Light, darkness, and the return of Christ

Living by faith requires living not only in the light of the resurrection, but also in the hope of the return of Christ. Jesus himself said that he, in his earthly body, did not know when he would come back.  He told his disciples that they should always be ready, because a thief cannot surprise a homeowner who is watching.

There are times in my life when a promise of God seems so vivid that I’m sure it will happen in the next fifteen minutes. Then the waiting starts. I know I’m not alone. The whole church has been waiting impatiently for the return of Christ for about two thousand years.… Read the rest

Grace: free, or unavailable

Simple Simon met a pie man. We know that rhyme. He had no money, so he got no pie. That’s how the world works. If Simple Simon were around today, he could possibly get free food at a soup kitchen, but people find that humiliating. No one wants charity. How different it is with God! He operates not on working and earning, but grace. The feast is free, or else you can’t have it.

Before the days of brand-name bottled water, or even treated water distributed by municipalities, anyone who thirsted could drink water for free. They only had to find it.… Read the rest

The violence of Jesus: cleansing the temple

We probably all have our favorite images of Jesus. In a well-known scene from Talladega Nights, Ricky Bobby preferred to pray to the Baby Jesus. Others of us might be drawn to the healer, the teacher, the man who loved children. I suppose all of the favorite thoughts come under the heading “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” So what about the violent man who upset tables and drove the money changers out of the temple?

It is one of the few incidents in his life mentioned in all four gospels: Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:13-22. According to the synoptics,  Jesus erupted after his triumphal entry.… Read the rest

Redeemed from the curse of the law


“Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” — Galatians 3:13-14 (NKJV)

What, exactly, is this curse of the law that we are redeemed from? Check out Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. Both chapters begin with a blessing that the people would obtain for keeping up their end of the covenant. Both chapters enumerate the dire consequences of failing to keep the covenant. … 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

A personal lesson in the fullness of grace

It’s hard, for me anyway, to discuss anything in Romans without it coming across like a theology lesson. Well, it is a theology lesson, but it’s very practical theology. I can testify that it can become very personally real as well.

Paul tells us we have peace with God through Christ—whether we feel like it or not. It’s an outcome of the very nature of God. God expelled sinners from the Garden of Eden and chased them from his presence, but not before he told them of his plans to redeem them from sin.

In Wesleyan terms, prevenient grace started right then and there.… Read the rest

The flood: grace and judgment on display

Here’s the quickie narrative of the flood that almost everyone knows: God made people and got mad at them, so he decided to wipe them out. He liked one fellow, though, so he made him build an ark and collect pairs of animals. Everyone else drowned, but when the floodwaters subsided, the few people and animals on the ark repopulated the earth.

On the surface, that sound like overkill. I mean, surely there must have been some nice folks that died along with the bad guys, right?  To many people who understand only that much of the story, God must be some kind of angry, capricious monster–at least until gentle Jesus meek and mild came along.… Read the rest

What is true holiness?

A lot of people, Christian and non-Christian alike, think of holiness as not doing certain things: don’t drink or cuss or chew or run with folks that do. That’s not a biblical definition. It’s certainly not what Isaiah thought about when he saw God.

God is holy. That means at least three different things. He is unique, entirely unequaled in all he created. He is pure and incorruptible. He is separate from sin and from sinners. Yet at the same time, he desires the companionship of his creation, including the sinful human race.

According to the law, a leper had to be expelled from the community.… Read the rest

Gathering and restoration of a forgiven people

Because it refused to turn away from its sins and rebellions, God destroyed the Kingdom of Judah and sent the people to exile in Babylon. According to an overriding biblical principle, God is never finished with a situation after he has executed judgment on sin. The next step is always grace and restoration.

Through the prophet Ezekiel, he promised not only to gather up the exiles and return them to Jerusalem. He also promised to give them a new heart and a new spirit.

They would remove all of the abominations and detestable things from the land; no more would Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside see the idol worship that had led to judgment in the first place.… Read the rest

The tree of grace and judgment in Romans

The book of Romans, Paul’s most systematic statement of theology, moves step by step from the universality of sin in the first two chapters through the marvelous statement of what it means to be free of sin in chapter eight. His basic argument continues most logically in chapter twelve, but he interrupts it for an important but parenthetical discussion of the judgment of the Jews.

Near the end of that parenthesis, having concluded that Israel’s rejection of Christ and God’s consequent rejection of Israel are neither total nor final, Paul introduces the analogy of an olive tree.

Taking a branch from one tree and grafting it onto another is a common enough practice.… Read the rest