Original good (Genesis 1–4)

Why do we start with “original sin” when the Bible starts with “original good”?

There’s more than one way to tell a story. Theology has its jargon. It often starts with original sin, the result of the fall. These aren’t phrases from Scripture, though Paul does say that one person got us into trouble and one person can get us out (Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:21).

I love the Christological focus at the heart of everything Paul writes, but Genesis doesn’t use our theological language for Adam’s story. It doesn’t start with original sin. In fact, the first three chapters don’t mention sin at all. It talks about good. A lot. Fifteen times.

Genesis starts with original good. What would change if we told our story this way?

Let’s see how Genesis inspires us to understand the good world and our place in it.

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Five inspirational angles on Christmas (Matthew 2)

Christmas proclaims the best news ever: God sent his Son. What the Son does is restore heaven’s reign to earth.

Matthew lights up his portrait of the Christ-child from five angles. All of them highlight a single message: heaven’s authority arriving in the Christ-child.

This is the good news, the enduring wonder of Christmas. Watch how Matthew progressively illuminates his portrait of the Christ-child:

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Does the universe repay us as we deserve? (Genesis 42:21–28)

“What is this that God has done to us?” (Genesis 42:28)

People expect to be rewarded for doing right, and to suffer when they harm others. Religions teach that this will happen in the next life if not in this one, whether that’s understood as eternity or reincarnation. Does the Bible teach this?

You can certainly find cases of people who felt like this. Joseph’s brothers believe their past has caught up with them when they find themselves in an Egyptian prison:

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Tools of trade: Logos 10

With the right tools, you can make every minute count.

It started 15 years ago when I bought a Bible study package from Logos. I’d used several other Bible software packages, but Logos was lifechanging.

Following the initial tutorials, I was finding words and phrases in English and original languages, comparing views in commentaries, and pursuing cross-references and themes faster than I could type. I was adding highlights and searchable notes as I read. In one hour, I could complete what previously took a whole morning.

Each year I add more resources, gradually building a library for everything I need for my research into the kingdom of God. That includes:

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Joseph’s greatest test (Genesis 42:1–20)

How did Joseph handle the most difficult temptation of his life?

When we idealize our heroes, we diminish their struggles. Joseph’s temptations were real, but Mrs Potiphar wasn’t the big one. His greatest test was his brothers — what he’d do to them once he had the power to give them what they deserve.

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A vision for the church

The vision night for our church got me thinking about how we set goals.

What’s the vision of your church? Do you have an annual goal-setting time when leaders reveal targets for the coming year and call people to get behind them?

The church where I serve gave a very different vision presentation last night. Missing were all the usual goals for greater attendance, giving, and volunteerism as a measure of the people’s buy-in of church programmes.

Not too SMART

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Joseph’s love story (Genesis 41:44-52)

Who was Asenath? Why did she marry Joseph? What do we learn from their story?

Did you know that Joseph married an Egyptian?

Genesis 41 (NIV)
45 Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-Paneah and gave him Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, to be his wife. …
50 Before the years of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On.

Joseph is an amazing character. Despite being catapulted to power from prison, Joseph is one of the few not corrupted by power. But his lifestyle choices in exile still present problems for observant Jews.

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Why democracy is not our message

Is preserving democracy a Christian cause? An article in Christianity Today thinks so.

C. S. Lewis warned us to be very careful what things we describe as Christian. We run the danger of dragging Jesus’ name through the mud. That’s especially true in the field of politics.

So it was a major blunder when Christianity Today published Daniel William’s article, The Forgotten Christian Cause: Preserving Democracy. Last time I checked, what Jesus promoted was the kingdom of God. Conscripting Christ to promote another political system is not only ignorant; it’s dangerous, opposed to his gospel.

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Governing with God (Genesis 41)

Do politics and religion mix? How did Joseph make it work with Pharoah?

From prison to palace in a single day! Are you encouraged by Joseph’s story? It’s more than personal encouragement. It’s God doing something enormous, global even. What does Joseph’s story teach us about the kingdom of God?

God gave the king of Egypt a dream (Genesis 41:1). Is religion meant to influence politics? Aren’t church and state too explosive to mix? I guess God’s not very good at staying out of the political arena.

So how does the kingdom of God relate to the kingdoms of the world? The heavenly sovereign has wisdom for earthly rulers. He’s the king above all kings. But how God does this is crucial:

  • We misrepresent God when we withdraw from politics, as if God has no interest in the secular domain.
  • We misrepresent God when we engage with the fights and factions of earthly politics, to force our will on the secular world.

Is there a third way? Joseph brought God’s wisdom to the secular world. In a land far from family and faith, with a meteoric rise from prisoner to prince, Joseph represented God well in Egyptian politics. Can we learn from him?

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Living in grace and disgrace (Genesis 40)

Joseph’s story shows us how God deals with injustice.

You’re in good company if you’ve noticed that life isn’t fair. Joseph had every reason to be bitter over how his brothers sold him out, and his boss falsely accused him. Prison walls offer no choices. Every morning Joseph wakes to this meaningless existence.

Others feel the same in this prison. Joseph finds meaning in caring for them. But one morning they’re more glum than usual, troubled by dreams.

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Dreams in prison (Genesis 40:1–8)

“Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams,” his brothers said as they threw Joseph in a pit (37:20). He had big dreams of ruling the sun, moon and stars (37:9). Instead, we find him in a dungeon with no control over his own life, ordered to serve prisoners (40:4).

So, serving prisoners is what Joseph does. One morning a couple of them looked more dejected than ever. “Why the long face?” he enquires (40:7). Turns out they had dreams too.

