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truth-has-no-agenda2 John

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I have a very special guest here in the camper today. I will introduce you to here in just a minute, but before we get into today’s topic I have a couple of special requests to make of you.

First, I want to thank you for being such an awesome audience. Your notes and words of encouragement mean more to me than you could possibly know.  With that in mind, would you share this podcast with your network?  The only way I have of expanding this show is by word of mouth.  We have no such thing as a marketing budget. So, if you would let your family and friends, or your FB and Twitter network know about this radio show, it would mean the world to me. And hopefully they will get some benefit from listening.

Also, and I’m truly excited to share this, Brittan and I are going to Scotland for the month of October.  We will be preaching in congregations, visiting with pastors, elders, ministry leaders, Govt. workers, social agencies, business leaders and more to nail down the direction of our long term ministry goals for our ministry, ‘Scotland Rising.’  But….we need your help to get there. Including plane tickets, we need about $7500 to make the trip happen.  Would you consider a one time donation towards this vision trip? To make it easier to donate, we have created a Crowd Rise campaign.  The url for that is http://tinyurl.com/hjujgeo. I will include the link in the show notes.   All the information is on the campaign page.  If you want more information, or would rather donate by check, ping me by email or Twitter.

Ok, thanks for prayerfully considering those requests. Now, back to business. This week, we’re looking at the second letter of John, better known as 2nd John.

I have always found 2 John to be fascinating.  There are some interesting messages in those 13 verses that make up this book. It only takes a couple minutes to read and you can brag to your friends that you read a whole book of the Bible today!

As I mentioned earlier, I have a very special guest in studio with me today.  This is episode 39 and this is my first guest. Shame on me.  My guest is absolutely awesome, but I confess I have a natural bias, because she is also my wife, Brittan.

Brittan and I cover a variety of topics including who 2nd John is addressed to, the nature of truth, False Teachers and Gnosticism.  It was fun having her in the studio. I hope you enjoy it.

Next week I’ll be taking a look at 3rd John.  Wow, we’re nearly finished with the New Testament. Amazing.

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(Re)Discovering The Bible Vol. 2 (Book)

 

Knowing Beyond Doubt – Just Ask John

Episode 38

1 John

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As usual, I’m here in the camper where I belong. It’s a cloudy day here in North Georgia and we haven’t been able to say that much this summer.  I don’t want to jinx anything, but there’s a rumor going around that we might get rain several days this week.  That would be awesome.

Hey, before we get into our look at First John, I want to mention again that Vol 2 of (Re)Discovering the Bible, launches tonight at midnight on Amazon Kindle.   Thanks to all of you who read volume 1 and either recommended it to friends or reviewed it on Amazon and Goodreads, or both. Volume 2 is focused on the Gospels and Acts. It’s not a commentary, though I do offer some commentary on certain passages, it’s a companion guide to help you as you read through those books. My goal is to help make the Bible come alive to readers and to help you help yourselves.

The Gospels and Acts are absolutely essential to making sense of the Bible. The whole Bible is about Jesus and it’s the 4 Gospels where we learn His true identity, who He was and is, and what his purpose was and it. Those 4 little memoirs tell us EXACTLY who Jesus is. Acts is the only book that describes how people became Christians and how Churches were born.

Naturally, I want you to take advantage of it. So for the next 5 weeks (35 days), volume 2 will be priced at only $3.99 at the Kindle Store.  After that, the price goes up to $4.99.  Please get it, read it, and encourage you family to get and read it.  I truly want this little book to go viral.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not saying that because I want to make a fortune on book sales. I want to make Jesus famous again.  I’m not keeping a dime of the money from this book. Not one red cent. Every penny will go to local Church ministry.

Ok, now that my shameless promotional commercial is out of the way, let’s get cracking on the little 5 chapter letter we know as First John.

There’s no definitive answer to which of John’s writings was first, though there is a kind of consensus that Revelation was last. Since all of his work as completed inside a 10 year period between A.D. 85 and 95, they are virtually simultaneous.  Traditionally, John did his writing in Ephesus and on the island of Patmos where he was exiled by the Emperor, Domitian.

Nearly all traditions agree that John spent his later years in the mighty city of Ephesus, where he eventually died of natural causes.

Legends hold that he took Mary, the mother of Jesus with him when he moved to Ephesus, where she also passed away. That story, whether true or apocryphal suggests that John took Jesus’ charge to care for his mother quite seriously.

Another legend, which John makes mention of, and refutes, in his Gospel, was that John would never die. That rumor was built on an interesting foundation. First, Jesus had said to Peter concerning John, ‘What’s it to you if I want John to live forever, you follow me.’  John 21:21-23.

6:06Also, it was widely told that Domitian had ordered John boiled in oil, but that the Apostle had survived the ordeal unharmed, which is why the old man was exiled to Patmos, which he also survived.  And of course, John was still alive decades after the other Apostles had been martyred.

In his later years, John became famously known as, ‘the apostle of love’. One story says that in his dotage, John would be carried to Church where he was seated on a comfortable mat due to his age. Out of courtesy, he would be asked whether or not he had a word for the Believers. Each week his reply would be, “Beloved, let us love one another”.  Eventually, after weeks of the same greeting, a frustrated member of the Church in Ephesus blurted, “Have you no other word for us, Brother?”  John’s sure and quick reply was, “What else is there?”

Love is a major theme in both John’s Gospel and in this, his first letter. In 1 John alone, he mentions love 36 times in 24 verses, mostly in chapters 3 an 4.  Chapter 1 is the only 1 of the 5 where he doesn’t mention it.

All this talk of love is remarkable coming from the once firebrand of a young disciple who was quick to silence others and to wish for fire and brimstone on a town that rebuffed Jesus. He along with his brother, James, were nicknamed ‘the sons of thunder’ by Jesus, probably because they were so quick to judge. Now, in is final days, John has become known best by his commitment to Christian love.

