Cain Fleeing from the Wrath of God (The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve) / William Blake c. 1805-1809
God has a reputation as an angry taskmaster who’s difficult to please. He has a bunch of rules and punishes anyone who falls afoul of them. He lives in a place called heaven. Everyone wants to go there, but it’s hard to be good enough.
A cursory reading of the Bible confirms this picture. A careful reading reveals an entirely different picture.
Actually comparing the Bible with other ancient literature confirms the truth: God is love. He prefers mercy to wrath and grace to judgment.
These days, too many people don’t even bother with a cursory reading of the Bible. They take other people’s word for it that God, if they’ll admit he even exists, is completely unreasonable.
If they read the Bible at all, they’ll only look for evidence that confirms their prejudice. They’ll read right past all the evidence of God’s love and mercy, because they’re not looking for it. That’s stinking thinking. Continue reading
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. He was sound asleep, handcuffed to two guards. An angel had to be rough with him to wake him up. He got dressed and followed the angel in a stupor until he was safe from pursuit. The angel vanished. Peter, fully awake by now, went where he knew he’d find friends Continue reading
Record drought in California. Record flooding in Louisiana. Earthquake in Italy. Insurance companies call these and other natural disasters “acts of God.”
Is God trying to tell us something?
Someone, it seems, always comes out of the woodwork to say that a particular disaster God’s judgment on—take your pick—homosexuality, abortion, taking prayer out of schools, or whatever other issue riles them.
It’s not. Continue reading
Finish of a women’s 100 m race
Was Paul a sports fan? He at least had an active interest in races.
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.
Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, NASB
Would you ever think to compare Jesus to a thief? The Bible does in describing Jesus’ return. More than once.
Living by faith requires living not only in the light of the resurrection, but also in the hope of the second coming of Christ.
In his flesh, Jesus didn’t know when he’d return, but he knew it will be a time when no one expects him.
Jesus himself said, “If the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into” (Matthew 24:43, NASB).”
Paul wrote, “Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2, NASB). Continue reading
Hell. Right panel of Haywain Triptych / Hieronymous Bosch, ca. 1516
I recently came across a Christian teenager who posed this theoretical situation: a person who never sinned, did everything perfectly according to the Bible, but didn’t believe in God. Why, he asked, would God want to send anyone to hell just for that?
Once upon a time, churched and unchurched people alike recognized God as the judge of mankind. They recognized that he stood against a category of behavior called “sin.”
Much of discourse within the church centered on how to be good enough to avoid going to hell.
Nowadays, churched and unchurched people alike are more likely to regard God as the defendant who must justify his opposition to sin. And how dare God sentence anyone to eternity in hell!
Some of these human judges seem willing to let him make his case, but they’ll listen only with great skepticism. Others enter a guilty plea for him and consign him to non-existence.
In neither older or newer mindset have most people thought through the meaning of sin and hell, or for that matter, heaven and God. Continue reading
You’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.
No one else has ever had that same task, but God’s instructions didn’t concern military tactics for the battles ahead or how do deal with specific people or situations. Scripture repeats the same commandments and promises in other contexts. God expects us to take them as personally and literally as he expected Joshua to take them. Continue reading
Pentecost / El Greco (1597)
Did your church acknowledge Pentecost? If so, how? The church has become divided over the significance of the events of the first Christian Pentecost.
Pentecostals emphasize the supernatural events and consider them normative. Others fear them and try to explain them away.
Some even teach that God no longer performs supernatural acts and that anyone who claims otherwise follows the devil! So what happened? And what does it matter now? Continue reading
Light of the World / William Holden Hunt (1853)
Do good people go to heaven? No. There aren’t any! Only redeemed people go to heaven, and we’re redeemed only through knowing Jesus.
It takes more than going to church. It takes more than acknowledging Jesus as a historical figure. The living Christ is a real person. He is active in the world—and in the life of every individual.
He does not appear to our physical senses. We can neither see him, touch him, nor hear the sound of his voice. How can we know that we know him?
The Bible has a simple answer: “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3, NASB). And Jesus said, “if you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
Simple, but it requires careful examination so we don’t misinterpret what it says. Continue reading
The Entombment of Christ / Caravaggio, 1602-03
You haven’t died yet, but you sort of know what to expect. Other people have died. Animals have died. They leave behind a corpse. It draws flies. It rots.
Soon it looks and smells so offensive that it must be put out of sight. We have buried or burned corpses since prehistoric times.
Two millennia ago, a corpse was taken from a Roman cross. The dead man’s friends prepared his body for burial. They had no time to finish the job properly, but they expected he was like any other dead man. They would come back later to finish.
That man, Jesus, never in his life fulfilled anyone’s expectations. When his friends came back to give him a proper burial, he was no longer in the tomb. He appeared to them, spoke with them, even ate with them. What other corpse has ever behaved like that? Continue reading