The best interpretation of what God says is to be the community he leads.
I don’t have a set of rules to give you for the science of interpreting Scripture. As every writer knows, language is not a science; it’s an artform. Well, lawyers may try to disambiguate every loophole and kill every misinterpretation, but Scripture is more like poetry communicating life. God’s life is the source and sustenance of our life together.
When we communicate, we’re not just sharing information. We’re sharing ourselves. That’s why speaking to a large group is so scary: we feel vulnerable sharing ourselves with so many.
That’s the promise and power of Scripture: God communicates himself with us. The words of life are not in the text; the text leads us to the one who speaks (John 5:39-40).
That’s how Jesus used words: The words I have spoken to you are [my] spirit, [my] life (John 6:63). And, oh my, how vulnerable Jesus felt giving us his life in this chapter!
So, two questions. How did we end up with so many interpretations? How can we do better?
Continue reading “Interpretating well”
Why is the gospel such good news?
Three simple hope-filled reasons:
- It’s good news because it’s God’s story.
- It’s good news because it’s our story.
- It’s good news because it’s the world’s story.
Continue reading “God’s gospel”
“All I ask is that you live as his kingdom, honouring the good news that he is king” (Philippians 1:27)
Disciple is a kingdom word. A disciple is literally a trainee, an apprentice. Jesus trained disciples to proclaim the restoration of heaven’s reign arriving in him, sending them out to enact the kingdom.
Many books on discipleship don’t start from there, but here’s one that does: Living the King Jesus Gospel: Discipleship and Ministry Then and Now (Cascade Books, 2021). Seventeen pastors and scholars built on Scot McKnight’s work on the kingdom, covering discipleship in the New Testament, in Christian history, and in our shared life today. In this post we’ll just look at Nijay Gupta’s chapter on Philippians.
What would you see as the main theme of Philippians? Joy? Partnership? Jesus’ servant heart and ascension? These themes are present, and Michael Gorman is right to treat 2:5-11 as “Paul’s master story.” (Journal of Theological Interpretation, 1:1-2, 2007, 147– 170).
Nijay Gupta titled his chapter, “Living as Good Citizens of the Gospel Kingdom of Christ according to Philippians.” Why?
Continue reading “Discipleship in Philippians”
Here’s a practical exercise in pastoral care, hearing people in their pain.
Wherever you care for people — family, small groups, churches, counselling — you’ll feel the whole gamut of emotions. Empathy for their pain. Disappointment with how they treat each other. Hope that they’ll sort things out. Powerlessness to sort it out for them.
We’d love to have our churches full of mature people who have the faith of Abraham and Sarah, but sometimes our people feel more like the problem than the solution. So, here’s some honest pastoral encouragement for you. Your clients are Abraham and Sarah, as we meet them in Genesis 16.
They have this amazing call on their lives to establish a kingdom that will bless all nations. Ten years they’ve walked with God in the land of promise, but they still have their old names and they’re struggling to trust God.
We’re shocked to learn that Abram is sleeping with someone who isn’t his wife. Actually, that’s not what happened, and if that’s our judgement we won’t be able to listen to them.
So, here’s your pastoral care exercise. Read Genesis 16 carefully. Observe the three main characters. Identify what they’re feeling, and what they do in response. Jot down your observations.
Sarai: . . . . . . . . . . . .
Abram: . . . . . . . . . . . .
Hagar: . . . . . . . . . . . .
Continue reading “Pastoral care case: Genesis 16”
Why do churches try to manufacture the presence of God?
This is a passionate plea for churches to review our practices. Aussies can’t see God in what we’re doing at present. While culture doesn’t set our agenda, we’re off mission when we don’t represent God well.
God isn’t visible. That’s why some faiths carve little images to worship. We don’t believe dead timber or stone can represent the living God, so from ancient times people have asked, Where is your God? (Psalm 42:3, 10).
Continue reading “The incredible worship”
The gospel is the one message the church must embody. Why don’t Aussies find it credible?
There was a time when the church held powerful influence in Western society. Bishops were on the chessboard, and in the House of Lords.
Today, Australians have told us they don’t belong under that influence anymore. It’s time to review our belief and practice, to ask if we have misrepresented our God or misused our influence.
Continue reading “The incredible message”
Only a minority of Australians now identify as Christians. How does the church respond?
Australian Bureau of Statistics figures for the 2021 census arrived this week. For the first time Christians are less than half the population: just 44%. No, people haven’t switched to other faiths: 39% identify as “no religion.”
