Grace Words

A Daily Bible Reader's Blog

Presented by Mike Tune and Amazing Grace International, Inc.

Grace Words: A Daily Bible Reader’s Blog

Matthew – An Introduction

For the longest time, Matthew was considered the most important Gospel. After all, Matthew was an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry. Luke was not. Mark was considered to be an abbreviated form of Matthew. And John? He left a lot out.

Like all the gospel writers, Matthew wrote for Christian people. His audience was urban and either people of some means, or people who aspired to wealth (he mentions money more than all the other gospel writers put together). He wrote to a persecuted church (more in his gospel about trial, persecution and suffering than any other gospel).

Matthew has a unique style. He begins with a story about Jesus, then moves into Jesus’ teaching before going back to story again. He continues this alternation until he finally ends with a story. The teaching sections are easily seen. People gather to hear Jesus (Matthew 5:1; 10:1; 13:1-2; 18:1; 24:1) . He teaches them. Then Matthew writes: “When Jesus finished saying all these things” (Matthew 7:28; 11:1; 15:53; 19:1; 26:1) .

So much of the New Testament is written to remind Christians that in following Jesus, God has made them to be different – a new creation, a new humanity, God’s people – citizens of His kingdom. Matthew (and only Matthew) speaks so highly of this status he calls it the “Kingdom of Heaven.” Citizenship in that kingdom was to affect everything else in life – all behavior, every relationship, every allegiance. Citizenship was not about accepting and affirming every life choice. Citizenship required following the example of Jesus, and calling others to walk the same path. It remains the responsibility of Christians, and Matthew’s guidance is what makes his Gospel so important.

Mike Tune

Genesis

The Hebrew title for “Genesis” is “In the beginning.” That might have remained the title except when the Old Testament was translated into Greek (a couple of centuries before Jesus), the translators noted a peculiar repetition of the word “generations.” It occurs some thirteen times in the book at strategic locations and so the translators named the book “Generations” instead. In Greek, “generations” sounds very much like “genesis.” When, in the fourth century A.D., the book was translated into Latin, its name was forever changed to “Genesis.”

Genesis is about beginnings: the beginning of the universe as we know it, the beginning of mankind, of sin, grace, election, and most of all, the beginning of the people of God. Beginning with a wide scope, it is not long before God narrows the focus. Adam and Eve have three boys: Cain, Able, and Seth. But quickly, the focus narrows to Seth, who has many descendants but the focus again narrows to one son, Enosh. Enosh has many sons and daughters but the writer of Genesis is not interested in them, only a specific son named Kenan. And on this narrowing goes until we come to Abraham. What becomes evident is that nearly everything, for the first eleven chapters, is there to lead us to this man who will become the father of God’s people.

As the story progresses, we learn of God’s partiality and preference toward His people. Despite the fact they do not deserve His blessings, God gives them anyway, and in doing so, introduces the reader to the meaning of election and grace. In Genesis, writing for what had, by then, become a nation of people (Israel), Moses makes these points: You are the people of God. This is how that came about. This is what it means. This is why your heritage and identity are so important. As the story continues in the following books, Moses will make this point: you need to act like God’s people.

Reading Through Scripture

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

My point here is to focus on the word “all.”

While the Bible was written a book at a time, over a very long period, it has amazing continuity. Genesis through Esther is the chronological history of God’s Old Testament people and introduces is to them and the grace by which they became God’s family. They reveal the blessings and responsibilities of that status. The poetry books (Job through the Song of Solomon) speak to how we live as the people of God – how we handle trouble, how we worship, and how we love. The prophets (Isaiah – Malachi) urge God’s people to faithfulness and promise a time when the family of God will be open to everyone – not just Israel – an opportunity God Himself would make possible. The Gospels show God working to make this blessing possible in the story of Jesus and the book of Acts shows how it all came to pass. The letter literature encourages God’s people to live up to their calling, and, like the prophets of the Old Testament, point to the struggle of early Christians to do so. The final book of the Bible again speaks of this struggle, but also reveals the blessings of victory.

Of course, throughout the narrative there are more points than I have mentioned here, but you see, all the Bible fits together as a cohesive whole, and that’s why I encourage everyone to read the Bible through – every year. You can’t see the big picture and marvel at the divine mosaic of God’s revelation if you aren’t getting acquainted with the whole book. As Bible scholar Keith Stanglin writes: “Only when readers have been permeated with biblical literature will they be able to see the intertextual connections in Scripture and then be able to make the connections to the faith and life of the church.”

