At Christmas, God gives gifts. Will you receive?

Christmas tree with gifts. God's Christmas giftAt Christmas time, advertisers want us to concentrate on gift giving. But did you ever stop to think that it’s also the season of gift receiving? And that God gives the gifts that give the season its meaning?

People can very carefully choose gifts that reflect their understanding of the people they’re giving to. Or they can put minimal thought and effort into the task.

People can receive gifts with gratitude. Or with indifference, disappointment, or rejection.

If you have carefully chosen a gift and the person you give to doesn’t appreciate it, how do you feel? Have you ever thought about what God feels?… Read the rest

Oh how I love your—law?

Moses / Michelangelo

Moses / Michelangelo

We Christians love God. We sing of our love for God in hundreds of hymns and praise choruses. But have you ever thought about what it is about him you love?

Somehow, I suspect many Christians would come up with a long list before they ever echoed the psalmist:

Oh, how I love Your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
Your commandments have made me wiser than my enemies,
for they are continually with me. – Psalm 119:97-98 ( all references from MEV)

I have no idea how many times I read past that verse before I noticed a problem: It’s easy to love promises and attributes.… Read the rest

Is God an angry taskmaster? Don’t be fooled by stinking thinking

Cain Fleeing from the Wrath of God (The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve) / William Blake c. 1805-1809

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.… Read the rest

Do you know that you know Jesus?

Jesus light of the world

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).… Read the rest

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.… Read the rest

Don’t Ignore God’s Gift Wrapping

Gift wrappingYou have a gift from God. You are a gift to the church from Jesus. You do the gifts of the Holy Spirit as he chooses.

The Bible describes these varieties of gifts in Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Corinthians 12-14. Ordinarily, when you get gifts, you rip off the paper and discard it.

With God’s gifts, the gift wrapping is as valuable as the gifts themselves, except you don’t have to rip it up to get to what’s inside.

The first time I taught a class on gifts, I pointed out three subjects that also appear prominently in all of these chapters.… Read the rest

Thinking of yourself with sober judgment

Self esteem shopWhat do you think of yourself?

The Bible says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (Romans 12:3).

It immediately sounds like we shouldn’t think highly of ourselves. Maybe we should think we’re just unworthy worms. But that’s not what it says, is it? After all, if we’re supposed to love each other as ourselves and we’re supposed to think of ourselves as unworthy worms. . . Nope. That just plain doesn’t make any sense!

The trouble with self esteem

It seems that so many people feel bad about themselves that it has become a social problem.… Read the rest

Jesus’ neglected commandment

Christ Enthroned : Vivarini

Christ Enthroned / Bartolomeo Vivarini (1450)

In John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (NASB). What commandments?

Just a while earlier, in John 13:34, he had said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

Does that seem new?

Jesus had earlier said that the greatest commandment of the law was to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. The second was like the first: Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:28-34).

With this new commandment, Jesus raised the standard. … Read the rest

A blessing for the Gentiles

Two Old Men Disputing / Rembrandt, 1628. The two old men are often interpreted as Peter and Paul

Two Old Men Disputing / Rembrandt, 1628. The two old men are often interpreted as Peter and Paul

In Fiddler on the Roof, the rabbi’s son asked if there were a proper blessing for the tsar. “A blessing for the tsar? Of course. ‘May God bless and keep the tsar—far away from us.”

I imagine someone asked one of the ancient temple singers if there were a proper blessing for the Gentiles. The answer was almost as short, but profoundly different:

“Oh praise the Lord, all you Gentiles! Laud him all you peoples! For his merciful kindness is great toward us, and the truth of the Lord endures forever.” – Psalm 117 (NKJV)

Gentiles

Who are Gentiles?… Read the rest

Guilt trips vs guilt; feelings vs reality

Guilt tripWhen my youngest sister was about three, Mom needed a serving spoon at supper. So Sis jumped up to get it for her.  She grabbed a slotted spoon, and when she looked at it, she said, “Broken! I’m sorry!” and started to cry.

Cute story. I know a grown woman who left church after a sermon on how God loves everyone and commented that she had never felt so condemned in her life! Not such a cute story.

Recently I read about a poll that found that the people who most actively care about the environment are much more guilt-ridden than those who care far less.… Read the rest