Are we worse off if we live unselfishly? (Matthew 18:7-10)

Enacting legislation doesn’t stop evil; enacting love does.

If you enjoy renovation projects, you’ll love the big one our king is working on. A complete global make-over, restoring the world to the glory of what it was designed to be: a kingdom of heaven. What will be different when he succeeds?

At its heart, it’s a change in how people use power. People do whatever it takes to eliminate their competition. Jesus experienced it (16:21; 17:22). He calls us to use our strength to support each other as we do for children, instead of taking advantage of each other and trying to trip each other up (18:3-6). But how?

Continue reading “Are we worse off if we live unselfishly? (Matthew 18:7-10)”

Trusting God’s love when life hurts

My father has been gone for many years, but I was having a conversation with him and my son when the alarm went off this morning. We were discussing how it feels when your child doesn’t trust you. The example we raised was how God might have felt when Abraham and Sarah decided to use a surrogate because God had not delivered their inheritance.

Family relationships hold a great deal of hurt. I wonder if Sarah’s parents felt rejected when she set off to start a new life and never come back. I wonder what mistrust Sarah felt for a husband who would trade her to someone else to save himself. How betrayed did Hagar feel when Abraham dumped her and their son in the desert to die? And what about Ishmael, a child who could not know what “mistrust” meant since he’d never known trust. What’s it like to grow up without trust, without love, without hope, shaped by an undefined anger at an absent father who left you to survive by shooting? (Genesis 21:20)

What’s your story? In the semi-final of The Voice 2020, one of the contestants was given a pen and asked to describe how she felt about herself coming into the competition. The words she chose were telling: “unworthy, broken, unlovable, lost.” What made a difference was that somebody cared. Someone asked. And listened. You’re no longer unworthy, broken, unlovable, lost when somebody sees you.

So how does our Heavenly Father see us? Why doesn’t he prevent our pain? Why does he allow us to be mistreated? Continue reading “Trusting God’s love when life hurts”

Shaking the chains at Philippi (podcast) (Acts 16:16-40)

While you’re keeping healthy at home, here’s some good news. You can now find a podcast here each weekend.

These podcasts reframe familiar Bible passages as stories of the kingdom. Here’s the first one.

Remember that time Paul and Silas were singing at midnight and their chains fell off? What does that mean to you?

This podcast (18 minutes) describes the event as a clash of kingdoms.

 


Next podcast: Why I’m seeking the kingdom

Making sense of suffering when Christ is king (Ephesians 3:1)

According to Ephesians, the good news of King Jesus is transforming the world:

But, if Jesus is running the world, why do we suffer? Why was Paul locked up in Caesar’s prison when he wrote this? Doesn’t it feel incongruous?

Rather than complain that he’s starved of food and sleep in these oppressive conditions, Paul flipped the script — the humour of incongruity.

Continue reading “Making sense of suffering when Christ is king (Ephesians 3:1)”

Advancing forcefully or suffering violence? (Matthew 11:12)

Does Matthew 11:12 say God’s kingdom is forcefully advancing, or that it’s subjected to violence?

Open Matthew 11:12.

Matthew 11:12 is a puzzle for translators. The NIV from 1984 reads like this:

  • From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.

But the same verse from the 2011 NIV reads:

  • From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it.

So which one is right? “Forcefully advancing” would be a good thing. “Subjected to violence” sounds bad. What did Jesus mean? Continue reading “Advancing forcefully or suffering violence? (Matthew 11:12)”

The kingdom and personal power: more than conquerors?

Does “the kingdom of God” mean I have a life of health and prosperity because I’m reigning with Christ?

Following E. W. Kenyon, Kenneth Copeland and others proclaimed that God has given the kingdom to his little flock (Luke 12:32). We are seated with Christ on the throne, with everything under our feet (Ephesians 1:20-23). If we maintain this positive confession, nothing can touch us. Sickness is gone: it was part of the curse from which we’re redeemed (Galatians 3:13). Wealth is guaranteed: it all belongs to our Father who is pleased to give it to his children. Because Jesus conquered, we’re more than conquerors (Romans 8:37)..

Is this what Jesus meant by the kingdom of God? Continue reading “The kingdom and personal power: more than conquerors?”

