Pure Grace

In the Lukan parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk. 15:11–32), the father might very well have adopted other means for the rehabilitation of his younger son than those described (with approval) by Jesus. When the black sheep of the family came home in disgrace, the father, having a father’s heart, might well have consented to give him a second chance. Listening to his carefully rehearsed speech, he might have said, ‘That’s all very well, young man, we have heard fine phrases before. If you really mean what you say, you can buckle to and work as you have never worked before, and if you do so, we may let you work your passage. But first you must prove yourself; we can’t let by-gones be by-gones as though nothing had happened.’ Even that would have been generous; it might have done the young man a world of good, and even the elder brother might have been content to let him be put on probation. But for Jesus, and for Paul, divine grace does not operate like that. God does not put repentant sinners on probation to see how they will turn out; he gives then an unrestrained welcome and invests them as his true-born sons. For Jesus, and for Paul, the initiative always rests with the grace of God. He bestows the reconciliation or redemption; men receive it. ‘Treat me as one of your hired servants’, says the prodigal to his father; but the father speaks of him as ‘this my son’. So, says Paul, ‘through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir’ (Gal. 4:7).

F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1982), 38–39.

Finished Finally, and A New Start

Last September I started reading 1 Samuel. Since then I’ve read the Samuels, the Kingses, and the Chronicleses. I finished 2 Chronicles yesterday. I suppose I’ve been reading about a chapter a day.

I must admit, it has been, at times, a slog.

On the other hand, a deeper appreciation of Israelite history and culture is paramount for understanding the Bible as a whole. The historical books give you that in spades.

Now I’ve begun a study of Galatians. I’ve probably read and studied Galatians more than any other book. The letter just fascinates me. For it to make sense, one needs to reconstruct the problem(s) Paul is addressing. This process has been compared to listening to one side of a phone conversation.

So off we go, looking for freedom. I hope to post about the process and the result of this study.

I’m trying an experiment. I’m using The Brain as a tool for note taking and organization. If you have experience with this tool in the context of Bible study, please let me know. I’m fumbling around. Visual tools are foreign to me and my mode of thinking. I’m hoping for some added value that I have not yet seen.

Three Ways for the Church to Stop the Cycle of Abuse and Assault – Missio Alliance

Three Ways for the Church to Stop the Cycle of Abuse and Assault – Missio Alliance:

The evangelical church in the US is facing a reckoning. For the last few years, story after story has surfaced that one high-profile pastor, theologian, or teacher after another has been caught engaging in behavior ranging from unethical financial practices to spiritual abuse, infidelity, and sexual assault.

Your Organizing Principle

I believe we all live our lives with a cascading set of hierarchies that we use to guide ourselves, to keep ourselves on the path we want to travel.

Your life is sort of divided into segmented, but partially overlapping, areas of interest and activity. Life is complicated. It’s the overlapping that makes it complicated, but you have, say, family life, community life, work life, church life, social life, along with other lives that intertwine these. These life segments are are grouped under various umbrellas, which vary from person to person. And the umbrellas are under umbrellas. The umbrella at the top of your hierarchy is your ultimate organizing principle.

For some people, it is work at the top of the heap. Everything else is organized under that rubric. And everything else is subservient to work.

For others, it may be family. Or it may be health and fitness. It could be possessions. It could be politics and interests of the nation. It could be a special interest or cause which rises above and organizes everything else. For some of us, it could be our own illnesses. And it might even be church.

My contention is that this ultimate organizing principle is, in fact, your religion. It is the locus of stuff that makes sense of everything else.

It follows that your religion might be your work, your family, your health, your politics, or even your church. How does that sound to you? Make sense?

Truly serving God with your whole life is really not a religion, but it also is, in a way. It is a conscious giving of yourself to someone. Mostly, I would describe it as a way of life. The “religious” part of it is only a small part. Most of it daily life, living in a way to puts God above everything else. There is no part of life that is unaffected by this commitment, this loyalty. It supersedes every other loyalty.

If one of the other categories in your heap becomes more important than your loyalty to God, then that is your religion. That thing has become the compass point you are headed toward. You’ve lost out.

True discipleship means making God the organizing principle of your life. It’s not easy, but it isn’t supposed to be. It’s a narrow road, and it seems to go uphill all the time and to be strewn about with boulders and pebbles and sinkholes. It requires discipline to walk that road.

Discipline and discipleship are related, you know.

For Us as for Jotham

Prior to Jotham, the last three kings of Judah had started well, but became corrupt as they became proud of their success. Jotham stayed the course and was seen in a purely positive light by the Chronicler.

For us as for Jotham, this is not a once-for-all decision, but a daily struggle. That is why we need the support of the community of faith, and the discipline of continual prayer and reflection upon the Scriptures. No less a teacher than the apostle Paul described his lifestyle as continual preparation and training, like an athlete preparing for the games, “so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27). We, like Jotham, must be prepared to order our ways and stay the course if we wish to be God’s people. As Jesus sternly warns, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). Beginning is good. Continuing is better. Finishing is best.

Steven Shawn Tuell, First and Second Chronicles, Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2001), 205.

Father, please help me to finish well.

The Bible is Difficult for Many Reasons

The Bible is difficult for many reasons. It involves characters and linguistic patterns from times long past. It surveys centuries and spans a number of political eras. Its language parallels other religions, though with its own distinctive tilt. It does require intellectual effort to interpret this book. Above all, though, reading the Bible is a thorny practice, because it is so penetrating. It cuts through the thick of things, like a hammering fist or an ice-axe or, as the anonymous writer to the Hebrews says, by “piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Biblical difficulty is largely a corollary of its doctrinal and moral judgment—this book involves the most profound and pervasive of judgments, drawing all reality into its theological register. It makes profound declarations about reality, separating the good from the bad, the beautiful from the grim, and the true from the false. Most crucial, however, is that this verbal illumination of reality shines upon the reader: “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 3:13). This text will grab hold of you—it is difficult because it does not let you be.

Michael Allen, “Theological Commentary,” in Theological Commentary: Evangelical Perspectives, ed. R. Michael Allen (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2011), 3–4.