Looking at the book a little more directly; in Chapter 1 – John reminds readers of his authority as an eyewitness.  There are a couple of reasons why he does this. One is because of the rise of a philosophical cult called Gnosticism.

Gnosticism was (and is again), a mystery philosophy that pushed a doctrine of ‘secret knowledge’.  One had to be initiated into a deeper way of knowing that went beyond head knowledge.

Gnostics did not believe the dual nature of Jesus as both man and God.  He was God, but his humanity was a ruse.  He merely looked human. He couldn’t be truly man, because flesh was evil.

Interestingly, Gnosticism expressed itself in one of two ways; the first was asceticism.  Practitioners would deny themselves any physical pleasures, be they dietary, financial or sexual.  They were the forerunners of the monks and nuns who would later renounce living in society and would become reclusive.  I’m not suggesting Monks and Nuns are Gnostics, but ‘Christian’ Asceticism has its roots in that philosophy.

The other school  of thought said that because the flesh was evil we should just let it do whatever it wanted and concentrate of freeing our spirits. It was this hedonistic branch that Jesus addresses in many of his communications to the 7 Churches of Asia we read about in Chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation.

John spends much time in his writings directly and indirectly disputing the claims of the Gnostics.

Another motivation for Chapter 1 is explained in a little more detail in John’s 3rd letter. It would seem there were certain ‘leaders’ in the Church who discounted the message of the Apostles and held themselves as superior and dominant.  John writes specifically about one of these men, Diotrephes, in his 3rd letter.

At any rate, John spends a great deal of time reminding readers that He was an eyewitness of the things of which he spoke and wrote. In this, he sounds very much like Peter in 2nd Peter.

Then he spends much of the first chapter  reminding his readers that while we never escape sin, we can be better than we are because of Jesus.  And no matter how far we wander, we can always come home.

It’s from there that John spends the majority of his letter, talking about how love should at the center of our lives. It should drive our actions and should be more than just a word.  We can’t just talk a good game, but must walk our talk.

Sure, he takes a few side trips but always comes back to love being our motivation of all we say and do.

Probably my favorite side trip is in Chapter 3, where John  takes a moment to look ahead to that great day when we shed these weak, sickly, suffering shells for eternal glory.  Verse two is one of my all time favorites, and, I still love the way King James says it, “ Beloved, now we are the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He sall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”  Boy howdy, I could stop and vacation in that verse for a long, long time.

As you read through this letter, please take special note in chapters 2-5 how often John really does keep coming back to love.

Before we go, I want to stop for a second and one other scenic overlook.   Let’s look a verse 13 of chapter 5. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may KNOW that you have eternal life.

Wow, what a verse.

First, note the phrase believe in the NAME of the Son of God. Name implies personality. I truly believe this is a reference to Jesus humanity. He’s not some alien or deity from some otherworldly place, He has a name. He is human. He is real. It takes me back to Chapters 3 and 4 in the book of Acts. In Chapter 3, John is with Peter at the temple where they meet a lame man and say, In the NAME of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”  Verse 6. Can you get any more specific than that?  It is the NAME of the God-Man that brings healing, that brings life.

As if there is any doubt, when they’re explaining themselves about this act, in Chapter 4 verse, 10 Peter says it is the NAME of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man is standing before you well.

And in verse 12. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other NAME under heaven given among men by which you must be saved.

The Son of God. Our confidence in not in some dude on TV, or some guru sitting cross legged in a far away temple high on some remote mountain side. He is the God who became a man. Not disguised as a man. Really God and Really man. John wrote all about that in Chapter one of His gospel.

You know what, I think I’ll just read that here. Joh

Joh 1:1  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Joh 1:2  He was in the beginning with God.

Joh 1:3  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Joh 1:4  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

Joh 1:5  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Joh 1:6  There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

Joh 1:7  He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.

Joh 1:8  He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

Joh 1:9  The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

Joh 1:10  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.

Joh 1:11  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.

Joh 1:12  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,

Joh 1:13  who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Joh 1:14  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

 

That’s the name John is speaking of here in Chapter 5.

The other part of the verse I want to note is where John says, ‘that you may KNOW you have eternal life. There are oh so many people who live in doubt as to their destiny. Entire denominations lead Believers to lack confidence in what Christ has done.  I love a song we sing at Church that says this:

Christ is my reward And all of my devotion.

Now there’s nothing in this world that could ever satisfy.

Through every trial My soul will sing

No turning back, I’ve been set free,

Christ is enough for me, Christ is enough for me,

Everything I need is in you, Everything I need.

Christ is my all in all, the Joy of my salvation,

And this hope will never fail, Heaven is our home

Through every storm  My sould will sing

Jesus is here, to God be the glory.

Oh, friend, you don’t have to doubt, you don’t have to wonder. You can know. If you’re a believer who questions, I’m so sorry someone has led you down such a terrible path that keeps you in suspense and worry. Tonight, you can lay your head down on your pillow in confidence that if you open your eyes in eternity, that eternity is secure. You can KNOW. Your faith is not vain. It is sure. In the name and by the name you have been saved. Rescued. You are safe. If you are part of a Church that teaches anything else, get out. Run as fast as you can. Contact me and I’ll help you find a good one.

For some of you who might be listening and are still on the fence about Jesus, today you could get off the fence, surrender, the Bible calls it repentance. It means, hand the keys to Him and let Him drive. He never makes a wrong turn.  You can rest assured, you can KNOW that you will arrive at your forever  destination safely.

If you need assurance and you make your choice to surrender, please let me know. Ping me. I want to celebrate with you.  And, I want to put you in touch with a good Church if you don’t have one. A Church where you can feel at home and who will help you with your next steps.

