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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Who sinned? blaming God for our troubles

Judge's gavelJesus died between two criminals. Did you realize that he died between two believers? The first one asked, “Aren’t you the Christ?” The expected answer to that question is, “Yes.”

But he was disappointed that Jesus wasn’t acting like he expected the Christ to act. In his hostility, he joined the unbelievers and scoffers and railed against him.

When something goes wrong, who do you blame? Or as the disciples asked about a man born blind, who sinned? They gave Jesus a choice of the man or his parents. The criminal on the cross blamed God himself.

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Fire, quail, and a worldly church

 

complaining agains Moses

The Manna Harvest / Giuseppe Angeli (18th century), but doesn’t it look more like the griping before the manna came?

Have you ever noticed that some people just like to complain? They don’t even need a legitimate reason. Alas, you can easily find them in churches.

But here’s a better question. What is the effect when griping goes into overdrive? It would try the patience of a saint. Or in the case of an Old Testament illustration, Moses. Nobody comes out looking good in the sorry story told in Numbers 11.

We often refer to the people Moses led out of Egypt as the children of Israel.… Read the rest

Mary: After the Angel Departed

Mary, Simeon, Jesus

Simeon Receives Jesus in the Temple / Simon Vouet, 1640-41

Have you ever had a vivid encounter with God? What happened a day or two later? A week? Years?

Quite often Christians have reported an overwhelming spiritual high followed by a deep spiritual low.

God’s presence can be so vivid that it seems like what he says is bound to happen in the next 15 minutes, but it never does.

A cherished promise never seems as far off and distant as it does after vividness of the divine presence fades.

Does that mean perhaps that we had no genuine spiritual experience?… Read the rest

It’s not about the nail

Nail in a tireMy email brought a link to a video called, “It’s Not About the Nail.” The woman whines about the effects of a nail in her head, but gets upset if the man suggests that she remove it.

The message promised that men would find it hilarious and women would wind up wondering if men would ever get it.

I’m a man. I found it hilarious. I also recognized that, apart from the stereotypes of the different conversation styles on Mars and Venus, the video points to a more profound truth.

Men and women fall into this subtler trap equally. Why do so many people, men and women alike, cling to behaviors and conditions that only cause them pain?… Read the rest

The grace in God’s disturbing acts

StormMany people draw comfort from favorite Bible verses. But what are we supposed to make of verses that aren’t comforting at all? Especially when they appear nestled among some of the grandest promises in Scripture?

In the Bible open on my desk as I write this post, Psalm 104 is titled “Praise to the Sovereign Lord for His Creation and Providence.” It extols God for creating the world and every living thing upon it. It describes in loving detail how he cares tenderly for all the birds and animals—which, it says, he made for the service of humanity.

But that psalm is not sweetness and light from beginning to end.… Read the rest

In quietness and trust

Rout of San Romano

The Rout of San Romano (center panel) / Paolo Uccello, 1456

How do respond to a lingering crisis? Does quietness and trust make it to the top of your list? If it doesn’t, you’re not alone. Yet God says that’s where we get his strength. What comes of failure or even outright refusal to get quiet before God?

In Isaiah 30:15 God says, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength,
 but you would have none of it.” Isaiah spent his career telling the people of Israel what it took to have God work for them and not against them, but hardly anyone paid attention.… Read the rest

Paul, his government, and where faith takes us

Paul before Agrippa

St. Paul before Agrippa / Sir James Thornhill, ca. 1710

Acts 26 records part of a conversation Paul had with Festus, Agrippa, and Bernice. Officially, those three dignitaries were the Roman governor, the King of Judea, and his wife. A man with his mind set on his circumstances (that is, on the flesh) would have conducted himself very differently than Paul did. He shows us faith in action.

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God: an ever present help in trouble

Tower of refuge

Maiden Tower, Baku, Azerbaijan (12th century)

God is our refuge, says Psalm 46, an ever present help in trouble. Everyone knows trouble. Some people know a lot of trouble:

  • Job loss and other financial distress
  • Relationship troubles, which can include various toxic relationships or the loss of loved ones.
  • Sickness and injury
  • Oppression and persecution
  • War and violence
  • All manner of natural disasters
  • Etc.

We commonly call the natural disasters “acts of God.” It takes robust faith to believe that God is our help in trouble.

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Raising Ebenezer

Ebenezer“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” has been a favorite American hymn for about 200 years. The second verse notoriously starts, “Here I raise mine Ebenezer.” I say notoriously, because it has been generations since large numbers of church goers have understood the meaning of “Ebenezer.” It’s a stone of remembrance, set up by the judge and prophet Samuel on an occasion well worth remembering.

Humiliating loss

When Samuel was a child, two worthless priests under judgment from God decided to take the ark of the covenant into battle with the Philistines. Since they had no relationship with God and no regard for him, they must have regarded the ark as some kind of magic box that would turn the tide of battle.… Read the rest