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

Loving disagreement: Paul addresses heresy

I confess that I usually pass over the first few verses of Paul’s epistles without paying much attention. After all, they’re just greeting formulas and opening remarks before getting down to the real meat, right?

So I have just prepared a Sunday school lesson based on the first fourteen verses of Colossians. Colossians has fewer verses to skip over than some epistles. It begins with an account of how Paul prays for that church. I have studied that as an intercessory prayer. The assigned lesson is about faith within a community, so I have had to take a fresh look at this passage.… Read the rest

Grace and forgiveness for the chief of sinners—and the rest of us

My mind often races around like a fly, landing here and there from time to time, but circling around unpredictably and at random. That’s weird, but I guess it’s normal enough. I’ve heard and read about enough other people who testify that their mind does the same thing.

Once in a while, something I think about or see or hear or read triggers a memory of something I did or said some time in the past—even as long ago as grade school. And whether it is that long ago or much more recent, likely as not, I remember doing or saying something stupid, and I feel great shame at the memory.… Read the rest

Is not his word like fire?

“Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” — Jeremiah 23:29

From the heavenly fire that consumed Sodom to the lake of fire in Revelation, fire serves as a powerful symbol in Scripture. I suppose most people, on associating fire and God, think of hell. Let’s not neglect other meanings.

Christians read, or ought to read, God’s word every day and think about it regularly even without an open Bible nearby. If God’s word is like fire, the Christian certainly does not experience it as hellfire. So what kind of fire is it like?… Read the rest

A squandered opportunity to walk by faith

Perhaps not many modern Christians have read the second chapter of Judges. If you have, you may wonder what it has to do with today. Actually, upon closer inspection, it has plenty to do with today. The  consequences of missing the lesson will be tragic for our society if the church today misses the point.

God came from Gilgal (the place of the memorial to God’s greatness) to Bokim (the place of loss and weeping) to speak with them. Think of it! He had to follow them because they were no longer following him!

He told them that he would never break his covenant with them, but they had already broken it.… Read the rest

Faith: the real thing

“I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” — Jude 3

Isn’t it amazing how many people hold the truth in utter contempt? Plenty of people try to make the case that the Holocaust never happened, even though survivors live to this day, the sites of concentration camps still stand, and many eyewitnesses have left both written and photographic accounts of what they experienced or saw.

It’s nothing new. Other examples have occurred throughout history. In New Testament times, while people who had personal memories of Jesus and his teachings still lived, false teachers dared to offer their version of his life and ministry as an alternative.… Read the rest

The power and limits of intercessory prayer

God showed Amos a swarm of locusts that he prepared to punish Israel. Amos, a citizen of the rival kingdom of Judah, begged him to be merciful. God relented. Then he showed Amos a consuming fire. Again Amos begged for mercy and God relented.

But then God showed Amos a wall, and next to the wall, a man with a plumb line. Amos could persuade him not to destroy the apostate kingdom with locusts or fire, but God would not allow his prophet to dissuade him from punishing the sins of his people.

King Jeroboam II had built a prosperous and militarily powerful kingdom, but he refused to heed Amos’ words.… Read the rest

God’s steadfast love–and hatred of sin

“Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.” — Lamentations 3:22-23 (NKJV)

“Then he said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.'” — Luke 9:23

God’s mercy is new every morning. God calls us to take up our cross daily. Do those concepts seem somehow at odds?

Jeremiah, lamenting over the destruction of his beloved Jerusalem, comforted himself in the fact that some of God’s people had survived, even if their capital city and its temple had not.… Read the rest

House of Eli: the outcome of a failed priesthood

Before Israel had a king, it was ruled by judges. The last two, Eli and Samuel, dominate the opening of the book of 1 Samuel. From all appearances, Eli, a senior priest, enjoyed high esteem during his lifetime, but no one admired his sons.

There does not seem to be anyone designated as high priest yet, but his seniority and the esteem he had as judge guaranteed him a great deal of authority and influence. It seems judgmental of him to accuse Hannah of drunkenness, but considering the times, he may have seen plenty of people treating the sacrifice as a party and getting drunk.… Read the rest