I’m done. That’s all I got. Can’t wait till next week. My wife, Brittan will be joining us as we talk about hospitality, truth, and standing strong. We’ll be in 2 John. Until then, be blessed and be a blessing.

Appendix: All the references to love in 1 John

1Jn_2:5  but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him:

1Jn_2:15  Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

1Jn_3:1  See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

1Jn_3:10  By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

1Jn_3:11  For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

1Jn_3:14  We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.

1Jn_3:16  By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

1Jn_3:17  But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?

1Jn_3:18  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

1Jn_3:23  And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.

1Jn_4:7  Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.

1Jn_4:8  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1Jn_4:9  In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.

1Jn_4:10  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

1Jn_4:11  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

1Jn_4:12  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

1Jn_4:16  So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

1Jn_4:17  By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.

1Jn_4:18  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

1Jn_4:19  We love because he first loved us.

1Jn_4:20  If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

1Jn_4:21  And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

1Jn_5:2  By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.

1Jn_5:3  For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.

 

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Rocky and The Cornerstone

cornerstone1 Peter

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Wow, it’s great to be back after a week away. I had hoped maybe to record an episode while I was out, but that didn’t happen.  I missed you.  I think I mentioned in episode 35 that Brittan and I were going to a Church Planting retreat and I’ve got to tell you, it was better than advertised. We came out of that retreat fired up and ready to run. I’m so glad we went.

Thank you for your kindness and patience while we were away. But here we are back in the camper and ready to look at 1st Peter.

Let’s start by taking a look at the author. Even though, he only wrote the two letters that bear his name, Peter is one of the most well known Jesus followers in the world, and certainly one of the most beloved.

We learn from the Gospels that Peter was a fisherman by trade and that he was introduced to Jesus by his brother, Andrew who was a follower of John the Baptist. Peter almost instantly became one of Jesus’ closest confidants.  Over the three years they were together , Peter was the source of many displays of great faith, as well as one of the great betrayals.

Peter is the only one of the disciples who was willing to get out of the boat and walk on water. It was Peter who declared, You are the Christ, the son of the living God. It was this declaration that got his nickname, ‘Peter’, or, ‘Rocky’.  He is the follower who produced a sword on the night Jesus was betrayed and waded in, however awkwardly, to defend his Lord.

Yet, that very night, it was this same Peter who committed an act of treason as egregious as the betrayal of Judas Iscariot.

As Jesus is being tortured and tormented by the priests, Peter denies ever having even met the Nazarene. The last time, he swears on oath, he does not know Jesus. At that moment, a rooster crowed and Peter remembered Jesus’ prophecy that the Big Fisherman would deny him; a prediction repudiated and refuted by the apostle. Luke says that as the rooster crowed, Jesus turned and looked at Peter.

Do you get that?  Jesus was close enough to hear Peter’s adamant denials. Right when Jesus needed a friend the most, Peter, said, ‘Him? I have no idea who that is?  You must be mistaking me for someone else?’

Later when Jesus has been raised, the angel tells the women, “Go tell my disciples, and Peter, that I’m alive.”  Mark is the only writer to recall that little detail, but remember, Mark is writing Peter’s memories of Jesus.  No doubt those two words, and Peter, stung like a burning sword. Peter had openly told the world that he was not one of Jesus’ followers, and Jesus took him at his word.

John records that a few weeks later, Jesus took Peter aside and asked him 3 times (one for each denial), if Peter loved him.  Three times, the last one with tears, Peter declares his love. Jesus welcomes him home.

Perhaps, I’m overstating the obvious, but that story can be our story. Many of us have done all we could do to distance ourselves from Jesus. Some of us by our words, some by our actions; but each of us, no matter how loud or vile our betrayal, can be welcomed back into the fold.

I know, because I was one who spent decades professing

discipleship and proclaiming His glory, then at the first real test of my faith, I abandoned ship. I spent years living a life that screamed denial and making a mockery of all I once professed. I will tell you that story another day. I look back on those years with regret and great embarrassment, but in the end, He healed my broken soul and gave me back my seat at the table and my voice to proclaim His greatness and His grace.

It was not to faithful John, or to any of the other apostles, but to Peter Jesus gave the priviledge of delivering the first Gospel message, on the day of Pentecost that saw more than 3k people come to Christ. I’m sure many of those in the crowd were among those who had heard him deny ever knowing Jesus. Now they hear Peter say, ‘This Jesus, whom you crucified, has been made both Lord and Christ.’  Wow.

Peter is also the one chosen to be the first to openly preach to a gentile audience.

God will do the same for you, for me, for any of us. He still makes beauty from ashes.

Eventually, the maniacal Nero, has Peter executed for his refusal to renounce his Christ and Peter is crucified, albeit upside down.

This is the Author of the two open letters that bear his name.

I must confess, the first letter has some things that I find rather diffuclt get my head around. Later, down the road, we will take a few weeks and unpack some of the more challenging passages, but for now I just want to look at one place. That’s 1 Peter 2:6-8.

1Pe 2:6  For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

1Pe 2:7  So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”

1Pe 2:8  and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

 

Let’s park here for just a minute, because Peter is addressing one of the issues we’ve all dealt with. Why is it that many people reject the Gospel?  The simple truth is, the message of the cross just doesn’t fit the world view of literally millions of people. Paul said it this way, ‘It’s a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the gentiles.’

It is very rare that anyone studies the Christian message thoroughly then decides against Christ. More often, it’s a knee jerk reaction based on preconceived notions.  For that crowd, regardless of the facts, or rebuttal to their objections, they’ve made up their minds ahead of time and those minds are now closed. Most have a ‘pet’ topic, be it, hypocrites in the church, creationism, exclusivity of the Gospel, supposed contradictions in the Bible, the existence of pain in the world, a rejection of the doctrine of Hell, or one of a handful of other popular memes, and they smugly regurgitate canned objections but never stick around for honest investigation.

