The hermeneutics of desire and fear

Have you ever heard something that you did not want to be true? We all have.

I remember a visiting professor from Oberlin College and Conservatory telling our class that when it comes to church history, practice has often preceded theology. Everything within me screamed this was wrong. Our understanding of God’s word should shape what we do and how we think. What we want or what we are doing should not determine how we read God’s word!

Walking with him across the parking lot after class, I discussed this with him further. He graciously pointed out that “what is” does not always align with “what should be.” My naivety was crushed. I had not considered that some might want to take a path other than the original message. Continue reading “The hermeneutics of desire and fear”

The new birth

During the 1st century some rabbis described Gentiles as “a new-born child” when they converted to Judaism (Yebamoth 22a, 48b, 97b). Proselyting to Judaism required a baptism. During the same time that the rabbis were using this language of new birth, John the Baptizer was calling people to reorientate their lives with a baptism of repentance. (Luke 1:15-17; 3:3)

This was the religious background when Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling class, visited Jesus.  Jesus taught Nicodemus that no one can enter God’s kingdom unless he is born from above, namely “born of water and Spirit” (John 3:3,5). Continue reading “The new birth”

Jesus and the one baptism

Many baptisms and ceremonial washings existed in the first century A.D. Yet, by about 60 A.D. Paul could affirm there is “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). God meant for this one baptism to be one of the foundations for a united people.

What follows are aspects of Jesus’ story and how the baptism that is “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19) fits into the spread of Christianity. This water baptism is commonly referred to as Christian baptism. Continue reading “Jesus and the one baptism”

Opportunity to draw the wrong conclusion

Perhaps as people partake of the Lord’s Supper, church projectors hurl an eyecatching graphic above the worshippers’ heads. Emblazoned on the screens are the words, “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). Or maybe this verse appears as a knockout quote in a church bulletin.

Opportunities to draw the wrong conclusion have appeared. As the old addage says, a text without a context is simply a pretext for a proof text of what we want it to mean. Continue reading “Opportunity to draw the wrong conclusion”

God’s people then and now: Their purpose

God has had many purposes for his people then and now. God chose to bless all nations through Abraham. God commissioned Israel to be a kingdom of priests serving others. As those who had witnessed God’s power and love, God commissioned Israel to announce to the nations his greatness, thus drawing others to God. A theme emerges from these beginnings revealing God’s love for all people.  Continue reading “God’s people then and now: Their purpose”

Dying to self & to sin: The moment of a disciple’s birth

“Disciple” signifies a follower, pupil or adherent to a teacher. In the Gospels it described those who followed John the Baptist as well as Jesus. Biblical authors also seem to have used this term to designate casual followers as well as those more fully committed (John 6:66; 8:31). The discipleship Jesus desires from us requires dying to ourselves (Mark 8:34-35). It also demands we abandon a sinful lifestyle, so that we might live for God (Romans 6:2,6,18,22).

While selfless living is commendable, it’s empty of eternal value and remains just a human-based spiritual activity, unless we are crucified with Christ. Paul knew that the life Jesus makes possible is not achieved by self-exertion. Continue reading “Dying to self & to sin: The moment of a disciple’s birth”

The disciple’s heart: its treasure, its focus, its master

In the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus identified earth and heaven as being two places where people might choose to store their treasures, he contrasted two different lifestyles (Matthew 6:19-20). We either look to the things of earth for our security and significance or we look to heaven. If self is in charge, we will seek some source of earthly security. Continue reading “The disciple’s heart: its treasure, its focus, its master”