“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.
Continue reading “Dreams in prison (Genesis 40:1–8)”
Why interrupt Joseph’s story with the scandal of Judah and Tamar?
Judah is quite the cad in Genesis 38. But why interrupt the story of Joseph with a scandalous story about Judah?
That’s the puzzle for modern readers. As one of them said, All commentators agree that ch. 38 clearly interrupts the flow of the Joseph story (Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, NICOT, 2:431).
It makes more sense if we listen to the narrator who labelled Genesis 37–50 as the generations of Jacob, not Joseph’s story. Jacob was setting up his family, and he intended Joseph to rule.
But wasn’t Judah supposed to rule? King David descended from Judah. Didn’t Jacob intend the lion from the tribe of Judah to receive the ruler’s sceptre? (49:9-10)
Yes, but let’s not jump there too quickly. There are issues with Judah’s character, issues that call into question whether Judah is fit to rule. Would you trust a leader who would sell his brother into slavery? (37:26). Genesis 38 gives us more reason to question Judah’s character.
Continue reading “Was Judah fit to rule? (Genesis 38)”
Why did his brothers sell Joseph into slavery?
Genesis is the foundational story of the kingdom of God. It starts with all God’s creatures in the care of his human servants who live in his garden. When they rebel, God sets in motion his plan to bring everything and everyone back under his sovereign care, starting with a prototype kingdom through the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
We saw how the different stages of this story are clearly marked by the tô·lē·ḏôṯ formula, the final one being, These are the generations of Jacob. (37:2). Observing these cues helps us avoid twisting the story into our own image.
But why is this Jacob’s story? People usually treat Genesis 37–50 as the story of Joseph. His name is mentioned 151 times, twice as often as Jacob/Israel (73 times). We’ve heard Jacob’s name more frequently in previous chapters (150 times in Genesis 25–36), so why does the narrator say we’ve now reached Jacob’s story?
Continue reading “Was Joseph meant to rule his brothers? (Genesis 37)”
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)”
When to confront? When to step away? What can we learn Jesus’ responses to other leaders in his community?
What is it that isolates us from each other? I don’t mean Covid, though that has certainly contributed to feeling cut off from each other in recent years. What are the things that drive wedges between us, leaving us feeling withdrawn and distant?
I’m trying to learn from how Jesus related to people. He often taught the priority of sorting things out when we fall out with our sisters and brothers. Other times the disciples were bewildered to see Jesus giving up on community leaders in the rough and tumble of Galilean life without reconciling. His responses contain insights I need for leadership and relationship.
Continue reading “A lesson in leadership and confrontation (Matthew 15:1-20)”
The founder of Hillsong in moral trouble.
Australian media are reporting that Brian Houston (Hillsong founder) committed ‘indiscretions’ towards two women, quoting a statement from Phil Dooley (current leader) to Hillsong staff this morning. While Brian isn’t the first church leader to face allegations like these, he is well known in the Australian church and in other parts of the world.
Continue reading “Brian Houston’s scandal”
What is creativity to you? And what does God find creative?
This podcast looks at how God has gifted us as co-creators with the Creator in his earthly realm, how Christ restructured everything with the gifts he gave us to serve in his kingdom, and how the Holy Spirit is the central nerve system empowering the muscles of Christ’s body to do what the head wants done.
Continue reading “Creativity (podcast)”
2 Timothy 3 tracks the transformation that takes place through Christ, turning us inside out, from living for my own self-focused story to participating in God’s astounding story.
Continue reading “The way of transformation (podcast) (2 Timothy 3)”
Podcast and mediation on John 10:1-18.
“I am the good shepherd,” Jesus said.
Did he dream up this image? Or was it a widely used metaphor?
Why good shepherd? Were there bad shepherds?
Who were the thieves and robbers, trying to climb in some other way?
What makes Jesus the gate of the sheep?
This podcast (36 minutes, from Riverview Joondalup, 10 October 2021) will transport you from the children’s picture-book image of a little lamb in Jesus’ arms to a more expansive image: humanity’s true shepherd, the gate of the sheep.
Continue reading “The good shepherd (podcast) (John 10)”
Zechariah provides the background for understanding Jesus as our shepherd.
“The Lord is my Shepherd,” said King David. “I am the good shepherd,” said Jesus. Are there bad shepherds? What’s this shepherd imagery about?
Shepherd is a keyword in Zechariah 10–14, a passage Jesus and the Gospel writers kept alluding to. What was Zechariah saying about the shepherd? How does this help us understand Jesus?
The shepherd metaphor
Continue reading “Shepherds, good and bad (Zechariah 10)”
Jesus’ rant against the Pharisees (Matthew 23) ends up revealing the struggle between life and death for the world. It’s the most detailed explanation he ever gave of the meaning of the cross.
The gospel is good news of peace. The world’s problems can’t be resolved while people take power over others. At every level — domestic violence, community oppression, cultural genocide, international war — the heart of evil is people claiming power over others, power enforced by death (or at least the threat of death). We won’t be at peace until we stop grasping power, and honour the One to whom it belongs.