Instead, they get loud and start name calling, which is nearly always the fallback tactic of those whose argument is weak.

It’s really sad, but that’s the real world. There are times when we need to patiently stick with it, because the skeptic is a loved one, but there are other times, we need to, as Jesus said, ‘wipe the dust from our feet and move on.’ The message of Christ is a precious cornerstone to the lives of many many others and we need to keep moving to find those individuals.

Look through the book of Acts and take note of the number of times, Paul gave up on people and moved on.  There is no value in drilling a stone in search of blood.  The harvest is plentiful. Jesus said so, but we’re not going to harvest sweet water from salt springs.

First Peter is packed with great insights into God’s promises to His children and establishing our identity in Christ.  Take time this week to read it. It is deep water, but clean and cool for parched hearts.

And, that’s all I got this week. I can’t wait to dig into 2 Peter next week.  In that short letter Peter is going to be swinging for the fence. Don’t forget to send your questions and thoughts via email or on the comments section of the show notes. Until then, Be blessed and be a blessing

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Just Do It!

 

Swoosh

Episode 35

James

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Just Do It!

When I was a teenager, way back in the 70s, the two most popular NT books for Bible study were the Gospel of John and the Book of James. Several decades have come and gone since then, but the popularity of those books as not waned.

James is one of the first New Testament books to be written.  Many Scholars say it was first. I think that’s a real possibility, though Matthew may be slightly older. Both were written around the mid 40s AD.

James’ back story is every bit as fascinating to me as that of the Apostle Paul. James is from the tribe of Judah, and the biological son of Joseph and Mary of Nazareth. He is the direct descendent of King David through Solomon.  He, then, is the half brother of Jesus. Like Jesus, he would have grown up a tradesman, a carpenter.

With the exception of Mary, probably no one knew Jesus the way James did. They grew up, playing, rough housing, and working together. I would have loved to have been privy to some of their one on one conversations during their years together.

Despite, or possibly because of, their closeness, James was not a disciple of Jesus during His ministry years. In fact, as we read through the Gospels, it appears as if Jesus’ siblings took a bit of a sarcastic, if not outright cynical view of their older Brother’s ministry.

I tend to believe, though, that Jesus and James were close. I make that claim, based on the fact that James was one of the individuals Jesus made a personal appearance to following His resurrection.  You can read about that in I Corinthians 15.

The next time we meet James, he is already a leader in the Jerusalem Church. He seems to have been on equal footing with the Apostles. Obviously, his familial connection with Jesus would have given him some leverage, but his character and faith were obvious from the beginning. The legends that grew up around him, say he was so devoted to prayer, that great, thick callouses grew on his knees, earning him the nickname, ‘Old Camel Knees’.

7:227:48According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, James was martyred in A.D. shortly after Governor Festus died, and before the new Governor, Albinus, arrived.

There are two versions of James’ Death. One says that James was lured to the roof of the temple where he was invited to address the crowd. While he was preaching, some of the Pharisees threw him off in an effort to kill him, but failed. James rose to his knees and began to pray for the assassins, whereupon, they began to stone and club him until he died.

Josephus tells a much less fanciful tale, and says the high priest, Ananus, took advantage of his interim leadership, between Festus’ death and Albinus’ arrival to have a number of his least favorite people executed. James was among that number, when he was publicly stoned.

Somehow, Josephus’ account has a more ring of truth to it, but Hegesippus’ tale of intrigue and conspiracy would make a great movie. Perhaps someone should get Mel Gibson on the phone…

Again, according to tradition, James never left Jerusalem. He lived, ministered, and died in that great city.

The letter that bears his name, might be a favorite now, but has not always been so. Martin Luther and many of the early reformers disliked it because of its emphasis on good works. In fact, Luther called it, ‘an epistle of straw’, or, ‘a right strawy epistle.’

For some reason, it appeared to the reformers that James was somehow contradicting Paul’s emphasis on Grace and Faith.  A few people continue to make that mistake even in the 21st century.

Frankly, I just can’t see the conflict. It is clear from Paul’s letters that he was comparing salvation by faith, to trying to keep the law of Moses as a way to earn salvation. James is saying that if we truly have faith, it will show itself in the way we live. A faith that doesn’t shape our behavior is not faith.

The little book of James is much more, though, than a challenge to walk the walk we talk.

In Chapter one, he encourages the Church to sees their suffering as growing spiritual stamina and patience.  He finishes the chapter by reminding the readers that we need to do more than hear or acknowledge the gospel. We need to put it into practice.

In short, James says, the Gospel isn’t dressed until it has shoes on.

Chapters 2 and 3 contain the juiciest bits. These are the two chapters that have stirred the pot for centuries.

James begins chapter 2 by denouncing favoritism; especially economic favoritism. When we show favoritism for the wealthy, we look really tacky.  Examples.  But back in Exodus, God told Moses not to show favoritism to the poor OR the rich.  The truth (which is, or should be, implied in the word, justice), is blind. It doesn’t show favoritism. That’s why we always see ‘lady justice’ wearing a blindfold.

11:08 These days, we see it in other ways, too. Talent. A struggling congregation will grab a musician like a monkey grabs a peanut.  Good looks will get you a seat at the table PDQ as well.  Celebrity. The list goes on. Its so tempting. But it’s still wrong.

After his excellent words on favoritism, James returns to the subject of putting faith into action. Here he says things like, ‘it is by works a man is justified and not by faith alone. And Faith without works is dead.

Chapter 3 is all about how much our mouths get us into trouble. No man can tame the tongue.

Chapter 4, while not nearly as dramatic as 2 and 3, is deep. It reads almost like a commentary on Jesus’ statement, ‘out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. ‘  The source of quarrels, ugly words, selfish actions all have their roots buried in stony, self engrossed hearts.

