Beware of Complaints

Whether facing overwhelming circumstances or even in the day-to-day drudge of life, it’s often easier to focus on what’s wrong with a situation than look to see how God is seeing us through. Often, that was the response of the Israelites while wandering in the wilderness.


Here is an example from the Book of Numbers. Read the passage and then the note from the Beyond Suffering Bible. Reflect on what is God saying to you?

“Soon the people began to complain about their hardship, and the LORD heard everything they said. Then the LORD’s anger blazed against them, and he sent a fire to rage among them, and he destroyed some of the people in the outskirts of the camp. Then the people screamed to Moses for help, and when he prayed to the LORD, the fire stopped. After that, the area was known as Taberah (which means ‘the place of burning’), because fire from the LORD had burned among them there. Then the foreign rabble who were traveling with the Israelites began to crave the good things of Egypt. And the people of Israel also began to complain. ‘Oh, for some meat!’ they exclaimed. ‘We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted.’” (Numbers 11:1-5, NLT)

Connection Point from the Beyond Suffering Bible

How easy it is to grumble and murmur about our hardships. Our hardships are real, but just as real is God’s care for us. God’s love is a fundamental reality, something that is absolutely true in every circumstance we face (1 John 4:7-12). Can you thank the Lord even in your pain or disability? Remaining grateful to God in every circumstance leads you to act in ways that please God.

“Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.” (Philippians 4:11-12, NLT)


Unite Them, Protect Them, Sanctify Them

by Charles R. Swindoll, taken from the Swindoll Study Bible

Read: John 17:6-19

AS JESUS PRAYED for His disciples, He prayed for three things: that they would be unified, that they would be protected from the evil one, and that they would be made holy.

First, Jesus prayed for His disciples’ unity. If you study the twelve disciples, you willnotice that they were individualistic men. They were not necessarily cooperative. They were stubborn. They were at times dull and unteachable. They were proud. Matthew was a tax collector. Peter was a fisherman. John and James were called “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17). Yet the Lord prayed, in effect, “Father, I want You to take these tough-minded men and build them into a unit.” In John 17:11, He prayed, “Protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.”


Second, Jesus prayed for His disciples’ protection. “I have given them your word,” He continued. “And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one” (John 17:14-15). These verses give us a clear description of Jesus’ strategy. He never encourages living behind the walls of a monastery, either physically or spiritually. He wants His disciples to be in touch with the world so that the world will have His light. If the world never saw or rubbed shoulders with Christians, it would have no light. So Jesus was saying, “Lord, I don’t want You to take them out of the world. Leave them in the world, but preserve them.” It’s not about isolation, but insulation. We need to be “insulated” so that we can move through the fire and the crucible of this world without being discouraged or destroyed by the evil one.


I think Jesus’ two requests for unity and protection are linked. The evil one discovers disunity and hits us at that chink in our armor. That’s why we, the church, are told by the apostle Paul in Ephesians 4 to keep ourselves united in the Spirit. The Spirit of God gives unity, and we are to cultivate it. We are to bridge the gaps, the cracks, the chinks. The whole purpose is so that we might have a positive effect on a decadent, perverted society.


Third, Jesus prayed for His disciples’ holiness. Notice this third request: “Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth” (John 17:17). First Jesus said, “Keep them,” and now He says, “Sanctify them.” He wants His followers to be set apart for their intended purpose. He doesn’t want them to ever lose the vision. How are we made holy? Scripture tells us right here: through God’s Word, which is truth. You cannot live the life you were fully intended to live apart from this Book. If you get away from the Source of truth and move into the wastelands of subjectivity and human opinions, invariably you will be led astray. If you’re living your life apart from regular contact with the Word of God, the world is on its way to moving in. We who believe in Jesus today are included in this prayer (see John 17:20). Jesus has prayed for us to have unity, protection, and holiness. These things have therefore been given to us. We need to live them out.


Find out more about the Swindoll Study Bible

Mary’s Testimony: He Is Risen From the Dead

After Jesus rose from the dead early on Sunday morning, the first person who saw him was Mary Magdalene, the woman from whom he had cast out seven demons.” Mark 16:9, NLT


Devotional from the Dancing in the Desert Devotional Bible

In a legal setting, the testimony of a woman was considered unreliable, subject to undue influences of the heart and imagination and therefore inadmissible. Men of the first century—Jewish, Greek, Roman, Arab—all held this view, albeit in varying degrees. They easily dismissed the words of a woman if those words didn’t fit their assumptions. The disciples rejected Mary Magdalene’s testimony of having seen Jesus (16:11), and they were later rebuked for that by Jesus himself (16:14). Yet of all the followers of Jesus—of all those whom the biblical text refers to as disciples, whether directly or by implication—Jesus appeared first to Mary and the women with her. Not only that, he sent her to tell the news to the men (Matthew 28:10).


Some biblical scholars consider this one of the clearest signs of the Gospel’s authenticity. No man of the first century would fabricate a story about a miracle and then undermine it by having women as the first witnesses to it. It had to be true. But Jesus held an unusual view of women, and Mary of Magdala seemed to be foremost among the women who followed him. She is listed first in every mention of female followers of Jesus, who apparently traveled with him throughout Galilee and, at least on this unusual occasion, to Jerusalem for Passover. We don’t know much about Mary other than the fact that she had been tormented by demons before she met Jesus and then followed him closely But we do know that no other rabbi at this point included women in his circle of followers. Jesus did, even though the sight of women traveling with men who weren’t their relatives surely unnerved a lot of people. And on this trip to Jerusalem, it was good they were there. Many women watched from a distance as Jesus hung dying (Matthew 27:55), long after most of the men had fled.


