Reflections for Easter – Jonah 3:1-5

Jonah 3:1-5
The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

The story of Jonah has many threads. However, perhaps the biggest point is the desire of God to restore. Jonah was rebellious and did not want to obey God’s calling on his life. Yet, God didn’t give up on him. The city of Nineveh was filled with much wickedness. Yet, God wanted to them to turn from their wickedness.

We see this same God at work through the life of Jesus. The journey to the Cross was part of this work.

Jesus proclaimed good news of restoration and reconciliation. The audience was mostly Jewish, but in the Gospels Gentiles were reached as well. In fact, some of the most beautiful responses of faith were by non-Jewish people.

God worked through Jonah to reach Nineveh in the Old Testament. Jesus invited the disciples to join him to reach Galilee at the beginning and eventually to reach the whole world as seen in the book of Acts and in the rest of the New Testament and into the centuries since.

And today, God is on the move to restore and reconcile. We need to change our minds and turn to God. And when we do, we too receive the call to follow Jesus and let people know about him through our words and deeds. Thank you Jesus!


Reflections for Easter – Jeremiah 31:31-34

Jeremiah 31:31-34
“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

It is too easy to think that the Old Testament is about works righteousness. Yes, there are the 10 Commandments and various other ethical instructions as well as ritual laws.

However, at the root, there is a relationship with God.

Obedience is not about merely external fulfillments but of internal transformation and that is what God wants. And because we do fail, we can come back to our loving and merciful God knowing we are forgiven. The work of Christ culminating at the Cross is about this. The work of the Spirit is about this. As much as the doctrine of the Trinity blows our mind, the Scriptures tell us that each person of the Trinity is making Jeremiah 31:31-34 into the reality of our lives!

West Coast Chinese Christian Conference 2017 Bible Study Training

The West Coast Chinese Christian Conference is held annually at the end of the year.

One aspect of the Conference is the small group Bible study that takes place in the mornings. Below are some of the training videos that were prepared to help the group leaders.

The first one below is in Cantonese.

This one below is in English.

In the Conference, the following portions of the Bible were studied in the small groups: Matthew 16:13-28, Luke 14:25-35, and 1 Peter 2:11-25.


Interpretive challenge: Acts 18:5


Can you see which word/phrase is slightly different in these three translations?

NASB “devote himself completely”

NIV “devoted himself exclusively”

NLT “spent all his time”

The Greek word behind the various translations is synecho.

As you can see the above three translations that run the gamut of approaches to translation engage in some interpretation of how the Greek word is being used here.

Below are two older lesser known English translations that are committed to a more “literalistic” rendering of the text.


Translation is not an easy job!

Why did NASB/NIV/NLT opt to use a quantitative phrase to explain what appears to be qualitative word?


Take a look at Acts 18:1-4.

We find that Paul is engaged in tent making to support his ministry efforts and that he went to the synagogue weekly to preach. Then in verse 5, Silas and Timothy show up and now Paul preaches frequently. The thinking is that Silas and Timothy may have brought financial gifts for the ministry from Macedonia reducing the need to do tentmaking.

We get a hint of the supportiveness of Paul’s mission work from the church in Philippi (Philippians 4:15-16) that was planted back in Acts 16.

Do you buy it?

What application would you draw if this interpretation is valid?

Perhaps, it could encourage us to be more willing to support missions work financially? Another possible application is that ministry work is helped by having a strong support team. If Paul benefited from having Silas and Timothy around, we can ask if we are willing to be a Silas or Timothy to someone else?


Interpretive challenge: Luke 14:26

“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” (NASB)

At some point in many small group Bible study leaders life, they will run into this verse. Or maybe someone in your group will ask you about it when they read it in their personal reading of the Bible.

How do you respond?

Recall the key to interpretation is context. In this case there are two types of context that helps guides our thinking: (1) the literary context and (2) the textual context.

By literary context, we mean that Jesus as a master teacher employs various methods of teaching. He gave pithy sayings, used similes/metaphors/analogies, engaged in question-answer, shared parables, spoke in hyperbole, etc.

In this case, Jesus utilized hyperbole to make a point.

And what was the point?

Looking at the textual context in and around this “hard saying,” we find out Jesus is talking about the cost of discipleship.

If the context of his teaching was honoring your father and mother, this statement in Luke 14:26 would be contradictory. One would suspect Jesus would explicate honor your parents in a completely different way using different words and teaching devices.

However, in the context of teaching about the cost of discipleship and taking into account the literary device of hyperbole, we catch Jesus meaning: God first – “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” (NASB) Luke 14:27

Larry Shapiro and John Lennox in conversation “Is there truth beyond science?”

What do you think?

An interesting discussion between atheist philosophy professor Larry Shapiro and Christian mathematician John Lennox at a Veritas Forum event at University of Wisconsin.

More on preaching

Who in the church leadership and how does the decision get made about how much emphasis (in terms of tangible percentage of minutes) to place of the ministry of the word in communal Sunday gatherings?

Perhaps, some of those decisions are decided within the denomination?

Within some denominations there could be strong traditions about the role of preaching. Or perhaps, in the history of a particular congregation, there are certain expectations regarding preaching.

How does one select the content for a Sunday message?

Some teaching pastors like to plan ahead and will opt for a short/medium/long term commitment to preach through a particular book in the Bible. A series through the books of 1 & 2 Corinthians would pencil in many months of the preaching schedule.

What are the “pros” and “cons” of this approach?

In some churches, the pastor will preach topical series. For example, eight weeks on family life or six weeks on the meaning of prayer or four weeks on how to serve in church.

Some of the more liturgical churches will follow the lectionary.  The Revised Common Lectionary has a cycle of selected readings from both OT and NT set over a three-year period. Supporters of this approach say that this allows the congregation to be exposed to a good percentage of the Scriptures over time. Additionally, this approach avoids the “problem” of the pastor selecting from a narrow set of favorite passages to preach from.

In some cases, the pastor prays for a message and preaches to the need of the moment. Thus, it could be a text exposition or a topic exploration for the Sunday sermon. As such the text or topic will be different and unrelated from week to week.

What are the “pros” and “cons” about that approach?

In one sense Paul and the apostles wrote their letters to deal with a problem (a real need) in the churches they wrote to. They were guided by the Holy Spirit’s inspiration to write.

On the other hand, the “preach to the need” approach could result in a narrower preaching repertoire because of the strengths, interests, and experience of the pastor. A marriage and family type of pastor may lean toward sermons emphasizing relationships and less on doctrinal message. A pastor with a stronger Greek/Hebrew language orientation may gravitate to topics and passages where the peculiarities of those languages are highlighted. Or if the pastoral team all graduated from a particular seminary, they may tend to preach on subjects that seminary tends to emphasize. Thus, whatever background a pastor has, will the preaching wind up leaning toward their interests, training, and personality to the neglect of other matters. How does one resist that understandable inclination?

All of this to say, if you are a preaching pastor and you happen on this blog post, how do you approach your preaching? What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of the approach you take?

May God bless the feet and words of those who tend the sheep and feed the lambs of God’s churches across the world!