In Chapter 5, James returns to the danger of riches. Coveteousness and greed are siblings and they  hide everywhere.

From there he goes back to patience, especially as we wait for Christ’s return.  And he finishes with a powerful statement about prayer. He reminds us of the power of prayer, and that every Believer has access to that Power. Prayer is for everyone, especially ordinary people.

I won’t dive any deeper into James’ letter, because I want you to read it for yourself and discover just how much is packed into it. This little letter by the camel kneed brother of Jesus is both powerful and practical. I think you’ll love it. Let me know.  For now, that’s all I got. See you next week. Until then….

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Hebrews – More Than Just How God Makes Coffee

Tabernacle

 

Episode 34

Hebrews

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Happy Independence Day, How in the world are you?  I am recording this on Tuesday, July 5, 2-16, and I hope you had a Happy, safe, food filled, blessed day.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I actually recorded the show yesterday, but when I went back and listened to it, I thought I sounded really harsh and I never want to come across that way, so I’m back here in the camper after my morning exercise and I’m going to try again.

We’ve got a lot of ground to cover today, so let’s crack on. Can you believe how far we’ve already come in our journey to ReDiscover the Bible together? We’ve flown over all four Gospels, the Book of Acts, all of Paul’s letters to Churches and also his letters to individuals. Now we’re moving into a section I call, general letters or open letters. These books are quite generic as they are written to Christians at large and were most likely sent out as round robin documents intended to go from one place to the next until they covered the empire.

We’re going to cover some pretty deep and challenging topics as we flip through these letters; things like, Gnosticism, the truth of the Gospel and the truth of the Bible, Why Jesus hasn’t come back yet, the nature of angels and demons, how to handle false teachers, the human tongue and it’s tendency to get us in trouble, and of course, the End Times.

Up to this point, I’ve been on pretty safe ground, with not too much controversy.  But some of the things we’ll look at over the next couple months, are somewhat more challenging and have been the source of many of the divisions in Christianity.  There is just no way I’m going to be able to tackle these last 9 books without ruffling some feathers. I don’t want to do that, but I absolutely know I will.  All I ask is that you do your own homework.  Be like the Bereans and search the scriptures daily.

The book we’re going to look at today, Hebrews, is one of those challenging ones.  The purpose of the letter was to establish the superiority of the New Covenant – Grace- Christianity- over the old covenant – Law- Judaism.

In the first century, as Christianity was establishing itself as distinct from being just a sect of Judaism, it’s unique features created a rift between the Jewish Believers and the Gentile ones over what the relationship between the Church and Israel should be, and in how this fledgling group of Christ followers should respond to the law of Moses.

While there was general agreement in terms of Jesus being seen as the Jewish Messiah and that His death extended forgiveness to the Gentiles also, the traditionalists saw the Gospel as an amendment or an addendum to the covenant with Israel through Moses, whereas the Apostles were calling this a NEW, Superior Covenant and that it was actually replacing the old one, rather than merely adding on to it.

The book of Hebrews is more or less, the Magnus Opus, or the premier defense (apologetic) of the Apostolic view. The author, while not mentioned directly, is generally believed to be Paul.

When we get around to studying through this book more deeply, we’ll spend some time talking about the authorship and dates; for now, just know that I believe that Paul is the source for this book. I am increasingly persuaded that rather than being a letter in the traditional sense, it was originally a sermon he preached and that it was written down by Luke.

Primarily, as I’ve mentioned, Hebrews is a defense of the superiority of Christianity over Judaism, which makes this book controversial on many levels and to many groups.  Let me explain why.

First, there is a segment of the population who believe that all religions are essentially of equal value, or non value, as the case may be. Christianity does not allow for that opinion. We discussed this subject briefly when we looked that the Gospel of John, but it’s also very clear here in Hebrews. From a secular perspective, Christianity cannot be lumped in with other world religions.  Since secularists reject all religion and primitive and irrelevant, it’s no big deal, but for the millions who consider themselves ‘spiritual’ but open minded, Hebrews is one many Bible texts that grates against current ‘politically correct’ understandings of religion.

Secondly, it’s objectionable to the Jews because it overtly declares Christianity (the New Covenant) to be superior to the Mosaic one, which they could never accept as anything other than blasphemy.

Thirdly, it is troublesome to the growing number of Christians who are in love with all things Jewish. We have more and more Christians who are practicing the Jewish feasts like Passover and tabernacles, have moved services to Friday Nights and refer to Jesus as Yeshua, and prefer the Hebrew description of his role as Messiah rather than the more common Christ, which comes from the Greek expression of the same word. These Gentile Hebraic leaning believers see Christianity as the fulfillment of all God’s promises, but not necessarily as a replacement covenant.

And fourth, Hebrews is often problematic for 21st century dispensationalists who see the Church as a Parenthesis in God’s plan for Israel.  As one friend of mine says, ‘We’re, meaning the Church, We’re the B team. God’s plan is for Israel.

It’s hard for me to talk in detail about this in one episode, but we’ll return to it a few times in these last books of the New Testament.

11:41For the first  nearly 1900 years of the Church, the idea of the new Covenant replacing the old was generally accepted, though there were differences in understanding of what would happen with the Jews during the end times. Eventually, those who leaned towards a ‘systematic theology’ that believed the New Testament did not replace the old, was not merely and extension of Old Testament, but an interruption to it, began to create a pattern that comingled prophesies of the Old Testament with New Testament teachings on the end times and a new theology usually called Dispensationalism was born.

When Israel became a Nation in 1948, this was seen as a fulfillment of prophesy and the Dispensational movement exploded.  By the mid to late 60s after the 6 day war and the popular, easy to understand, ‘right out of the headlines’ writings of Hal Lindsay and John Woolvord, dispensationalism became a juggernaut, replacing historical Premillennialism, Postmillennialism, and A millennialism as the generally accepted view. With the help of the Schofield reference Bible, Christian Television, the Left Behind novels, and I don’t know how many different movies, many, maybe even most, modern Christians don’t even know Dispensationalism is a historically recent phenomenon.

