Samson: a wasted life of failure. Or was it?

What do you know about Samson?  Is he a Bible character you particularly admire or respect? His story, told in four chapters in Judges, is full of foolish choices. He had a special weakness for Philistine women. His last Philistine girl friend, Delilah, kept bugging him to tell her the secret of his strength. Twice he lied to her, and twice she sent Philistine men to capture him. What kept him from turning his back on her instead of finally telling her the truth? And he had such a great start in life!

The angel of the Lord appeared to Samson’s mother, a barren woman.… Read the rest

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

Achan’s sin and the judgment and grace of God

Stoning of Achan

The stoning of Achan, Mid-fifteenth-century Flemish miniature

Achan appears in  the seventh chapter of Joshua. All the spoils of Jericho were supposed to be devoted to the Lord. All of its gold and silver should have been taken to the treasury in the tabernacle and everything else destroyed by fire. Achan helped himself to some gold, silver, and a beautiful robe and buried them in his tent. God’s anger became apparent when the Israelite army suffered a humiliating defeat. He told Joshua to cast lots to find who sinned to cause it. The lot fell to Achan. He confessed his deed.… Read the rest

Our pride and God’s patience: Nebuchadnezzar’s dream

People don’t like to wait for answers to prayer. But what about when God warns of something bad that will happen some time in the future? In Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar had a disturbing dream that involved a large tree being chopped down. Daniel interpreted it and said the king would be driven from human society for seven years and then be restored. He also said that Nebuchadnezzar could avoid his fate by repentance from his sin. The king forgot all about it. God did not.

28 “All this happened to Nebuchadnezzar the king. 29 Twelve months later he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon.

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Prayer is like a barbed wire fence



Somewhere, I read about a barbed wire fence as a model of a good prayer life. The wooden fence posts represent regular public worship on Sundays. The wire between the posts represents two aspects of a Christian’s private prayer life. There is a stiff, heavy barbed wire at the top and bottom of the fence. It’s primary purpose is to discourage the cattle from leaning on it and breaking the fence. The top wire works on larger animals like cows and horses, and the bottom one on smaller animals like sheep and pigs. The same barbs that hurt the cattle if they lean against the fence also inflict pain on people, thus discouraging potential intruders.… Read the rest

An open door in heaven


“After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” — Revelation 4:1 (NIV)

In the popular imagination, St. Peter is heaven’s gate keeper. That imagery serves as the backdrop for some truly hilarious jokes, but Scripture knows nothing of it. Much of the imagery in Revelation may be hard to understand, but there is nothing hard about this verse.

After hearing the voice of Jesus in the first chapter, John turned around and did not see the familiar face and body of the man he had followed in Palestine.… Read the rest

Wages you don’t want to collect


“The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). God’s judgment says that all have sinned, so all will die. God’s grace says that whoever puts faith in the work of Jesus will live forever. God’s final judgment will result in a second death for those who refuse his grace (Revelation 20:14). All will die the death of the body, but those who refuse God’s grace will also suffer the death of the spirit in the lake of fire.

How many hundreds or thousands of sermons have been preached on those texts trying to scare the hell out of people? But that is not my intent.… Read the rest

New life on both sides of the grave


Christians look forward to the resurrection of the dead, as promised through Jesus’ own resurrection. What about the resurrection of the living? How many of us go through life doing the same things, including making the same mistakes, over and over? Someone has observed that a rut is nothing but a coffin with the ends knocked out. Just as there is new life after physical death, so is there new life after stagnation. Lazarus died physically, but we can take his death and rising from death as a metaphor for reawakening to new life after a period of spiritual slumber.

When Lazarus became deathly ill, his sisters sent for Jesus.… Read the rest

How can a loving God have wrath?

Christ Cleansing the Temple / Luca Giordano, mid 1670s

God is love. If you want to know what love is like, look at God. But the same Bible that proclaims God’s love also proclaims his wrath. We usually see Jesus as gentle, kind, and loving, but he lost his temper once and got violent in the temple. He also described hell more graphically than anyone else in all of Scripture.  What’s going on here?

First of all, just what is wrath? The original Greek word is variously translated anger, indignation, vengeance, and wrath. It comes from a word that means to stretch oneself or reach out after.… Read the rest

Trusting God: feelings or faith?

Trusting God can be a struggle for the godliest people. As when Peter walked on water until he noticed the waves, the struggle comes from looking at circumstances and feelings. Even David had trouble maintaining his trust. Allow me to offer my own paraphrase of Psalm 30:6-12:

When I felt secure. When I felt secure. Was I secure, or did I just feel secure? Whatever it was, it seemed, it felt like it would last forever. But it didn’t. When life took a downturn and I didn’t feel secure any more. It felt like God had decided to hide from me.

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