Help, I Just Can’t Make Sense Of The Bible. Oh, By The Way, It’s Boring

Rediscover CoverDoes that headline resonate with you? It wouldn’t surprise me. Nearly every week, I am asked about the best way to read the Bible, or asked why the Bible is so hard to understand. I totally get that. It can be frustrating when your new to it.

One of the reasons the Bible seems so hard is that it’s not in the best order for reading. Say what? I’m serious. If you’re new to the Bible, or have just never seemed to make sense of it, I’m going to clear some of that up for you right now!

The Bible is actually a collection of books; 66 of them to be precise. And they are grouped into categories just like a library. In fact, we should think of the Bible as a library of books in a single volume. Just like we wouldn’t go to a public library and start with the first book and read them in order all the way around the walls, we get the most out of the Bible if we don’t read from beginning to end (Genesis to Revelation) the first time we read it.

If you want to know more about that, I recommend my book, “(Re)Discovering the Bible Vol. 1”. It’s available on Amazon as an e-book, but you don’t need a Kindle to read it.

In the next two paragraphs, I’m giving you a suggested order in which to read the Bible. I am convinced you will get more out of your personal study if you do this.

The Bible is divided into two major segments, Old Testament and New Testament. As you can see, I’ve recommended the New Testament first. If you read the NT first it will help you understand the Old Testament much better than if you begin there. Trust me.

I highly recommend reading the Gospel of Luke first, followed by the Book of Acts. The reasons are two fold and quite simple. The Gospels tell us who Jesus is, which is the most important thing you and I need to know. The Book of Acts tells us what to do about that knowledge. It’s the only book in the Bible that describes how people became Christians.

The second reason I choose Luke and Acts, when there are 3 other Gospels, is that Luke is the author of both books, so they flow very smoothly. See, I told you it was simple.

In the next paragraph, you’ll find a recommended order for reading the entire New Testament. Essentially, I tried to put easier to read books first and the more difficult ones towards the end.

One more thing; I encourage readers to read through the New Testament twice before moving on to the Old Testament. Mainly, that’s because it really will make the Old Testament easier to grasp.

Here’s the full NT reading list in recommended order:  Luke, Acts, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Matthew, James, Mark, 1 and 2 Timothy, John, 1,2,3 John, Galatians, Philippians, Titus, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, Hebrews, 1 and 2 Peter, Romans, Jude, Revelation.

Ok, now it’s time for the Old Testament. What I’ve done here is simply put the Old Testament books into an order that breaks up the harder to read ones by including some of the easier to read ones in between the harder ones. That gives our brains a rest. You’re welcome.

I do have one more suggestion. Before beginning your Old Testament reading, go through the New Testament Book of Hebrews one more time. I call Hebrews the ‘key to understanding the Old Testament’. It really will help. I promise.

My suggested Old Testament reading plan looks like this: Genesis, Joshua, Psalms, Isaiah, Exodus, Judges, Proverbs, Jeremiah, Leviticus,Ruth, Job, Lamentations, Numbers, 1 Samuel, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel, Deuteronomy, 2 Samuel,Song of Solomon, Daniel, 1 Kings, Hosea, 2 Kings, Joel, 1 Chronicles, Amos, 2 Chronicles, Obadiah, Ezra, Jonah, Nehemiah, Micah, Esther, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

There you have it. Obviously, you can read the Bible in any order you want, but I did this to help those having trouble staying focused and those who were inexperienced with the Bible. As you become more familiar with its message, you may create your own reading plan, or simply go front to back. It’s your call.

I hope this helps; I really do. If you have any questions, please use the comments section and ask.  Again, I refer you to my book, and encourage you to tune into the (Re)Discovering the Bible Online Radio Show podcast.

You can also email your questions to me.  Thanks, as always. You rock.

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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Finding Joy In Hard Places

 

Episode 26

Finding Joy in Hard Places

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Philippians

I guess right off the bat, I need to apologize to regular listeners for announcing that we are going to examining the book of Colossians today. That’s next week. On my calendar, Colossians is scheduled for today, but we missed a week so we’re off schedule. Oops. Colossians and ‘The God Particle’ are NEXT week.  Today, we’re going to survey Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

This letter is the most upbeat examination of hard topics anywhere in the Bible. Paul starts off addressing the fact that he’s in prison, then he moves on to false teachers. There are actually people preaching the Gospel with the intent of causing more problems for Paul.

