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

Hell, grace, and the secret things of God

hell by bosch

Hell. Right panel of Haywain Triptych / Hieronymous Bosch, ca. 1516

No one likes to talk about hell any more, although some people have an unhealthy confidence that they know who’s going there.

God reserves that judgment for himself. He deliberately hides all aspects of his plans. Some scriptures make it seem like nearly everyone will be saved. Others make it seem like hardly anyone will be saved.

The Bible speaks with crystal clarity on one point, though. People stand or fall before God as individuals. Not as members of a group. Not because of association with anyone else.

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Living water: source and meaning

Dan River. living water

Dan River, Danville, North Carolina, a drinking water source

Jesus had started to lose his popularity by the time he shouted on the last day of a feast,

If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water (John 7:37-38, MEV).

Those who heard him contented themselves with debating who he was. But what did he mean?

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Exchanging swords for plowshares

Isaiah 2:4

Isaiah 2:4 written on a wall across the street from the United Nations Building in New York City

God’s promise, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares,” stands on a wall near the United Nations. The UN exists because the world wanted to make it come true.

What happened?

The first four verses of Isaiah 2 leading up to that promise presents a compelling image: God’s house sits on a mountain higher than any other mountain on earth, and “all the nations stream to it.”

Imagine! A stream flowing uphill! 

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Insidious weeds: a curse of garden and mind

weed-dandelion-pixabaySuggest that some natural disaster represents God’s judgment, and people will fall all over themselves condemning how judgmental you are. After all, God is love. But God is also judge.

And he’s also Father. Disobeying any father always has consequences.

No one can connect whichever natural disaster is currently in the headlines with any particular judgment.

So I’d like to suggest a sign of judgment, indeed a sign of a curse, we all know.

Weeds.

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Judgment, grace, and natural disasters

Earthquake damaged houseRecord drought in California. Record flooding in Louisiana. Earthquake in Italy. Insurance companies call these and other natural disasters “acts of God.”

Is God trying to tell us something?

Someone, it seems, always comes out of the woodwork to say that a particular disaster God’s judgment on—take your pick—homosexuality, abortion, taking prayer out of schools, or whatever other issue riles them.

It’s not.

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Jesus’ return: Like a thief in the night

Jesus' return second coming of ChristWould you ever think to compare Jesus to a thief? The Bible does in describing Jesus’ return. More than once.

Living by faith requires living not only in the light of the resurrection, but also in the hope of the second coming of Christ.

In his flesh, Jesus didn’t know when he’d return, but he knew it will be a time when no one expects him.

Jesus himself said, “If the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into” (Matthew 24:43, NASB).”

Paul wrote, “Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you.… 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

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.… Read the rest

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?

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