Counting winners and losers on Good Friday—and Easter

The Resurrection of Christ / Noel Coypel, 1700

What is winning? And what is losing? In a baseball game, it’s obvious. At the end of the game, the team with the most runs wins. The other loses. In life, the distinction is not nearly as clear cut.

This is Holy Week. On Good Friday, it looked like Jesus lost. The two thieves crucified on either side of him had different views. On Easter, it turns out Jesus, and the second thief, won.

The chief priests gloated in triumph. “You claimed to be the Christ. Well, if you’re the Christ, let’s see you come down off that cross, loser!” His friends, those who dared to show up at all, cowered at a distance.… Read the rest

Sin: Whatever Is Not of Faith

Sin

Lent is a time of preparation for Easter, during which Christians are encouraged to ponder their sin and their own mortality. Sin can be difficult to face. Quite apart from the fact that no one really wants to think of their own evil, it can be difficult to identify what sin is.

Despite the claims of an odd team of Christian legalists and enemies of Christianity, biblical Christianity has no list of rules or prohibitions. The Bible says, “everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).

That verse comes at the end of a chapter that demonstrates that something can easily be sin for some people, but not sin for others.… Read the rest

Truly preparing to worship

Worship serviceWe prepare to go to church. That’s not quite the same as preparing for worship. It is quite possible to come to church and go home without having worshiped.

Some churches make it nearly impossible for anyone to worship.

I’m thinking in particular of a service where the sermon was little more than a book review and the congregation had little chance to participate. Or of other services where the sermon has consisted of the preacher explaining away what the Scripture lesson clearly taught.

But even in churches where the content of the service is good and the congregation has ample ways to participate, it is too easy just to go through the motions and leave unmoved.… Read the rest

Thinking of yourself with sober judgment

Self esteem shopWhat do you think of yourself?

The Bible says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (Romans 12:3).

It immediately sounds like we shouldn’t think highly of ourselves. Maybe we should think we’re just unworthy worms. But that’s not what it says, is it? After all, if we’re supposed to love each other as ourselves and we’re supposed to think of ourselves as unworthy worms. . . Nope. That just plain doesn’t make any sense!

The trouble with self esteem

It seems that so many people feel bad about themselves that it has become a social problem.… Read the rest

Jesus’ neglected commandment

Christ Enthroned : Vivarini

In John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (NASB). What commandments? Just a while earlier, in John 13:34, he had said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

Does that seem new? Jesus had earlier said that the greatest commandment of the law was to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. The second was like the first: Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:28-34). With this new commandment, Jesus raised the standard.  Moses had said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” which for all practical purposes is imperfect love.… Read the rest

Arise, shine, but how?

full moonAs an old camp song says, “Arise, shine, give God the glory, glory.” But let’s be honest. We have no light in ourselves. There is nothing inherent in the human race that allows any of us to shine.

Of course, that song is based on a scripture. “Arise. Shine. For your light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you” (Isaiah 60:1).  If my light has come, if God’s glory shines on me, I can reflect it.

Divine prosperity and basic necessities

divine prosperity?Twenty or so years ago, prosperity preachers used to say that if you were driving a Chevrolet instead of a Cadillac, you were living beneath your privileges and probably didn’t have the faith to live in divine prosperity. Maybe some of them still do. I stopped paying attention.

I believe in divine prosperity, so long as we let the Bible define it. 2 Corinthians 8-9 constitute the greatest fund raising letter in history. Paul wanted to raise a huge donation for the church in Jerusalem, and here is what he promised that generous people would receive: enough for every need and abundance for every good work (2 Corinthians 9:8).… Read the rest

Anticipation: the birth and return of Jesus

john the baptist

The season of Advent is a time of anticipation. The word itself means “coming.” In secular contexts we can properly refer to the advent of any significant event. In the church year, it can refer only to the coming of Jesus Christ.

Scripture affirms that Christ has come, Christ has risen, and Christ is coming again. Two passages commonly read at this time of year point to both the first and second coming.

All the New Testament apostles: more than 12!

apostle Matthias

There is a common teaching that God intended that there would be only 12 apostles. When Judas killed himself, Peter and the church chose Matthias to take his place, but later God overruled them and chose Paul.  Then how come the New Testament names other men—and a woman—as apostles?

In order to believe the teaching that the appointment of Matthias was a mistake, it is necessary to believe that

  • Peter acted impulsively, having been misled in his prayer and meditation on the Word as described in Acts 1.
  • After Peter and the entire assembly prayed, the Holy Spirit allowed them to make a fundamental error and start the whole church on the wrong foot.
  • Read the rest

What becomes of an unrepentant priest? The sad story of Eli

Hannah prays as Eli watches

Jonah is the story of a disobedient prophet who repented. Eli is the story of a disobedient priest who did not. Jonah comes across as petulant even when he finally did God’s bidding. Eli seems in nearly all of his dealings as a very godly man. Jonah’s story is familiar enough that I won’t summarize it here, but I suppose many fewer readers even know who Eli was.

We first encounter Eli in the first chapter of 1 Samuel, where he is a bit player. Hannah, a barren woman taunted by her husband’s other wife, prayed silently, but in great anguish, at the tabernacle.… Read the rest