In Chapter 2 he does an amazing job of transitioning to the doctrine of the Incarnation, aka the deity and humanity of Christ, which was coming under attack during the second half of the first century.  We’re going to come back to that in just a few minutes.

Chapter 3 is Paul’s takedown of a group of legalists nicknamed, the Judaizers.  They are focused on gentiles accepting the law of Moses including the act of circumcision. Paul, if you will pardon the obvious pun, eviscerates their argument about circumcision by using his own life as an example. Even in this hard, to the point chapter, Paul is able to make a positive point about how following Christ is worth every perceived sacrifice you can mention.

He finishes this little book in chapter 4 by asking two squabbling ladies to work it out, then he encourages the Church to find joy in every circumstance, then praises them for their generosity and challenges them to continue to be so.

It’s really an amazing letter.  It is one of the most personal letters Paul wrote, at least that he wrote to a whole Church.  While the Ephesian Church is one Paul had a deep relationship with, this Philippian one is deeply personal. You can almost feel Paul’s rapport dripping off every paragraph.

When you consider that it appears Paul didn’t get to spend a great deal of time in Philippi, and much of it was spent in conflict or in jail, the joyful nature of the letter becomes even more evident.

You can read all about the beginnings of the Church in Philippi over in Acts 16. Paul is on his second mission trip and is trying to go back to Asia Minor, but doors keep closing. Finally, while he’s on the coast, he has a vision of a man calling him over to Macedonia to preach the Good News in Europe.

Philippi is called an important city in Macedonia, and it certainly is prominent compared to the towns in Galatia, but is Hicksville compared to Corinth or Ephesus. Philippi’s big claim to fame is that it’s a military outpost. As such, there is a great deal of activity with soldiers coming and going. And there is a huge amount of trade. When I think of Philippi, I can’t help but think about Limestone, Maine where Brittan and I used to live. When Loring airforce base was active, it was a bustling town of several thousand and influenced nearby Caribou, as well. Since closure, the population and economy dwindled away. That’s kind of the history of Philippi. During Paul’s visit, it is a hive of activity.

Paul’s first foray into evangelism was with a group of women gathered by the river to pray. These are not secularists like he will encounter in Athens, rather these are devout God fearers who are gathered together to seek Him.

One of these ladies is Lydia, a successful business woman who traded in expensive fabrics. She believes the Gospel and is baptized right away. A short time later, she plays host to Paul and the evangelistic team.

From this positive beginning, things turn sour for Paul as he attracts the attention of a demon possessed fortune teller who follows him around trying to profit off the Apostle’s coattails. After several days of frustration, Paul gets angry and casts out the demon.

One would think that’s the kind of act that would see great results for the kingdom, but in reality, this becomes a case of no good deed goes unpunished. You see, this young lady brought in a tidy income for her owners and they suddenly find themselves without their cash cow, so they had Paul and Silas thrown in prison.

It is while in the local jail, that God produces another remarkable miracle. At about midnight, while Paul and Silas are praying and singing, the jail becomes the epicenter of a serious earthquake. The jail collapses and all the cells are thrown wide open. The jailer, assuming a jailbreak, does not want to face execution, so he prepares to fall on his own sword, but Paul stops him by assuring the soldier that all the prisoners are present and accounted for.

In his gratitude, the jailer falls on his knees and cries out, What must I do to be saved. I know it’s popular to think he’s repenting of his sins right there, but I think he’s more focused on his earthly life. Paul, however, takes that opportunity to present Christ to him and the darnedest thing happens.

Here is, 0 dark 30 and the jailer takes Paul home, washes their wounds and they all have a big baptismal service as the whole household responds to Jesus. After their baptism, they all have a hearty breakfast.

What an incredible story.  Paul leaves town, probably the next day, but you can bet, the effects of his short visit lived on a long time.

We don’t read of any subsequent visits to  Philippi, but whatever happened during those exciting days, made a deep impact on Paul and the new Christians and bonded them for life.

Later, while Paul is in prison again, this time courtesy of Nero in Rome, the Philippians send him a care package, which prompts Paul to write this amazing letter.