Like our teacher (Matthew 10:24-25)

Becoming like our teacher is every disciple’s joy. Does it mean we suffer too?

Open Matthew 10:24-25.

It’s the hope that motivates every disciple: as we follow Jesus we become like him. Wow!

Does being like Jesus mean suffering too? Which statement represents what you believe

  1. Jesus suffered so we don’t have to.
  2. Jesus suffered because we suffer.
  3. Jesus suffered, so we must suffer too.

Perhaps we should listen to Jesus’ promise in context: Continue reading “Like our teacher (Matthew 10:24-25)”

An unknown from nowhere (Matthew 2:17-23)

The baby of Bethlehem becomes the nobody of Nazareth. The rescued becomes the rescuer.

Open Matthew 2:17-23 and Jeremiah 31:15.

Grief had always been at home in Bethlehem. Rachel died there, giving birth to Israel’s final son (Genesis 35:19). Maybe a parent would give her life so her children could live. But Rachel’s hopes were dashed as empires invaded, killing her children. Assyria decimated the tribes of her older son Joseph. Babylon crushed the remnant of Benjamin.

Jeremiah imagined Rachel weeping inconsolably as God’s promises fell apart:

Jeremiah 31:15 (NIV)
This is what the Lord says: “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Continue reading “An unknown from nowhere (Matthew 2:17-23)”

God as asylum seeker (Matthew 2:16)

How can God’s kingdom ever be established when rulers like Herod will do anything go keep their power?

Open Matthew 2:16.

Beautiful. Tender. Vulnerable. Helpless. Disarming. How can anyone hate a newborn? How can an infant seem like a threat? You’d have to be power-crazed to kill a baby. Herod is. He executes all the baby boys in Bethlehem. There can be no rival “king of the Jews” (2:16).

Herod’s acts are treason: he attempts to assassinate of the heavenly king’s heir. It’s part of the long-standing war over who rules the earth. On one side of this battle is the oppressor of God’s people, bearing down on them with the military might of Rome. On the other side is an infant bearing the promise of restoring heaven’s rule on earth. But how can a toddler stand up to a tyrant? Continue reading “God as asylum seeker (Matthew 2:16)”

When you get hurt (Genesis 34:1-2)

If God doesn’t prevent bad things happening, how do we cope?

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Now that Israel is in the land with the sons who will form the tribes of Israel, how will they represent the heavenly king in the presence of people who do not submit to him? The nations do not submit to God’s laws. Driven by their own passions, they take whatever they want by force.

We’ve seen this picture ever since Nimrod the warrior of Genesis 10. It’s devastating:

Genesis 34:1–2 (ESV)
1
Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land. 2 And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her.

Are you tempted to stop reading, to skip to something more pleasant? You really need this text if you think, “God’s running the world, so he’ll never let anything bad happen to me.” That belief will fail you. Neither can you blame Dinah, as if she must have been doing something wrong or it wouldn’t have happened to her. Verse 1 explicitly sets up the story by saying she was behaving well in her culture. Don’t blame the victim. Continue reading “When you get hurt (Genesis 34:1-2)”

How can you say God reigns?

How can we talk about the kingdom of God when everything has gone wrong?

God reigns? What does that mean? Does it mean I’m a conqueror who can defeat any enemy and no evil can touch me?

This morning I woke to news that cut deep into my being. Someone I’d met briefly, a servant of King Jesus from our own city here in Perth, had died. Geoff Freind from Morley Salvation Army had gone to Malawi to proclaim “Good News!” He was attacked on the streets, and died in hospital. His wife and four sons are trying to come to terms with the tragedy. Continue reading “How can you say God reigns?”

The binding of Isaac (Genesis 22:3-9)

In the story of the binding of Isaac, is there a hint of the suffering God’s people would endure in the years ahead?

There are times when life is good, when you feel you have God’s provision, his blessing. There are also times when you don’t receive what you prayed for, or you lose what’s most precious to you. It’s in the difficult moment that you discover the basis of your faith. Do you love God for the benefits he gives? Or do you love God for who he is, holding onto him even when you lose everything else? Continue reading “The binding of Isaac (Genesis 22:3-9)”