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

Remember Jesus

The Resurrection of Christ / Noel Coypel, 1700

The Resurrection of Christ / Noel Coypel, 1700

Does it seem odd that Paul wrote “Remember Jesus, raised from the dead” (2 Timothy 2:8) to a dedicated minister of the gospel?

Earlier he had testified that no one on his staff was equal to Timothy. Why should a man like that need a reminder? Remember Jesus? Timothy must have spent most of every day either teaching his church about Jesus or sharing Jesus with the unbelievers in his city.

If we step back a little, though, and consider the history of God’s own people, it doesn’t seem so strange.

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An Advent introduction

Happy birthday, JesusI don’t know about you, but I’m tempted to skip over the introductions to Paul’s epistles and go right to what seems like the real meat. I recently noticed that in the Book of Common Prayer, one such introduction, Romans 1:1-7 is one of the appointed readings for the Sundays in Advent. It seems good to pay closer attention.

Paul had never been to Rome when he decided to write a letter to the Roman church. Therefore, he needed to introduce himself in greater detail than in the letters to churches he himself had founded.

On the other hand, he was too humble a man to write about himself more than absolutely necessary.… Read the rest

The creation story and the nature of truth

Ancient of Days / by William Blake

I have spent considerable time over the years studying the creation story and reading some of the various things that have been written about it.

From atheists to faculty at certain seminaries, a few criticisms of the Genesis account turn up constantly.

(A retired preacher friend of mine, who loves referring to preacher training schools as “cemeteries,” is among many who has trouble detecting much difference between atheists and cemetery professors.)

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How Gideon failed at success

Gideon and the angel

The Angel Puts Fire on the Altar of Gideon / James Tissot

Everyone wants to succeed at what they try. The alternative is failure. Successful people know failure. They have learned from it, worked out problems, and tried again until they succeed. That’s the way the world works. Unfortunately, the world also has pitfalls that can ultimately destroy the successful if they’re not vigilant. The Bible has many examples. Let’s look at Gideon.

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Basic social justice: what weakness hampers it?

Every society wants justice. That’s every society throughout the world beginning in prehistory. Take away superficial differences, and it appears that every society has similar views of what justice means. We’ll look at a passage from Exodus that would probably not be controversial anywhere.

Justice is hard to get when thugs take over. See the latest headlines from Syria. But I’ll bet even Assad’s courts have dispensed justice whenever it has not been against the regime’s interests to do so.

On the other hand, it doesn’t take an evil government to pervert justice. Ordinary human nature can do quite nicely at that even with the best of governments.… Read the rest

Living in the middle of the story

Joseph and Potiphar's Wife / Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo (1660s)

When we come to the end of a novel or a movie, we know how it turns out. We get a lot of satisfaction knowing how it turns out, possibly because we can’t possibly get the same satisfaction in our own lives. After all, we’re living in the middle of the story.

Joseph had ten older brothers. Jacob, his father, essentially put him in charge of the family business. Jacob loved Joseph more than the others because he was the firstborn son of the only woman he had ever loved.

But he must have given Joseph all that authority because of his natural ability and character.… Read the rest

Gay marriage, politics, and the Bible

Men arguingNorth Carolina has just become the 30th state to enshrine the definition of marriage as one man and one woman in the state constitution. I am pleased by the outcome, but dismayed by the process and the rhetoric.

In the local newspaper, proponents and opponents of the marriage amendment lobbed scriptures back and forth as if a couple of verses settled the matter. That’s wrong for at least three reasons.

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How do we know that we know Jesus?

Light of the World / William Holden Hunt (1853)

What does it mean to be a Christian? It means much more than going to church and trying to be a good person. In fact, it means acknowledging that we can’t be a good person on our own. We need Jesus to help us.

The risen Lord can’t be a historical character that we read about, but a person whom we know as much or better than any other person we know. We can’t see him. We can’t touch him. We can’t hear the sound of his voice. How, then, do we know that we know him?… Read the rest

Life lessons from a list of names

When we come across genealogies and other lists of names in the Bible, it can be difficult to remember that all Scripture is inspired and useful! Romans 16 is one such passage, where Paul greeted a list of friends by name. We know a few of them, but how is this list edifying?

Remember that the last major section of Romans starts in 12:1 with the exhortation to present our bodies as living sacrifices. Every word of Romans from there until the end either helps define or illustrate what the life of a living sacrifice looks like. In the last chapter, Paul names a bunch of them.… Read the rest