The short version of Dispensationalism is that God’s first and foremost covenant is with Israel and the Church exists to preach to Gentiles and get the world ready for God to redeem Israel as a nation.

In my opinion, and the opinion of many thousands of scholars, the Book of Hebrews rebuts that view.

First, and I do wish we had more time to discuss it, it’s a grave mistake to conflate modern Israel with ancient Israel. The way we view modern Israel in light of Scripture will dramatically affect our understanding of End Times prophecy. In my view, the only real parallels are that they have the same name and they occupy similar (though not identical) geographical territory.

Ancient Israel was a Theocratic Monarchy, built on the Old Testament laws given to Moses on Mt Sinai, circa 1447 B.C. and overseen by a king from the line of David and priests from the line of Aaron.  Modern Israel is a secular parliamentary democracy, overseen by elected officials. I daresay there’s not a Jewish person on earth who can trace his or her ancestry back to any particular tribe with any certainty at all.

The majority of early leaders of Modern Israel while heroic, were atheistic nationalists who referred to themselves as Zionists. They were secularists in every way as was a large part of the Israeli population. These days, Israel is a melting pot of both secular and religious Jews, along with many Hebraic Christian groups, Believers who are eager to hasten the Last Days, and a large population of Islamist along the edges who see Israel as invaders who forced them out of their homeland.

I have no intention of getting into Holy Land politics, I’m merely trying to describe the population in broad terms.

Most Dispensationalists are looking for fulfillment of prophesy under every stone in the middle east. They tend to believe that God wants to restore this current nation called Israel to the glory of Davidic Israel , including rebuilding the Temple and re-establishing the sacrificial system.  I believe the New Testament teaches that both of those goals are in error and are actually in opposition to the Gospel. And I believe the Book of Hebrews establishes that fact once and for all.

See, I told you I was going to ruffle some feathers.

So let’s look very quickly at what the Book of Hebrews says as I attempt to present my Case:

Jesus is superior to the Old Testament Prophets: Chapter 1

Jesus is superior to Angels          Chapter 1:14-2

Jesus is Superior to Moses Chapter 3

Jesus rest (salvation) is superior to the Promised Land         3:11-4:11

Jesus Priesthood is superior to the Priesthood of Aaron        5:1-7

Jesus Covenant is Superior to the Covenant of Sinai    7:22-8

Jesus Sacrifice is superior to the blood of bulls and goats    9:8-10:39

Salvation by Faith is superior o keeping the covenant  Hebrews 11:1-40

The book of Hebrews is in perfect harmony with the letters to the romans and to the Galatians.

Chapters 8 and 9 show in word picture why God has no desire to see the Old Testament System reinstated;

First of all: there was something wrong with the old covenant so God replaced it.

The blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin. Jesus is a once, for all, sacrifice. Why would God want to reinstate a system that doesn’t work.

Chapter 9 reminds us that it was the Tabernacle, rather than the Temple that was authorized by God.  The temple was David’s idea. God honored it because of his love for David, but the Tabernacle, a temporary structure was His plan and it will be replaced by the New Jerusalem in a New Heaven and a New Earth.

Chapter 9 paints a clear picture that Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant and replaced the formal Worship system.

  1. The veil between the Holy and Most Holy Place has been torn in two. There is no barrier between man and God.
  2. In the Holy place, the place of worship, we have a new light from the word of God, fresh bread in the Lord’s supper, Prayers that go directly to God without the need of smoke that worms its way through the veil.
  3. Outside, There is a once for all sacrifice so there is no more need for constant bloodshed and the washing is for a kingdom rather than a single tribe. We are a royal priesthood and are washed in the baptismal water, once, not before each time we enter the sanctuary.

 

That’s a lot to chew on. It’s hard to get your head around.  Do your own homework. Don’t listen to me just because it’s me. Read the book of Hebrews for youself. What conclusions do you draw? Let me know. We’re in this together. Send me an email or drop a comment in the comments section of the show notes. I’d love your thoughts.

 

So, for now, that’s all I got. See you next time. Until then. Be blessed and be a blessing.

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Saint Paul The Comedian?

PhilemonEpisode 33

Philemon

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Welcome back, or if you’re tuning for the first time, a very special welcome to you. I’m so glad each of you are here. You have so many options for Bible study and yet so many of you keep tuning in week after week. Wow and wow.

I had a great idea turned in by a regular listener, who also happens to be my wife, and I thought it was a fantastic suggestion, so beginning today, I’m going to suggest a verse from each book to memorize.   I’m a big believer in Scripture memorization and can’t wait to get this started.

I also had two listeners suggest that I start making the show longer.  First, thank you. I am honored that some of you are wanting more. Secondly, I doubt that I’m going to increase much, at least in the short term.  Once we get into slightly deeper water after we finish our survey and start looking a little more closely at each book, things might get a little longer, but for now, thanks for wanting more. I hope that’s still true a year from now.

For today, we’re turning our attention to the book of Philemon. It is the shortest of all of Paul’s letters and is in many ways the most unusual.  It looks like Philemon was written at about the same time he wrote the Book of Colossians, which is about A.D.60. While Philemon is not mentioned directly in Colossians, the subject of the Book, Onesimus, is, as are Philemon’s wife Aphia, and one Archippus, who is likely their son.

From Paul’s early encouragement in the letter, it sounds like Philemon may be a leader, and a wealthy one at that, in the Colossian Church. Paul writes as if they are good friends.

