Reflections on spiritual themes (and a few other things).

Category: Sin & Salvation


We learn from an early age how to shift blame. 

  • “It wasn’t my fault; it was the dog’s!”
  • “My grades would’ve been better if the teacher was nicer to me!” 
  • “The coach is mean.” 
  • “Sissy did it!”

Perhaps we learned it from our siblings or parents. Maybe we heard Dad blaming Mom for his bad mood. Maybe our older siblings blamed us for everything, and we returned the favor. 

It’s not a new problem. The very first sin brought finger-pointing. After Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they tried to hide from God, but God tracked them down and confronted them. God asked Adam if he had disobeyed, and Adam blamed Eve. God asked Eve what she had done, and she blamed the serpent. See Genesis 3.8-13. 

What God wanted was for Adam and Eve to own up to their failures. At that point, the deed was done and couldn’t be undone. God was testing their character. Having failed the obedience test, would they at least pass the integrity test? Would they take ownership of their sin?

The Bible urges us to confess our sins. It allows us to rid ourselves of the toxic spiritual residue of our sins and brings us a step closer to reconciliation with God.

  • “For I confess my iniquity; I am full of anxiety because of my sin” (Psalm 38.18).
  • “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion” (Proverbs 28.13).
  • “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James. 5.16).
  • “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1.9).

King David learned this the hard way. After committing adultery with Bathsheba, after murdering her husband Uriah, and after marrying her in a feeble effort to hide his sin, David pretended for at least a year that nothing had happened (2 Samuel 11). God finally confronted David through the prophet Nathan, and David confessed (2 Samuel 12). 

David later said, “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”; and You forgave the guilt of my sin’” (Psalm 32.3-5).

Silence has its price. Confession has its reward. 

The Power of the Resurrection

In 1812 during the Napoleonic Wars, Lord Wellesley (the Duke of Wellington) won a critical battle at Salamanca in Spain. To announce his victory, he sent a courier to England. One of his admirals also attempted to send a message by using semaphore. His message said, “Wellington defeated the French.” Just as the first two words were sent, a heavy fog rolled in, ending all visual communications for 48 hours. In England, all they saw was, “Wellington defeated.” 

When the fog lifted, the message was re-sent, this time in full. The semaphore message & courier arrived at the same time to confirm the victory. What appeared to be a message of defeat became a message of victory.

When Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, his followers were crushed. The one they believed, trusted, and followed for three years died as a common criminal. Their hopes were dashed. 

When the resurrection morning came, they saw the empty tomb and later saw him. What appeared to be defeat became victory.

Ephesians 1.18-21 says, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.”

Paul says he wanted the Christians in Ephesus to experience the power of God. This was the same power that God used to raise Jesus from the dead. Think about it! Think about what it would take to raise someone from the dead. What would it take to reunite body and spirit? To not only stop but reverse the body’s decay. To restore the person to perfect health. To reanimate the corpse’s organs and cells. To bring life out of death. That’s what God did when he raised Jesus from the dead. 

Most remarkable of all is that this same power is available to believers. Someday this power will raise our bodies from the dead and prepare us for eternal habitation (Ephesians 1.19-20; 1 Corinthians 15.42-57). This power is what raises us up from spiritual death and its consequences (Ephesians 2.1-10). This same power transforms us from ungodliness to godliness, from sin to righteousness, from darkness to light (Ephesians 4.17-24). This is ultimately the power of God to save (Ephesians 6.10-17). 

However dark and hopeless this world seems to be, Jesus was raised from the dead by the power of God. This power can be yours if you trust and obey.


When my wife and I were contemplating having a second child, we contacted our insurance agent and told him to add maternity coverage to our policy. He said he would do it, and we remember being told at one point that the extra policy rider was in place. Imagine our surprise when she got pregnant, and we discovered we didn’t have maternity coverage.

There’s a great lesson here: The best time to buy insurance is BEFORE you need it!

  • You don’t buy auto insurance after you rear-end someone.
  • You don’t buy flood insurance after heavy rains fill your basement with water.
  • You don’t get health insurance after you have a heart attack.
  • And you don’t get maternity insurance after you get pregnant.

The same principle applies to our spiritual lives. The best time to get spiritual insurance is before you need it. We should prepare for a spiritual crisis BEFORE we experience it.

In Psalm 32, David reflects upon his sin with Bathsheba. While he emphasizes the blessing of forgiveness, he also owned up to his moral failure. In verse 6 he says, “Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to you in a time when you may be found. Surely in a flood of great waters they will not reach them” (Psalm 32.6). He said to prepare for the floodwaters of temptation BEFORE they arrive.

There are three disciplines every Christian should know and practice. They act as insurance against temptation. They are Bible study, prayer, and worship.