What are Aussies saying to the church? I’m hearing values such as these:
Continue reading “Incredible! What Aussies are saying to the church”
Keep the royal law? Aren’t we under grace? Why would any New Testament book call us to keep the royal law?
The phrase in James 2:8 is literally the law of the king. What king? (Hint: did the writer belong to the royal family?)
What law? Is this something new? Or was it part of the Old Testament law?
James envisages nothing less than the complete restructuring of society. The governance of King Jesus fundamentally changes how humans treat each other, the value we place on each other and how we use the resources God has given us.
In the preceding verses, James spells out exactly what kind of values form the foundation for the kind of community he believed the king had decreed for his kingdom.
This podcast was recorded at the final gathering of Riverview Joondalup, 2022-06-26.
Continue reading “The royal law (podcast) (James 2:1-8)”
What does it look like to be human?
What is our role in the world? In a word, to be human.
That doesn’t work if the church holds a negative view of what it means to be human.
God doesn’t. He addressed Ezekiel as son of man — literally human descendant. Jesus called himself the son of man more than any other term. God is restoring humanity in Christ. That’s why our role in the world is to be human.
What could be more fulfilling? Being human is what we were designed to be.
So, what’s the problem? Humans have chosen another path, wanting to be superhuman. It makes us subhuman, for seeking power over each other destroys our humanity.
That’s the reason Ezekiel was in Babylon. That’s why Jesus was crucified. That’s the problem all the way back to Cain and Abel. It is challenging to live as a humans when others are being beasts.
This podcast (23 minutes) was recorded at Riverview Joondalup 2022-06-19.
Continue reading “The church’s role in the world”
How do you decide what you believe? Is it a gut feeling, what sits right with you or a witness of the Spirit? Do you trust your friends, believing as they do? Do you follow a tradition developed over 2000 years? Or do you need to prove it from the Bible as the only inspired revelation?
The way you determine truth reveals a great deal about you and the kind of church you’re likely to belong to. Christians divide over the basis of truth when we consider our way the only way.
Truth is more than I perceive, stretching beyond the horizon I see.
So here’s how I answered this question in another forum this week.
Continue reading “How do you determine religious truth?”
Nehemiah revealed the core kingdom values. His insight is still challenging.
Nehemiah did more than rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. In Chapter 5 he’s discipling the community that will be the new Jerusalem.
Though appointed by the king of Persia, Nehemiah insists they treat each other as their heavenly king expects. More than any of the leaders who preceded him, Nehemiah has the revelation that lays the groundwork for Jesus’ approach to the kingdom of God.
This podcast (27 minutes) was recorded at Riverview Joondalup 2022-06-12.
Continue reading “Building for a new Jerusalem (Nehemiah 5) (podcast)”
What did early churches do when they gathered? The New Testament provides almost no direct description of the elements of their meetings. Why?
The Old Testament gives all the details of the tabernacle and its furnishings, the priests and their garments, the liturgies to be performed and the offerings acceptable to God. Why is the NT missing all these details? What’s different?
This podcast covers the only explicit list of things the early church did when it met:
1 Corinthians 14:26 (my translation, compare NIV)
What are we saying, family? When you gather, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let everything be focused on construction.
Continue reading “How church works (podcast)”
Here’s a fun reading of Jesus’ parable about someone trying to hide their leaven in three bucket-sized flour containers.
Apparently, the kingdom of heaven is like leaven a woman took and hid in three buckets of flour — until the whole lot fermented! (Matthew 13:33) What’s that about?
Jesus believed the kingdom of God was rising. You can try to punch it down, but once the leaven is in the dough it only rises more. Jesus expected God’s reign to permeate everything, the whole lot.
The parable’s core meaning is clear, but the details are puzzling:
Continue reading “Hiding leaven in buckets of flour (Matthew 13:33)”
How do you get through to a resistant culture? Wisdom from a master teacher’s experience.
Jesus faced a daunting task: sowing the kingdom of God in a world gone feral. Refusing our one true sovereign, earth was overrun by self-proclaimed rulers. Even back in Jesus’ time that was a long story: the powers of Rome, Greece, Babylon, Assyria, all the way back to the oppressive Pharaoh of Moses’ day.
Those powers conflict with the gospel, the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord, that God’s anointed has been raised up as our global leader. Those who hold the political, social, and economic capital have little interest in yielding to him. You could say it would be easier to get a camel through a needle’s eye.
