Thinking inside the box: glory or empty?

When Paul wrote, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves (Phil. 2:3), the Greek for conceit means “empty glory.” Think of your recycling container. It probably contains a box that used to have cereal or some other food in it. The box makes all kinds of claims for what the contents can do and how good they are. But the box is empty. There’s nothing inside to live up to the claims. That’s why it’s in the recycling container in the first place.

Do you claim to be a godly person?… Read the rest

Tough people in tough times: Paul’s thoughts in prison


Have you ever heard the slogan, “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do”? There’s a lot of truth in that. Unfortunately, if tough times last more than a day or two, it begins to feel like they’ll last forever.

Tough times can mean all kinds of things. The death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a relationship gone sour, and other bad events can trigger them. So can more ordinary stresses like loneliness or trouble paying bills, or being unable to make the kinds of changes in our lives we want to make. Eventually, all of us will go through a variety of different bad times.… Read the rest

The most popular of 100 posts on Grace and Judgment

It hardly seems possible, but since beginning this blog at the end of October 2009, I have posted more than 100 Bible studies and devotionals. Allow me to reminisce a little and highlight the most popular posts so far.

Who are you calling evil?
Jesus prefaced a comment saying, “If you, then, being evil. . .” But no one took offense at him. Wouldn’t most of the audience be offended today?

Prayer that really works
I have learned that instead of asking for my will to be done, I can ask God to conform me to the image of Jesus. When I ask for a blessing, I keep an open mind about what it is.… Read the rest

Next words of Jesus: Do you love me?

“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?'” — John 21:15 (NIV)

Shane Stanford, whose The Seven Next Words of Christ (Abingdon Press, 2006) provided the framework for this series of devotions, considered the entire 21st chapter of John as a single word. There is a certain symmetry to seven last words balanced by seven next words. Besides, according to the number symbolism in biblical times, seven is the number of completion. Still, I think Jesus’ interview with Peter is too important to combine it with anything else.… Read the rest

Trading division in the church for unity, conflict for humility

Jesus made only one petition in the garden for those who would become believers through the disciples’ testimony: for their unity. David wrote Psalm 133 about how beautiful it is to live in unity. Perhaps because God values it so much, it is one of the most fragile things in the church. After all, it requires humility. Conflict and division come more naturally.

A thousand years ago, the church divided into the Eastern and Western church. About five hundred years ago, the Western church divided into Catholic and Protestant. Conflict among Protestants caused division into a number of denominations, and then the denominations fragmented into smaller groups.… Read the rest

Speaking what’s right of God: thoughts from Job on pride and humility

The Book of Job presents tremendous difficulties to anyone who really wants to understand it. In the prologue, we learn that Job was perfect in God’s sight, but to teach a lesson to Satan, God stripped Job of his wealth, his health, and his children. Three friends come to comfort him, but get into a nasty argument instead. Through it all, we see human pride at its worst.

All of them say things that sound very religious. Without careful study it is hard to pick out the rightness and wrongness of anyone’s comments. Then God shows up. What he says appears to have nothing to do with anything anyone said earlier.… Read the rest

Joseph: the forgotten man at Christmas


I just heard a speaker say she had searched the web for contemporary Christmas songs about Joseph and found only three. I know of a few more than that from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Most of them are secular pieces that mock him for being a cuckold. Poor Joseph deserves so much better than that.

We can learn a lot about him by juxtaposing Matthew’s account and Luke’s account of Mary’s pregnancy. When Mary told the angel, “May it be to me as you have said,” the Holy Spirit probably came upon her immediately. In the very next verse, she was on her way to visit Elizabeth.… Read the rest

The sin in Jesus’ family tree: why his mother had to be a virgin.

Most readers of Matthew’s gospel, I suppose, skip the first chapter entirely. After all, it is only a boring genealogy. But at least look at the first six verses. Genealogies in the Bible do not often mention a man’s mother, but Matthew took time to identify four mothers, and each mother reminds us of a particular sin.

The disgusting story of Judah and Tamar, told in Genesis 38, reads like the story line of the edgiest of soap operas. God took the life of Tamar’s husband, Judah’s oldest son Er, for unspecified wickedness. It then became the responsibility of the second son, Onan, to provide his brother with an heir by having sex with his widow.… Read the rest

God’s Servant Stands

“Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”  Romans 14:4 (NASB)

Why do Christians find it so easy to criticize other Christians? Perhaps because Jesus so greatly desires unity in the Church. It is not easy to build unity if everyone has cause to be on the defensive against carping criticism from everyone else. It is not easy to build unity if everyone is attuned to pointing out everyone else’s weaknesses and failures.

From time to time I like to go back through old, worn-out Bibles that I no longer carry.… Read the rest