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

Finishing well: running for better than gold

Running a race. Finishing well

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.

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What kind of corpse is this?

Entombment of Christ

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.… Read the rest

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.… Read the rest

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.… 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

Who Were the Magi, and Why Should We Care?

Magi

Detail from: “Mary and Child, surrounded by angels”, mosaic of an Italian-Byzantine workshop in Ravenna, completed within 526 AD by the so-called “Master of Sant’Apollinare”.

Did the three wise men really visit the manger in Bethlehem on that first Christmas day bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh?

The town and the gifts are right. At best, the rest of the familiar scene is dubious. Who were the wise men (magi), and what does it matter?

The Bible (Matthew 2:1-12) simply says wise men (it’s plural, so there were at least two) followed a star from the East (a vague enough reference that only rules out other directions).… Read the rest

Strength, courage, and adequacy

Moses blesses Joshua

Moses Blesses Joshua Before the High Priest / James Tissot, late 19th century

God’s first words to Joshua are, “Moses my servant is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan.” Joshua had known that this moment would come.

Everyone knew that Moses would not lead the people into the Promised Land.

We have all experienced starting a new venture or getting a big promotion, something that we have prepared to do for a long time.

But when it comes time to actually start working, it’s only natural to have some jitters about our adequacy.

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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

What’s a faithful Christian community?

Holy wisdom

Holy wisdom icon (Yaroslavl) / Russian, 17th century

Paul’s epistle to the Colossians is the only one he wrote where he hadn’t founded the church.

The church was rife with heresy, and its leader Epaphras visited Paul in prison to get some guidance. Paul addressed the epistle not to the church at Colossae, but to the saints and faithful there.

Paul’s opening prayer for the Colossian saints, and I’m sure for all Christians anywhere, was that they would “be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9).

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