Bible study lets us read about men and women who properly dealt with temptation. The Bible also exposes us to powerful spiritual principles. Psalm 119.11 says, “Your word I have treasured in my heart that I may not sin against you.”

Prayer lets us confess our weaknesses to God and ask for his help. Jesus said every day we should ask our Father to, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6.13).

Finally, worship gives us a forum in which we can encourage one another. The writer of Hebrews said, “…let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10.24-25).

The best way to avoid spiritual failure is spiritual insurance in the form of Bible study, prayer, and worship so that we can successfully fight our daily temptations. Make sure you’re covered.

Feel the Heat

“What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance.” (Jane Austen)

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s hot. As Austen said, inelegantly hot. It’s so hot that hens are laying hard boiled eggs and birds are using potholders to handle worms.

However, like any of our experiences, we can use this to learn about our relationship to God.

I want to consider one verse from Psalm 32. It’s one of two psalms (32 and 51) written after David admitted to his adultery with Bathsheba. In the opening verses he talks about the forgiveness of his transgression; the covering of his sin; his iniquity not being credited to him.

Then in verses 3 and 4, he remembers the effects of sin before his confession: His body wasted away; he groaned all day long. Then verse 4 says, “For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.”

David is talking about the burden of sin. Sin felt like carrying a heavy load on a hot, sweltering day. Spiritually, he felt like he was melting away in summer. David was saying that sin felt awful.

But throughout the rest of the psalm, he talks about how wonderful forgiveness felt. It was a condition of blessing; he sang songs of deliverance; he rejoiced; he shouted for joy.

Often the Bible treats sin in a clinical way. It sometimes describes the most heinous sins with no expression of emotion. Or, as in Romans and Galatians, it uses legal or accounting terminology to describe how God has forgiven us in Christ. What’s unique about Psalm 32 is that it spends most of its time talking about the emotional side of sin and forgiveness. Sin should make us feel awful while forgiveness should feel awesome. God has made us so that our consciences convulse at sin and delight in righteousness.

I hope you’re surviving this spell of hot weather. Even more, I hope is that the heat will remind all of us of the burden of sin. Most of all, I pray that each of us will experience the refreshment of divine forgiveness. That’s something to really feel good about.

The Old Rugged Cross

In 1968 archaeologists in Jerusalem unearthed the skeletal remains of a Jewish man who died in his twenties in the middle of the first century. His remains were inside an ossuary (bone box) within a family tomb. His name was Yehohanan and he was executed for political crimes. We know this because of a single artifact found with his bones: a seven-inch nail driven through his heels. Yehohanan was crucified.[i]

The Jewish nation understood crucifixion. In Jerusalem and Judea, thousands of Jews were executed in this way during the Roman era. In 88 BC the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus crucified 800 Jews in Jerusalem in a single day.[ii] When Herod the Great died in 4 BC Quinctilius Varus, the Roman governor of Syria, crucified 2,000 Jewish rebels in and around Jerusalem.[iii] During the Roman siege of Jerusalem in AD 70, the Roman general Titus executed as many as 500 Jews per day before the wall of the city.[iv]

Because of its extreme nature, crucifixion in the New Testament era was applied only to certain crimes: treason, desertion, robbery, piracy, sedition, and assassination. It was originally for slaves, fugitives, and prisoners of war. It was deemed so horrible a death that Roman citizens were spared this means of execution. Nonetheless, God chose this as the means of death for his Son (Acts 2.23; Philippians 2.8).

The four gospels altogether provide only about three pages of information on the actual crucifixion. Yet they furnish enough details to give us a sense of what Jesus endured for us. 

Fatigue. It’s easy to forget what preceded Jesus’ crucifixion. He had spent the previous week in Jerusalem, often in confrontation with Jewish officials (Luke 19.47-48; 21.37-38). He spent an intense period of prayer just prior to his arrest (22.39-46). His captors tormented and beat him in the night (22.63-65). By morning, he would have been nearly exhausted.

Trials. After his arrest, Jesus was interrogated six times before being formally condemned. He was first brought to Annas the former high priest who briefly questioned him (John 18.12-14, 19-23). This was done out of deference to him although he acted without authority.

Jesus then appeared before the sitting high priest Caiaphas. This hearing was at night, which was illegal, and was a pretext for finding suitable charges. False witnesses were produced, false charges were made, and Jesus was charged with blasphemy for affirming that he was the Christ, the Son of God (Matthew 26.57-68; cf. 16.13-20).

The Jewish council formally charged Jesus at morning by simply rubber stamping the previous two interrogations. They sent him to Pilate the governor of Judea, who had the authority to execute Jesus (Luke 23.66-23.1). He saw through their pretext and pronounced Jesus “not guilty” (23.2-5). They persisted, however, so he sent Jesus to Herod, effectively sending the case to a lower court (23.6-7). Herod continued the mockery and abuse but could find no reason to charge Jesus (23.8-12, 15). 

