Rejoice? Always?

“Rejoice always; pray constantly; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (RSV)

Does it sometimes look like the writers of the Bible just didn’t get it? Perhaps people living when it was written just didn’t face the troubles we do. After all, who can rejoice always with all we have to live through?

For the last couple of years, our economy has been rocked by very tough conditions: high unemployment, long term unemployment, lots of foreclosures on peoples’ houses.

We just had a particularly nasty election, with no limits on how much anonymous corporate entities could spend on vicious attack ads.… Read the rest

Struggling in the storm

Jesus had not planned to feed a crowd. Earlier that day he had invited his disciples to come away to a quiet place where they could get some rest and talk in peace, but a large crowd of 5,000 men and who knows how many women and children had interrupted their plans. Perhaps it was from compassion that Jesus told the disciples to get in the boat and row across the Sea of Galilee while he dismissed the crowd.

Whether Jesus intended to be compassionate or not, it appears the disciples didn’t like the idea. The NIV says he made them get into the boat.… Read the rest

The weapons of our warfare

“The weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds.” — 2 Corinthians 10:4 (NKJV)

The church today is divided over many issues, including war. Christians who are against any and all wars for any and all reasons usually dislike hymns like “Onward Christian Soldiers.” Do dedicated pacifists greet scriptures that talk about “our warfare” with equal comfort and disapproval? I hope not.

Neither hymn nor the scriptures have anything to do with the kind of war where people take up arms for the purpose of killing people on the other side. Regardless of what anyone thinks of American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, or any other war, “our warfare” is something else entirely.… Read the rest

Love your enemy: a dangerous prayer rewarded

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”–Matthew 5:43-44 (NASB)

The Bible, Jesus in particular, has a way of commanding whatever is most counterintuitive. We are such creatures of the world that, even as believers in Christ, the ways of the world seem more normal than what Jesus asks. Here he tells us to love and pray for enemies.

Ahmadinejad on a missile, after stealing the latest election

I have prayed salvation for Osama bin Laden, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and other enemies of America and Christ.… Read the rest

Examine yourselves

“Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Prove yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?–unless indeed you are disqualified.” — 2 Corinthians 13:5 (NKJV)

“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. — 1 John 5:13 (NKJV)

My mother had an uncle named John. He was  one of the leading businessmen in his town, and active in one of the Methodist churches.  When he was in his late 80s, a Baptist friend suggested he should really do something about his baptism; “You’re too good a man to go to hell.”

That’s but one example that immediately comes to mind of people assuming that someone else will go to hell for some perceived failing.… Read the rest

Next words of Jesus: Do not be afraid

“So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly, Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ he said. They cam to  him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.'” — Matthew 28:8-10 (NIV)

Matthew’s account of the first resurrection appearance is very different from John’s. We need not try to harmonize them or make them fit together, as they each have a different message for us to learn.

“Do not be afraid” is probably one of the most frequent commands in the whole Bible.… Read the rest

Joseph: the forgotten man at Christmas

Nativity / Blake

Illustration to Milton’s On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity / William Blake, 1809

I just heard a speaker say she had searched the web for contemporary Christmas songs about Joseph and found only three.

I know of a few more than that from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Most of them are secular pieces that mock him for being a cuckold. Poor Joseph deserves so much better than that.

We can learn a lot about him by juxtaposing Matthew’s account and Luke’s account of Mary’s pregnancy. When Mary told the angel, “May it be to me as you have said,” the Holy Spirit probably came upon her immediately.… Read the rest

God’s Servant Stands

“Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”  Romans 14:4 (NASB)

Why do Christians find it so easy to criticize other Christians? Perhaps because Jesus so greatly desires unity in the Church. It is not easy to build unity if everyone has cause to be on the defensive against carping criticism from everyone else. It is not easy to build unity if everyone is attuned to pointing out everyone else’s weaknesses and failures.

From time to time I like to go back through old, worn-out Bibles that I no longer carry.… 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

Remember to remember God

“Beware, lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage,”–Deuteronomy 6:12, NKJV

Moses looked over a crowd of people who had grown up as wanderers in the wilderness. They were about to enter the Promised Land, where God would give them houses and cities they had not built and crops they had not planted. It would take hard work to occupy the land, but Moses foresaw trouble resulting from the prosperity that would follow.

Hard times can make or break our faith. People will either cling to God through a crisis or turn away from “religion” entirely.… Read the rest