The gravity of grace (3): Overview of Romans 1-5

Luther quipped that he hated the commonly accepted idea of “the righteousness of God” within Romans. Accordingly, he discovered a new definition that created a whole new way to interpret Romans.

We need to be aware that what we do not want to be true as well as what we value can exert powerful influences on how we interpret. I call this the hermeneutic of desire.

My goal in summarizing Romans below is neither to conform to nor reject popular understanding. I neither seek to stand in Luther’s shadow nor run from it. Using your Bible, you will have to decide to what extent the following represents Paul’s thoughts.

Whatever message we understand embedded within Romans will greatly influence how we interpret grace. This in turn will shape our Christian behaviors, values and teachings. Continue reading “The gravity of grace (3): Overview of Romans 1-5”

The Gravity of Grace: proof texts (2)

Satan quoted scripture: “For he will command his angels concerning you … On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone” (Matthew 4:6). So does the text teach this or not? It does (Psalm 91:11-12). Satan was right that scripture taught this concept.

Yet Jesus’ response reveals Satan’s usage of this verse violated scripture’s message, namely the principle that we are to abstain from testing God (Matthew 4:7). Context matters.

If we are going to understand God’s message to us, we need to seek an objectivity anchored in what the inspired biblical author sought to communicate. Conversely, we will want to avoid the subjectivity of “what does this text mean to me?”

Continue reading “The Gravity of Grace: proof texts (2)”

To live is Christ. To die is gain.

This past Monday morning around 11 a.m., E. Jeannette Newton, my mom, graduated from this life.  I find myself reflecting upon the life of this farm girl.

Some of the milestones strewn throughout her life included the beginnings of The Herald of Truth, an Exodus movement, a school teacher, a preacher’s wife, a new wife adopting two kids from New York City and then having two of her own, a missionary, as well as a Bible school curriculum developer.

The Dust Bowl and its aftermath seems like an unlikely contributing catalyst for such a life. But as she told it, it was one of the dominoes setting in motion a series of events.

Continue reading “To live is Christ. To die is gain.”

The Gravity of Grace: Definitions and Results (1)

Whatever a person understands scripture to teach about grace has enormous repercussions on Christian teaching and practice. Differing definitions of grace have led to whole new theologies of grace. Some perspectives might align better with scripture’s intended message than others.

Typically today, grace is defined as “unmerited favor.” However, even this phraseology promotes ambiguity and diverse practices because opinions differ over what qualifies as constituting “unmerited.” Thus the heart of the matter revolves around grasping when merit is absent, so that the gift can truly be given as grace. Continue reading “The Gravity of Grace: Definitions and Results (1)”

Shattered dreams … yet joy lives?

As young people we might have envisioned how our lives would unfold. We looked forward to achieving a college education followed by a successful career. Or maybe as adults we anticipated how the potential we saw within our children or grandchildren would blossom in marvelous ways as they reached adulthood. Still yet, there might have been the expectation for just a normal healthy life filled with a long marriage and children.

Then the unexpected occurred. The dream was ripped from our hands. Neither the specific details how this happened nor the details of our dreams matter. What is significant is that a hammer shattered our aspirations and hope for what would be. Perhaps disbelief turned into bitterness. Can joy ever thrive again? Continue reading “Shattered dreams … yet joy lives?”

Evolution’s random mutations and natural selection

If you have paid attention to the headlines during the last twenty years, you are probably aware of stem cells. A popular understanding of stem cells, at least, what I have understood, is that these early embryonic cells hold the potential to transform into every different type of cell an organism will possess.

However, as these cells divide and the embryo grows, stem cells begin to become specified as a particular type of cell. As this transformation occurs they lose the ability to become alternative cell types. Eventually, they fill a particular niche wonderfully, but have lost the ability to become a radically different type of cell.

Stem cells can serve as a metaphor illustrating a powerful idea regarding Darwin’s proposed mechanisms for evolution. Research reveals that random mutations and natural selection do transform species, however, at a surprising cost. Continue reading “Evolution’s random mutations and natural selection”

Delving deeper into faith

What is faith? This probably sounds like a silly question – but only if we have given it no thought because we assume we fully understand it. Consider one small sampling of the evidence.

In the second and third centuries before Christ, Jewish scholars translated their Hebrew Bible into Greek. We call their work the Septuagint. Interesting questions might be: When they used the Greek word pistis (faith), what Hebrew words and ideas were they trying to convey? Was their understanding of faith broader, the same or narrower than ours? Take a look.

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Squelching worry

A life free from worry.  Any takers?

We know we ought to embody Jesus’ teachings to abstain from worrying about tomorrow.  Disciples are not to be anxious about life. In fact, in his parable about the Sower, Jesus described the cares of this life as one of those distracting forces that can stifle God’s word within our lives.

Yet, achieving a worry free lifestyle may not be as easy as understanding the goal. How often does expending energy focused upon “I’m not going to worry” only seem to heighten the problem? Fortunately, scripture and research converge suggesting some strategies forward.  Here’s one of them. Continue reading “Squelching worry”

God’s kingdom is not new

Since the Bible was written during a span of perhaps 1500 years by about 40 authors utilizing different languages while living under the influence of various dominating cultures, it certainly holds a unique status. Even more amazing is that in spite of their lack of collaboration, those who penned the Old and New Testaments present many unified messages. One of these is that God is King. God’s kingdom is not something new.

For Americans, kingship is an unfamiliar reality. We have experienced presidents and congresses, but not kings.

Continue reading “God’s kingdom is not new”

Releasing the captives

Under the cover of darkness and utilizing stealth technologies, a couple of Black Hawk helicopters approach a political prisoner compound. Deploying with rapid descent a team of highly specialized soldiers drop into the compound neutralizing opposing forces. The prisoners suddenly realize they are being rescued. The thought of release flooding their minds quickly evolves into experiencing good news.

Such storylines comprise action filled cinematic drama. The New Testament recounts a story no less dramatic and exquisitely more applicable to each of our lives. Why? Because it is an historical story revealing good news for our lives. The good news of the kingdom is more than just a story about God making forgiveness possible. It announces the complete triumph of God’s power through Christ. Continue reading “Releasing the captives”