Is God an angry taskmaster? Don’t be fooled by stinking thinking

Cain Fleeing from the Wrath of God (The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve) / William Blake c. 1805-1809

Cain Fleeing from the Wrath of God (The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve) / William Blake c. 1805-1809

God has a reputation as an angry taskmaster who’s difficult to please. He has a bunch of rules and punishes anyone who falls afoul of them. He lives in a place called heaven. Everyone wants to go there, but it’s hard to be good enough.

A cursory reading of the Bible confirms this picture. A careful reading reveals an entirely different picture.

Actually comparing the Bible with other ancient literature confirms the truth: God is love. He prefers mercy to wrath and grace to judgment.… Read the rest

Remember God

Moses Pleading with Israel

Moses Pleading with Israel, as in Deuteronomy 8:11-20, illustration from a Bible card published 1907 by the Providence Lithograph Company

Lent is a time of repentance and preparation for Easter. That Jesus died for our sins and rose again to take them away means nothing if we don’t recognized ourselves as sinners. For all our individual differences, we all have one sin in common. We forget God.

Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt to the doorstep of the Promised Land. and they refused to enter.

They had forgotten God’s power, protection, and provision. When they heard the report of fortified cities, they wailed and declared it would have been better if they had died in Egypt.… Read the rest

Who Were the Magi, and Why Should We Care?

Magi

Detail from: “Mary and Child, surrounded by angels”, mosaic of an Italian-Byzantine workshop in Ravenna, completed within 526 AD by the so-called “Master of Sant’Apollinare”.

Did the three wise men really visit the manger in Bethlehem on that first Christmas day bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh?

The town and the gifts are right. At best, the rest of the familiar scene is dubious. Who were the wise men (magi), and what does it matter?

The Bible (Matthew 2:1-12) simply says wise men (it’s plural, so there were at least two) followed a star from the East (a vague enough reference that only rules out other directions).… Read the rest

Beans, ping-pong balls, and Jesus

esus at prayer in the desert

Christ in the desert / Ivan Kramskoi (1871)

Perhaps you have seen this object lesson: Before starting his sermon, a preacher asked for a volunteer from the congregation. He had a jar of beans and three ping-pong balls, and asked the volunteer to put the ping-pong balls into the jar. He couldn’t do it.

The preacher emptied the beans into a pitcher. The balls easily fit into the jar. Then the preacher asked the volunteer to see how many of the beans he could get into the jar. They all fit with some room to spare.

The ping-pong balls represented time with God.… Read the rest

Burning but not consumed : Moses, God, and a bush

Moses and the burning bush

Moses and the burning bush / Raphael, ca. 1515

Fire appears in the Bible a lot.

  • God is like a refining fire (Malachi 3:2).
  • His word is like a fire and like a hammer that breaks the rock (Jeremiah 23:29). Three friends of Daniel spent some time in a fiery furnace.
  • Elijah called down fire on the men sent to arrest him (2 Kings 1:10, 12).
  • James and John wanted to call down fire on the Samaritans (Luke 9:54).
  • Tongues of fire appeared over 120 people in the upper room on Pentecost (Acts 2:3).
  • And during the Exodus God appeared as a pillar of fire at night (Exodus 13:21-22).
Read the rest

What becomes of an unrepentant priest? The sad story of Eli

Hannah prays as Eli watches

Hannah’s Prayer in the Temple / Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (mid 19th century)

Jonah is the story of a disobedient prophet who repented. Eli is the story of a disobedient priest who did not. Jonah comes across as petulant even when he finally did God’s bidding. Eli seems in nearly all of his dealings as a very godly man. Jonah’s story is familiar enough that I won’t summarize it here, but I suppose many fewer readers even know who Eli was.

We first encounter Eli in the first chapter of 1 Samuel, where he is a bit player. Hannah, a barren woman taunted by her husband’s other wife, prayed silently, but in great anguish, at the tabernacle.… Read the rest

The consequences of sin and repentance

Joshua and Israelites

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

“Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and the walls come a-tumblin’ down.” Then he and his people sinned. The next part of the story didn’t go as well for them. Joshua decided to attack the small town of Ai next. They chased his warriors out of town and killed some of them. What happened?

Most obviously, someone named Achan took some of the spoils and hid them in his tent. God didn’t appear to Joshua and tell him what had happened and what he thought about it. He hardly ever does.… Read the rest

Awake! Awake!

Foggy  sunrise

Foggy sunrise

When morning gilds the skies, my heart, awaking, cries, “No. No. Not already!” What I like much better is what everyone has been saying ever since smart phones became popular: “There’s a nap for that.” Please don’t tell me I’ve been hearing that wrong!

So here is perhaps my very least favorite commandment from Scripture: “Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (Romans 13:11-12, NASB)

Read the rest

All things are lawful, but . . .

Sin

Society acts like it’s a good thing!

“All things are lawful,” says Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:12. Does that mean that idolatry, murder, stealing, sexual sin, and perjury are lawful?

That’s exactly what it means. And Paul wrote that to a church where he observed elsewhere that some of them had formerly been just like that.

Christians are not under law. That is, Christians do not have a long list of dos and don’ts to live up to. We’re under grace. Paul goes on to say, “not all things are profitable.”

Idolatry, murder, stealing, sexual sin, and perjury are lawful. Nonetheless, they’re still sin.… Read the rest

Joshua and the secret of answered prayer

Joshua and Israelites

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

Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you.” He did not say, “Ask and it will be given to you immediately.” He also did not say, “Ask and it will be given you exactly as you envision it.” When we ask and seem not to receive, it’s easy to fall into some kind of crisis of faith.

Ordinarily, Bible teachers deal with the questions of unanswered prayer by looking at the text in detail in order to point out conditions or the various ways we sabotage our own faith.… Read the rest