If you’ve never read the Bible through, today is a good day to begin. Four chapters a day (less than 20 minutes) will get you through by the end of January next year. If you have trouble, come back to this blog. You will find information on nearly every chapter of the Bible here – as well as summaries and outlines of every book.

Mike Tune

Uncompromising Honor

“I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked” (Psalm 26:5)

Between November 28 and December 1, 1943, Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, and Franklin Roosevelt met in Tehran to coordinate military strategy in the war against Germany. In his podcast “Reflections of History,” Jon Meacham tells about an evening meal the three leaders shared on November 29. During the dinner, Stalin bragged that he planned to execute 50,000 German officers after the war.

When I heard that, immediately I figured everyone laughed, being reminded of an old “lawyer joke” with the punchline “a good start.” Indeed, Roosevelt tried to lighten the comment by saying perhaps only 49,000 should be killed. Churchill, however, was having none of it. He pointedly reproved Stalin and said such talk was barbaric and then, visibly shaken, got up from the table and walked into an empty nearby room to be by himself.

Churchill needed Stalin and Roosevelt. Together, they had a chance against Hitler. Churchill knew that alone, Britain would be toast. And yet, principle and honor and decency was at stake. He could not abide such cruel talk and would not be a part of it.

And I thought “wow.” I then thought of the Psalm text above, as well as Psalm 1:1 and Job’s comment “I stand aloof from the plans of the wicked.” Whatever else history may say about Churchill, there was an admirable moment.

I’m tempted to say “we need more leaders like that, who exhibit in their dealings an uncompromising devotion to justice, honor, decency, and mercy – come what may, cost what it will.” But really, we need to be a people like that. And when we are, we’ll have the leaders we need. For followers of Jesus, such a life is not an option. It is our calling. Nothing less will do.
Mike Tune

The Indispensable Church – Keeping It Alive

Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14-15).

In my last note I wrote about the life-cycle of a church, how that, inevitably, it will die. But no one should read those words as if that truth is inconsequential. When a church dies, it is very consequential.

When a church dies, because it is the presence of Christ in a community (remember, the church is the “body of Christ”), it means that Christ no longer has a presence there or, if the congregation is one of several, the presence of Christ is diminished. It is through the work of the church that the knowledge of God and salvation through Jesus Christ is to be made known in a community (see Ephesians 3:10-11). When a church dies the means of this knowledge is also diminished.

Note our text: The church is the “pillar and foundation of the truth.” The phrase is significant. The church does not “originate” truth. Truth comes from God and is found in His word. But that truth is supported by and rests on the church – the family of God. Without the church, God’s truth is but an idea – perhaps an ideal. But in the church, that idea comes to life, is seen to be real and seen how it can be real in the lives of people. God’s truth is lived, proclaimed, encouraged, and supported by the church and when a church dies, that fleshed out image of God’s truth dies too.

It is a truth, churches die. But it is important that they not die, that they be kept alive (but not on life support), vibrant, healthy, growing as long as possible that the truth of God might not just be proclaimed, but seen in a world that desperately needs it. By the way, none of that happens unless those members who make up the church actively, intentionally, and faithfully, make it so.
Mike Tune

The Indispensable Church – Living, Growing, Ageing, Dying

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household . . .” (Ephesians 2:19).

A variety of terms are used in the New Testament for God’s people — kingdom, church, body, city, and family are just a few. Each of these helps describe who we are and something of our relationship with God. No one of them is adequate for a complete description. I turn now to focus on just one: the “household.”

The word translated “household” means simply “house” and most often in the New Testament it refers to a literal dwelling. But it is also a synonym for “family” and it is in this sense that the local church is called the household of God..

The “Kingdom” of God is eternal. But the “family” of God, as a local body of people, like all families, is not. Families have a life cycle. You begin with a marriage. The family grows as children are brought into it (by birth or adoption). It also grows when those children marry, and even more when the children have children. But eventually, family lines die. Sometimes couples cannot have children, or the children do not get married, or the children do not have children. In time, that line dies. You no doubt know of families slowly, inexorably, coming to an end. It can be a sad thing, but it is a natural thing. It gets sadder when the remnants of the family line stubbornly refuse to plan for an orderly and dignified end.

The same is true for the local family of God. The local church serves as a branch on the great tree of God’s family and every branch, eventually, comes to an end. When a Church fails to bring in new family members or fails to raise new family members from within its own ranks, that family line ages and dies. It’s natural. Sometimes, something can be done: Christians can be roused from their lethargy to share the good news with their friends and neighbors, new people can be brought in, and there is a resurgence of life. But sometimes, the field (to pick up another metaphor Jesus used) where the church is situated is played out – infertile. No matter how much seed you sow, how much you fertilize, there will be no harvest. Sometimes, it’s too late. The remnants are simply incapable of saving the family line. The line is coming to an end and wisdom decrees the inevitable should be accepted and plans made for a dignified and noble end worthy of the people of God.

