The consequences of sin and repentance

Joshua and Israelites

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

“Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and the walls come a-tumblin’ down.” Then he and his people sinned. The next part of the story didn’t go as well for them. Joshua decided to attack the small town of Ai next. They chased his warriors out of town and killed some of them. What happened?

Most obviously, someone named Achan took some of the spoils and hid them in his tent. God didn’t appear to Joshua and tell him what had happened and what he thought about it. He hardly ever does.… Read the rest

Idolatry and redemption today

IdolatryChristians readily agree with the statement that God is all-powerful, all-loving, and all-sufficient. But when trouble turns up, how many of us really know how to respond as if we believe it? We turn to idols instead.

Our idols aren’t quite the same as those of the ancients, but they work the same way. We trust our own resources more than we trust God. Certainly God expects us to use our own resources much of the time, but we must not trust them. We must trust God. Otherwise, whatever we trust instead becomes, functionally, an idol, the god we truly worship.… 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

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

Jonah the disobedient prophet

What I find utterly fascinating about the book of Jonah is that everyone and everything else in the story obeys God except his prophet. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, which is east of Israel. So Jonah decided to go to Tarshish, which is roughly modern Gibraltar, or as far west as anyone at the time could think to go. If he’d been able to find a boat going to New York and change to one bound for Buffalo, he would have bought a ticket there.

And so a storm came up. The weather obeyed God. The sailors, figuring some god was up to something, cast lots to find out whom to blame.… Read the rest

Grace and forgiveness for the chief of sinners—and the rest of us

My mind often races around like a fly, landing here and there from time to time, but circling around unpredictably and at random. That’s weird, but I guess it’s normal enough. I’ve heard and read about enough other people who testify that their mind does the same thing.

Once in a while, something I think about or see or hear or read triggers a memory of something I did or said some time in the past—even as long ago as grade school. And whether it is that long ago or much more recent, likely as not, I remember doing or saying something stupid, and I feel great shame at the memory.… Read the rest

The wisdom and folly of Solomon

People find it easier to start well than to end well. Nowadays, we see it in the tremendous number of anointed ministers of the gospel who fall into some kind of gross sin. (Failures of lay Christians get less press but provide similar evidence.) In the Bible, we see it in the lives of all of the ancient kings that God declared good.

Early in his reign, Solomon delighted God one evening. He asked God for a discerning heart to be able to judge rightly and thus fulfill his kingly duties. Because it is impossible to please God without faith, we know Solomon asked in faith for such wisdom.… 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

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