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

God’s promise of shalom in a crisis

Shalom

“Shalom” in Hebrew

Jeremiah 29:11 ranks high on the list of favorite Old Testament scriptures. As much as we love it, do we really understand how much it promises? “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV)

“Prosper” translates the Hebrew word shalom, a word (a noun, by the way) so rich it has no good English equivalent. It usually appears in English translations as “peace.” In fact, many English translations of Jeremiah 29:11 say, “plans for peace” or something similar.… 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

Who is this Jesus? God’s campaign of shock and awe

parable of sower

Parable of Sower. An icon depicting the Sower. In Sts. Konstantine and Helen Orthodox Church, Cluj, Romania.

In Jesus, God came into the world as a baby. Who doesn’t like babies? Even the non-Christian world likes Jesus the baby. The modern church always seems comfortable with Jesus the baby, Jesus the kind man who was nice to children, Jesus the story teller, even Jesus the corpse taken down from the cross.

But Jesus’ birth as a baby was the beginning of God’s sneak attack against sin, evil, the devil, and death itself. The supernatural Jesus makes everyone uncomfortable, even the church, even his closest friends.… Read the rest

God: an ever present help in trouble

Tower of refuge

Maiden Tower, Baku, Azerbaijan (12th century)

God is our refuge, says Psalm 46, an ever present help in trouble. Everyone knows trouble. Some people know a lot of trouble:

  • Job loss and other financial distress
  • Relationship troubles, which can include various toxic relationships or the loss of loved ones.
  • Sickness and injury
  • Oppression and persecution
  • War and violence
  • All manner of natural disasters
  • Etc.

We commonly call the natural disasters “acts of God.” It takes robust faith to believe that God is our help in trouble.

Read the rest

The creation story and the nature of truth

Ancient of Days / by William Blake

I have spent considerable time over the years studying the creation story and reading some of the various things that have been written about it.

From atheists to faculty at certain seminaries, a few criticisms of the Genesis account turn up constantly.

(A retired preacher friend of mine, who loves referring to preacher training schools as “cemeteries,” is among many who has trouble detecting much difference between atheists and cemetery professors.)

Read the rest

God judges your sin harshly, but not necessarily you


grace and judgementSome people seem to thing sin is a good thing. It means fun, pleasure. Remember when Weight Watcher soft drinks were advertised as “sinfully delicious”?

The sculpture pictured here was taken on the grounds of Treasure Island Casino in Las Vegas. It seems more like an enticement than warning. We all know that God hates sin, though. Let’s take a closer look.

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See what God has done: praise in rough times

In an earlier post, I wrote of the struggles I used to have with the meaning of praise. From the opening of Psalm 66, I explained both my problem and what I came to learn about it.

When in v. 5 of the same psalm David writes, “Come and see what God has done,” he turns his focus from telling God how wonderful he is to reminding those who sang it of a familiar and beloved story.

Looking back

Worshiping the golden calf, as in Exodus 32:1-35, illustration from a Bible card published 1901 by the Providence Lithograph Company

The escape from Egypt through the sea and entrance into the Promised Land through the Jordan River at flood stage formed the backdrop for the Jews’ entire national and religious identity.… Read the rest

Faith, sin, unrighteousness, and free will

Fire angel

Do people have free will, or are their choices somehow determined? Yes.

Each of us has only one basic choice: will we trust and obey God, or will we not? Trusting God is called faith. Failing to trust God is called sin. Rejection of God entirely is called unrighteousness. Everyone, consciously or not, makes that choice–not once, not even daily, but continuously. Probably no one makes the same choice every time it is presented. Probably our conscious, deliberate choices and our unconscious choices do not consistently coincide. But we all make the choice for or against God one way or another all the time.… Read the rest