Traditions or God’s law

The Jews had a tradition. They thought washing one’s hands before eating bread prevented them from being “defiled” or unclean. In the thousands of years of Israel’s history, there was not one single word of this practice in the Law of Moses or any other written word of God. It was a creation of the Pharisees.

The sect of the Pharisees started out as a group of people who were determined to keep themselves separate from sin and holy. This was a good idea, but it changed over time. Ultimately, the Pharisees were more interested in making laws than obeying them. Give people power over others and sometimes they take the law into their own hands.

By the time Jesus started his earthly ministry, the Pharisees were the power in Judea. They held office in the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews. They used their considerable influence to tell people what they could or could not do. For example, they created oral traditions that would allow people to mistreat their mothers and fathers in violation of the scriptures. In doing so, the Pharisees set aside God’s law for laws they made. Continue reading “Traditions or God’s law”

Hindsight in advance

“Hear, my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many. I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness. When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble” ( Proverbs 4:10-12 NKJV).

One of the popular songs of the past lamented, “I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger; I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was stronger.” Almost everyone can relate to such a wish. If we knew in advance the consequences of our actions we might well choose differently on many occasions. That is we would do differently if we truly believed that those consequences would certainly follow.

The human capacity to ignore the lessons of experience is no less than incredible. A definition of insanity attributed to Albert Einstein is, “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” It does not matter whether the experience is our own or that of others; whether it is contemporary or from ancient history. When a particular belief or behavior consistently produces negative consequences, it is foolhardy to continue in it. Continue reading “Hindsight in advance”

The power to grow

Spiritual growth and maturity is of concern to most Christians. But, sadly, many do not seem to know what is needed to be able to grow and mature. Where do we find the power that gives us spiritual growth?

When we look at Paul’s prayer for the Christians in Colossae, we discover that spiritual growth was on his mind. He wanted them to grow so that they could live lives that honoured Jesus. Continue reading “The power to grow”

Satan’s Catspaw

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me” (Matthew 16:23, ESV)

Peter is the only disciple in the holy book who is called “Satan” by Jesus. It appears to be the strongest rebuke ever uttered by the Lord to any of the twelve – Judas included. Moments after Peter is commended for his confession of Jesus as the Christ of God, he is being rebuked for insisting that Jesus need not die in Jerusalem. It is an echo of the temptations Jesus endured from Satan himself (Matthew 4:1-4).

Like Peter, Satan knew Jesus was the Son of God. Like Satan, Peter encouraged Jesus to avoid the cross. As Robertson put it, this made Peter, “Satan’s catspaw.” Continue reading “Satan’s Catspaw”

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”

Moving with purpose

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15 ESV).

Our world has increasingly become more sedentary. These sedentary lifestyles contribute to millions of deaths every year. People who can move, and do not, are not healthy. So many health officials recommend moving. Move anywhere as long as you are not sitting.

We were not created for physical inactivity. Nor were we reborn for spiritual inactivity. In the early days the church was referred to as “The Way” (Acts 24:14). The Christian life is called a walk (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:6, et al.) and a race (Hebrews 12:1). Continue reading “Moving with purpose”

Delivered out of the power of darkness

More than 30 years ago, we wrote an evangelistic study which we still use today, among others. In that study, the very first text we teach others is Genesis 1.1-3. A main point of this reading emphasizes God’s power as he created the universe with a word. His power is unlimited. He is more powerful than any other. He is omnipotent.

His power overcomes all others. This is what Paul affirms in a prayer in Colossians 1: Continue reading “Delivered out of the power of darkness”

Following Jesus involves a cross

Crucifixion was Rome’s way of dealing with people it didn’t like. Crucifixion was Rome’s way of dealing with enemies. Its gruesome nature was a part of Rome telling people they’d best behave or they might find themselves hanging from a cross one day.

Jesus had a discussion with his disciples that put the figure of the cross front and center. In Luke 9, Jesus told the men following him that if they were his disciples, they must deny self and take up a cross. The condemned was required to carry his own cross to the place of execution. The figure is clear. Continue reading “Following Jesus involves a cross”

Completely overwhelmed

It’s not that there is a lack of bunnies in the yard; there are way too many! Those little monsters seem to know which plants are the most costly, and happily munch them to the ground. They’ll even chow down on stuff that’s supposed to be poisonous. Baby rabbits are the proverbial “dumb bunnies” and will eat any plant. They especially delight in munching just a tiny bit of stem, so that the plant is destroyed without being consumed. I’ve seen my Gerbera daisies mowed down by young rabbits. 

Even with the surplus of those pernicious little rodent-like creatures in the yard, I still love my little life-size decorative resin bunny. He’s very polite, and has never wreaked destruction on the garden like those cute but naughty live rabbits.  Continue reading “Completely overwhelmed”

Meaning behind the name

“And she conceived again and bore a daughter. Then God said to him: ‘Call her name Lo-Ruhamah, for I will no longer have mercy on the house of Israel’” (Hosea 1:6 NKJV).

Don’t you often wonder why other people name their children what they do? This question arises within one’s own language and culture, but is especially frequent in cross-cultural situations. Sometimes it is simply a matter of a word (name) being totally unfamiliar, such as “Tuhin” or “Mridol.”

In other cases it is recognition that we just would not have thought of that particular name. One of the administrators of Khulna Bible College named his son “Abishai,” after the second son of King David’s sister, Zeruiah (2 Samuel 2:18). There is certainly nothing wrong with that name, and I knew of its Old Testament use, but I had simply never known any modern person to whom it had been given. When I considered Biblical names to suggest to those who requested it, Abishai was not one which occurred to me. Continue reading “Meaning behind the name”