Pilate again affirmed Jesus’ innocence and tried three times to release Jesus, but to no avail (Luke 23.13-25). The Jews threatened Pilate (John 19.12-16), and when a riot nearly erupted, he gave Jesus into their hands (Matthew 27.24-26).

Scourging. Before being crucified, Jesus was flogged with the Roman flagrum or flagellum, a whip with three to twelve leather straps, each with a lead ball or piece of bone attached to the end. It lacerated the skin and left muscles, bones, and organs exposed.[v] Many prisoners died from this. It caused massive blood loss, excruciating pain, dehydration, and shock. Jesus knew this beforehand (Mark 10.32-34).

Crucifixion. As many as 600 Roman soldiers gathered to mock Jesus just before he was led away from the Praetorium to Golgotha (Matthew 27.27-31). Along the way, Jesus was too weak to carry the patibulum (the 30 to 40-pound horizontal beam of the cross), so the Romans forced a visitor from North Africa, Simon of Cyrene, to help (Mark 15.21). 

At the crucifixion site, they nailed Jesus’ hands (or wrists) and feet to the cross, which was dropped into a hole with Jesus’ feet only a few inches above ground. Victims were close enough to the ground that spectators could spit upon them and strike them. They were usually naked, adding humiliation to pain. While on the cross Jesus’ enemies continued their mocking and derision (Matthew 27.39-44). Often victims would scream and curse at the crowds, but Jesus is seen praying for them (Luke 23.34). 

The Romans supported the victim’s body by a small, pointed seat (sedile) and a footrest (suppedaneum) to prolong the agony and prevent a rapid death. The awkward body position made breathing difficult, and the lacerations on his back would dry and stick to the rough wood of the cross, adding to the pain. The heat and blood loss caused dehydration and produced an intense thirst (John 19.28-29). 

Death. After six agonizing hours, Jesus succumbed to death (Mark 15.25; Matthew 27.45-50). Many victims lasted for days. The mechanism of his death isn’t revealed. It may have been asphyxiation. It may have been shock. It may have been a heart attack. The cause of his death is beyond dispute: he died because of our sins (1 Peter 2.24).

Not surprisingly, the Roman statesman Cicero said, “Let the very name of the cross be far away not only from the body of a Roman citizen, but even his thoughts his eyes, his ears.” For Christians, however, the cross is our only hope. “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6.14). 

The Romans thought that a crucified savior was nonsense. The Jews thought it was blasphemous. Even today atheist Richard Dawkins describes atonement as “barking mad.”[vi] But God used this to save us eternally: “…we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1.23-24). In the cross we see the love, glory, power, and wisdom of God.

“To that old, rugged cross I will ever be true, its shame and reproach gladly bear; then he’ll call me some day to my home far away, where his glory forever I’ll share.

“So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.”


[ii] Josephus, Antiquities 13.14.2

[iii] Ibid., 17.10

[iv] Josephus, Wars 11.1

[v] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 4.15

[vi] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion 253

What Can God Do With Rocks?

Scripture speaks often of the power of God. Perhaps no more simple an illustration of Divine power can be given than the lowly stone. God himself is called a rock, calling to mind his steadfastness, strength, and protection. “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18.2). “Be to me a rock of habitation to which I may continually come; You have given commandment to save me, For You are my rock and my fortress” (Psalm 71.3).

The Scriptures also speak often of what God has done to the rocks in demonstration of his power. “Mountains quake because of Him and the hills dissolve; Indeed the earth is upheaved by His presence, the world and all the inhabitants in it. Who can stand before His indignation? Who can endure the burning of His anger? His wrath is poured out like fire and the rocks are broken up by Him” (Nahum 1.5f). 

As he reviewed Israel’s wilderness experience, Moses praised God for his miraculous and generous provisions: “He made him ride on the high places of the earth, and he ate the produce of the field; and He made him suck honey from the rock, and oil from the flinty rock” (Deuteronomy 32.13). Nehemiah similarly praised God for his provisions, saying, “You provided bread from heaven for them for their hunger, You brought forth water from a rock for them for their thirst” (Nehemiah 9.15; cf. Psalm 78.15f; 114.8). 

Asaph contrasted God’s faithfulness with Israel’s waywardness by reminding them yet again of God’s gracious promises: “…Open your mouth wide and I will fill it… But I would feed you with finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you” (Psalm 81.10, 15). 

John the Baptist rebuked the arrogance of the Pharisees by reminding them that God would be glorified with or without their obedience. “…And do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham” (Matthew 3.9; cf. Luke 3.8). 

