New clothes for a new life

Gift wrappingDid you give or receive clothing for Christmas? God gives clothing, too. He always has. And if you gave or received underwear, God gives that, too.

When Adam and Eve sinned and became ashamed of their nakedness, they covered themselves with fig leaves.

Fig leaves aren’t very suitable clothing. They’re not sturdy enough to wear for very long, and I understand they’re itchy.

God clothed them in the skins of animals. But first, they had to take off their useless old clothes.

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Apart from God, nothing

man readingAs one of Jesus’ last words to his disciples before his arrest, he said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Nothing.

He didn’t mean apart from him we can’t bear fruit. He meant we can do nothing.

He didn’t just mean his followers. He meant anyone at all.

Consider the simple act of sitting in a chair reading a book. “Through him [Jesus, the Word of God who is God] all things were made; without him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3).… Read the rest

Strength, courage, and adequacy

Moses blesses Joshua

Moses Blesses Joshua Before the High Priest / James Tissot, late 19th century

God’s first words to Joshua are, “Moses my servant is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan.” Joshua had known that this moment would come.

Everyone knew that Moses would not lead the people into the Promised Land.

We have all experienced starting a new venture or getting a big promotion, something that we have prepared to do for a long time.

But when it comes time to actually start working, it’s only natural to have some jitters about our adequacy.

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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

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

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

What does Christianity have to do with religion?

Worship serviceReligion and church seem so intertwined that many of us consider those terms pretty much interchangeable. The New Testament, among other things, has a lot to say about the church. The Greek for church, ekklesia, occurs 115 times (including three as “assembly”).

Wouldn’t it stand to reason that it would also have a lot to say about religion? That word, threshkeia, appears only four times, once as “worshiping.” “Religious,” threshkos, appears once.

Religion in modern discourse

“What religion are you?” I have been asked that more than once, and when I have said, “Christian,” the person asking has always been disappointed.… Read the rest

A blessing for the Gentiles

Two Old Men Disputing / Rembrandt, 1628. The two old men are often interpreted as Peter and Paul

Two Old Men Disputing / Rembrandt, 1628. The two old men are often interpreted as Peter and Paul

In Fiddler on the Roof, the rabbi’s son asked if there were a proper blessing for the tsar. “A blessing for the tsar? Of course. ‘May God bless and keep the tsar—far away from us.”

I imagine someone asked one of the ancient temple singers if there were a proper blessing for the Gentiles. The answer was almost as short, but profoundly different:

“Oh praise the Lord, all you Gentiles! Laud him all you peoples! For his merciful kindness is great toward us, and the truth of the Lord endures forever.” – Psalm 117 (NKJV)

Gentiles

Who are Gentiles?… Read the rest

Hills? Help comes from God

Distant mountains

This picture was also taken from eastern Colorado, but we traveled for hours before the mountains looked this close.

When I was in high school, my dad went on sabbatical and obtained a visiting professorship in California. He decided to buy a trailer and camp across the country with the family to get there from northwestern Ohio. It turned out to be a great idea, but the trip got off to a terrible start.

The absolute worst night came in eastern Colorado, where the official state map had shown a camping place. The state highway to get there turned out to have been abandoned.… Read the rest