resurrection hope in our hearts every day.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Applying God’s Word

The Bible tells us to be doers of the Word, not just hearers (James 1:22, Matthew 7:21, Luke 6:46, Romans 2:13).

But sometimes it’s hard to know what we’re supposed to do with some parts of the Bible.

Some verses are easy to understand how to put into practice. For instance, Ephesians 4:28 says, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” The thief needs to stop stealing, obviously. But the instruction doesn’t stop with a “don’t.” It continues with a “do” to replace the “don’t”: work hard and give to others who have a need.

But what do we do with passages that don’t explicitly contain instructions about what to do or not do?

I read somewhere about a man who, after reading the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2, felt that in response he needed to clean out his garage. Well, yes, God is orderly, and to some extent He wants us to be orderly as well. But I’m not sure that’s what the creation account is in the Bible to tell us.

Here are a few tips I’ve found helpful to understand how to apply Scripture.

Pray. We need God’s wisdom to know how to put His Word into practice.

Observe and interpret first. Observation, interpretation, and application are the three sides of Bible study. If we’re off on the first two, we’ll be off on the third.

Part of observation is seeing who said what to whom in the passage. Sometimes a command or promise is given to one person or group of people in the Bible, but they are not meant for all people or all time. However, God included those passages for a reason and there’s something He wants us to learn from them.

For instance, the Old Testament law in the first five books of the Bible was given partly to express God’s holiness and partly to show people that they could never earn righteousness by keeping it, because no one could keep it completely. New Testament writers take pains to explain that Jesus fulfilled all the law in our place and we’re not under it any more. But we learn about the cost and pervasiveness of sin in Leviticus and see symbols of Christ in the sacrifices (I wrote more about what we can get out of Leviticus in Where Bible Reading Plans Go to Die.)

Study the context. Mark 14 tells of a woman who broke open an expensive alabaster box and poured the costly perfume on Jesus. I read an article years ago where the writer compared the alabaster box to a girl’s virginity, something rare and precious that she could only give once. While I appreciated the parallel the author was trying to make, she completely missed the point of the passage. Instead, she made the passage mean something it didn’t mean. This demonstration was an outpouring of the woman’s love and a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death and burial. Jesus Himself said she had “done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial” (14:8). Imagine the girls who read that article associating it with virginity for the rest of their lives and missing the extravagant love of this woman as well as the reference to Jesus’ death.

Prescriptive or descriptive? Part of interpreting the Bible (which I wrote more about here) is determining whether the passage is describing something we should emulate. Just because the Bible records people doing things in Scripture doesn’t mean it’s approving what they do or saying we should follow their example. Some of the historical passages are descriptive: they just tell us what people did. We can still make observations, but the passage isn’t there to give us an example to follow.

A prescriptive passage, though, is one that “prescribes” a certain behavior. Much of Proverbs and the epistles are prescriptive, though prescriptive passages are throughout Scripture.

I’ve seen people use Abraham’s example of looking for a wife for his son, Isaac, to say that we should promote courtship rather than dating among young people. Some said that fathers should choose spouses for their adult children, or at least be heavily involved in the process. The courtship vs. dating debate has been a hot topic that I don’t want to get into any more here; I just wanted to say that this passage in particular doesn’t teach it. We can learn from it the necessity to be careful and prayerful in finding a spouse, to look for one of the same faith, to trust God and seek His direction. But nowhere in the Bible are we told to find spouses for our children in the same way Abraham did.

Find principles to draw on. A former pastor once read an OT passage about oxen to the congregation. Then he asked, “Do any of you own oxen?” No one did. He asked, “How many of you have ever even seen an ox?” A couple of people raised their hands. The pastor said, “So this doesn’t apply to us. We just turn the page and move on, right?” We didn’t think so, and he agreed. Then he brought out several principles from the passage. An ox who accidentally gored someone was handled one way. But if the ox was known to be cantankerous and try to gore people, and the owner didn’t take any means to keep the animal penned in, the owner was more liable if the animal hurt someone. We can see the parallel with dogs prone to bite. If someone saw their neighbor’s ox wandering far from home, he wasn’t supposed to ignore it. He was supposed to help his neighbor.

Romans 14 lists several principles involving meat offered to idols. Some of the early Christians felt that meat was okay to eat, because the idol is a false god and the sacrifice didn’t taint the meat. Others felt it was wrong to eat that kind of meat because of the association with idol worship. Even though we don’t deal with this issue in most of the world today, several issues apply to actions like this where the Bible doesn’t give any clear teaching: do whatever you do as unto the Lord; be fully convinced in your own mind; don’t judge the brother who handles the meat differently than you would; don’t do anything that would cause another to stumble.