There is little doubt that Philemon is the most personal of all his letters. He writes in an extremely intimate manner and the letter is loaded with puns and tongue in cheek humor. Sadly, many of the jokes and puns are lost in translation, but while he is dealing with an extremely serious matter, he does so as friend to friend.

The first 7 verses are devoted to encouraging Philemon and his family. He tosses many compliments to Philemon, and our Memorization section comes from this section, namely, verse 6:

Phm 1:6  My prayer is that our fellowship with you as believers will bring about a deeper understanding of every blessing which we have in our life in union with Christ.

It keeping with the somewhat light hearted, but serious nature of the letter, Paul uses all this back patting as a set up for the main subject which is Paul’s request that Philemon welcome back his runaway slave, Onesimus.

Onesimus, for reasons we don’t know, ran away from Philemon and ended up in Rome. At some point, he looked up Paul in prison and ended up becoming a Christ Follower. Now Paul wants Onesimus to go home and resume his life there.

The sticking point is, as a runaway slave, it is Philemon’s legal right to have him beaten severely or even killed.  But Paul spends the bulk of the letter, which is only one chapter, coaxing and guilt tripping Philemon into taking Onesimus back with no strings attached.

First, Paul says that Onesimus is his true spiritual son, suggesting that hurting the slave would be hurting the apostle. Then he uses a play on words to make his point. Onesimus means useful. Paul says, I know he was once useless, but know he is Onesimus, useful.

He askes Philemon to welcome Onesimus back as more than a returned slave, but as a brother in Christ.  He then says that if Onesimus owes any expenses for trouble that he’s caused, Paul himself will pay it out of his own pocket.  At this point he take the pen out of the hand of his scribe and writes, ‘see, I’m writing this in my own hand, if Onesimus owes you anything, I will pay it back myelf,’

Frankly, that’s really cute. Paul is using humor again to make a serious point. I can almost see him chuckling as he grabs the pen and writes his thoughts. Then he goes on to say, with tongue firmly in cheek, ‘While I will gladly pay you, I won’t mention that you owe me your very self.

And if that’s all not enough guilt, Paul adds a final goad by saying, oh, fix up a room for me, I expect to be released soon and can’t wait to visit you and the family.

Philemon is pretty much in a corner.

In this letter, Paul is changing the game in  how slavery is played. In several places the New Testament mentions how slaves and slave owners should interact. Now, Paul is upping the ante by asking Philemon directly to change his behavior toward his slaves.

Many skeptics point out quite accurately, that the New Testament does not overtly condemn slavery, and that causes much head scratching among 21st century people.

But the New Testament does not get involved in any Political Matters.  The Gospel isn’t about changing policies, but about changing hearts, and policies will change as a result.  Paul says we are to obey the government and pray for all those over us. He tells slaves to respect their owners and owners to respect their slaves, but that if a slave gets a chance to gain his freedom, he should take it. He also says that in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, slave nor free, nor male or female.  He totally changes the rules.

Here’s the kicker, as hearts changed, practice changed and Christians became the first to free their slaves.  It’s just hard to view all men as equal and support slavery.  Heart change is always superior to coercion, because it’s lasting.

1801, in Kentucky, was the peak of what is historically known as the ‘2nd Great Awakening’.  It was a huge revival across North America. On of the locations of the huge revivals was at the Cane Ridge Church in Bourbon County.  One of my heroes, Barton W. Stone, was a leader in that revival and Pastor of the Cane Ridge congregation.  The Cane Ridge Church had many slave owners and slaves as part of the members. The building had a balcony, or loft, which was where the slaves sat, while the owners sat on the floor level. Such was the revival among the Church that by the end of 1801, the members tore out the slave balcony and the meetings were integrated. By 1804, every member of the Church had freed their slaves. No revolution, no riots, no bloodshed, they merely followed where the Gospel led.

Secular America had to fight a war to end slavery. The Holy Spirit melted it away.

When it comes to matters of Social Change, I am firmly convinced that the Church should lead the way.  Think about it.

Well, that’s all I got. Read Philemon and determine what ways the Holy Spirit is asking you to trade stinkin’ thinkin’ for seeing the world, and her people in a brand new way.  When I was a boy, I always wanted a pair of those ‘X-ray’ glasses they sold on the backs of comic books. These days, I want to see with Jesus’ eyes.

I can’t wait till next week when we get started on the ‘Open Letters’, or General letters. We begin with Hebrews, which I believe is the key for every Christian to understand the Old Testament. Man, I’m excited. Until then though, have a great week. Be blessed, and, be a blessing.

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Apostles Get Lonely, Too

Episode 31

II Timothy

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Orlando MassacreOk, take a breath. How in the world are you?  This is the second week in a row that I’m not recording until Wednesday. Sometimes, the urgent simply usurps the important. Our time together is one of my favorite parts of the week and I really look forward to it, but recently there have simply been so many pop up showers, as it were, that my schedule is way off. On a side note, I wish there were some LITERAL pop up showers around here.  It is beyond dry.  Our little farm would be a great location for a remake of The Grapes of Wrath.  But I digress.

We’re going to look at Paul’s second letter to Timothy today, but before we go there, I want to say something about the terror attack in Orlando early Monday morning. First, it was just plain awful.  It was a despicable act and I grieve for the families of the victims and for the survivors who will be scarred for a long time, maybe for life.

The second thing is, I am angry at the press and politicians who were politicizing the deed before we even knew all the facts. Heck, before we knew half the facts. And I’m not singling out left or right, both were way out of line.  Sadly, that’s become the norm.  One of the most stupid things I heard was a debate on whether it was an act of terror or a mass shooting or a hate crime.  Really?  Is there such thing as a terrorist attack that ISN’T a hate crime?  Is there a mass shooting that isn’t an act of terror?  Oh, my gosh.   Somebody slap me.

The other thing I want to say is, here in the USA, we no longer listen to other arguments.  Listening is a lost art.  We no longer discuss or logically debate, we spew. We name call.  It makes me sad to watch the devolution of humanity.

