Power without shame (Romans 1:16)

A crucified king introduces a different kind of power to the world.

“I am not ashamed of the gospel,” Paul told the Romans. Was he struggling as a Christian? Did he fear they’d find his faith embarrassing? Let me take you back to their world.

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Why the gospel calls for faith (Romans 1:17)

We live because God does right out of his faithfulness to us. So, faithfulness to God leads us to do right as we live.

The opening verses of Paul’s letter to Rome contain the message the whole letter unpacks. By verse 17, the key theme comes into view:

Romans 1:17 (ESV)
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Questions? What is the righteousness of God? How is it revealed in the gospel? What does from faith for faith mean? And why include a quotation when he’s packing the message so densely?

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Crusader, or living by faith? (Habakkuk 2:4)

The Crusades were one of the most damaging misrepresentations of God in church history. How can we avoid making the same mistake?

Good interpretation matters, because God’s word is life-giving. When we don’t receive Scripture well, we don’t live well. We make choices that seem right to us without the wisdom of God.

The Crusades are a stark reminder of how we can misrepresent God. In 1095, Pope Urban II called European Christians to take up arms and fight for the Byzantine Emperor to retake Jerusalem, particularly the site of Jesus’ temporary grave (Holy Sepulchre). “God wills it,” cried the conference he addressed.

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How Jesus lived by faith (Habakkuk 2:4)

Jesus’ whole life is testimony to Habakkuk’s message, “The righteous one will live by faith(fulness).”


Jesus never mentioned Habakkuk 2:4, but his life embodied its message: the righteous one will live by faith(fulness). Faced with enemies who wanted to destroy the king of the Jews, Jesus did the right thing because he was trusting his Father to set everything right, to re-establish God’s kingdom.

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Should the faithful fight evil? (Habakkuk 2:4)

How does God fulfil his promise that the righteous will live by faith?

Should good people stand up against the forces of evil in our world, so the whole thing doesn’t go down the drain? You’ve heard the proverb: All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

If we were looking to good men to save us, that approach might make sense. Habakkuk wasn’t. He was looking for God to save. But he didn’t see God intervening. We could summarize his complaint as: All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for a good God to do nothing.

God gave Habakkuk a lifeline. God does not act as we expect, but he is in charge of history and this is his promise: those who do right [even in the face of all the evil] will not die out; they will live by their faith(fulness).

The New Testament relates this promise to the gospel. In Romans and Galatians, Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4 to support his teaching that God’s goodness saves those who trust him. Before we discuss faith from a Christian perspective (a future post), we need to hear Habakkuk’s message in his context.

Habakkuk’s book is a two-sided conversation: the prophet’s concern, and God’s response.

Open Habakkuk.

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David’s final Psalm: keywords for theology (145:17-21)

The righteousness of God, calling on the name of the Lord, salvation and judgement — we hear all these words on the messiah’s lips in Psalm 145.

New Testament theology begins in the Old, where God is revealed as the heavenly sovereign who faithfully loves his people and his earthly realm. So when the OT uses phrases that are crucial to Christian theology, they’re the seeds of what God was planting. The OT provides another dimension of insight into what those phrases mean for us.

Four of those phrases turn up on the lips of the messiah in Psalm 145. We’ve seen how the Davidic king announced the kingdom of God (145:1–8) and extended it beyond Israel to all people (145:9–16). Then he makes four statements about the character of God, statements that brilliantly illuminate the theology (words about God) in the Gospels and apostolic letters:

This Psalm is not quoted in the NT, but the messianic voice provides background for the hope these keywords hold as we read them in the NT.

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David’s final Psalm: restored world (145:9–16)

Restoring a nation is marvellous news (Psalm 145:1–8), but in verses 9–16 the messiah goes on to extend God’s kingdom to all humanity.

Open Psalm 145:9-16.

We’re hearing the messiah’s voice in the final Davidic psalm. In the first eight verses he led his people to honour their heavenly king who (prophetically speaking) restored them as his kingdom. They celebrate God’s majesty and faithful character. What could be better?

Something extraordinary happens when we reach the heart of the psalm. The Davidic leader expands their vision of God’s kingship — beyond their nation, to all people:

Psalm 145 9 The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. 10 All your works praise you, Lord12 so all people may know of your acts … 13 through all generations. 14 The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. 15 The eyes of all look to you … 16 every living thing. 17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways, faithful in all he does. … 20 The Lord watches over all who love him but all the wicked he will destroy. … 21 Let every creature praise his holy name for all time.

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David’s final Psalm: restored nation (145:1–8)

In the last Psalm of David, we hear the messiah’s voice declaring the restoration of God’s reign.

There’s nothing like Psalm 145, titled Praise; of David. No other psalm is called praise (tehil·lāh). This is the ultimate Davidic psalm in the Psalter.

Set among post-exile psalms, Psalm 145 is the voice of the David to come, the anticipated king who would restore God’s reign. That’s why it’s the most quoted psalm in the Jewish prayer book. It was referring to the world to come (Talmud, b Ber. 4B).

Christians believe the long-awaited Davidic king has come and brought his people back into God’s reign. He called it the kingdom of God.  So does this Psalm. His kingship extends to all the people. The Psalm says that too. Phrases foundational for Christian theology are on the lips of the Davidic king in this Psalm.

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The heavenly messenger’s gospel (Luke 2:9–12)

A gospelling angel is worth listening to.

What can we learn from how angels delivered the gospel to the shepherds? Luke 2:10 literally says they evangelized us:

And the heavenly messenger said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for I am evangelizing you of great joy which will be for all the people.”

I know that’s not what our English translations say. Evangelize means something different to us — something like converting an outsider to our faith.

What’s weird about that is that evangelize is not really an English word. We just took a Greek word and transliterated it into our language: euangelizō => evangelize. Then we modified the meaning to suit ourselves. So in recent centuries, evangelizing pagans became part of colonializing them. Some big businesses like Microsoft now employ evangelists to convert people to use their products.

Can we recover what evangelize meant in the New Testament? The angel who came to evangelize us could be a good example to follow.

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How God loves the world (podcast)

John 3:16 says God loves the world, but what does that look like? How does the heavenly sovereign demonstrate his unfailing, faithful love for his earthly realm?

We anticipate the arrival of God’s love as we celebrate the Advent season. But what is God’s love? Since God is love, to understand God’s love is to perceive God.

This podcast (20 minutes) looks at the back-story for the claim that God loves his world (John 3:16). God’s faithful, unfailing, committed covenant love has been there since the beginning, and arrived in the person of the Christ.

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Reading Psalms in context

Each Psalm is set in Israel’s story, within the macro-story of God’s kingdom.

I love the Psalms. They help me voice my hopes and struggles to God. It’s so personal: the word I is there some 800 times, about 5 times a Psalm.

But there’s a bigger story in the Psalms too. I miss that global scope of God’s activity if I treat every I as me, the reader. The very first I in Psalms is God, and he says, I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain (2:6).

In the Psalms we discover ourselves as the human community in God’s care. We present our struggles to the sovereign Lord who leads us. We celebrate his power over us, his enduring sovereign authority. At the heart of the Psalms is the declaration, The Lord reigns!

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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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