The peril of pride in privilege or pampering: Ephraim and Manasseh

Jacob Blessing Ephraim and Manasseh (detail) / Benjamin West, 1766-68

Jacob Blessing Ephraim and Manasseh (detail) / Benjamin West, 1766-68

Perhaps nothing so starkly displays the fall more starkly than comparing the first verse in Genesis (which begins, “in the beginning”) and the last (which ends, “in a coffin in Egypt.) Unfortunately, the story gets worse from there.

Until his death, Joseph was Egypt’s prime minister and held nearly unlimited power. Lord Acton’s saying, “power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely” is only partly correct.

Power reveals and intensifies the level of corruption already present. Strong faith in God reduces that level substantially. If sons of godly people show themselves corrupt, it’s because they did not inherit faith.… Read the rest

Who is that virtuous wife?

woman as wisdom

Wisdom portrayed as a woman

Proverbs 31 ends with a description of a virtuous wife. More than one Christian woman has confessed a love-hate relationship with that chapter. Men have their own frustrations with it.

Here is a caricature that captures the problem: this wonderful woman possesses every virtue. She effortlessly runs the household. And a prosperous business. Everyone respects her. Her husband adores her, but he spends all his time hanging around the city gate chattering with his buddies.

Many women look at her in frustration, because some of her stellar characteristics are completely absent from their lives. Many men look at her in frustration because their own wives fall so far short of that ideal.… Read the rest

What’s a faithful Christian community?

Holy wisdom

Holy wisdom icon (Yaroslavl) / Russian, 17th century

Paul’s epistle to the Colossians is the only one he wrote where he hadn’t founded the church.

The church was rife with heresy, and its leader Epaphras visited Paul in prison to get some guidance. Paul addressed the epistle not to the church at Colossae, but to the saints and faithful there.

Paul’s opening prayer for the Colossian saints, and I’m sure for all Christians anywhere, was that they would “be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9).

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Death and triumph

Christ Enthroned : Vivarini

Christ Enthroned / Bartolomeo Vivarini (1450)

What human experience is more common than death? It happens to everyone, but nothing is more mysterious. Some of us regard it with despair, stoicism, or bewildered resignation.

Some of us have the faith to rise above all that and look past death. Wishful thinking or delusion? No. It’s the expectation of a certain triumph.

It occurs to me that there is one human experience as common as death, and that’s birth. If a child in the womb has any thoughts or feelings or expectations about birth, no one knows what they are.

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Counting winners and losers on Good Friday—and Easter

The Resurrection of Christ / Noel Coypel, 1700

The Resurrection of Christ / Noel Coypel, 1700

What is winning? And what is losing? In a baseball game, it’s obvious. At the end of the game, the team with the most runs wins. The other loses. In life, the distinction is not nearly as clear cut.

This is Holy Week. On Good Friday, it looked like Jesus lost. The two thieves crucified on either side of him had different views. On Easter, it turns out Jesus, and the second thief, won.

The chief priests gloated in triumph. “You claimed to be the Christ. Well, if you’re the Christ, let’s see you come down off that cross, loser!” His friends, those who dared to show up at all, cowered at a distance.… Read the rest

Sin: Whatever Is Not of Faith

Sin

Society acts like it’s a good thing!

Lent is a time of preparation for Easter, during which Christians are encouraged to ponder their sin and their own mortality. Sin can be difficult to face. Quite apart from the fact that no one really wants to think of their own evil, it can be difficult to identify what sin is.

Despite the claims of an odd team of Christian legalists and enemies of Christianity, biblical Christianity has no list of rules or prohibitions. The Bible says, “everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).

That verse comes at the end of a chapter that demonstrates that something can easily be sin for some people, but not sin for others.… Read the rest

Thinking of yourself with sober judgment

Self esteem shopWhat do you think of yourself?

The Bible says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (Romans 12:3).

It immediately sounds like we shouldn’t think highly of ourselves. Maybe we should think we’re just unworthy worms. But that’s not what it says, is it? After all, if we’re supposed to love each other as ourselves and we’re supposed to think of ourselves as unworthy worms. . . Nope. That just plain doesn’t make any sense!

The trouble with self esteem

It seems that so many people feel bad about themselves that it has become a social problem.… Read the rest

Jesus’ neglected commandment

Christ Enthroned : Vivarini

Christ Enthroned / Bartolomeo Vivarini (1450)

In John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (NASB). What commandments? Just a while earlier, in John 13:34, he had said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

Does that seem new? Jesus had earlier said that the greatest commandment of the law was to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. The second was like the first: Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:28-34). With this new commandment, Jesus raised the standard. … Read the rest

Arise, shine, but how?

full moonAs an old camp song says, “Arise, shine, give God the glory, glory.” But let’s be honest. We have no light in ourselves. There is nothing inherent in the human race that allows any of us to shine.

Of course, that song is based on a scripture. “Arise. Shine. For your light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you” (Isaiah 60:1).  If my light has come, if God’s glory shines on me, I can reflect it.

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Divine prosperity and basic necessities

divine prosperity?Twenty or so years ago, prosperity preachers used to say that if you were driving a Chevrolet instead of a Cadillac, you were living beneath your privileges and probably didn’t have the faith to live in divine prosperity. Maybe some of them still do. I stopped paying attention.

I believe in divine prosperity, so long as we let the Bible define it. 2 Corinthians 8-9 constitute the greatest fund raising letter in history. Paul wanted to raise a huge donation for the church in Jerusalem, and here is what he promised that generous people would receive: enough for every need and abundance for every good work (2 Corinthians 9:8).… Read the rest