That’s how Jesus announced it in Jerusalem. He shamed those who had taken on the role of community leaders, labelling them pretenders who were blocking God’s reign (23:13). He accused them of plundering (harpagē) without restraint (akrasia) (23:25). That unusual pair of words also turns up in Josephus’ description of Antiochus IV seizing Jerusalem: he plundered it and slaughtered people excessively, overwhelmed by an unrestrained craving for revenge (Wars 1.34). It’s true: those who grasp power plunder the community and destroy the sheep because they’re not answering to anyone (Ezekiel 34; John 10:7-11).
Continue reading “The power of life and death (Matthew 23:25-39)”
Leadership: it’s all about who you’re serving.
On Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem, the crowds love him, but the leaders feel threatened. After silencing his enemies, Jesus turns to the crowds and explains the reason for this conflict. What he says about the leaders isn’t pretty.
We shudder at the word hypocrite. Who wants to be accused of duplicity? It’s hard to defend against the accusation that my inner intentions don’t match my actions. But that understanding of hypocrisy reflects our culture of individualism, where personal authenticity is the greatest virtue. There’s a bit of that in Jesus’ critique of the Pharisees and Torah scholars, but that wasn’t his main concern.
Continue reading “Leadership is supporting people, not social climbing (Matthew 23:1-12)”
A king giving his life to serve many? The strategy redeems his kingdom, forming the life of the redeemed.
How do you understand this statement from Jesus?
Matthew 20:28 (NIV, || Mark 10:45):
… just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Many of my friends hear this text saying that, even though I’m a sinner, Jesus paid the price for me. It’s about my salvation. Many theologians agree: in the Gospels, it’s a crucial text on atonement. There’s even been speculation over how the transaction worked: if the devil had us kidnapped, did God pay the ransom (Jesus’ life?) to the devil?
Read the verse in context, and you’ll see Jesus was speaking of his kingship. The previous four chapters (two in Mark) focused on his royal identity: Son of the heavenly sovereign, God’s anointed ruler (the Christ), the Son of Man to whom God gives the kingship (starting from 16:13-28). The immediate context contrasts Jesus’ kingship with how the rulers of the nations exercise their authority by lording it over people (20:24). Jesus’ statement is about the nature of his kingship, and the kind of kingdom he runs.
Continue reading “How serving can ransom many (Matthew 20:28)”
Who’s managing the garden?
I’m blown away by the relational intelligence Jesus used in managing people, even those who threatened his leadership. He’d upset some locals through table fellowship with sinners, but a whole new threat level arrives when Pharisees and Bible teachers from Jerusalem come to undermine him (Matthew 15:1-2). To anyone who knows where the story is headed, this feels ominous.
Continue reading “Jesus’ relational intelligence (Matthew 15:10-14)”
With no Fed Ex or postal service in the first century, letters like the one we’ve been reading (Ephesians) were carried by hand. That’s why we’re introduced to Tychicus, the courier tasked with personally delivering this letter. Continue reading “A courier for God’s house (Ephesians 6:21-22)”
Jesus never called us to condemn the sin of the world, but he did call us to confront sin in the church.
Today the High Court of Australia overturned Cardinal Pell’s conviction.
Previously I said, “Let’s be cautious about assuming that you or I know better than the jury … Let’s await the outcome of the appeal.”
Now, let’s be cautious about assuming you or I know better than the high court judges who unanimously decided that the evidence should not have led to a conviction.
I’m devastated. When a church leader is exposed as a child-abuser, our nation has another reason to hate the church and despise our message.
Silence the excuses! It makes no difference whether you’re Catholic or Protestant. It won’t do to wonder if the courts got it wrong. A manager in the household of God has been found guilty of abusing the trust placed in them to care for the children in the family.
The nearest Jesus ever came to recommending capital punishment was this: Continue reading “The scandal of George Pell”
Yesterday Steve McAlpine posted on the scandals that keep recurring in our mega-churches. He wants to help us break the cycle by recognizing the shape abusive leadership takes:
The recurring central theme to these scandals is the manner in which a concerned, godly eldership is first enervated by an increasingly toxic church leader, then replaced by that church leader, before finally being excoriated publicly by that church leader, with the new leadership on stage leading the tomato throwing exercise. …
That’s the pattern. It’s that simple. You could throw it in with the seven or so Hollywood standard movie scripts that exist and it wouldn’t look out of place, so step-by-step, formulaic it is.
Why does this keep happening? Steve offers two suggestions, and I’d like to take this further. Continue reading “Those mega-church scandals”
Our Shepherd empowers us to care for his people.
Open Matthew 10:5-8.
“Sheep without a shepherd” — it’s a disturbing image for a ruler who cares for his people (9:36). One man cannot round up the scattered sheep (9:37-38), so Jesus commissions twelve undershepherds (10:1-4), sending them to the lost sheep to announce his kingship (10:5-8).
Continue reading “How the Shepherd gathers his sheep (Matthew 10:5-8)”
What does it mean to be a leader in God’s kingdom? God desires “Shepherds After My Own Heart.”
The best study on Christian leadership I’ve ever read is Timothy Laniak’s book, Shepherds after My Own Heart: Pastoral Traditions and Leadership in the Bible (IVP, 2006). Where many leadership books derive principles from business or bureaucratic settings, Laniak derives his from the heart of God, as expressed in the Biblical narrative. Continue reading ““Shepherds After My Own Heart””