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A simple recipe for victory: forget yourself

Self esteem shop. humility. Philippians 2:3Do you have low self-esteem?

We have an entire industry devoted to helping us raise our self-esteem. After all, everyone wants to get ahead. And who can get ahead without good self-esteem?

Anyone who wants to get ahead God’s way.

God has a way of giving very simple instructions that demand we act exactly the opposite of what our society and our human nature expect.

Philippians 2:3 is a very simple verse, easy to memorize and hard to live up to:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves (NIV).

Does the thought of considering others better make your blood start to seethe? Let’s take a closer look. Continue reading

Knowledge, Christian freedom, and love

Roman idol sacrifice

Roman relief: sacrifice of bull. Now at the Antiques Museum, Royal Palace, Stockholm

Have you ever noticed that the world of the Bible is very different from our own society? Sometimes it can seem hard to relate to some of the topics.

But we’re not as far removed from the ancients as we like to think. After all, we’re human, too.

The church at Corinth sent Paul a letter with some questions. We can reconstruct them in the structure of 1 Corinthians.

Paul begins various sections with the phrase “now concerning.” In 1 Corinthians 8, it’s “Now concerning meat sacrificed to idols.”

It still matters. Continue reading

Jumping to conclusions: Paul and the tribune

Roman tribune. Claudius Lysias

Modern re-enactor wearing replica equipment of a Roman military tribune of the imperial era.

For some of us, the best exercise we get is jumping to conclusions. That is, we make snap judgments without having all the necessary facts.

A very minor Bible character, Claudius Lysias, jumped to a lot of conclusions. As each proved false, he jumped to another one. He never did find out whom he had in custody.

We don’t learn his name until the very end of his story, but he was the Roman tribune in Jerusalem about 30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. He saved Paul from lynching and never quite knew what to do next. Continue reading

The forgotten meaning of giving and receiving

Ruth meets Boaz. No one ever became poor by giving. Giving and receiving

Ruth Meets Boaz / Edward Burne-Jones, 1879

It’s more blessed to give than to receive. But God is such a generous giver that we receive all the time. And in fact, what we receive depends very much on what we give.

Unfortunately, we concentrate so much on material things that we easily forget how much else giving and receiving means.

Let’s take a look at one of Jesus’ teachings on the subject:

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Luke 6:37-38, NIV

The image of someone pouring something into our laps can easily focus our attention on the material. But the sentence about giving and receiving directly follows references to judging, condemning, and forgiving. Continue reading

When Christians ought to judge

Sin

Society acts like it’s a good thing! The church mustn’t.

Have you ever noticed that much of the American church today doesn’t like to mention sin?

Try saying aloud that something is sinful. If you’re not careful about what company you say it in, someone is bound to thunder, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”

Why do they always quote it in King James? Simply because they have memorized it that way, and it becomes a handy club to beat up anyone who dares to criticize sin.

They have no clue that their use of the verse amounts to judgment of you, the one who dares to bring up the very idea of sin.

In fact, it’s a safe bet that these people can’t tell you the context of the quotation or whatever else the Bible might have to say about judgment. Including where it commands that we judge. Continue reading

New clothes for a new life

Gift wrappingDid you give or receive clothing for Christmas? God gives clothing, too. He always has. And if you gave or received underwear, God gives that, too.

When Adam and Eve sinned and became ashamed of their nakedness, they covered themselves with fig leaves.

Fig leaves aren’t very suitable clothing. They’re not sturdy enough to wear for very long, and I understand they’re itchy.

God clothed them in the skins of animals. But first, they had to take off their useless old clothes. Continue reading

The sin in Jesus’ family tree: why the virgin birth of Jesus was necessary

Adoration of the Shepherds / Murillo. virgin birth of Jesus

Adoration of the Shepherds / Bartolomé-Esteban Murillo, ca. 1650

Matthew describes the virgin birth of Jesus from Joseph’s viewpoint in Matthew 2. Have you ever studied the first chapter of Matthew? Most Christians probably skip it. It seems like nothing but a boring genealogy.

But let’s pay some attention. Matthew mentions four women in the first six verses. And all four names recall stories of sin.

Jesus had to be born sinless, live a sinless life, and die as a perfect and unblemished sacrifice. Everyone from Cain and Abel onward has been conceived and born in sin.

And that’s not because they were conceived through sexual union. God planned for that from the beginning. But when Adam and Eve fell into sin, they could only pass on to their children the sin nature they had acquired.

So first, let’s look at those four women to see why Matthew thought them worth mentioning. Then we can see what God did to make sure Jesus would be fit to save us.  Continue reading

Oh how I love your—law?

Moses / Michelangelo

Moses / Michelangelo

We Christians love God. We sing of our love for God in hundreds of hymns and praise choruses. But have you ever thought about what it is about him you love?

Somehow, I suspect many Christians would come up with a long list before they ever echoed the psalmist:

Oh, how I love Your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
Your commandments have made me wiser than my enemies,
for they are continually with me. – Psalm 119:97-98 ( all references from MEV)

I have no idea how many times I read past that verse before I noticed a problem: It’s easy to love promises and attributes. But how do we really love commandments? Continue reading

Insidious weeds: a curse of garden and mind

weed-dandelion-pixabaySuggest that some natural disaster represents God’s judgment, and people will fall all over themselves condemning how judgmental you are. After all, God is love. But God is also judge.

And he’s also Father. Disobeying any father always has consequences.

No one can connect whichever natural disaster is currently in the headlines with any particular judgment.

So I’d like to suggest a sign of judgment, indeed a sign of a curse, we all know.

Weeds. Continue reading

Is God an angry taskmaster? Don’t be fooled by stinking thinking

Cain Fleeing from the Wrath of God (The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve) / William Blake c. 1805-1809

Cain Fleeing from the Wrath of God (The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve) / William Blake c. 1805-1809

God has a reputation as an angry taskmaster who’s difficult to please. He has a bunch of rules and punishes anyone who falls afoul of them. He lives in a place called heaven. Everyone wants to go there, but it’s hard to be good enough.

A cursory reading of the Bible confirms this picture. A careful reading reveals an entirely different picture.

Actually comparing the Bible with other ancient literature confirms the truth: God is love. He prefers mercy to wrath and grace to judgment.

These days, too many people don’t even bother with a cursory reading of the Bible. They take other people’s word for it that God, if they’ll admit he even exists, is completely unreasonable.

If they read the Bible at all, they’ll only look for evidence that confirms their prejudice. They’ll read right past all the evidence of God’s love and mercy, because they’re not looking for it. That’s stinking thinking. Continue reading