Some responses are inward. One source I read years ago said that we should end every time of Bible reading with an action item, a plan to put into practice what we read.

To be sure, if we’re convicted from the passage we’re reading that we need to confess something to the Lord or apologize to someone, we need to act as soon as possible.

But some parts of Scripture are there to promote wonder, awe, and worship of God and faith in His ability and power and wisdom. Those passages will affect our actions, but they’re concerned with the condition of our hearts.

And some passages can’t be obeyed just by checking off an action item. Say, for instance, we read the passage about loving our neighbor. We think about our literal next-door-neighbor, an elderly widow living alone. We decide next time we have the mower out, we’ll cut her grass as well as ours. And maybe we’ll make some banana bread and take a loaf over to her. And we brush our hands and think, “There! I’ve loved my neighbor.”

But did God put that command in Scripture to inspire random acts of kindness to check off our to-do list? Yes, love will manifest itself in thoughtfulness and actions. But love is more than an action item. It’s an attitude of heart to carry with us all the time. Like when another neighbor’s backyard party is too loud and long. Or when he keeps borrowing your tools and returns them broken and dirty, if he returns them at all. Or when a neighbor child rings the doorbell just after you finally got the baby to sleep. Passages like the one about the Good Samaritan teach us that our neighbors are not just the friendly ones and that ministering to others can be inconvenient and costly. But what a picture of Christ, who sacrificed Himself for us while we were yet sinners.

Much more could be said about applying Scripture. But one last point I want to make is that the more we read the whole Bible, the more we’ll understand it and know how to apply it.

What tips have you found to help you put Bible teaching into practice?

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

We Need Time Alone with God

In a recent magazine article, a Christian college professor expressed concern that his students weren’t Biblically literate even though they read their Bibles every day and even had parts of it memorized. His solution was that people should shift away from private, personal time in the Bible to communal times.

I don’t want to dissect and discuss the article here. However, I wanted to focus on the concept of communal vs. private times in God’s Word.

Do we need time together in the Bible? Yes. Reading and studying the Bible with others helps us get more out of the passage, encourages us, and (hopefully) keeps us from going off on tangents due to misinterpretation.

But I’m concerned that, in the battle against individualism and people pulling away from church attendance, we might go too far the other way and de-emphasize our personal walk with God.

God is the heavenly Father of all those who believe in Him. But we don’t relate to Him only as a group. Wise human fathers spend time with the family all together but also with individual members one-on-one. Our Father in heaven is even wiser. Though He created us to interact with and encourage each other, He also has a personal relationship with each of His children. And relationships thrive on communication.

When I was in college, we were sometimes reminded a Christian university was one of the easiest places to grow cold in our walk with God. Even though we heard the Word of God regularly in classes, in chapel, and in prayer groups, we couldn’t just coast on the spiritual atmosphere. We shouldn’t let Bible classes take the place of our personal time in Scripture.

Our time with others informs our personal time with God. And our time alone in His Word informs our time all together.

The psalms were sung in the congregation. Yet they are full of personal singular pronouns.

I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears (Psalm 34:4).

He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. (Psalm 40:2).

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water (Psalm 63:1).

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me (Psalm 63:5-8).

As much as we need each other, sometimes we have to stand alone with God.

David “encouraged himself in the Lord” (1 Samuel 30:6) when the men of Israel were ready to stone him.

Joseph spent years as the only apparent believer in the one true God that he knew when he was a slave in Egypt. His witness did seem to spread to others. But he had to remind himself of God’s truth on his own.

Two turning-point meetings with God in Jacob’s life happened when he was alone.

Daniel had friends of the same faith, but he faced the lion’s den alone, received visions alone, and prayed alone.

Paul ministered with companions but sometimes was alone.

Jesus dealt with crowds of people yet sought His Father alone.

We’ll each give account of ourselves personally to God. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

If we’re reading the Bible regularly and still don’t know much about it, there are ways to improve. Jen Wilkin’s book, Women of the Word, was written for just that reason. I’m trying to write a book on the same topic. There are aids all over the Internet to improve our devotional time, or quiet time, or time in God’s Word. I’ve written about several aspects here.

But let’s keep things in balance. Meet with other believers to read and study God’s Word. But meet with Him alone as well.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Is It Wrong to Read Romance Novels?

