Australian historian and philosopher John Dickson points out an almost undeniable paradox in Western culture and spirituality: You might call it a spirituality of distraction. It’s not that we don’t think about the “great things,” it’s just that we find the distraction of the “lesser things” easier to handle. Three out of four of us believe in the existence of God and the reality of the afterlife, according to the most recent research, but you’d never know it just listening to the conversations at work or in the pub, or to the public discourse in the media. We have this
Godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Timothy 6:6). What do you need right now? What would make you genuinely, blissfully, permanently happy if you just had it right now? Ultimately, the answers to that question fall into one of just two categories: either “gain is godliness” or “godliness is gain.”
Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied” (1 Samuel 17:45). David was victorious over Goliath because he trusted the invisible God with very real and visible and impending problems. But remember this! It is easy to look at someone else’s successful battle, after the fact, and take for granted the outcome.
Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (Romans 8:30). Here Paul lays out the Ordo salutis, the order of salvation. He describes for us the consecutive steps by which God accomplishes the work of redemption in each person’s life.
The old British divine Matthew Henry refers to the practice of praying God’s Word back to God as “wrestling with God in his own strength.” For this reason, I love to peruse the Bible for prayers to make my own. And one of my favorite passages to pray is Psalm 25. As we look forward to a new year, I don’t know what changes, purposes, or opportunities await each of us, but I am confident that “good and upright is the LORD” and that, “therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and
Do not fear, only believe (Mark 5:36). As you read this, you may at this moment be filled with hope and expectation … or you may be filled with dread and anxiety about the future. Either way, Jesus’ simple words to a suffering man speak volumes. Jesus invites us to rest in him, now and always. But why should we trust Jesus? How can we be certain that he has our best in mind, or that he is working for our good?
Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God (Genesis 6:9). In the midst of the Flood narrative, in which we are told that God saw all the world as corrupt and decided to destroy every breathing creature, we read in contrast that Noah was righteous, blameless, and walked with God. From there, of course, we learn that out of all humanity, only Noah and his family were saved from the Flood. The obvious question that this passage forces on us is this: what kind of person escapes the judgment of God?
Jesus paradoxically describes those as happy who are poverty-stricken in their souls. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). As upside-down and inside-out as this may sound, if we believe Jesus then we certainly want to know what he is talking about. What does it mean to be “poor in spirit”?
In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell (Genesis 4:3-5). Just one chapter after the fall, and just one generation from Adam and Eve, we already see the beginning of false religion. And we see how dangerous, self-deceptive, and disappointing it is! Acceptable Worship Notice this:
Ruth was the great grandmother of King David. She is also one of only four women specifically named by Matthew in the lineage of Christ (Matthew 1:5). This distinct honor is bestowed on her for at least two reasons, I believe: first, to recognize her as a person of great character and faith. When Orpah forsook her mother-in-law in the face of hardship, Ruth “clung” to her, and to her God, and refused to be bowed down by the cares or concerns of her present circumstances.
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). Paul’s expression of the Christian gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 is well known as one of the chief apologetic passages in the New Testament.
Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight (Exodus 33:13). I get chill bumps every time I read this verse. Partly because of the surrounding context: in the verse before, Moses quotes God’s declaration to him “I know you by name, and you have found favor in my sight” (Exodus 33:12). In the verse following, God speaks again to Moses and says, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33:14).
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). After Paul fervently prayed for God to remove a particular trial from his life, he received an answer.
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours (1 Corinthians 1:2). Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is an epistle written to straighten out a church with a host of serious problems. Yet as such it is helpful and enlightening and inspiring to see how Paul the theologian addresses his deep, rich theology to specific, messy, practical issues as Paul the pastor.
When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless” (Genesis 17:1) Genesis 16:16 concluded by specifically stating that Abram was 86 years old when Hagar bore Abram’s child Ishmael. Now the very next verse, in Genesis 17:1, frankly dates the next narrative as being when Abram was 99 years old — a period of 13 years! Did Abram go 13 years without even hearing from God? It certainly seems possible. Abram had to live by faith during a painful time of waiting and probably