Questions take you deeper (Ephesians 2)

Here’s an example of how asking good questions leads to a richer appreciation of what God is doing.

When you read Scripture, what are you looking for? It’s not enough to approach the Bible like a shopping trip, to pick up some things that appeal to you. The Bible changes us. It’s the revelation of the God who is reshaping us into community in his image.

Questions help open us to that transformation, beyond the way we currently think and live. Rich communal understanding and life grows from asking good questions together.

An example from a recent post. Ephesians 2:1 (NIV) says, As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins. We asked, “Who is the you?” The tendency is to assume it’s me, because our culture is individualistic. But you is plural, so perhaps it’s us? But two verses later, the writer switches from you to us. Turns out he’s using we to mean his own people (fellow Jews), and addressing people of other nations (gentiles) as you.

That leads to another question. What were the transgressions and sins of the gentiles? The sins of the Jewish nation could be any violations of the law God gave them at Sinai, but how were gentiles disobedient to God?

Continue reading “Questions take you deeper (Ephesians 2)”

Good news of peace (Ephesians 2:11-22)

It was a day in 1945 my Mum remembered vividly. She was a teenager working in a pharmacy in Roma (Qld) when a great hullabaloo broke out. People were dancing and hugging in the streets. Cars honked, making jubilation laps in the street. Joy swept through the whole town at the news, “The war is over!”

We have a message that’s even greater. Jesus is the end of hostilities on earth!

Have you heard the good news? Continue reading “Good news of peace (Ephesians 2:11-22)”

In Christ: humanity restored (Ephesians 2:1–10)

What we are in Christ — it’s more than we think.

Many people love Ephesians for the way it explains who we are in Christ. That phrase (or in him) turns up 20 times in the first three chapters.

But if the phrase has you thinking about your personal identity, you’ve barely scratched the surface. Ephesians makes a gigantic claim: God is restoring the broken fragments of humanity, bringing us all together into communal life under King Jesus.

Imagine a world released from its dead existence under evil, raised to life in God’s anointed, participating in his resurrected life as he restores us all into community under his kingship.

Continue reading “In Christ: humanity restored (Ephesians 2:1–10)”

Tom Wright on Galatians (podcasts)

Grappling with Galatians is a free series of podcasts by N. T. Wright, provided by Regent College (Vancouver, Canada).

There are five podcasts (A, B, C, D, E), each 2 – 3 hours (70MB MP3), accompanied by 36 pages of notes (3 MB, PDF). Or you can download the podcasts and notes in one go as a Zip file (370 MB).

While I’m not a podcast junkie, you’ll find this set helps you come to terms with what Galatians meant to the people of central Turkey who first received the letter, and therefore what it could mean for us today. Continue reading “Tom Wright on Galatians (podcasts)”

Why “church”?

Ekklēsia is a strange word for early Christians to choose for church. It was used for political gatherings, not religious ones. They had words for religious meetings (synagōgē) or general gatherings (e.g. sullogos). Why ekklēsia?

It’s odd enough to choose this word for a local church meeting, such as “the ekklēsia that meets in your home” (Philemon 2). But it’s beyond odd to use this word for something that is not a local assembly, such as “the ekklēsia throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria” (Acts 9:31).

How did this usage arise? Let’s start with what ekklēsia meant before Christians borrowed it.

Continue reading “Why “church”?”

Kingdom or Church?

How come the epistles talk more about church than kingdom?

Kingdom was Jesus’ priority, the restoration of God’s reign. But when we turn to the epistles, there’s more about church than kingdom. Why?

The church doesn’t seem to measure up to Jesus’ kingdom ideal. It’s almost like, “Jesus preached the kingdom, but what we got was the church” (Alfred Loisy, l’Evangile et l’Eglise, 1902, 111).

We need to re-establish the connection between church and kingdom. The connection is Jesus. The head of the church is the king of the kingdom. Continue reading “Kingdom or Church?”

The destiny God has planned for us

Does God choose which of us makes it in the end?

You know that feeling when you meet someone for the first time, and they remind you of someone else? Previous experiences shape our current perceptions.

Previous experiences also shape what we see in Scripture. We bring with us what we’ve heard and believed over the years. That’s why it’s such a surprise when someone reads it differently.

