Prayer that really works

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”–I John 5:14, NIV

I spent years, decades, comparing what I prayed for with what I got. I struggled that whole time with trying to find scriptures to “claim” so that what I asked for was according to God’s will. All that happened was that, little by little, I began to doubt that God loved me.

More recently, I have done something else. I have asked God to remake my thoughts. I have asked God to conform me to the image of Jesus.… Read the rest

Courage

“Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”–Joshua 1:9, NRSV

Moses was dead, and Joshua, his designated successor, was scared. That’s a good place to be for anyone who is about to start on a new ministry. Any ministry worth doing will be bigger than one human can handle by himself. If Joshua had been supremely confident in his ability to carry on, it would have only demonstrated that he was not adequately prepared.

So what do we do when we know what the Lord wants from us, and it seems more than we can do?… Read the rest

A Broken Tool: God Wrestles with Jacob

Whenever I get a tool, whether it’s for the garden or the kitchen or something to do with the computer, I try to take care of it, keep it in good condition. If something breaks, I probably can’t use it any more. If it can be fixed at all, it may not work as well as before it broke. So I am very careful. Keeping things in good working order is very important to me. I would guess that most of you would say the same thing.

God is different from us, if you haven’t noticed. His tools include the human beings he created, and he always breaks them before he uses them.… Read the rest

Stretching Out a Withered Hand

“He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.”–Mark 3:5, NIV

Yesterday I touched on the first half of this verse. Today we’ll look at the remarkable second half.

Picture yourself as the man with the withered hand. Make a fist as a symbol of a withered hand. Now, pretend that the computer screen is Jesus and move your fist towards it. Have you stretched out your hand? No. You have stretched out your arm. The man with the withered hand could have done that easily, but that’s not what Jesus told him to do.… Read the rest

Jesus’ anger

“He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.”–Mark 3:5, NIV

We don’t like to think of Jesus being angry. We like to think of him as gentle, meek, mild. Whatever else he was, he was never mild. Perhaps one reason we find Jesus’ anger uncomfortable is that we so often find our own embarrassing. Anger feels sinful, but the Bible commands us to be angry without sin.

Much of the congregation in the synagogue waited to see if Jesus would dare heal on the sabbath.… Read the rest

Who are you calling evil?

If you, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, now much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!–Matthew 7:11, NKJV

“If you, then, being evil. . .” Who today would dare address a crowd that way? And if someone did, wouldn’t everyone be too offended to listen to the rest of the message? We like to think of ourselves–and all of humanity–as basically good.

The Bible describes many occasions on which a crowd was so angry with Jesus that they argued heatedly, or even wanted to kill him.… Read the rest

Love never fails–really?

“Love never fails.”–1 Corinthians 13:8, NIV

If love never fails, then why do half of all marriages end in divorce? For that matter, why has nearly everyone who ever marries for the first time had at least one painful breakup before marrying? Why do parents and their children often have such stormy relationships?

Perhaps love did not fail, but someone failed to love? Maybe what looked and felt like love really wasn’t?

God is love. God never fails.

Love is made in heaven. Beware of inferior imitations!

Read the rest

Cleansing blood

“To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”–Revelation 1:5b-6, NKJV.

Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb? The very question has always made me cringe. Blood is sticky and messy. It stains things, ruins things, contaminates things. A fountain filled with blood? Yuck. Plunged beneath the cleansing flood? Sounds disgusting. And yet. . .

That’s what happens when blood gets outside the body. When it’s inside the body, cleansing is exactly what it does.… Read the rest

Welcome to Grace and Judgment

Calvin Coolidge had to go to church one day alone, because his wife was ill. When he returned, she asked him how church was. “Fine,” he said.

“Well, how was the sermon?” “Good.”

“What was it about?” “Sin.”

“Calvin, tell me what he said about it.” (Awkward pause.) “He’s against it.”

So should we all be. But how often do preachers talk about sin nowadays? Not often enough. My pastor proclaims that he’s against it, but I have heard many other preachers over the years with little acknowledgment that sin even matters. Time was when I heard and read lots of lessons about healing or prosperity.… Read the rest

A Shelter from the Storm—Really!

Have you ever noticed that nothing threatens holy people for long? Have you ever noticed that when you run into trouble, all you have to do is pray and the problems are solved? You haven’t? Hmm.

At first glance, that’s what Isaiah 25:1-12 seems to say: God has just done something wonderful in destroying the enemy’s stronghold and is promising more wonderful things in the future. Isaiah praises God as a refuge, a shelter from the storm. It certainly didn’t look like that to his audience.

The historical background for this passage is the military threat from Assyria. When the Assyrian army wasn’t at the gates, its ambassadors were breathing threats.… Read the rest