Moses’ presumption

“And Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hands.'” — Exodus 17:9 (NKJV)

Among the many gifts God gave Moses, his rod was a tangible object that he could use any way he chose in order to release God’s power. He usually used it wisely and with great effect. Sometimes he did not use it wisely, and it got him in trouble.

His best-known mistake came when God told him to speak to a rock so that water would come from it.… Read the rest

The flood: grace and judgment on display

Here’s the quickie narrative of the flood that almost everyone knows: God made people and got mad at them, so he decided to wipe them out. He liked one fellow, though, so he made him build an ark and collect pairs of animals. Everyone else drowned, but when the floodwaters subsided, the few people and animals on the ark repopulated the earth.

On the surface, that sound like overkill. I mean, surely there must have been some nice folks that died along with the bad guys, right?  To many people who understand only that much of the story, God must be some kind of angry, capricious monster–at least until gentle Jesus meek and mild came along.… Read the rest

Dealing with bad news the right way

“Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD.” — 2 Kings 19:14 (NIV)

Poor Hezekiah. He’s known as one of the good kings of Judah, but his father Ahaz was surely the worst. Ahaz inherited a secure and independent kingdom and by his  idolatry and cowardice reduced it to a tributary of Assyria. Assyria, in turn, had little interest in having smaller states paying tribute. It wanted to conquer them all and rule directly.

Hezekiah trusted God more than any other king of Judah before or after  him, and eventually rebelled as the Lord prospered him (2 Kings 18:5-7).… Read the rest

Holy Saturday and dashed expectations

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, his admirers expected that he would eventually be crowned king and begin the process of freeing the land from Roman occupation. His disciples expected to occupy important cabinet ministries in the kingdom .

Jesus didn’t behave much like a king. By the end of the week, it no longer looked like he planned to live up to expectations. Perhaps Judas acted as he did trying to force Jesus’ hand.

On Thursday night, Jesus hosted a pre-Passover meal and behaved very strangely and started talking somberly about death. All of the disciples’ expectations and hopes were dashed when Judas led soldiers to capture him.… Read the rest

Faith: the real thing

“I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” — Jude 3

Isn’t it amazing how many people hold the truth in utter contempt? Plenty of people try to make the case that the Holocaust never happened, even though survivors live to this day, the sites of concentration camps still stand, and many eyewitnesses have left both written and photographic accounts of what they experienced or saw.

It’s nothing new. Other examples have occurred throughout history. In New Testament times, while people who had personal memories of Jesus and his teachings still lived, false teachers dared to offer their version of his life and ministry as an alternative.… Read the rest

Fear of God: the wrong way

Superficially, the Parable of the Ten Minas resembles the Parable of the Ten Talents, but the differences are probably more important than the similarities. Jesus told the parable right before his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. His followers thought he was going there to claim his kingdom. In fact, he intended to go to his Father to receive it. In the parable, he traveled to a far country.

Mina, like talents, is a unit of money. In this parable, though, the minas represent spiritual gifts. The nobleman gave a mina to each of ten servants. (In the parable of the talents, he gave three men different amounts according to their differing ability.) Then he returned, having received the kingdom, and called the servants to find out how they had done.… Read the rest

Leaving Jesus behind

We have only one story of Jesus’ childhood, when he sat in the temple questioning the teachers while his parents had already started to return home. Surely every parent can identify with the multitude of emotions Joseph and Mary must have felt as they searched for their son.

Men traveled separately from women and children in those days. A twelve-year-old, one year from adulthood, could have plausibly traveled with either group. Only when they stopped for the night and families reunited did Joseph and Mary recognize that no one had seen Jesus. They had to return to Jerusalem to find him.… Read the rest

Scorning shame for joy

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” — Hebrews 12:2

“Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed nor be disgraced, for you will not be put to shame; for you will forget the shame of your youth and will remember the reproach of your widowhood no more.” — Isaiah 54:4

It may seem we’ve landed in a world without shame. Couples are no longer ashamed to live together without being married; women are no longer ashamed to bear children out of wedlock, and so on.… Read the rest

A prayer Jesus answered, but did not grant

On one of numerous occasions that crowds followed Jesus when he would have preferred to be alone, he had compassion and set aside his own needs in order to heal the multitudes until it was already past. The disciples finally said, “We’re out in the country and it’s getting late. Dismiss the people so they can go the the villages and get some supper” (Matthew 14:15 — Message).

They made their request made known to the Lord. In other words, they prayed. Not only that, they prayed a prayer of compassion. They knew that it would soon be dark and that the people were probably getting hungry.… Read the rest

Seed sown in rocky places: the dangers of shallow faith

In gardening or farming, sun gives life to well-rooted plants, but death to others. That is why, in Jesus’ parable of the sower, seedlings in rocky places and scorched by the sun represent people who hear the word of God and fall away in times of trouble and persecution.

American Christians may not suffer persecution, or at least not to the extent that Christians in other places and times have, but no one gets through life without trouble and affliction. I don’t suppose that many would compare persecution, trouble, and affliction to the sun, but Jesus did.

The sun is good; it gives power and light.… Read the rest