God is love, right? And doesn’t he command us to love our neighbor as ourselves and to honor our parents? So when he says, “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated” (Romans 9:13, quoting Malachi 1:2-3) or “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother. . . such a person cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26), it makes us uncomfortable.
Biblically illiterate people (who, alas, include preachers and the seminary professors who mistaught them) will claim that Jesus said no such thing and that the Old Testament misrepresents God. Let us not forget some important facts:
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs, “Love your enemies.” It’s a hard teaching, so the Bible shows us how it’s done. The story of Ananias and Saul after the Damascus Road experience (Acts 9) beautifully illustrates it.
It cannot have been a comfortable experience for either one of them. In their own ways, both men had to face and conquer fear. In both cases, it meant acting contrary to closely held beliefs.
Once the frenzy of Christmas shopping and all the returns have finished, stores and most of society turn away from Christmas to the next big thing. But the Christmas season in the church calendar goes on for a couple of weeks. In this time after Christmas, it seems especially important to look at what else happened in Jesus’ life shortly after his birth. Matthew’s account of the flight to Egypt cites three prophecies that especially deserve attention.
God leads us, but his ways often seem to make no sense. Consider the exodus from Egypt. Israel left Egypt armed and in battle formation. But not as ready for battle as they may have thought. They could have taken a major trade route and gotten to the Promised Land quickly. That wasn’t God’s plan. Instead, they headed to the desert, apparently aimlessly.
I don’t know about you, but I always try to find the most direct route to where I want to go. When I’m driving somewhere, I get there quickly. When I’ve tried to reach life goals that way, it hasn’t worked out so well.… Read the rest
In recent decades, the environment has become a contentious issue. We argue about whether the climate is changing and how much it matters. We argue about the need for environmental regulations. Are the ones we have too harsh on industry or too lenient?
In all this controversy, we tend to forget that God made the heavens and the earth. He has expressed his own thoughts on the environment throughout Scripture. We find some of them in well-known passages. Or, we would find them if we didn’t focus so much on the other issues in the same passages.
Others come in parts of the Bible we seldom read, parts devotional and teaching literature seldom quote.… Read the rest
Isaiah prophetically described the redemptive work of Jesus in several places, notably in the four Servant songs.
The third Servant song (Isaiah 50:4-11) describes the Servant’s character and determination in the face of brutal opposition.
God intended for the nation of Israel to shine his light for the surrounding nations. Israel proved unwilling and incompetent. So God determined he had to do the work of redemption by himself (Isaiah 59:16). Jesus, being both God himself and authentically human, succeeded where Israel failed.
The last-recorded event in Elisha’s life seems a bit strange at first. A king of Israel named Joash visits him on his death-bed, weeping. A few verses earlier, the passage says Joash did evil in God’s sight. As a young prophet, Elisha had told King Jehoram of Israel that he wouldn’t give him the time of day if it weren’t for the presence of King Jehoshaphat of Judah (2 Kings 3:14). What’s different about Joash?
Elisha tells him to take a bow and arrow and says he can destroy the kingdom of Syria, but then seems to take it back. He told Joash to strike the ground with arrows.… Read the rest
Some people harshly criticize God for allowing mankind to dominate the earth. Many are atheists. Whether atheist or not, many are feminists or animal rights activists. But where in Scripture does it say that humans ought to dominate anything?
I searched for “dominate” and “domination” in most of the English translations on Bible Gateway. The Amplified Bible suggests those words once each as an amplification. Otherwise, neither word appears in any English translation I have seen. Not even in the loosest paraphrases.
The word “dominion,” on the other hand, appears in many English versions. It’s not a word we use often nowadays.… Read the rest
God keeps his promises. Often not as soon as we’d like. And often not in ways we anticipated. The beginning of Paul’s ministry in Philippi serves as a perfect example of an answer that may have looked at first like a disappointment.
Acts 16:1-15 describes the beginning of Paul’s second missionary journey. He had begun it by visiting the churches he had founded on the first journey.
The chapter begins with Paul in Lystra and Derbe in the province of Galatia (part of Asia Minor, or modern Turkey).
From there he and his team planned to start new churches in the neighboring province of Asia.… Read the rest
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.
These days, too many people don’t even bother with a cursory reading of the Bible. They take other people’s word for it that God, if they’ll admit he even exists, is completely unreasonable.… Read the rest