Mountains? Help comes from the Lord

I raise my eyes to the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. — Psalm 121:1-2 (HCSB)

“I can see the mountains very dimly!”

Distant mountains

This picture was also taken from eastern Colorado, but we traveled for hours from Bennett before the mountains looked this close.

My little brother’s excitement woke the whole family after what had been a very difficult night. It became the turning point of our trip to California.

My father had accepted a visiting professorship at the University of California and decided to buy a trailer.… Read the rest

Lent and the spiritual wilderness experience

Death Valley

Death Valley, California

The season of Lent recalls Jesus’ 40-day temptation in the wilderness. All Christians sooner or later go through their own spiritual wilderness. And so, in the Old Testament, did one of the Sons of Korah, who left behind Psalms 42 and 43to instruct and comfort us in our own struggles with wilderness experience.

These two psalms appear to have been originally one song of three verses with refrain: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (I use “verse” in the sense of familiar songs or hymns, not in the sense of a verse of scripture.)

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Faith, sin, unrighteousness, and free will

Fire angel

Do people have free will, or are their choices somehow determined? Yes.

Each of us has only one basic choice: will we trust and obey God, or will we not? Trusting God is called faith. Failing to trust God is called sin. Rejection of God entirely is called unrighteousness. Everyone, consciously or not, makes that choice–not once, not even daily, but continuously. Probably no one makes the same choice every time it is presented. Probably our conscious, deliberate choices and our unconscious choices do not consistently coincide. But we all make the choice for or against God one way or another all the time.… Read the rest

Walking and falling as a child of God

Toddler walkingThe Bible frequently speaks of people walking before God, walking after God, walking with God, walking in his ways, walking contrary to his ways, etc. Psalm 37:23-24 says, “The steps of a man are established by the Lord, and He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, because the Lord is the One who holds his hand” (NASB). No one likes to think about falling, but there it is the same place we find that God establishes our steps and delights in us.

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Three parables of the kingdom of heaven

According to Matthew 6:33, “Seek first kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things [material needs] will be added to you.” Simple enough in principle, but just what is this kingdom, and what does it mean to seek it first? Jesus explained the kingdom in a number of parables. Here are three from Matthew 13:24-33.

The kingdom of heaven can be compared to a man

Kingdom of heaven, man planting wheat

Wheat plant: notice the bending stalk.

A man sowed good seed in his field. Now, this parable comes right after Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the sower. It seems safe to conclude that the seed in both cases is the word of God.… Read the rest

Becoming OK with God: thoughts on the meaning of justification

Justification by faith in Christ

Christ the Redeemer

Justification by faith is too important to let it become just religious talk. If we are justified by faith, what does justify mean in ordinary language? Here are some sentences I found with an online search “justify in a sentence”

  • Refusal of a request to work beyond 65 must be objectively justified by the employer.
  • These pluses, we feel, amply justify a rate increase.
  • These features justify the expense of the software.

All of these sentences imply two questions, really.

Is it right, or OK, to refuse the request, increase the rates, buy the software, or go to war?… Read the rest

Joshua’s courage–and fear

Joshua and Israelites

Joshua and the Israelite People / Karolingischer Buchmaler, ca. 840

“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. Joshua was scared. How do I know that? Because the Book of Joshua begins with God giving him a pep talk. Three times during that pep talk, God told Joshua to be strong and courageous. When he got up from there and went out among the people, they told him to be strong and courageous.

So, was it wrong for Joshua to be scared? No.… Read the rest

Becoming Abraham


Map of Abram's journey

We know Abraham as the father of many nations. Arabs and Jews both claim him as their ancestor. His life story forms the very foundation of the basic Christian concept of justification by faith. He did not start out that way. We first meet him as a name at the tail end of one of the tiresome genealogies that make parts of the Bible so dry: “After Terah had lived 70 years he became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran” (Genesis 11:26). How did this Abram grow to become the Abraham so many people revere?

God called Abram and he answered.… Read the rest

The foolishness of a disappointed heart

The fool says in his heart there is no God (Psalm 14:1). Some folks over the past 200 years have become durn fool enough to say it out loud. People have been questioning God far longer than they have questioned his existence. The questions mainly come from disappointment, and the disappointment comes mainly from a false sense of our own innocence. When things don’t go well, people turn to God for help, too often as a last resort. At such times, they focus on their own needs, their own helplessness, but not on the reality of sin.

I’m adapting this post from a Sunday school lesson on Isaiah 44:21-26, but all the prophets had basically the same message.… Read the rest

On finding contradictions in Scripture, or not


Some people say that the Bible is full of contradictions. If they’re articulate enough, secular society considers them intellectually superior to people who simply believe the Bible as it is. And they certainly do, whether society does or not. I ought to know. I used to be one of them. Funny thing, though: the more I have studied the Bible, the harder it has become to find the contradictions. As much as I strive to be humble, I can’t help thinking that if everyone else studied the Bible in enough detail to understand what each author wanted to convey and the exact meaning of the words he used, they, too, would find it harder and harder to locate contradictions.… Read the rest