Saying "no" to ungodliness

Christmas scriptures include many familiar passages, but also thoughts from books not many of us read often, such as an important paragraph from Paul’s epistle to Titus. It gives a very valuable overview of the entire meaning of Jesus coming in the flesh.

Paul says that God’s grace has appeared and offers salvation to all people. One does not have to explore any farther than posts on Old Testament scriptures in this blog to realize that God’s grace extended to Jews and Gentiles alike from the beginning. In particular, the grace revealed before the coming of Christ is what the Wesleyan tradition calls prevenient grace, that is, the grace that goes before.… Read the rest

Preparing for the birth of Jesus, image of the invisible God

The season of Advent looks forward to the human birth of Jesus. Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem only because of human sin. The early church leaders who devised the Christian calendar recognized that  it would be inappropriate to celebrate his birth without a season of penitence to prepare for it.

We have forgotten that in our society. Today, we prepare for the birth of Jesus (or maybe just Xmas) by spending money we don’t have for things perhaps no one needs, and in some cases, to give them to people we don’t much like. If we’re not careful, the only times Jesus will intrude on our thoughts will be when we come to church on Sundays or if we happen to notice the Christmas carols piped into the mall.… Read the rest

God’s Servant: killing sin softly with his song

God will conquer the world and drive sin out of it, but as the four Servant Songs in Isaiah make clear, he will not act like an ordinary human conqueror. He has appointed a gentle servant to accomplish the task. The first (Isaiah 42:1-4), while not a typical Advent scripture, is very appropriate for this time of year.

Isaiah has already identified Israel as his servant (Isaiah 41:8-10), but, as it turns out, a thoroughly incompetent one (Isaiah 42:18-22). In the Servant Songs, God reveals another Servant, none other than the chosen Messiah, Jesus. God has put his Spirit on this Servant to bring justice to the Gentiles.Read the rest

God’s grace for the unreasonable: Nebuchadnezzar

Have you ever had to deal with a totally unreasonable person? What about some bosses you have had, or perhaps a neighbor or even family member? I know there are times in my life that, if I had Godlike  powers, say, a thunderbolt to wipe someone off the face of the earth, I would have cheerfully used it. That’s the way of sinful humanity. We’re much more prone to exercising judgment than grace.

The Bible knows its share of tyrants. Daniel 2:1-13 introduces Nebuchadnezzar when he was about 25 years old. A seasoned military leader, he had only recently become king.… Read the rest

Do you know any saints?

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints in ______________, the faithful in Christ Jesus.”  Ephesians 1:1 (NIV, incorporating note “a”)

I looked up the opening greetings in all the epistles Paul wrote to churches. All but three of them are addressed either to the saints in a particular city or to those sanctified and called to be holy. He thanks Philemon for his love for all the saints.

“Saint” and “holy” come from the same Greek word. Ephesians is especially interesting. It was apparently a circular letter. Not all early manuscripts mention the town of Ephesus.… Read the rest

Why we work, or, ants vs sluggards

I don’t much like ants. They’re the uninvited guests at every picnic. It’s even worse when they get in the house. I’m not talking a few ants wandering around here and there. My wife and I sometimes get whole armies of ants marching through our kitchen. I hate to think how much flour and other staples we have had to throw out because the ants got to them. So when we see any, it becomes a state of war until they don’t come around any more.

On the other hand, outside and well away from the house, it’s kind of fun to watch ants, especially while they carry something bigger than they are.… Read the rest

Jonah’s grievance against God: a failure of love

God told Jonah to go to the enemy capital of Nineveh and preach to them. Jonah didn’t like the idea, so he bought a ticket to a distant city in the opposite direction. God found him and provided free transportation back to his own country.

As soon as Jonah got back on dry land, God spoke to him as if nothing had happened: I want you to go preach to Nineveh. This time, Jonah decided maybe he just would (Jonah 3-4). The Bible says it took three days to walk through Nineveh.

It’s only about a mile and a half in diameter, but ancient cities were not laid out in a nice grid.… Read the rest

God’s presence in the storms of life

Clouds get so thick they obscure the sun. The air becomes heavy with humidity. The wind picks up. Rumbles of thunder come closer and closer. Soon it’s raining hard. Forget your plans and run for safety, as lightning flashes and all manner of debris flies through the air.

Does that sound like a description of what the weather outside can be like? Or does it sometime sound like a metaphor for our lives? The loss of a job, the breakup of an important relationship, the death of a loved one, health issues–don’t these things often seem like a storm, with the ensuing flooding or loss of power or damage from falling trees?… Read the rest

Jesus’ baptism and how it changed everything

The third chapter of Matthew opens on what, for John the Baptist, was a fairly ordinary day of baptism and preaching. Then Jesus showed up. We know that their mothers were related, but we have no idea how well they knew each other.

Up until this moment, Jesus had lived a perfectly ordinary life and had done nothing noteworthy, but when he lined up with everyone else for baptism, John got uncomfortable, even though, according to John 1:31, he had no idea that Jesus was the Messiah.

Jesus wanted John to baptize him, but somehow John suspected that Jesus had no sin to repent of.… Read the rest

Work out your salvation. Work out?

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. — Philippians 2:12-13 (NIV)

Paul says to work out your salvation. Some people act like that’s all he said about it. We all know folks who try really hard to be good enough and other folks that figure salvation, whatever that may mean, isn’t worth the trouble.

I mean, I know what a workout is.… Read the rest