Sometime in the future, we’ll spend some time digging into the various subjects in Philippians, but today I just want to spend a few minutes in Chapter 2, because something Paul writes about Jesus is incredibly profound and, I believe is easily overlooked if we don’t park and look closely at it.

I’m going to read verses 4 – 11. If you are in a place to get out your Bible and follow along, I encourage you to do so. If not, please go back later and read it again. It’s powerful.

Php 2:4  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Php 2:5  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

Php 2:6  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,

Php 2:7  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Php 2:8  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Php 2:9  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,

Php 2:10  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

Php 2:11  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

Verse 6 says that Jesus was in very form God. He is Spirit.  Form has to do with shape and substance.  Before he is a baby growing in Mary’s womb, Jesus is spirit.

Verse 6 then has one of the most striking and sometimes controversial statements in, though He was in form, God, he didn’t count equality with God something to be grasped. Weird. Many people have read that and said it means Jesus isn’t God. See, we often think of ‘grasp’ as something to reach for, but this word means grasped as in, ‘to hold on to’.  It is best read, ‘did not see equality with God something to be clung to.  Wow, that’s beyond profound.

Go on, But emptied himself.  That is an incredible statement. He divested himself of all those ‘Spirit’ qualities and exchanges things like omnipresence to be limited to the dimensions of time and space by becoming a man.  In verse 7 he takes the form of a servand and is born in the likeness of man. The one who was the Word, the medium by which all the universe was created, becomes and ordinary, flesh and blood human. He is not a humanoid like Clark Kent, but in reality superman, Jesus has emptied himself of his superpowers and is totally man.

Paul continues by describing Jesus’ crucifixion and God’s exaltation of Him back to Heaven and giving Him His old authority back. One day, every knee will bow, in heaven, on the earth, and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the father.

BTW, the use of Lord is clearly a reference to Jesus as God, like in John 8.

The heart pounding truth in all this, is that when Jesus divested himself and took on flesh, in some sense he limited himself for all eternity. There is no mention of Him going back to His old ‘form’. Jesus, exalted and praised, loves us so much that he has nail scars for ever.

Do you get that? No wonder it’s the ‘Greatest story ever told’. It’s the greatest sacrifice ever made.

And here’s the kicker. The context of that doctrine, is back in verses 4 and 5 when Paul says, Let each of you look not to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.

Paul is saying that we should be willing to give up literally everything in our service to others, Just like Jesus gave up everything in His service for others. Are you there yet? Me neither, and it certainly sets the bar high, but there’s the target. Let’s go for it.

That’s all I got. I’d sure love to hear from you. You’ll find the show notes at www.samburtonpresents.com. Please click to comment there or email me directly samburtonpresents@gmail.com.

Next week we really are in Colossians, I promise. Until then; be blessed. And be a blessing.

 

It’s All About That Grace!

 

ReDiscovering The Bible Online Radio Show

Episode 25 – Ephesians

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Notes:

So glad to be back after some time away. I didn’t expect to be gone quite so long, but life is full of surprises. More experienced podcasters have a few episodes in the bank so that when things come up, they don’t have a gap in broadcasts. I’m not that smart, but I thank you all for your patience and I’m back in the saddle.

This week we’re looking at Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and it’s especially interesting because the Ephesian Church may well be the congregation Paul had the strongest relationship with. It was certainly the place he stayed the longest, a full 3 years.

You can read all about the dramatic founding of the Church in Ephesus, including the miracles, growth, and opposition in the 19th Chapter in Acts. In fact, that chapter is so exciting, I encourage you, if you’re in a place to do so, pause the show right now and go read Acts 19. If you can’t do so at the moment, go back and do so at your earliest opportunity.

This Church is so important to Paul, that later, when he is on his way to Jerusalem, he summons them to join him for a meeting at Miletus (about 38 miles south of Ephesus) when his ship docks there for a short time.

During that meeting he shares many insights with the elders and in 20:15 he mentions that they will they will never see each other again. After that statement, Paul warns them about false teachers and other trouble makers who will try and break up the Church.

At the end of Paul’s speech, there is a great deal of weeping as they pray and say their goodbyes. Verse 38 says the thing the Ephesians were most sad about was that they would never see him again.

I find that one of the most tender passages in the New Testament. Paul loved these people very much and they loved him just as much.

