Truly preparing to worship

Worship serviceWe prepare to go to church. That’s not quite the same as preparing for worship. It is quite possible to come to church and go home without having worshiped.

Some churches make it nearly impossible for anyone to worship.

I’m thinking in particular of a service where the sermon was little more than a book review and the congregation had little chance to participate. Or of other services where the sermon has consisted of the preacher explaining away what the Scripture lesson clearly taught.

But even in churches where the content of the service is good and the congregation has ample ways to participate, it is too easy just to go through the motions and leave unmoved.… Read the rest

Who is this Jesus? God’s campaign of shock and awe

parable of sower

Parable of Sower. An icon depicting the Sower. In Sts. Konstantine and Helen Orthodox Church, Cluj, Romania.

In Jesus, God came into the world as a baby. Who doesn’t like babies? Even the non-Christian world likes Jesus the baby. The modern church always seems comfortable with Jesus the baby, Jesus the kind man who was nice to children, Jesus the story teller, even Jesus the corpse taken down from the cross.

But Jesus’ birth as a baby was the beginning of God’s sneak attack against sin, evil, the devil, and death itself. The supernatural Jesus makes everyone uncomfortable, even the church, even his closest friends.… Read the rest

How to become wise


Want to be wise? Wisdom requires some knowledge, but think of wisdom, in part, as knowing what to do about knowledge. The book of Proverbs often personifies wisdom as a female character, sent by God to accomplish God’s purposes. It often presents wisdom as advice from parents to children (Proverbs 2:1-5). Wisdom consists of both moral instruction on how to live a righteous life and practical advice that covers a wide variety of situations. No one is born with wisdom, and no one becomes wise without effort.

Seeking wisdom

Read the scripture, emphasizing the “if” written or implied before every verb.… Read the rest

The most popular of 100 posts on Grace and Judgment

It hardly seems possible, but since beginning this blog at the end of October 2009, I have posted more than 100 Bible studies and devotionals. Allow me to reminisce a little and highlight the most popular posts so far.

Who are you calling evil?
Jesus prefaced a comment saying, “If you, then, being evil. . .” But no one took offense at him. Wouldn’t most of the audience be offended today?

Prayer that really works
I have learned that instead of asking for my will to be done, I can ask God to conform me to the image of Jesus. When I ask for a blessing, I keep an open mind about what it is.… Read the rest

Next words of Jesus: Do not be afraid

“So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly, Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ he said. They cam to  him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.'” — Matthew 28:8-10 (NIV)

Matthew’s account of the first resurrection appearance is very different from John’s. We need not try to harmonize them or make them fit together, as they each have a different message for us to learn.

“Do not be afraid” is probably one of the most frequent commands in the whole Bible.… Read the rest

Fear of God: the wrong way

Superficially, the Parable of the Ten Minas resembles the Parable of the Ten Talents, but the differences are probably more important than the similarities. Jesus told the parable right before his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. His followers thought he was going there to claim his kingdom. In fact, he intended to go to his Father to receive it. In the parable, he traveled to a far country.

Mina, like talents, is a unit of money. In this parable, though, the minas represent spiritual gifts. The nobleman gave a mina to each of ten servants. (In the parable of the talents, he gave three men different amounts according to their differing ability.) Then he returned, having received the kingdom, and called the servants to find out how they had done.… Read the rest

Proverbs: the lamps of wisdom

The book of Proverbs is like a set of lamps. The purpose of a lamp is to chase away darkness. Without the light from a lamp, we cannot see well. In particular, without light in an unfamiliar place, we cannot see to avoid obstacles. Many times, we need to turn on more than one lamp in order to do whatever it is we need to do. The lamps of Proverbs illuminate numerous dark corners. If we’re having trouble with anxiety, we need the lamp of trust. If we’re having trouble with frustration, we need the lamp of patience. If we’re having trouble with greed, we need the lamp of prudence.… Read the rest