God’s promise of shalom in a crisis

Shalom

“Shalom” in Hebrew

Jeremiah 29:11 ranks high on the list of favorite Old Testament scriptures. As much as we love it, do we really understand how much it promises? “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV)

“Prosper” translates the Hebrew word shalom, a word (a noun, by the way) so rich it has no good English equivalent. It usually appears in English translations as “peace.” In fact, many English translations of Jeremiah 29:11 say, “plans for peace” or something similar.… Read the rest

Death that makes us alive

Life from death

Germinating seed

We usually think of death as the cessation of life. Scripture tells us it’s the beginning of life. How can that be?

Paul tells us to consider ourselves dead to sin but alive to God (Romans 6:11). Elsewhere he says that we were once dead in or sins, but God made us alive in Christ and forgave all our sins (Colossians 2:13).

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Being spiritually dressed

Paul had quite a lot to say about clothing. No, I don’t mean any comment that could be taken as a dress code. We all have earthly clothing. We have to take it off from time to time to wash both it and our bodies. It wears out and we have to repair or replace it. Spiritual clothing is different. We need to have that on at all times. We are already clean, and spiritual clothing can never wear out or become soiled.

For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

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Faith, hope, and love—in 1 Thessalonians

Probably anyone with a nodding acquaintance with the New Testament, believer or not, knows about the ending of 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul says that faith, hope, and love abide and identifies love as the greatest of the three.

Perhaps the very familiarity of the passage robs us of the power inherent in the juxtaposition of those three virtues. Fortunately, there are plenty of lesser-known passages where we can see the power with fresh eyes.

1 Thessalonians is the earliest extant letter of Paul. People study it less than some of the others not because it’s harder to pronounce, but because the themes that characterize Paul’s teaching are not yet fully developed.… 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

When I am afraid. . . I will not be afraid

“When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” — Psalm 56:3-4 (NIV)

“Fear not.” That’s the message of lots of angels in the Bible, and some times the Lord himself when he appeared. John’s first epistle reminds us that perfect love casts out fear. And yet we all fear.

Some of us fear many things. All of us fear sometimes. Unemployed? Sick with a catastrophic disease? Seriously injured? Recently widowed? These only scratch the surface of major, long-term uncertainties that can cause the hardiest of us to fear.… Read the rest

Hope deferred? Don’t let it happen

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled (lit. coming) is a tree of life.” — Proverbs 13:12 (NASB)

I have still not seen very much of what I hoped for when I was in my 20s. I used to ache over this verse. For years, I asked God fervently why my hope was still deferred. My heartsickness was obviously all his fault.

As I thought about it again much later, I guess my prayer was answered in a way. God answered that I had misinterpreted and misrepresented the verse for years. I eventually realized that hope is not the same as the thing hoped for, and desire is not the same as the thing desired.… Read the rest

Mary’s commitment

There is an old Medieval carol that speaks of Adam’s sin in eating the forbidden fruit, but it ends by saying, “Blessed be the time the apple was taken. Otherwise, our lady would never have been heavenly queen”–basically giving thanks for sin so that people could worship Mary. Protestants look askance at Catholics for praying to Mary and honoring her as queen of heaven. Unfortunately, we have made up for it by virtually ignoring her, a worse mistake than honoring her wrongly. At least at Advent we pay some attention.

God deliberately passes over the great and prominent in order to do his work through the lowly and ordinary.… Read the rest

Present protection and future victory

“I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love forever and ever. I will praise you forever for what you have done; in your name I will  hope, for your name is good. I will praise you in the presence of your saints.”–Psalm 52:8-9 (NIV)

David was running for his life from Saul and stopped to see the priest Ahimelech. An Edomite named Doeg saw him there and told Saul, who ordered death for Ahimilech and all the other priests who served with him. No Israelite would obey the order, so Doeg was happy to slaughter them.… Read the rest

Stretching Out a Withered Hand

“He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.”–Mark 3:5, NIV

Yesterday I touched on the first half of this verse. Today we’ll look at the remarkable second half.

Picture yourself as the man with the withered hand. Make a fist as a symbol of a withered hand. Now, pretend that the computer screen is Jesus and move your fist towards it. Have you stretched out your hand? No. You have stretched out your arm. The man with the withered hand could have done that easily, but that’s not what Jesus told him to do.… Read the rest