Scripture is like food for the spirit. There are different kinds of foods. Some may be more pleasant than others.
The Paul (1 Corinthians 3:2) and writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 5:12) told their readers that they weren’t mature enough for meat, so they had to feed them milk.
Daniel didn’t want to make himself unclean with the world’s meat, so he ate only vegetables for a time in his youth (Daniel 1:12). Does that seem like a strange choice? Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Adoration (a.k.a. La Notte) / Correggio, ca. 1528-1530
According to an old praise chorus, “Love was when God became a man.” That’s why we celebrate Christmas. Most people who have heard the story, even in the church, have a hard time wrapping their minds around it.
In the popular imagination, God is some distant and perpetually angry deity. He demands everyone do things his way or he will punish them by sending them to everlasting torment. Somehow we have to jump through all the right hoops if we want to get on his good side.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Continue reading
Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth / at Cloister’s Museum, New York. Artist unidentified
Thank you for coming to read this message. It means that you want to keep Christ in Christmas. And you know Christmas has meaning only because of a truth your church may affirm in the communion service:
Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ is coming again.
This season of advent, we mostly prepare for the coming of the Christ child, but it also provides a time to prepare for his return, his second advent.
God’s judgment and his grace are joined at the hip. He freely makes his grace available to anyone at all, but only those who repent of their sins can ever receive it. Continue reading
A university professor recently wrote to the editor of my local newspaper to denounce the state legislature’s failure to fund state universities adequately.
It’s a Republican legislature, and in the professor’s eyes they’re afraid of education, and especially that getting an education will expose students to ideas that would make them question religion.
Society, religious or otherwise, would do well to be afraid of that sentiment. It’s quite a leap from naming a political party to the assumption of its religious motivation and a bigger leap from ideas that question religion to the implication that they will disprove religion and convert all the students to good Democrats. Continue reading
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. They never acted like grownups, did they? But according to Exodus 12:37-38, 600,000 Israelite men left Egypt, plus the women and children—plus a large number of other people. In Numbers 11 various translations refer to them as the mixed multitude or the rabble. Continue reading
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? How should we? Continue reading
The story of Job begins with the statement that he was blameless and upright. That’s NIV. KJV has “perfect” for “blameless.”
As I pondered that, I wondered, who else does Scripture describe in that way? King Asa of Judah, for one. And that sets the bar awfully low.
So what does it mean that Asa was blameless (or perfect)? And what does Asa have to do with Christian perfection and sanctification? Continue reading
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.
More people died during those centuries because of Canaanite practices than Israel should have killed in a single generation. Continue reading
Have 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.
Zechariah prophesied after the Israelites returned from the Babylonian captivity. They had been purged of the idolatry that had stirred up God’s wrath. In particular, the priesthood had been purged of idolatry. Joshua was not one of the priests whose wickedness helped bring on the captivity.
But even though God refused to hear any accusation against him, Joshua had a huge problem, and he couldn’t do a thing about it. As high priest, he stood before God as representative of the entire Israelite community. All Israel had a huge problem, and not a one of them could do a thing about it. Continue reading