Jesus himself rebuked that same mentality when, during his final and triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the Pharisees criticized His disciples among the crowd who openly praised him as the coming King. He replied: “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19.40).

The Almighty intends by these assertions of his power to impress upon all creation, both believer and unbeliever, that the power which spoke into existence the stones, rocks, and mountains, is the same power which can transform our lives. If he can bring forth from the rocks life-giving water, he can surely bring forth in our hearts the living water of his Spirit (John 7.37ff). He who satisfied their thirst in the wilderness with water from the rock can surely satisfy the soul’s deepest thirst with his abiding presence (Psalm 42.2; 63.1; 1 Corinthians 10.4). The Lord who is the fountain of living water (Jeremiah 2.13) can, from the broken cisterns of our sinful lives, satisfy us with righteousness beyond what we can draw ourselves (Matthew 5.6). 

This Lord who could bring honey from rock with which to satisfy a multitude is the same Lord who himself is bread from Heaven that gives us everlasting life if we but believe (John 6.31-40). He who could bring such sweetness from the stones can surely bring forth the fruit of his Spirit from hearts tainted by sin and carnality (Galatians 5.16-25). 

Finally, the Lord who could from dead stones raise unto himself living witnesses is the same Lord who can by the power of his word (Isaiah 55.10ff) transform us from unbelieving and rebellious enemies into submissive and humble servants. And if he can transform us into his people, he can surely do it unto others (1 Peter 2.4-8). We rely so much upon methods and messengers, as if these are the essence of conversion, that we often forget that it is his limitless power, vested in his eternal word, that makes us into the living stones that comprise his holy temple. 

May God help us learn to trust him as the source of unimaginable power, and his word as the fount of unending life. May we learn to find shelter and strength in him who is our Lord, our Rock, and our Redeemer.

“But God”

The title above may be the most encouraging phrase in our language. My friend Rennie Frazier often mentions this phrase in his preaching. He reminds his audience of its hopefulness. The word “but” is always an adversative. It tells us that an exception to some previous assertion is about to be made. The phrase “But God…” occurs 41 times in the Scriptures, the majority of which refer to some great blessing the Lord has given his people in contrast to their present circumstances. 

Sometimes, however, the phrase indicates God’s displeasure. A passage may describe a sinful act or condition; “But God” indicates divine disapproval. As Stephen reviewed the history of Israel’s disobedience, he spends a fair amount in his speech reminding his audience of Israel’s persistent refusal to follow Moses. Making the golden calf was the pinnacle of their unbelief. “But God turned away” (Acts 7.42) was the divine response. When men will not obey, they will suffer the spiritual consequences imposed by God himself. 

The Pharisees scoffed at Jesus’ warnings, in an attempt to excuse their own self-righteousness. “But God knows your hearts” Jesus warned (Luke 16.15). However deluded men may be about their spirituality, God knows better. 

The wicked may be proud of their immorality and lies, “But God” promises to destroy them (Psalm 52.5). None are immune to the judgments of God. 

However, the God who judges us is the same God who justifies us. He who condemns the proud also vindicates and forgives the humble. When we are confronted by our sins, we despair — until God steps in, offering pardon and healing. From this we derive our hope. 

In the wake of Jesus’ crucifixion, when all seemed lost, when God’s purposes appeared to be thwarted by the wicked schemes of men, hope appeared. Jesus was “nailed to a cross by the hands of Godless men… But God raised him up” (Acts 2.23f; cf 13.30). What seemed to be defeat became victory.

When the human condition seemed hopeless, when sin seemed overwhelming, and when men were helpless to solve their problems, God reached out to man. Because of sin, men were dead, disobedient, destined for wrath. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us… made us alive” (Ephesians 2.41). However unworthy and unlovable men may have been, God’s love was greater still: “But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5.8). 

When we feel overwhelmed by our circumstances, inadequate to handle temptation, grief, uncertainty, and loss, God offers his help. Paul said he “had no rest” but was “afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within. But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us” (2 Corinthians 7.51). God’s comfort conquers our fears. 

When others judge us as unworthy; when others question our soundness and integrity; when others falsely accuse; our vindication comes from God. When Paul was accused of flattery, of pretext, of error, impurity, and deceit, he looked to God. “But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2.4). Our hope is in the One who knows us better than we know ourselves. 

When the boo-birds of pessimism and the watchdogs of suspicion create doubt about the wellbeing of the church; when all appears to be lost; when good men are slandered, and their integrity assailed; remember, it is God who judges and justifies. The success and growth of the kingdom depends ultimately upon God, not men. “So then, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” (1 Corinthians 3.6f).

Brothers and sisters, we live in a hard world. But God makes a difference!