An Old Testament beatitude and the grace of God

God is goodWe think of the Beatitudes as part of the Sermon on the Mount, but they get their name from the opening words, “blessed are,” or in some translations, “happy are.” Lots of other verses begin that way, and many more with the singular, “is.” Here is the last of several from the psalms:

Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
 whose hope is in the Lord their God.

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See what God has done: praise in rough times

In an earlier post, I wrote of the struggles I used to have with the meaning of praise. From the opening of Psalm 66, I explained both my problem and what I came to learn about it.

When in v. 5 of the same psalm David writes, “Come and see what God has done,” he turns his focus from telling God how wonderful he is to reminding those who sang it of a familiar and beloved story.

Looking back

Worshiping the golden calf, as in Exodus 32:1-35, illustration from a Bible card published 1901 by the Providence Lithograph Company

The escape from Egypt through the sea and entrance into the Promised Land through the Jordan River at flood stage formed the backdrop for the Jews’ entire national and religious identity.… Read the rest

Lent and the spiritual wilderness experience

Death Valley

Death Valley, California

The season of Lent recalls Jesus’ 40-day temptation in the wilderness. All Christians sooner or later go through their own spiritual wilderness. And so, in the Old Testament, did one of the Sons of Korah, who left behind Psalms 42 and 43to instruct and comfort us in our own struggles with wilderness experience.

These two psalms appear to have been originally one song of three verses with refrain: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (I use “verse” in the sense of familiar songs or hymns, not in the sense of a verse of scripture.)

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Learning to be content

Contentment“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” — Philippians 4:11 (NKJV)

Isn’t it amazing how the whole meaning of a sentence can change when you shift your main attention from one word to another? Most of the time, preachers and writers seem to emphasize “content” and discuss the meaning an importance of contentment. Once, when I was in a particularly foul mood, I came across this verse and got hung up on “state.” I actually said aloud, “Paul, you were never in Iowa,” closed my Bible, and stormed off to enjoy my pity party.… Read the rest

Walking through the valley of the shadow of death


No one goes looking for hard times to go through, but no one escapes them, either. David described encountering and overcoming the valley of the shadow of death. What kind of hardship is your valley of the shadow of death? A path in a valley might wind through a dense forest. In David’s time, there might not even have been a real path. It might be impossible to see very far ahead. In this metaphorical valley, when we don’t know quite where we’re going, I can attest from personal experience how easy it is to be afraid. How can we come to David’s boldness in claiming to fear no evil?… Read the rest

Samson: a wasted life of failure. Or was it?

What do you know about Samson?  Is he a Bible character you particularly admire or respect? His story, told in four chapters in Judges, is full of foolish choices. He had a special weakness for Philistine women. His last Philistine girl friend, Delilah, kept bugging him to tell her the secret of his strength. Twice he lied to her, and twice she sent Philistine men to capture him. What kept him from turning his back on her instead of finally telling her the truth? And he had such a great start in life!

The angel of the Lord appeared to Samson’s mother, a barren woman.… Read the rest

Predestination and the Jews in Romans 9


Romans 9 may be the most troublesome chapter in the New Testament. Misunderstandings of this chapter have led to a caricature of the doctrine of predestination that teaches that God in his sovereignty has already decided who will and will not be saved and, as a result, nothing mere humans do will. They have also led to centuries of Christian teaching that God rejected the Jews. Popular commentator William Barclay even declared that Paul got the whole thing wrong!

What is the place of Romans 9 within the entire book? Notice that it is possible to finish reading chapter 8 and continue immediately with chapter 12 without any sense of having missed anything.… Read the rest

Wages you don’t want to collect


“The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). God’s judgment says that all have sinned, so all will die. God’s grace says that whoever puts faith in the work of Jesus will live forever. God’s final judgment will result in a second death for those who refuse his grace (Revelation 20:14). All will die the death of the body, but those who refuse God’s grace will also suffer the death of the spirit in the lake of fire.

How many hundreds or thousands of sermons have been preached on those texts trying to scare the hell out of people? But that is not my intent.… Read the rest

Hedged behind and before

My wife and I bought two puppies a couple of years ago and started collecting information on how to raise them. Nearly every author recommended crate training, and then had to take time to defend the idea. Apparently they had heard lots of people protest that confining an animal overnight seems cruel. But dogs are not people. They are denning animals and find crates homey and comforting, especially when we put blankets over them to make it nice and dark.

Sure enough, two years later our dogs still sleep in their crates. Bed time comes and we walk together into the bedroom.… Read the rest

Wickedness: our questions and God’s answers

Today, fanatical Muslims blow themselves up in crowded market places in the name of their god. They didn’t invent terrorism and are not alone in dishonoring their own religion by their actions.  Christians, too, have been guilty. What else can serial murders of abortionists be called?

Many historians describe the tactics of radical abolitionist John Brown an injection of terrorism into American politics, and he though he was acting for God. The religious policies of Spanish King Philip II and Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II amount to state-sponsored terrorism in the name of God.

Not all wickedness is violent. Those who devise Internet scams, those who choose profits over human lives in board rooms, and any others who steal at long distance do not sin violently.… Read the rest