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.

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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.… Read the rest

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?

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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!

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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.… Read the rest

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! 

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Paul’s voyage to Rome: more than a travelogue?

Paul shipwrecked, Acts 27

Paul shipwrecked, from a collection of Bible drawings by Otto Semler and others, many based on the engravings by Carolsfeld.

What are we to make of the 27th chapter of Acts?

It describes Paul’s voyage from Caesarea to Rome, using three ships and running into a life-threatening storm at sea. It doesn’t describe any conversation in which Paul may have shared the gospel.

Is Luke so wrapped up in geography that he forgets his spiritual purpose? Or does this chapter contain any spiritual meat for us? 

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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?… Read the rest

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.… Read the rest

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.… Read the rest