Not peace, but a sword

Jesus with sword

Jesus with a sword. 14th-century fresco, Monastery of the Ascension, Kosovo

Have you ever noticed that Jesus can be downright offensive?

Even many people who don’t claim to be Christian find Jesus very attractive. As a great moral teacher, he told some wonderful stories. He was always kind and compassionate to people in need. He “spoke truth to power” in taking on the religious establishment.

But then he says things like

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household’ [quoting Micah 7:6] – Matthew 10:34-36 (NIV)

How do Christians today respond to passages like that?… Read the rest

Did God Command Genocide in Canaan?

Joshua and Israelites

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

A lot of atheists are deeply offended by the God they don’t believe exists.

He commanded Joshua and Israel to obliterate Canaanite civilization by killing every man woman and child within their promised boundaries. At least one has asked, “How is it possible to believe in a good God after reading the book of Joshua?”

Read the rest of the Bible!

God did not command Israel to commit genocide. He commanded Israel to execute capital punishment. Canaanite society finally disappeared from history at the hand of the expanding Babylonian empire centuries later.… Read the rest

God’s Redemption of a Filthy Priest

clothes-line--2Have you ever felt unfit to stand before God?

If so, you’re absolutely right. You are unfit. We’re all unfit to stand before God, but he invites us anyway.

The prophet Zechariah had a beautiful vision of God’s gracious response to the unworthiness we can do nothing about (Zechariah 3:1-5).

It begins with Joshua, the high priest, standing before God, with Satan ready to accuse him.

The accuser cleared his throat and God rebuked him before he could utter a syllable. The name “Satan” means accuser, but he can’t make his accusations stick before God. Apparently, God won’t even let him utter them in his presence.… Read the rest

Don’t Ignore God’s Gift Wrapping

Gift wrappingYou have a gift from God. You are a gift to the church from Jesus. You do the gifts of the Holy Spirit as he chooses.

The Bible describes these varieties of gifts in Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Corinthians 12-14. Ordinarily, when you get gifts, you rip off the paper and discard it.

With God’s gifts, the gift wrapping is as valuable as the gifts themselves, except you don’t have to rip it up to get to what’s inside.

The first time I taught a class on gifts, I pointed out three subjects that also appear prominently in all of these chapters.… Read the rest

Now Concerning Spiritual Gifts

God-given gifts. . . I do not want you to be ignorant (1 Corinthians 12:1). Despite Paul’s stated desire, most of the church is indeed ignorant, even fearful, of spiritual gifts. The New Testament described gifts in three passages: Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Corinthians 12-14.

Some years ago, my church at the time bought a course on spiritual gifts, which was available in a version for congregations that chose not to acknowledge tongues. Why would anyone censor any part of Scripture?

The authors noted that each of these passages has some gifts apparently in common with other passage, and some unique to itself.Read the rest

First Things First: Jesus’ Miracle at Cana

Miracle at Cana

Turning Water into Wine at the Wedding at Cana / Fernando Gallego, 1480s

Are you ever offended at Jesus? He upset people from the very beginning. Some of us in the church haven’t liked everything he did for 2,000 years–least of all his sense of timing.

Jesus’ first miracle took place at a party, much to the consternation of those who think religion ought to be dignified and serious.

He brought the wine, much to the consternation of Christians who believe that anything alcoholic is evil. What was Jesus doing there in the first place, and what does it all mean?… Read the rest

Mary: After the Angel Departed

Mary, Simeon, Jesus

Simeon Receives Jesus in the Temple / Simon Vouet, 1640-41

Have you ever had a vivid encounter with God? What happened a day or two later? A week? Years?

Quite often Christians have reported an overwhelming spiritual high followed by a deep spiritual low.

God’s presence can be so vivid that it seems like what he says is bound to happen in the next 15 minutes, but it never does.

A cherished promise never seems as far off and distant as it does after vividness of the divine presence fades.

Does that mean perhaps that we had no genuine spiritual experience?… Read the rest

Preparing for Christ’s return

john the baptist

John the Baptist, Preaching / Luca Giordano, ca. 1695

The church sets aside the season of Advent to prepare for Christ’s coming. It is a season of penitence to prepare our hearts to celebrate Christmas, the first coming of Christ. He entered the world by stealth, being born in an obscure village.

But the New Testament proclaims in many ways that Christ will return in triumph. Advent prepares us for that event, too.

Regarding John the Baptist, Luke 3:4-6 quotes a passage from Isaiah that has not yet seen its entire fulfillment:

Read the rest

Is God a light switch?

light switchHow does a person find God? Someone suggested it’s like leading them into a dark room and encouraging them to find a light switch on the wall.

I have some experience going into total darkness and finding the switch, but I’ll only enter if I know where the switch is. Can a believer tell or show someone else where the switch is?

I think that’s the wrong question. God is the light of the world. There is no darkness in him, and he is not in darkness.

Where, then, does darkness come from? The simple answer is that darkness comes from Satan, and if people are looking for a switch, then the switch must be the light of God in a believer.… Read the rest

Noah’s flood, God’s wrath?

construction of Noah's ark

Construction of the ark, from the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)

According to Romans 1:18, the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. It seems at first that Noah’s flood could be Exhibit A.

Except that a careful reading shows that nowhere in the Genesis account of the flood does “wrath,” “anger,” or any synonym occur!

The first time “anger” occurs in the King James Bible is Genesis 27:45 to describe Esau. “Wrath” first occurs is Genesis 39:19, which describes Potiphar after his wife accused Joseph of attempted rape. Abraham asked God not to be angry in Genesis 18:30 when the two were bargaining over the fate of Sodom.… Read the rest