Mary probably thought she was only going to Jerusalem for Passover, never envisioning Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb. But when he was executed and her world shattered, she remained there. She came to the tomb with her companions, not to witness a resurrection, but to anoint a body. And Jesus put her world together again, better than before, and gave her a testimony for the ages.

Open My Eyes

by Kevin O’Brien, brand manager for Study Bibles and Bible Reference at Tyndale House Publishers.

ISB prophets interior

Sometimes it all seems like too much. Life presses in, and I am going to implode under the pressure.

It’s not supposed to be like that.

I know better.

I mean, I really know better. Not sort of, not I think so. For real.

I was in church before I was a week old. Gave my life to Christ before I started school and was always the “good kid,” whatever that means. Sure, I had my doubts in junior high and was silently, scarily rebellious in high school. I am by nature a skeptic. Faith comes hard for me. And yet I believe. I went to a Christian college, changed my major to pastoral studies my freshman year, went on to seminary for two master’s degrees, and did some more grad school in theology after that.

Knowledge. Got it.

I’ve built my life on the Bible. On the idea of the Bible. On the knowledge that it not only matters, it’s true. Really true. Stake-your-life-on-it true.

Still, for twenty years I have been haunted by a question a professor asked after I had given a short sermon in a preaching class: “Kevin, you clearly have the text. My question is, does the text have you?”

How do you answer that question? How do you know?

Life, not the classroom. That’s how.

My second son was diagnosed with autism at 4 years old.

What do you do with that? Does the foundation hold? Do I really believe? Did I simply get over my rebellious phase and follow the path that a good firstborn child follows or did something capture me? I have asked myself that question a lot over the past decade. I have wondered in silence and loneliness—and very much out loud as well. I have had my doubts and defeats, stress and helplessness along the way.

I cannot fix this. Not by a long shot. I cannot fix it for my son or my wife or my other children. I cannot fix the past or the present or the future.

But I can trust. I can hope. And I have since the beginning, since the day that we first heard the word “autism” attached to Nathan’s name. The day I came face to face with the reality that I actually do believe this stuff—God has captured me. But the pressure remains. Autism hasn’t magically vanished.

I have all this training in the Bible and it can still be hard for me to catch a glimpse of what God is up to sometimes. Still its truth has worked its way down into my very soul. Sometimes in surprising ways. Like the day we first heard “autism” and I didn’t panic. Didn’t cry out, “Why me?” I was able to say, “That’s Nate.” Not because I am better or more spiritual or even just numb. But because I actually believe this stuff. I believe that God is who the Bible says he is. That he is for us. That he wants us. That he is big enough to take care of the things that we cannot see past.

Hebrews 4:12 tells us that the word of God is alive and powerful.

I have known this all my life. I have caught glimpses along the way. But it took Nate’s diagnosis to truly open my eyes to just how powerful God’s Word really is. To open my eyes to the fact that this living word points me to the Word—the one who doesn’t just save me from or for some future moment but in the messiness of the here and now. In the mundane routines of life. In the expectations and failures and hopes and dreams and, yes, even in autism. This message has sunk down into me, however imperfectly. It matters.

ISB Outside

That’s why I make Bibles. I want to help people to see what is going on in its pages, to drink deeply of its message and hear its call. Ken Taylor, who created The Living Bible and started Tyndale, was often asked what the best Bible was. His reply was always the same: “The one you read.”

It’s often easier for us to say we believe the Bible than to actually read it. We half remember Bible stories from our childhood (and would be shocked at what is really in—and not in—them), we struggle over hard names and wonder what the point of Leviticus is anyway. Sometimes it just feels too hard. Study is for people who went to seminary and who know Greek. It’s stuffy and boring and takes the mystery and wonder out of our faith. It doesn’t help when people like me with years of training are tempted to turn the Bible into a textbook. You know, the kind of book you are supposed to read but don’t? The kind that bewilders and puts you to sleep?

It doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be that way. The Word of God is alive and powerful. We need constant reminders. Nate has been one for me. But even so, it’s easy to get caught in the routine, the day to day.

For the past couple of years I have gotten to be a part of an amazing project. We started with Taylor’s simple premise and asked ourselves, what would it take for people to want to study the Bible?

Not textbook study. Love-letter study.

The kind of study that sinks down in so that when life happens we have an anchor, not an answer.

What if we used color and photography, images and art to open our eyes to what God is up to?

I got to be a part of a team that went through the entire Bible asking what we should (and could) illustrate well. I got to rediscover the wonder of this thing we call the Bible, watching firsthand as each of us caught a glimpse of the breadth and the depth of God’s love for us. Remembering that this is his world, that he invites us to be a part of it. He carries us home when we wander, tells the father of an autistic child that yes, he can handle this, too.

I want to help people understand what the Bible is all about. Because in all of my crazy, messed-up life, in all of my knowledge and doubt and fear and wonder, I believe it is true.

Somewhere in the middle of it all, I also got a reminder that the process is never done. Every day I have to open my eyes in wonder.

Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions.

                                                                                  Ps. 119:18

Check out the Illustrated Study Bible

Kevin O’Brien is a nerd. A full-blown liked school, stayed there far too long, Dr. Who–loving, bookworm sort of nerd. Who also won the lottery when he married a former cheerleader. (Yes, it really can happen.) He also happens to love hockey enough that he married a Canadian former cheerleader. He is a father to three kids, an ordained minister who currently serves as an elder at his church in the far western suburbs of Chicago, and a brand manager on the Bible team at Tyndale House Publishers (which is a fancy way of saying he does product development and marketing all rolled into one). He served as managing editor for the Illustrated Study Bible.

This was originally written in 2016.