But Jesus wasn’t planning a war to rid us of these leaders. He used stories. His stories were not bombs to destroy existing power structures; they were seeds of what could be, opening people’s eyes and ears and hearts to the hope of life under God’s reign. Seeds can grow into trees. Living roots can crack hard rock. Life is more powerful than death. That’s why the sower went out to sow his seed (Matthew 13:3).
“Why don’t you deliver a clear, direct message that everyone can understand?” his disciples wondered (13:10). “Because they don’t understand,” was Jesus’ reply (13:13).
Continue reading “Planting seeds is better than cracking hard hearts (Matthew 13:11-17)”
Is formal study of Scripture different to personal devotional reading? How do we keep them separate? Should we?
How do I balance my academic reading of Scripture with my devotional reading? It’s a question I get from friends, students and pastors. I understand why: if we read the Bible only to write papers or deliver sermons, we may be missing the main point: the revelation of God.
But I’ll be honest with you: I don’t have separate times for academic and devotional reading. I don’t read sometimes for theological, structural, and critical analysis of the text, and other times for personal sustenance and development.
Continue reading “Academic or devotional? How do you read?”
How do kingdom servants handle the dissonance between God’s authority and people’s unresponsiveness? They’re both real, as God showed Isaiah.
“Why speak in parables instead of explaining the kingdom clearly?” Jesus realized people want autonomy rather than authority. It’s why, “they close their eyes, block their ears, and obstruct their hearts so they won’t see, hear, and respond” (Matthew 13:10-17).
In mediating the heavenly king’s message to his earthly kingdom, prophets struggled with the same frustration. Calling Isaiah as his spokesman, God revealed to him both sides of the kingdom relationship:
- the heavenly king, devoted to his people (Isaiah 6:1-8);
- the earthly kingdom, with closed eyes, blocked ears, and obstructed hearts (Isaiah 6:9-13).
The second part only makes sense in the context of the first. Only if God is sovereign does it make sense to keep calling people to live as his kingdom. When Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9-10 in response to a question about the kingdom, the context of seeing God on his throne is assumed.
Jesus and Isaiah were kingdom proclaimers in different contexts. To handle this quotation well, I’d like to devote this post to Isaiah’s proclamation of the kingdom of God established by the Sinai covenant. Then we’ll do a follow up post on Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God as a new covenant that includes Israel and the nations under God’s throne, and how we as kingdom proclaimers handle the same frustration that Jesus and Isaiah faced.
Continue reading “God’s call and the human response (Isaiah 6:1-13)”
The Sower Parable is inspiring insight into the frustration we feel and the fruitfulness we anticipate for God’s farm.
Jesus’ kingdom stories are at the heart of Matthew’s Gospel. The lead story is one Jesus titled the parable of the sower (13:18). So, who was the sower? What was he planting? And why bother when many seeds don’t grow?
Continue reading “Farming frustration and harvesting hope (Matthew 13:18-23)”
In Australia today we’re seeing Christianity shrink back towards being a minority religion. How should we respond? What does God want us to do? How can we help people discover the invisible God?
The Book of Acts traces the development of the church from 120 Jewish believers to Rome. Within 400 years, it had reached Britain, the edge of the Empire. What did Christians do that was so credible while they were still a minority religion? What can we learn from how they followed Jesus?
What is the one thing we should focus on?
Continue reading “Making God known (podcast)”
One of the earliest references to the church describes it as a people “in God.” What does that mean? And how does it help us understand our identity and mission?
What was the first New Testament Scripture? It was one of Paul’s letters, probably Galatians or Thessalonians. This was written within 20 years of Jesus’ resurrection, around AD 48:
1 & 2 Thessalonians 1:1 (my translation, compare NIV)
Paul and Silas and Timothy, to the assembly of Thessalonians in God our Father and our Lord Jesus his anointed. Grace to you, and peace.
Did you notice the unusual address? In later letters Paul wrote to the church in Corinth or in Philippi. What did he mean by writing to the Thessalonians in God?
Continue reading “A church “in God”? What’s that?”
How would you describe the church? What does God expect us to be? Where do we focus our limited resources and efforts? These are crucial questions for our time.
This podcast looks at what the word ekklēsia meant before Christians used it to describe their meetings. Our identity is the people who gather around King Jesus. Our mission is implementing God’s government in his world. So, what should we do?
Continue reading “What is Church? (podcast)”