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Why sin is not “missing the mark” (Genesis 40:1)

Does this sound odd to you?

Genesis 40:1 (a literal translation)
After these things, it transpired that the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker sinned against their lord, the king of Egypt.

We speak of sinning against God, but in Hebrew, you can sin (ḥā·ṭāʾ) against others too. It got me wondering whether our understanding of sin matches what the Bible says.

I was taught that ḥā·ṭāʾ means “to miss the mark.” That’s in the lexicons (HALOT, 305). But dig deeper and it doesn’t hold up. The 16-volume Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament says:

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The reconciling gospel (podcast) (Philippians 4:1-4)

What God did in sorting out our relationship with him reveals how to approach our relationships with each other.

The final chapter of Philippians calls us to treat each other the way God treated us (Philippians 2:6-11). The reconciling God is our joy, even while we’re still sorting things out. That’s why we rejoice in the Lord always (4:4).

This podcast (22 minutes) was recorded at Riverview Burswood 2022-09-25.

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Who owns your body?

My body is mine, no one’s but mine. That belief is at the heart of Western culture today.

It’s the heart of many culture clashes too:

  • Fair employment hinges on this issue. A slave driver says, ‘I own you, so you do as I say.” Unionized employees say, “I’ll present myself to work on condition of just pay, for agreed hours, in a safe setting.”
  • Abortion hinges on this issue. Pro-choice advocates say, “It’s my body; no one else decides.” Pro-life advocates say, “Not if you’re harming another life.”
  • Gay rights hinge on this issue. Is your body your own so you can do as you like? Or do you answer to an authority who decides what you can do with your body?
  • Gender identity hinges on this issue. Am I whatever I define myself to be? Or am I whatever body I was given?
  • Faith hinges on this issue. You will live differently if you believe “God owns my body” or “I own my body.” How you relate to God is at the heart of how you practice your faith.

So, this is a confronting claim:

1 Corinthians 6:19b–20 (NIV)
You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.

That really needs some explanation.

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Recent gospels

David Fitch summarizes the Protestant gospels of the last 100 years. Which one represents you? Could this help your conversations with others?

Message shapes mission. Our gospel defines what we do when we go. We need clarity on what God’s gospel calls us to do, the message we embody in his world.

David Fitch traces six gospels prominent in Protestantism in the last century. His article — “The Many Gospels: How the Gospel Shapes the Church for Mission” — is Chapter 12 of the 2021 book, Living the King Jesus Gospel: Discipleship and Ministry Then and Now (link below).

Here’s a summary of his 6 gospels.  See if you recognize them.

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Finding God in an unjust world (Genesis 39)

How did Joseph cope with treachery and accusations from a sexual predator?

Role-reversal stories help us break down our stereotypes and cultural bias. As a boy, I was warned against seductive females like Potiphar’s wife, but I don’t remember being warned against mistreating women as the men of Genesis did: Pharaoh (Genesis 12:15), Abimelek (20:2; 26:8), and Hamor (34:2).

Maybe the real issue is power rather than gender. Those three guys were all kings or princes. And Potiphar’s wife held all the power while Joseph was merely a slave.

Women are devalued in patriarchal society. Judah’s mistreatment of Tamar isn’t resolved until he realizes that, even though she used her sexuality against him, She is more righteous than I (38:26).

So, rather than treating gender as the problem in the conflict between male and female, could we make some progress by identifying abuse of power as the real issue? The role-reversal story of Genesis 39 suggests that might be a productive approach.

What happens when the woman has all the power, and the male is her slave?

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Justice and the kingdom of God

Does the kingdom of God call us to stand against injustice in God’s world?

Injustice opposes what God wants in his earthly realm. Many believers work for justice to promote the kingdom of God. For example, the Social Justice Secretary of the Salvation Army in South Australia says:

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The gospel unites us all in Christ

The gospel changes nations, not just individuals.

God rewrote international relations the day he raised Jesus from the dead. When God made his gospel proclamation — giving his Son all authority over all the peoples of the earth — he brought an end to the war for power, our struggles to gain ascendency over each other.

If you think of the gospel merely in terms of personal forgiveness, you’ve not yet begun to understand the global impact God’s gospel has. God’s gospel proclamation brings all nations together under one leader.

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The gospel in Romans

How does Paul understand the gospel in Romans? Is this how you understand it?

Open Romans.

What was Paul’s gospel? A survey of how he uses gospel in Romans could give an indication.

Previously, we summarized the gospel, tracing its roots in Isaiah, through Mark’s Gospel and Peter’s preaching, to the eternal gospel of Revelation. But was this Paul’s gospel?

The word gospel (noun or verb) occurs twelve times in Romans, clustering around the opening and closing chapters like a framework. Let’s check it out.

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The drama of God’s gospel

At the heart of history is God’s gospel — the divine decree that restores heaven’s reign over the earth in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Nothing in history is more radical and globally life-changing than the gospel. The good proclamation from heaven — God’s gospel — changes everything on earth.

Before I was born, this proclamation made Elizabeth II queen of the British Empire:

Whereas it hath pleased Almighty God to call to His Mercy our late Sovereign Lord King George the Sixth of Blessed and Glorious memory, by whose Decease the Crown is solely and rightfully come to the High and Mighty Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary:
We … do now hereby with one voice and Consent of Tongue and Heart publish and proclaim that the High and Mighty Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary is now, by the death of our late Sovereign of happy memory, become Queen Elizabeth the Second …
God save the Queen!

The gospel is this kind of proclamation from God. But it wasn’t a noisy command, just a gentle breath.

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