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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When Christians ought to judge

Sin

Society acts like it’s a good thing! The church mustn’t.

Have you ever noticed that much of the American church today doesn’t like to mention sin?

Try saying aloud that something is sinful. If you’re not careful about what company you say it in, someone is bound to thunder, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”

Why do they always quote it in King James? Simply because they have memorized it that way, and it becomes a handy club to beat up anyone who dares to criticize sin.

They have no clue that their use of the verse amounts to judgment of you, the one who dares to bring up the very idea of sin.… Read the rest

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

The justice of heaven and hell

hell by bosch

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

I recently came across a Christian teenager who posed this theoretical situation: a person who never sinned, did everything perfectly according to the Bible, but didn’t believe in God. Why, he asked, would God want to send anyone to hell just for that?

Once upon a time, churched and unchurched people alike recognized God as the judge of mankind. They recognized that he stood against a category of behavior called “sin.”

Much of discourse within the church centered on how to be good enough to avoid going to hell.

Nowadays, churched and unchurched people alike are more likely to regard God as the defendant who must justify his opposition to sin.… Read the rest

Holiness, glory, and sin

River Jordan with the ark of the covenant, holiness of God

Joshua passing the River Jordan with the Ark of the Covenant / Benjamin West

What do you do for Lent?

It’s just not a time to exercise will power and give something up for a month and a half.

Lent is a time of reflection. It’s a time to prepare ourselves spiritually to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection at Easter.

It’s a time to consider holiness.

Why did Jesus have to die and rise again from the dead? Because God is holy, and we are not. God created Adam in his image and breathed his own life into him. Adam chose to obey Satan instead and forfeited that life.… 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

Did God Command Genocide in Canaan?

Joshua and Israelites

Joshua and the Israelite People / Korolingischer Buchmaler, ca. 840

A lot of atheists are deeply offended by the God they don’t believe exists.

He commanded Joshua and Israel to obliterate Canaanite civilization by killing every man woman and child within their promised boundaries. At least one has asked, “How is it possible to believe in a good God after reading the book of Joshua?”

Read the rest of the Bible!

God did not command Israel to commit genocide. He commanded Israel to execute capital punishment. Canaanite society finally disappeared from history at the hand of the expanding Babylonian empire centuries later.… Read the rest

God’s Redemption of a Filthy Priest

clothes-line--2Have you ever felt unfit to stand before God?

If so, you’re absolutely right. You are unfit. We’re all unfit to stand before God, but he invites us anyway.

The prophet Zechariah had a beautiful vision of God’s gracious response to the unworthiness we can do nothing about (Zechariah 3:1-5).

It begins with Joshua, the high priest, standing before God, with Satan ready to accuse him.

The accuser cleared his throat and God rebuked him before he could utter a syllable. The name “Satan” means accuser, but he can’t make his accusations stick before God. Apparently, God won’t even let him utter them in his presence.… Read the rest