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

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

Judgment and grace even for Nineveh

The prophet Nahum decreed destruction for the Assyrian capital of Nineveh. At that time, Assyria ruled the entire Middle East, including Egypt. Only the kingdom of Judah, ruled by King Josiah, remained independent.

We learn from Jonah’s experience that God loved Nineveh, but his patience has limits. The Assyrians, at his direction, had destroyed the kingdom of Israel and resettled all its people. God chose them as his instrument of judgment on Israel, but did not tolerate their cruel pride and arrogance. So he destroyed them, but only after a prophetic warning.

Here is a prophecy directed not at God’s chosen people, but an enemy state who only knew enough about him to hold him in contempt.… Read the rest

What the God of love hates: false worship


Christians love to proclaim that we worship a God of love. We get uncomfortable when the Bible talks about what God hates. That’s all the more reason to pay careful attention. In Amos 5:21-24, God despises feast

Prophet Amos, old Russian Orthodox icon

days, sacred assemblies, offerings, and worship music. He commanded all of those things in the law. Why did he hate them? They had become false worship, a failure of love for both God and other people.

First, Amos spoke to the Northern Kingdom, where worship took place at unauthorized altars in the presence of idols. No one can worship truly when distracted by things of the world.… Read the rest

All things are become new

“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him.” — Matthew 3:16 (NIV)

Last week it was 2009. This week it’s Twenty-Ten. Just think. Last week when we wrote a check, we might have had to think about the day, but not the month or the year. I suppose for most of us it will be another month before writing 2-0-1-0 becomes second nature.

When the calendar changes, our whole society is programmed to think of other changes, too.… Read the rest

Double meanings at Christmas time

Scripture means so much on so many different levels. As one example of a scripture with multiple meanings, Isaiah’s rebuke to a weak and fearful king turned out to foreshadow the coming of a new King who would have the power to defeat the devil  himself.

Ahaz, King of Judah, was frighted when the kings of Syria and Israel invaded his territory. God sent Isaiah to  him with a message of hope. Isaiah told Ahaz to remain calm and have faith in God. Instead, he asked the King of Assyria to help him out.

And so in a second confrontation, Isaiah told Ahaz to ask for a sign.… Read the rest

Forgetting former things

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”–Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV)

Yesterday is gone. We can’t live there any more. Maybe yesterday I felt like a real winner and everything clicked. That was great, yesterday. If I am going to be a real winner today, I need to think about today. Maybe yesterday I made a huge mistake. That was terrible yesterday. If I’m going to avoid making another just like it, I need to think about today.… Read the rest

Welcome to Grace and Judgment

Calvin Coolidge had to go to church one day alone, because his wife was ill. When he returned, she asked him how church was. “Fine,” he said.

“Well, how was the sermon?” “Good.”

“What was it about?” “Sin.”

“Calvin, tell me what he said about it.” (Awkward pause.) “He’s against it.”

So should we all be. But how often do preachers talk about sin nowadays? Not often enough. My pastor proclaims that he’s against it, but I have heard many other preachers over the years with little acknowledgment that sin even matters. Time was when I heard and read lots of lessons about healing or prosperity.… Read the rest