Hell, grace, and the secret things of God

hell by bosch

Hell. Right panel of Haywain Triptych / Hieronymous Bosch, ca. 1516

No one likes to talk about hell any more, although some people have an unhealthy confidence that they know who’s going there.

God reserves that judgment for himself. He deliberately hides all aspects of his plans. Some scriptures make it seem like nearly everyone will be saved. Others make it seem like hardly anyone will be saved.

The Bible speaks with crystal clarity on one point, though. People stand or fall before God as individuals. Not as members of a group. Not because of association with anyone else.

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What is the most harmful sin?

It's all about me. sin of self-sufficiency

Or so we like to think!

Another blog I follow makes a good case that the most harmful sin is sexual immorality, the one sin that people commit against their own body.

No doubt it seriously threatens everything God ordained about human relationships.

But I’m leading a Bible study on Isaiah. It shows me something else even more harmful: the sin of self-sufficiency. After all, not everyone commits sexual sin, but no one is immune to the sin of self-sufficiency.

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When God’s promises don’t appear as advertised

Paul's vision of a Macedonian man. Acts  16:1-15

Paul’s vision of a Macedonian man

God keeps his promises. Often not as soon as we’d like. And often not in ways we anticipated. The beginning of Paul’s ministry in Philippi serves as a perfect example of an answer that may have looked at first like a disappointment.

Acts 16:1-15 describes the beginning of Paul’s second missionary journey. He had begun it by visiting the churches he had founded on the first journey.

The chapter begins with Paul in Lystra and Derbe in the province of Galatia (part of Asia Minor, or modern Turkey).

From there he and his team planned to start new churches in the neighboring province of Asia.… Read the rest

Paul’s voyage to Rome: more than a travelogue?

Paul shipwrecked, Acts 27

Paul shipwrecked, from a collection of Bible drawings by Otto Semler and others, many based on the engravings by Carolsfeld.

What are we to make of the 27th chapter of Acts?

It describes Paul’s voyage from Caesarea to Rome, using three ships and running into a life-threatening storm at sea. It doesn’t describe any conversation in which Paul may have shared the gospel.

Is Luke so wrapped up in geography that he forgets his spiritual purpose? Or does this chapter contain any spiritual meat for us? 

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Jumping to conclusions: Paul and the tribune

Roman tribune. Claudius Lysias

Modern re-enactor wearing replica equipment of a Roman military tribune of the imperial era.

For some of us, the best exercise we get is jumping to conclusions. That is, we make snap judgments without having all the necessary facts.

A very minor Bible character, Claudius Lysias, jumped to a lot of conclusions. As each proved false, he jumped to another one. He never did find out whom he had in custody.

We don’t learn his name until the very end of his story, but he was the Roman tribune in Jerusalem about 30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. He saved Paul from lynching and never quite knew what to do next.… Read the rest

The forgotten meaning of giving and receiving

Ruth meets Boaz. No one ever became poor by giving. Giving and receiving

Ruth Meets Boaz / Edward Burne-Jones, 1879

It’s more blessed to give than to receive. But God is such a generous giver that we receive all the time. And in fact, what we receive depends very much on what we give.

Unfortunately, we concentrate so much on material things that we easily forget how much else giving and receiving means.

Let’s take a look at one of Jesus’ teachings on the subject:

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you.

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Peter, Rhoda, and feeble unbelief

 

Rhoda leaves Peter outside the door -- peter freed from prison

Rhoda leaves Peter outside the door

Peter was miraculously delivered from prison. He had more trouble getting into a prayer meeting.

The story is told in Acts 12. It has a haunting resemblance to Jesus’ first resurrection appearance. In both cases, people who should have had faith show the sin of unbelief instead.

The chapter opens with the murder of James, one of Jesus’ inner circle.

The king apparently planned to follow it by executing Peter after a public show trial. Passover interfered with his plans, so he put Peter in prison under heavy guard.

Peter had no apprehension the night before his scheduled death.… Read the rest

Taking God’s promises and commandments personally

Bible opened to John 3:16 -- God's promisesYou’ve read a lot about claiming promises in the Bible. But then you look at many of them and find that God made them to specific individuals for specific purposes.

Are those promises really for you? What can you do with them?

Somehow we don’t have the same curiosity about commandments in the Bible, but at least some of them raise the same questions.

In Joshua 1:6-9, God gave commandments and promises to Joshua. Joshua had long known that he would succeed Moses as Israel’s leader and take them into the Promised Land. Now, Moses had died. It was time for him to step in.… Read the rest

Peter and the keys of the kingdom of heaven

Peter with the keys of the kingdom of heaven

Mosaic of St. Peter in Basilica Saint Peter Vatican Rome Italy

Have you ever wondered about what Jesus meant when he gave Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven? It can be confusing.

Somehow, the phrase has been turned into “keys to the kingdom,” which incorrectly suggests that Peter somehow had authority to decide whom to allow into the kingdom. God, not Peter is the ultimate judge.

Use of the wrong preposition isn’t the only way Christians have interpreted the passage in Matthew 16:19 in ways Jesus probably didn’t intend.

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Fire, quail, and a worldly church

 

complaining agains Moses

The Manna Harvest / Giuseppe Angeli (18th century), but doesn’t it look more like the griping before the manna came?

Have you ever noticed that some people just like to complain? They don’t even need a legitimate reason. Alas, you can easily find them in churches.

But here’s a better question. What is the effect when griping goes into overdrive? It would try the patience of a saint. Or in the case of an Old Testament illustration, Moses. Nobody comes out looking good in the sorry story told in Numbers 11.

We often refer to the people Moses led out of Egypt as the children of Israel.… Read the rest