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At Christmas, God gives gifts. Will you receive?

Christmas tree with gifts. God's Christmas giftAt Christmas time, advertisers want us to concentrate on gift giving. But did you ever stop to think that it’s also the season of gift receiving? And that God gives the gifts that give the season its meaning?

People can very carefully choose gifts that reflect their understanding of the people they’re giving to. Or they can put minimal thought and effort into the task.

People can receive gifts with gratitude. Or with indifference, disappointment, or rejection.

If you have carefully chosen a gift and the person you give to doesn’t appreciate it, how do you feel? Have you ever thought about what God feels? Continue reading

Hell, grace, and the secret things of God

hell by bosch

Hell. Right panel of Haywain Triptych / Hieronymous Bosch, ca. 1516

No one likes to talk about hell any more, although some people have an unhealthy confidence that they know who’s going there.

God reserves that judgment for himself. He deliberately hides all aspects of his plans. Some scriptures make it seem like nearly everyone will be saved. Others make it seem like hardly anyone will be saved.

The Bible speaks with crystal clarity on one point, though. People stand or fall before God as individuals. Not as members of a group. Not because of association with anyone else. Continue reading

Isaiah’s parables of the sower: when God threshes you

The sower / Tissot. Isaiah 28:23-29

The Sower / James Tissot, between 1886 and 1894

We’ve all heard sermons on Jesus’ parable of the sower, told in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8. He told the crowd, “listen if you have ears.”

Then he quoted from Isaiah 6:9-10. He told his disciples essentially that he told parables so people without spiritual ears would not understand.

Isaiah himself provides two parables about farming. Like Jesus’ parable, they seem like obvious facts about what farmers do.

Those with ears to hear, those who belong to God’s kingdom, can find important spiritual truths in them.  Continue reading

Speaking God’s word to a rebellious church

Jesus with sword, rebellious church

Jesus with a sword. 14th-century fresco, Monastery of the Ascension, Kosovo

Does it require courage for a man of God to speak to the people of God?

It shouldn’t, but sometimes it does. God’s chosen people have consistently rebelled against God’s chosen leaders and messengers. They started against Moses. The rebellious church today continues in the same vein.

God called Ezekiel as prophet to the sons of Israel and told him not to be afraid of their looks or words.

And that’s after Ezekiel had seen four creatures that had four faces apiece. After it dawned on him that God himself appeared to him with them. People can be scarier than the weirdest supernatural visions.  Continue reading

What is the most harmful sin?

It's all about me. sin of self-sufficiency

Or so we like to think!

Another blog I follow makes a good case that the most harmful sin is sexual immorality, the one sin that people commit against their own body.

No doubt it seriously threatens everything God ordained about human relationships.

But I’m leading a Bible study on Isaiah. It shows me something else even more harmful: the sin of self-sufficiency. After all, not everyone commits sexual sin, but no one is immune to the sin of self-sufficiency. Continue reading

Who wants to stone Jesus?

The Stoning of the Blasphemer / Charles Foster

The Stoning of the Blasphemer / Charles Foster: The Story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation (1873)

In John 8:59, a crowd wanted to stone Jesus. Today I’m going to start there and work backwards for a while. Why, you might ask, would I do that?

Careful writers often proofread from end to beginning. They have worked on their draft for so long they know what it’s supposed to say.

So they read the last paragraph, then the previous paragraph, and so on to the beginning. It shows what they otherwise might easily miss.

Reading familiar Bible passages from the end to the beginning can also show details we have probably read past before.

Who wanted to stone him? And why? Continue reading

Living water: source and meaning

Dan River. living water

Dan River, Danville, North Carolina, a drinking water source

Jesus had started to lose his popularity by the time he shouted on the last day of a feast,

If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water (John 7:37-38, MEV).

Those who heard him contented themselves with debating who he was. But what did he mean? Continue reading

The wrath of Jesus

Christ cleansing the temple. Wrath of Jesus

Christ Cleansing the Temple / Luca Giordano, mid 1670s

We like to think of Jesus as gentle and loving.

Some people even teach that the love of God means there can’t be a hell.

They’re reading selectively and ignoring passages that describe the wrath of Jesus.

In fact, most of what the Bible teaches about hell comes from the lips of an angry Jesus. In one outburst he consigned the entire town where he lived to hell! Continue reading

When God’s promises don’t appear as advertised

Paul's vision of a Macedonian man. Acts  16:1-15

Paul’s vision of a Macedonian man

God keeps his promises. Often not as soon as we’d like. And often not in ways we anticipated. The beginning of Paul’s ministry in Philippi serves as a perfect example of an answer that may have looked at first like a disappointment.

Acts 16:1-15 describes the beginning of Paul’s second missionary journey. He had begun it by visiting the churches he had founded on the first journey.

The chapter begins with Paul in Lystra and Derbe in the province of Galatia (part of Asia Minor, or modern Turkey).

From there he and his team planned to start new churches in the neighboring province of Asia. It was conveniently located and culturally familiar. Continue reading

Exchanging swords for plowshares

Isaiah 2:4

Isaiah 2:4 written on a wall across the street from the United Nations Building in New York City

God’s promise, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares,” stands on a wall near the United Nations. The UN exists because the world wanted to make it come true.

What happened?

The first four verses of Isaiah 2 leading up to that promise presents a compelling image: God’s house sits on a mountain higher than any other mountain on earth, and “all the nations stream to it.”

Imagine! A stream flowing uphill!  Continue reading