The kingdom of God: some assembly required?

Unassembled furnitureHave you ever made something from a kit? A cabinet, perhaps, or an exercise bike. The kingdom of God is something like that.

You bring your kit home from the store and open the box. Inside you find lots of parts, both large and small.

You also find some instructions. They can be hard to understand. Your task is to assemble all the parts to make something that looks like the picture on the box. And it has to work, too.

I have gotten my project assembled in three different ways. Sometimes I just do it myself. Sometimes I work with someone else. And sometimes, I just pay someone else to do it for me. In the end it doesn’t matter, just so the box of parts turns into something I can use.

What does this have to do with the kingdom of God? Take a look at Hebrews 2:8-11: Continue reading

Holiness, glory, and sin

River Jordan with the ark of the covenant, holiness of God

Joshua passing the River Jordan with the Ark of the Covenant / Benjamin West

What do you do for Lent?

It’s just not a time to exercise will power and give something up for a month and a half.

Lent is a time of reflection. It’s a time to prepare ourselves spiritually to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection at Easter.

It’s a time to consider holiness.

Why did Jesus have to die and rise again from the dead? Because God is holy, and we are not. God created Adam in his image and breathed his own life into him. Adam chose to obey Satan instead and forfeited that life.

God’s inherent holiness cannot make any deal with sin. He must oppose it and ultimately destroy it. He chose to prepare to do so through the nation of Israel.

At key points in Scripture, God displays his glory and his judgment on sin in close juxtaposition. These points are especially important at the beginning of something new. Continue reading

Heavenly vegetables: Old Testament Scriptures no one reads

old testament heavenly vegetables peppers, carrot, cucumberScripture 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

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. Continue reading

Why did God become a man?

Nativity / Correggio

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

Watching and waiting for Jesus

Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth carving

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

Education, God, and fools

College seminar

College seminar

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

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. 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

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? How should we?  Continue reading

Sanctification: Perfection in Christ

Worship service--sanctificationThe 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