Until the end comes however, there is something important to remember, and important things to be done – the subjects of our next essay.
Mike Tune

The Indispensable Church – A Living Sacrifice

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2).

In writing to the Roman church, Paul addresses a divided congregation – a division (mostly along ethnic lines) which has led to a misunderstanding of faith. You see the division in the last chapter of the book where Paul mentions several “house churches.” It’s usually assumed the Roman Church was composed of a number of congregations – which it was, but the real question is why? Perhaps there was no one venue big enough to hold them all, but that’s just an assumption. Deep seated division, I think, is the better answer. Sixteen times in that chapter Paul commands them to “greet” one another. Why do that unless he is wanting to draw them all closer together?

But to our text passage:

Paul urges them to present themselves as a living sacrifice. We usually read that to mean “you each present your life as a living sacrifice to God,” but that’s not what Paul says. If he’d meant that, he would have written “present your bodies as living sacrifices” (plural). But he doesn’t. They all, together, as a united body, were to present themselves as one living sacrifice (singular) to God. The point is driven home in the next sentence where Paul urges them to transform their “mind” (not “minds”). The thinking (and action) of the church was to be united in its singular devotion to God and one another, and only this united body could possibly be a holy and acceptable offering to God.

In verses three and following Paul goes on to write about what this unity looks like, and when he does, he addresses the members individually (note “I say to every one of you”). Why? Because a united church can only exist when individuals behave in a united way.
Mike Tune

The Church – Indispensable to Spiritual Growth

. . .we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).

Since the Church, by its nature (the body of Christ, the family of God, the temple of God), is important to God (see previous posts), and since the Church can only be visible through the local congregation, we turn now to look at the function of the local church.

Our text picks up on the church as the body of Christ which, when you think about it, is a challenging image. The local church is Jesus in the community. At least, that’s what it’s supposed to be. It’s most often not seen that way, but that’s Paul’s point: it, as the congregation of God’s people (His family), is supposed to aim in the direction of it’s head so that, over time, it grows to look like Jesus to the world. It’s a process.

This only happens of course if Jesus is the church’s example. But you can’t just claim it. Each member of the church must determine to hold the church together so that it is seen as a united body growing to become like Jesus. And, each member of the church must fulfill his or her role as a well functioning part of that body with love toward the other parts of the body. There is a responsibility here that cannot be abdicated.

The church is God’s community where Christ-like traits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, equity, justice and righteousness are encouraged and developed.

But your church doesn’t exhibit all these things? That’s part of it really. Growth doesn’t happen without challenge. Peace seldom comes without conflict, nor joy without the challenge of sorrow. Patience must be tried to become perfect. Christ-likeness cannot be developed in isolation. The church is that family where Christ-likeness is taught, seen, encouraged, mentored, and challenged to become stronger – and that makes the church indispensable.
Mike Tune

The Indispensable Church – 2

Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:14-15)

In a previous blog (see #1 in this series) I pointed out the indispensable nature of the Church to a relationship with God. You should, however, keep in mind that in no sense is the Church is simply an idea or notion without concrete existence.

The word translated “church” in our Bibles is a Greek word for “assembly.” But it was not, in the ancient world, just any assembly. It was specifically the assembly of free voting citizens (always a minority) in a (non-Jewish) city which met to determine the course of that community. Can you imagine then how non-Christians felt when they heard Christians (many of them poor and some even slaves) speak of themselves as the Church? But with their terminology, the Christians were making a not so subtle point: It is God’s people who are the truly free, and as God’s servants, we are the real deciding factors of a community’s future.

Theologians refer to the Church (capital “C”) as the “great church” or the “universal church.” Local churches (congregations) get a small “c” church designation. In this thinking, churches everywhere make up the Great Church. But the Apostle Paul never uses such terminology. The Church is the physical fellowship of God’s people that assembles together in every community.  The congregation is the Church.

Individually, the movers and shakers of ancient communities may have been free, land owning, citizens, but they were not seen as “the assembly” until they gathered. In the same way, disciples of Jesus are seen to be the Church when they gather – which is why the local church (congregation or assembly) is so important, and why being a part of one is indispensable to being a part of the Church. You can’t be a part of the Church if you are apart from the church. Or, stated another way, you can’t be a part of the household of God if you are apart from the household of God.
Mike Tune