I want to encourage the Christ Followers who listen to this show to commit to taking a different road.  Anybody remember WWJD?  There were books and studies, a movie and even bracelets. Apparently it was just a fad. I urge you to take a minute and pray before you hit send on Facebook or Twitter. Does your comment glorify God? Does is promote unity or solutions or will it simply add fuel and oxygen to a fire that is burning down our country. Will readers or listeners think more highly of Jesus as a result of your rant?  I’m begging. I’m pleading for wisdom and guidance during a difficult era here in America. I’m not saying don’t enter the fray, merely to do as Jesus said, ‘Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.’

Ok, rant over. Please pray about what I just said.  If you’d like to share your own thoughts, email me or use the comments section on the show notes.  I really want to hear from you.

Alright, let’s get to II Timothy.  There is a term from my youth about significant personal Bible passages that we used to call, “Life Verses”. II Timothy has several of them for me. I can’t describe how much this little letter has meant to me over the years. It strikes me as the most passionate, heartfelt plea in all the new Testament.

These 4 chapters are the last words of Paul recorded in the Bible. You can almost hear the exhaustion and loneliness dripping from every thought. Paul is in prison and he is aware that his days are numbered. He’s been locked away for a while now. Most of his companions have left him. He is extremely lonely.  Word has reached him of people abandoning the faith, of false teachers and of false congregations.  Because of his incarceration, he is unable to confront, correct or encourage the Churches, so he is looking to protégés like Timothy to intercede in his place.   He knows it’s going to be difficult, so he encourages Timothy along the way.

Let’s look at some of the key passages. I admit that I will pay special attention to my Life Verses in this letter.

The book is oozing with personal thoughts and feelings. I love Chapter 1 verses 3 and 4 in the Good News Bible.  “I thank [God] as I remember you always in my prayers night and day.

2Ti 1:4  I remember your tears, and I want to see you very much, so that I may be filled with joy.

Can you feel the friendship? The Pain, The love?  Have you been there? I sure have.

10:00 As Paul begins to conclude the first chapter, he begins to encourage Timothy to stay strong in the face of so many others abandoning the Faith. In the midst of that he utters one of those life verses I keep talking about.  That’s verse 12.

Paul says that despite all the hardships and heartaches, “I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I’ve committed unto Him against that day. “

Sometime, when you read through Paul’s letters, pay close attention to all the remarks he makes about standing firm and trusting God when the days are dark and the times are hard.  It’s so much like many of the Psalms David wrote.

Chapter 2 reads like a continuation of First Timothy. It is dedicated to urging Timothy to stand firm in a shifting world.  I remember telling my son repeatedly during his school days when he would tell me how frustrating it was dealing with things like peer pressure.  There were times he felt like an island. I would tell him, “Doug, be right. Do right. Even when everything around you is wrong. You are not and island, you are a light.”

Paul’s encouragement contains another of my life verses, In 2:15 he writes: ‘Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the Word of Truth.’

That advice is my heart’s desire. I crave hearing the words, “Well done good and faithful servant.” As a Bible teacher, there is an immense responsibility to handle the scripture wisely. I never take that lightly. Eternity is at stake.

Chapter 3 reminds me very much of II Thessalonians 2 where Paul speaks of the great apostasy that usher in the last days.  In II Timothy 3: he goes into detail about it. We don’t have time today to spend on it, but go back and read it. It is heartbreaking and scary, especially since it truly reads like Paul wrote it this morning.

After describing the abandonment of God’s truth, Paul reminds Timothy to stand in the truth regardless of it’s popularity. He finishes chapter 3 with one of the strongest endorsements of the Bible ever given. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

2Ti 3:17  that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

The Bible is not man made it’s from the breath of God. BTW, the word breath is the same word as Spirit, as in Holy Spirit. God’s word is, as it were, the printed version of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. The Scripture is not to be taken lightly or treated as a menu.

Paul begins Chapter 4 with another of my life verses. It is not possible for me to read this without getting choked up  17;59

2Ti 4:1  I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:

2Ti 4:2  preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

2Ti 4:3  For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,

2Ti 4:4  and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

2Ti 4:5  As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

 

From the time I was a boy, I have heard those words ringing in my ears as a personal charge to me.  I don’t know why God called me, but I am humbled and honored that He did. Being His mouthpiece has brought me grief without measure and joy unspeakable.

Paul doesn’t promise Timothy and easy road, quite the opposite. The day is coming, and I believe it’s at hand, when the great apostasy is upon us and those who stand for God will feel like we’re spitting into the wind. But Paul says, As for you always be sober minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

It’s the very same message as given to Joshua. Be strong and courageous.

Starting in verse 6 of chapter 4, we have one of the most heartbreaking and lonely things I’ve ever read.

Paul says, ‘My time is almost up. Please come see me. Please come soon. I’m so lonely. Everyone except Luke has left me. Please come before winter and bring my coat. Bring my books. And please bring Mark. I miss him. He’s such a great partner.

Isn’t that remarkable? This is the same Mark with whom Paul was so frustrated that it led to a breaking of his partnership with Barnabas. But somewhere along the way, God did a work in both Mark and Paul. Now, the Apostle wants Mark by his side.

Grace is truly amazing.

21:54I am so happy the letter ends this way.  Not because Paul is lonely, but because his loneliness can best be eased by companionship with the two young protoges from his earlier journeys. Remember back in I Timothy when I contrasted Mark and Timothy from their time travelling with Paul. Now, at the end, Paul wants them both.

Some of our relationships are strong to the core, but even a broken one can be restored. Here we have the Prodigal Son and the other brother, in harmony. That’s the Gospel in a nutshell. God calls and He heals all that’s broken by sin. And I am living proof of His Grace and His mercy.

 

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