A practical example: there’s a tradition where words like predestination and election mean God choosing some individuals to save, and others to damn. If you’ve accepted this all your life, you may not see another possibility — that it’s about God pre-planning the rescue of humanity through the Messiah, not pre-assigning individual destinies for heaven or hell. Continue reading “The destiny God has planned for us”

How should we do church?

Most churches spend our energy and resources providing a great Sunday experience. It might be a cathedral with pipe organ, or a rented hall with a band, but most of a church’s time and money goes into what happens at the weekend service.

So, you’d expect the New Testament to guide us on how to do church. It doesn’t.

Ephesians says heaps about the church, with no instruction on what to do when we meet. Search Colossians, Philippians, Thessalonians, and Galatians. Nothing?

What about a longer letter like Romans? Nada. What should we make of this disparity? Is it our fault (we’re focused on the wrong thing), or Paul’s (he missed the main deal)?

Let me throw you a lifeline. There is one letter where Paul discusses church meetings, and it’s a significant chunk: 1 Corinthians 11 – 14.

Continue reading “How should we do church?”

Why parables? Jesus’ answer

In the previous post, I suggested two reasons Jesus used parables instead of plain talk. (a) He was inspiring imagination for how life could be. (b) He was announcing his kingship, without making the usual power claims.

When Jesus was asked why he spoke with cryptic stories, he quoted Isaiah’s frustration with people hearing but never getting the message, seeing but never comprehending (Isaiah 6:9-10 in Matthew 13:11-17).

To understand why Jesus reapplied Isaiah’s situation to his own, we need to identify what they shared in common. As usual, it’s about God’s kingship.

Continue reading “Why parables? Jesus’ answer”

Why parables?

Ever wondered why Jesus told stories about the kingdom of God? Wouldn’t it be better if he just told us plainly what he wanted from us? If you think so, let me offer you a challenge: put Jesus’ kingdom vision into plain words. Any attempt to reduce Jesus’ message to an imperative (what we should do) fails miserably: it feels lame, heartless, uninspiring.

Jesus’ kingdom vision takes us beyond what is to what could be. You can’t do that with analysis; it requires imagination.

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.
— Albert Einstein.

Jesus’ parables were cameos of the kingdom of God, visual stimuli for our imagination. They transport us from injustice and oppression to a world where humans are reconciled with their heavenly king, and therefore give each other the same dignity, care and restorative grace that our sovereign has given us. Continue reading “Why parables?”

Jesus in the Psalms?

Should I be seeing Christ when I read the Psalms?

The Psalms are powerful, enduring songs from ancient Israel that still inspire us today. They praise the character of our heavenly sovereign, giving thanks for what he has done. They lament when things aren’t working out as they should under God’s reign. That’s the power of the Psalms: in joy and injustice, they refocus us on the one who rules. The heart of the Psalms is the refrain, The Lord reigns!

When Christians read the Psalms, we’re faced with a puzzle: Should I see Jesus in Israel’s ancient songs? Or should I read them as Israel understood them before Jesus’ time? Are the Psalms intended to be prophetic, about the one who was to come? Continue reading “Jesus in the Psalms?”

What does ‘Son of God’ mean (Matthew 16:16)?

There was this special day when Jesus discussed his identity with his followers. It must have been important for Jesus to take them 40 kilometres north of Galilee, a two-day journey to the headwaters of the Jordan River at Caesarea Philippi.

According to local legend, the cave there was the entrance to the underworld. There were two temples: one dedicated to the Greek god Pan, and another temple to honour Roman emperor. Surrounded by these competing claims for power — spiritual, religious, and political — Jesus asked them how they understood his identity: “Who do people say I am? … And what about you? Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:27, 29).

This was Peter’s great confession. The synoptic Gospels record his answer slightly differently:

Mark 8 29  Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
Matt 16 16  Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Luke 9 20  Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.” (NIV)

There’s no problem with the differences. Biographers regularly condense dialogue, and occasionally they expand it for emphasis or to explain the sense. The question is, Did the Gospel writers think Peter had made two significant statements about Jesus, or one? Continue reading “What does ‘Son of God’ mean (Matthew 16:16)?”