Recently I visited an old Christian message board that I used to frequent to see if it was still active. I came across a conversation where someone asked if reading romance novels was wrong. The only respondents were men. One said he thought they weren’t wrong, but they were a silly waste of time. Another said he thought they could be wrong.

I didn’t want to take the time to find my log-in information and wasn’t inclined to get into the discussion anyway. But I thought about the question for a few days.

So, do I think it’s wrong to read a romance novel?

It depends.

“Romance” covers a wide territory. Many books outside of the romance genre will contain a love interest. But in a romance, the main point of the plot is two people coming to realize and declare their love for each other.

Is there anything wrong with that as a basic plot? No. The Bible contains romances (Song of Solomon, Ruth and Boaz, Jacob and Rachel). Ephesians 5 tells us marriage is a picture of Christ and the church.

When I’m getting to know a couple, one of the first things I want to know is how they met. That usually leads into a longer story of how they knew they were right for each other. It’s always neat to see the Lord’s hand in bringing them together.

But that’s real life. Isn’t a fictional romance a waste of time?

No, a story isn’t a waste just because it’s imaginary. Jesus used fictional stories to make a point. So did OT prophets.

Fiction fleshes out truth. When I’m listening to a sermon, I might get the pastor’s point but wonder what it looks like in real life. Then he shares a sermon illustration so I see the truth in action.

Randy Alcorn said, “Some Christians view fiction as the opposite of truth. But sometimes it opens eyes to the truth more effectively than nonfiction.”

We read fiction for a number of reasons: to see life through another’s eyes, to get to know how other people think, to develop empathy, to experience other cultures, to stimulate thinking, to learn discernment, gain information, to broaden our horizons.

Can we do all that with romances? Sure.

Some of the classics are romances: Romeo and Juliet, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, all of Jane Austen’s novels.

But the best romances have something going on besides falling in love. One or both characters will need to grow or overcome something. In Pride and Prejudice, for example, the two main characters need to get past their titular characteristics before they can come together. In Sense and Sensibility, one sister needs to learn the value of restraint and appreciating more about a potential husband than good looks, charm, and excitement. All of Austen’s romances involve a whole lot more than just the love story. They are commentary on the times and culture in the setting as well.

The same things can happen in a modern romance.

So how can romances be wrong?

When they produce longings that can’t be fulfilled now. If you’re struggling with being single, a romance might encourage you that God could do the same for you. Or it might discourage you because He hasn’t done so yet. If you’re in a long engagement before you can be married, you’ll have discern whether reading romances makes waiting harder for you.

When they focus too much on the physical. I avoid most modern secular fiction, especially romances, for this reason. I only pick one up after carefully researching reviews or receiving a good report from a trusted friend. But even Christian romances can go too far here. And even if a romance avoids bedroom scenes, there can be an overemphasis on her seeing his bulging muscles under his shirt, wondering what it would be like to kiss him, feeling an electric jolt when they accidentally touch. Do such things happen when people are becoming attracted to each other? Sure. But in real life or fiction, the physical shouldn’t be the main thing.

When they make you discontent with everyday life. Lisa-Jo Baker shared in The Middle Matters that a teenager quoted in the Huffington Post felt her love life would never be adequate “until someone runs through an airport to stop me from getting on a flight.” The girl probably saw that in a movie somewhere. Her romantic life is going to be difficult if she sets up a test scenario in an airport every time she thinks she’s in love. Real love is usually shown in everyday ways more than the grand gesture.

When you long for a perfect “Mr Right.” There is no perfect Mr. or Mrs. Right. The best writers write flawed, realistic characters. But sometimes a character can seem so exquisitely attractive that no one in real life could measure up. If you find yourself looking down on your husband (or potential husband, if you’re not yet married) because he falls short of a fictional hero, it might be time to lay aside the book.

I sometimes see romance writers talking about writing swoon-worthy characters, especially male characters. A character having admirable qualities is one thing. But I don’t want to swoon for anyone other than my husband.

Personally, romances aren’t my favorite genre. I read some. But I don’t want the story to stop with a wedding and a promise of happily ever after. To me, the wedding is a beginning, not an ending. I prefer women’s fiction or historical fiction, where there is more going on than an initial romance, though there may be romance in the story.

But thankfully, there are romances that are good stories, where the characters grow and learn, where we learn about the culture or setting of the book, where we can connect with human growth and experience.

“It is only a novel… or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language” ― Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey