Category Archives: Theophilos

Bible studies, observations, musings and more related to faith, hope and love in light of Jesus Christ.

Peace In The Storms of Life

Jesus Calms the Storm

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”  (Mark 4:35-41, NIV)

I have always loved the way the writers of the New Testament juxtaposed the humanity of Christ with His Sovereign nature.   Exhausted from a day of teaching, healing, traveling sandy shores and rocky pathways when He gets to the end of the day Jesus collapses on the cushion on the boat and falls fast asleep.  So deep is His sleep in the gently rocking boat with the oars’ rhythmic motion through the water that He simply does not notice when the boat begins to rock and roll.

Suddenly the storm clouds come up and funnel down directly onto the little boat that carries Jesus and His disciples to the other side.  Waves break over the sides and water begins to fill the boat.

And Jesus sleeps.

We know that Peter, Andrew, James and John were seasoned fishermen who had seen this before but what about the rest of the disciples?  I wonder if Matthew the tax collector had ever been in a boat in a storm?  What about Thaddeus, or Nathaniel, James or Judas?

As the boat fills with water you can hear the fishermen asking, “How many buckets on the boat for bailing water?  None? Well, use your hands cupped together and bail as fast as you can! The water is supposed to be outside of the boat.  Once it gets inside it is all over.  We need all hands bailing water out of the boat.

And Jesus sleeps.

Hey!  Where is Jesus!? He’s asleep at the stern of the boat!   In this storm?!  Wake Him up, now!

The storm was bad enough that all of them had fallen into terrified, abject fear: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” was the cry of desperation.   To this point the story is about men in a boat caught in a storm desperate to survive.  Forget about getting to the other side.  This is a battle for living to see another day.

And then they wake Jesus…and everything changes.

We move from a simple story of survival to an event of overwhelming, commanding power when Jesus speaks: “Quiet.  Be still.” and the rain stops, the clouds break apart, the wind dies, the waves collapse and the sun breaks through and, Mark tells us, it became completely calm.

Imagine the twelve disciples standing in the boat, water up to their knees, the sides just above the water’s surface, drenched with robes dripping, hair strung over their eyes, panting, hands at their sides…mouths wide open…speechless.

This story confronts us with the question of belief in the way that Mark seamlessly reports on both the humanity and the divinity of Christ. Exhausted, Jesus collapses in His humanity to sleep…just like we do when we are tired to the bone…and, when He rises, He calmly issues a few brief commands and the storm evaporates and disappears.  No one does that except God Himself.  No other explanation needed.  No expansion of the story required.  Just the facts.  Jesus speaks and all nature obeys.

“Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Jesus asks.

stormcloudsAgain, no other explanation needed.  Just the facts.  Jesus knew He was here to accomplish God’s purpose which was not to drown in a storm in the middle of a lake.  When you know that there is a greater purpose that drives you forward you don’t sweat the small stuff.   Mark tells us that when they realized who Jesus was, they were terrified.

Peter says it well in 2 Peter 1:14-18 – “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”

The Storms of Life

I believe there is a reason why this one story fills early Christian art and symbolism.  There is something about being in a boat in a storm that resonates within our humanity.  And there is something about the words of Jesus that takes our storms and brings us peace.

In fact, one unnoticed detail in Mark’s account is the other boats that were with Him.  Why include that simple detail?   There were others…

…were they in the storm too? Or were they watching the drama unfold from a distance.

…what was their reaction when they saw the impact of Jesus’ words as the storm stopped and it became completely calm.

…who were they? How many boats were there?  Did they make it to the other side, too?


Mark just mentions that there were other boats traveling with them.

These are the details that betray an eyewitness account; but, they also open the door to powerful metaphors for talking about matters of faith when times are tough.  Some interesting questions emerge that would be interesting to ponder….

Which ones come to your mind?



Theophilos: Lover of God

bibleA new tier has been added to my menus at the top of the screen to help me organize the blogs I’ve written over the last year.  Most of it si pretty self-explanatory except for one of the titles: theophilos.  The word is actually Greek in origin and, as far as I know, it appears twice in the Bible in two books authored by the same author, Luke the physician (Luke 1;3; Acts 1:1).

In Greek it is actually two words put together.  The first is Theos which means “God’ and the second is Philos which means, ‘love.’  Put together the word is ‘lover of God’ much like Philadelphia means lover of men, philosophy means lover of wisdom, and theology means the study of God.

Anyway, that title, Theophilos, is meant to indicate that the topic under that heading are mostly focused upon God, the Bible, and things oriented towards faith.  Religious faith plays such a major role in the choices we make and the paths we follow, the values that guide us and the principles that set our moral compass.  Having served in churches for 30 years, I plan to place many of my studies in that section for those who may find them of interest.

The key is that my adventure into building up my WordPress website has taken an interesting turn lately and it is challenging me to expand my knowledge base in computers, web hosting, and more.  It is a good discipline that I am enjoying learning, filled with frustrations, roadblocks and hurdles that give great satisfaction when conquered or which have adapted to my way of thinking that they should be done.

Which got me to thinking…theologically, of course…that designing a website and maintaining it is kind-of like life….  Maybe I’ll save that for another time.  I guess I just felt like the name or word Theophilos was worth defining and there you have it.

Family Counseling & Points of Encounter

Our histories are important in family counseling.  They highlight encounter points that have shaped who we are today, contributing to our present beliefs and expectations.

“Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. There he stayed….” (John 10:40).

Touching base with those points of personal encounters with God provide places along the road maps of our lives as we walk in faith.  When Jacob witnessed the ladder to heaven he raised a stone to commemorate the  event and called the place Bethel (Genesis 28:10-32).

I believe that Jesus found those points of contact to be valuable to Him.  We, also, can know more about ourselves as we review our own history and experiences.

Though we cannot re-live our past there is value in remembering those times when God stepped into our awareness and made the way clear.

Those points of encounter can come at special times such as the day you said, “I do!” or with the birth of your first child…or at a time of personal tragedy when you had nowhere else to turn except to God.  The events of 9/11 provided a touch point for a nation as well for each of us personally.

The key: never forget those points along the way!  They have a way of setting our compasses for the road ahead.

What’s Right With The Church?

Library of Celcius, Ephesus

What’s right with the church?  In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus he makes three logical points that challenge us today.

Step One: Appreciate What God Has Done For You Through Jesus Christ (Chapters 1-3).  Paul is referring to God’s resurrection power that brought Jesus from the tomb and that is now at work in us as we are presently seated with Christ in God’s throne room (Eph. 2:6).  God took the initiative to rescue us while we were ‘dead in our transgressions’ (Eph. 2:4-5).

Step Two: Based Upon What God Has Done For Us Through Jesus Christ Our Daily Walk Should Change (Ephesians 4:1-6:9).  Now that we know what God has done for us we begin to walk in a way that reflects our gratitude for what He has done.  We begin imitating God Himself (Ephesians 5:1).

Step Three: Based Upon What God Has Done For Us Through Jesus Christ, As We Imitate Him, We Put On The Armor He Has Given Us, Standing Confidently To Defend Ourselves Against Satan’s Forces, Praying That His Will Be Done (Epheisnas 6:10-24).  The armor is for our protection as we stand our ground praying and petitioning God for the saints and for those carrying the good news about what God has done for the lost (Ephesians 6:8-20).

These three points by Paul give us a working plan for learning to live in faith.  If your faith is weak in times of struggle, Paul encourages us to sit down at the feet of the cross to begin to grasp the love that God has for you and what He did for you so that he could save you while you were still steeped in the things of this world.  Learn to walk-the-walk, not just talk-the-talk as you follow Him and strive daily to imitate the one who laid it all down for you.  Finally, depend upon the tools He has given you to stand your ground and to defend yourself against Satan himself and pray, pray, pray, that God’s will shall be done to strengthen the saints and to further the great news to the rest of the world so that they, too, can see what God has done for them.

Starting on June 3 I will be teaching a class on Ephesians on Sunday mornings at 9:00 a.m. at the Twin Oaks Christian Church, 22333 King Road, Woodhaven, MI.  I hope you will join me as we study Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus with an emphasis upon applying His word to our lives as we live them out each day.  Taking it a step further, the book of Ephesians challenges churches as well as we come together to celebrate what God has done for us through Jesus Christ, how He wants us to walk each day and how He equips us to stand our ground and let Him fight our battles for us.

A great book for further study is Watchman Nee’s book, Sit, Walk, Stand.

Anger and Forgiveness

Anger is rooted in a moral sense of what is right and what is wrong.  The origins of this inner sense begins with a God-given conscience that informs us of how things ‘ought’ to be (Romans 2:14-15).  Over the course of a lifetime that inner compass is further shaped by our life experiences, our families and friends, our culture and the world around us.  When the world around us matches our personal sense of how things ought to be we have little cause for anger.  Conversely, when the world around us does not match our sense of how things ought to be we perceive that we have cause to be angry.

Because of our sin we live in a world where people have the opportunity to make right and wrong choices.   When people make wrong choices it upsets our sense of how things should be and so we often react with anger.  We assume that people should inherently desire to make good choices and that they should inherently know what those choices should be.   Indeed, our anger is fueled when we witness the injustices of our world that violate our sense of how things ought to be.

These injustices can happen at any number of levels.  In our culture today the discussions about bullying, racism, road rage and civil rights are all founded in our sense of right and wrong, good and bad and the innocent victims of poor choices.  These injustices permeate our fallen world from the one-on-one interactions between two people all of the way to nation-states as they struggle for power and control at the expense of the innocent citizens that they are supposed to represent.

And so, it is not surprising that God, Himself, becomes angry over the wrong choices people make, particularly when the disenfranchised are mistreated because of others who have decided that their own desires are more important than the well-being of the defenseless.   The so-called imprecatory Psalms of the Old Testament (e.g., Psalm 7, 35, 55, 58, 59, 69, 82, 83, 94, 109, 137, 139) provide a helpful format to consider how it all works together.  They also give us an insight into an avenue of expression to God that helps the victims of injustice and injury deal with their pain and misfortune in the light of God’s justice and mercy.

First, David focuses upon God’s righteousness and his personal desire to be allied with God in an intimate, personal way.  Secondly, he will ask God to exercise his righteousness by correcting the situation.  Finally, he confesses his trust in God’s ultimate resolution of the imbalances in the world.

The key seems to be that the Lord has exclusive claim to setting the scales correctly and bringing about justice according to His own timing (Romans 12:18-20).  We are called upon to simply trust in Him to do so when the time is right, for His name’s sake.  The imprecatory psalms (along with other similar passages in Scripture) show us that it is good to ask that God’s will be done in the implementation of justice and then practice leaving it there, at the foot of His throne.

For those who struggle with personal injury due to the immoral behavior of others across the spectrum of human experience, this may be the only recourse for healing in cases where the perpetrator has passed away.  When the person causing injury is a former spouse and the Christian is called upon to forgive, learning to allow God to balance the scales by leaving it with Him may give the emotional room to deal with the continuing challenges that come with, for example, difficult post-divorce situations.

All of the way through, trusting God to do the right thing–and asking that His will be done–is always the right answer.


For more detailed discussion, thanks for the article, Preaching Imprecatory Psalms, by John Marks Hicks.

The Wilderness and The Hand of God

The ‘wilderness’ can mean more than an arid, deserted place.  It can also be a place within where the hand of God wrestles with us to examine ourselves in the face of His holiness, justice and righteousness.

Naomi had moved from Bethlehem in Judah to a foreign land with her husband and two sons.  While there her two sons married wives from the country of Moab.  Her future for grandchildren was bright and filled with hope.

When her husband, Elimelech, passed away she still harbored hope that her two sons and their wives would provide and care for her.  They continued to live there for the next ten years; but, still no children to carry on the family name.  However, when both of her sons died, Naomi found herself alone in a foreign country with two widows of her sons and no hope for deliverance.

Naomi left for home, encouraging her two daughters-in-law to return to their people and try to start over.  Orpah left but Ruth would not go.  She insisted upon going with Naomi to her people because of her love for her mother-in-law.

When Naomi and Ruth returned to Israel she was greeted by friends who called her by her name which meant ‘pleasant.’  Instead, from now on, she insisted, “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.  I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me” (Ruth 1:20, NIV).   The hope for a family was gone and she was coming home to live off of the charity of others.

One of the things that happens when we are in the wilderness of suffering, sorrow or despair is that we are afraid to hope because we don’t want to be disappointed again.  But, it is during that waiting time that God does His greatest work in our hearts because we let go of the things we have trusted in the past and reach out in trust to Him.  It is that expectation that He will deliver us that opens the door for Him to finally fulfill his plan through our willing spirits.

When Naomi heard the experiences of Ruth in the care of a man named Boaz, she dared to hope that God was at work to bring about something great…and He was.  When Boaz and Ruth finally marry they give birth to a son and the story leaves us with a wonderful picture of Naomi with her grandson laying in her lap, allowing her to dream again about what God would bring about through this newborn son.

When Naomi saw the hand of God, she moved quickly to help Ruth walk through the door of His providence when it began to open.  This key is so important to our struggle in the wilderness.  Sometimes the loneliness and depression can blind us to the moving of God’s hand.  Even when we see His intervention our own pain can lead us to distrust our senses and steal defeat from the jaws of victory.  The key: when you see Him bringing about a good work, move quickly with certainty, trusting in Him to guide you through.

Little did Naomi know that her embers of hope would fan into flame as she rocked the grandfather of king David in her lap, adding one more critical link to the genealogy of  Christ Himself.

It is that hungering for God that sustains us in the midst of the wilderness as we learn to release those things that compete for our affections.  It is that longing for His appearing that causes us to notice His activity in the smallest details of life.  It is that joy that we realize when we see His plans unfold before us and we see the ways He has used our waiting to lead us to His revelation.

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.

Isaiah 40:28 (NIV)


I owe these insights and so much more to the writings of Larry Crabb in his book Shattered Dreams (2002), referred to me by Tim Woodroof during a very difficult time in my own wilderness.  Thanks.  <>< steve

New Beginnings: Be Strong and Courageous

New Beginnings

You’ve probably felt the way I’m feeling right now: stomach in knots, scatterbrained, pressured, etc.  For me it comes with launching into something new that requires faith because, right now, the numbers don’t add up.  You are on that fulcrum between, on the one hand,  measured, reasonable action based upon careful planning.  On the other hand, you realize that there is a leap of faith, a launching into uncertainty and the impulsive decision to ‘Go!’ in spite of how you feel deep down.

When Moses gave his parting words to Joshua as he was about to take the mantle of leadership, he told him three times: “Be strong and courageous”  (Deuteronomy 31:6,7,23). Why? Because the Lord would be leading the way as he led the people of Israel.

When Joshua challenged the people of Israel to go forward into the land of promise, he uttered the same words three times: “Be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:6,7,9) because the Lord was going to go before them.  Later, king David challenged Solomon with the same words (1 Chronicles 28:20).

I have a question.

When you are assured that God is going with you, that He is going before you and that He will be with you all of the way, why is it necessary to be strong and courageous?  If our confidence and assurance is in Him, why must we be strong and courageous.  Isn’t that what He is…strong and courageous…as He leads the way and we follow behind Him?

As I have contemplated this concept of being strong and courageous I have come to believe that it takes strength and courage to trust God to see us through.  Our natural inclination is to launch forth confidently knowing that we have the intestinal fortitude to face whatever challenge is ahead because we are ingenious, strong and disciplined.  This is what we usually mean when we tell each other to be strong and courageous.  “You can do it,” we often say, “I have confidence in you!”  This is also why we are often so nervous when starting something new: we don’t feel so strong and courageous in and of ourselves.

The challenge to be strong and courageous from God’s perspective, it seems to me, is that we be strong and courageous in our trust in His ability to see us through and so we get to work, trusting Him, placing our faith in Him and watching to see His hand at work.  Letting go of the controls, trusting Him and moving forward with confidence in His ability to bring good out of whatever may come is probably better termed, faith.  Putting our faith in Him modes not mean that we sit on our hands to watch Him do all of the work.  What it means is that we move forward with all our might trusting Him with the eventual outcome, anticipating another opportunity to watch Him at work.  Talk about strength and courage!

And so, as I sit here ready to sign up to lease an office space for my fledgling private practice, my stomach twists up as I choose to be strong and courageous to sign on the bottom line trusting Him to make the most of my faith walk as I look expectantly towards his guiding hand.

Be strong and courageous.

The Art of Listening

Listening is such a critical art that is habitually taken for granted in our world.  I love John Piper’s analysis of Proverbs 18:13: “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”  John makes ten valuable observations that are fleshed out in his article entitled “Ten Reasons to Listen to Questions Before You Answer” that are worth copying here:

1. It is arrogant to answer before you hear.

2. It is rude to answer a half-asked question.

3. Not answering a question before you hear it honors and respects the person asking the question.

4. Careful listening to a question often reveals the the question has several layers and really more than one question.

5. A question sometimes reveals assumptions that you do not share.

6. Questions usually have attitudes as well as content.

7. Questions have context that you need to know.

8. Questions are made up of words. Words have meanings that are formed by a person’s experience and education.

9. Proverbs 18:13 says it is our ‘folly‘ to answer before we hear.  That is, it will make us a fool.

10. And finally Proverbs 18:13 says that it is our ‘shame‘ to answer before we hear.

I cannot help but wonder what kind of world it would be if we practiced this elegant principle of listening fully to each other in our daily interactions.  May God help us learn to be each other’s counselors and therapists as we practice the simple art of listening.


Lately I have been pondering the great mystery of friendship.

Solomon observed that God has “set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NIV).  As we transition through the cycles of life we all have an inner craving for things that are permanent.  At the same time, we all know that what we encounter in life is transient.  In the context of Solomon’s wisdom I do not believe that he was encouraged by this; probing this realization led only to frustration of the unknowable.

The fields we played in as children become parking lots or subdivisions.  Old cars that we love eventually become scrap metal for another generation of automobiles or steel for skyscrapers.  Great moments in time become distant memories that, perhaps, someone had the forethought to record in movies or photographs; but, those snapshots in time cheat us of the finer details of the senses remembered with a smile or a quiet tear.  We build memorials and museums to capture our history so that we will never forget; and then we forget.  We reenact historical events or dress in the time-period with the full awareness that we cannot re-live it.

In his book, The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis observed that it is a mistake to think that these moments in time are ends in themselves.  Behind each longing is a secret desire for ‘home’ buried deep within the human heart that we fill with the things of this world turning them into ‘dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.”  They are not the substance of eternity but, rather, whiffs of what is to come.

Perhaps no experience in life comes closer to illustrating this reality than friendship.  Certainly, acquaintances come and go, relationships wax and wane and partners engage and disengage.  Real friendships, however, are those that endure the relocations, the cycles of life and times of exhilaration and those of despair.  Found only among a select few in the average lifetime we treasure time together with our ‘best’ friends often in the form of marriage, shared experiences or enduring values.  True friendship is honest, confrontational, caring and intriguing.  As Solomon observed in Proverbs 27:17: “You use steel to sharpen steel, and one friend sharpens another.”  The whole of true friendship becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

When we bring our longing for eternity together with the wonders of friendship we are, on the one hand, reminded that this is transitional as well.  In the end, friends die and one remains to carry on alone.  The vow of “Till death do us part” knocks on the door to tell us, “It’s time.”  In the absence of the real presence of our friend we long for something greater, something to replace the chasm that opens wide within, to embrace something real, substantial, concrete.

Something Solomon only ‘whiffed’ became fully realized at the foot of the cross.  What a wonderful door that opened to the human heart!  To think that it is entirely possible for a friendship to stretch from our past into eternity creates an elasticity in life that mocks the grave and removes the sting of death (1 Corinthians 15:55).  “Forever friends” is more than a wistful placebo in the midst of our grief.  It is a present reality anchored in the promise of God Himself for those who share a physical and emotional friendship here on earth but, also, who have gathered around the foot of the cross to share a spiritual friendship in the blood of Christ that answers the cry of the human heart for home.


Goldfinch In Spring

It doesn’t usually take much.  A small thread, a gleam, a light at the end of the tunnel, a silver lining…all of these colloquial expressions refer to the wonder of hope.  Just one little ray of sunshine can take horrible circumstances and transform them into redemptive events.

Here in the dead of winter in southeastern Michigan I sometimes wish it would warm up just a little bit…and then they forcast a low of 8 degrees over the next couple of days.  I found this picture from last summer and I thought, “It won’t be too long.”

Sometimes hope lies in the ‘already-but-not-yet’ aspect of our faith in Christ.  Paul tells us that our hope lies in the very power that raised Jesus from the dead (Eph. 1:15-22) and which, also, ushered us into the very throne room of God (Eph. 2:1-10).  Past-tense event empowers present-tense fact and points to a future-tense reality of standing in the throne room of God, face-to-face.

Hope.  It is an amazing thing.