Sometime after Paul leaves, probably around AD 63, Paul writes the letter we call the Book of Ephesians.

It appears that following Paul’s death, Ephesus becomes one of the most prominent Churches in the Kingdom., certainly in the province of Asia. After Paul’s death, it becomes the home of the Apostle John. According to some traditions, when John moved there, Mary, the mother of Jesus was still alive and moved with him.  John did his writing from Ephesus (and maybe some on Patmos) and Ephesus was the first of the 7 Churches Jesus dictated special letters to in the Book of Revelation (see chapter 2).

Ephesus is no little backwater place like Galatia, but rather the most important city in Asia Minor. Over time, it had replaced Troy (troas) and was a prominent port, trade, education and religious center. It’ a large and influential place.

As we look through the book, we find some of the most important and central doctrines of Christianity within it’s 6 small chapters.

It also contains a few verses (Chapter 1, verses 4-7) that are among the most contentious verses in all of Christianity. So let’s take a quick look at those verses and see if we can’t clear up some of the misunderstanding.

Most of the confusion comes from verse 5 and the word ‘predestined’. It says, ‘He predestined us us for adoption as sons…’ That word connotes for many people an assumption that God individually selects certain people for salvation and others to miss out. Entire denominations and ‘Theologies’ have been built around that concept. Millions have feared they are left out or that loved ones are left out because of ‘predestination’. Many have turned away from Christ because of the idea that this would either negate the loving nature of God, or that it eliminates the free will of man.

If we look a little deeper, however, the explanation is much more hopeful and inclusive. This kind of misunderstanding is what comes from focusing on a single word pulled out of its context with the rest of the Bible.

Let’s put it back in context and see what happens. Back in verse 4 Paul writes that ‘he chose us in Him before the foundation of the world….”  Keep in mind, Paul has already addressed this in a letter he wrote to the Church in Rome some years before this one. In chapter 8, verse 29, he wrote, “Those He foreknew, He predestined.”

Here he is saying the same thing.  God knows everything. Before we were ever born, God knew that millions would be willing to accept that we are sinners and turn to Him, so, in His Grace, He created a plan of redemption that He Implemented even before the world was created. That’s all that’s meant by predestination here. It isn’t that God selected some and not others. He selected ALL who would follow Him by creating an avenue of redemption. So in verse 5, (everything is plural). When He is talks about Predestination he is referring to the Church as a whole.

Remember, Paul is writing to the whole congregation and explaining that our salvation is God’s work, not ours. He planned everything from before the beginning. We didn’t create it and we don’t deserve it. It’s a gift of His Grace.

It’s all explained in Chapter2. We must always remember that chapters and verses are not a part of the original, so we shouldn’t let them divorce us from the way the entire message fits together.

In Chapter 2, Paul zooms in on this subject by highlighting Grace as the source of salvation. The decision to offer forgiveness is God’s alone,

BTW, This is the chapter that provides the verses that led me to title this episode, “It’s all about that Grace”.

In verses 4 and 5 Paul talks about God’s mercy and His grace, which are the heart of His Salvation. In verse 4 God’s love for us, despite all our rebellion and screw ups is the motivation behind salvation. Wow.

Let’s take a quick side road for a minute. It’s not unusual for us to hear about God’s Mercy and Grace and not think about the difference between them. Understanding that difference can make us really appreciate what God has done for us.

Mercy is God withholding from us the punishment we deserve. Jesus took that in our place.

Grace,on the other hand, is God giving us what we don’t deserve, forgiveness and new life.

Verse 8 is the key to the whole chapter. Let’s read it. ‘For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. It is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.

There is nothing you or I can do to gain salvation. We can’t pray enough, work enough, preach enough, be baptized enough, give enough or any enough. Salvation is by God’s favor upon us, pure and simple.

Salvation is by Grace, period. Yes, we must respond to His Grace, but we have nothing to do with creating it or making it available. Grace. Period. That’s the list. The end.

Just one more thought before we go. Neither grammatically nor contextually is there a comma after saved in verse 8. The emphasis in verse 8 and 9 is not comparing faith to works, but comparing grace to works. And also, grammatically, it is Grace that is the gift of God. Not faith that is the gift of God. The entire section has grace as its focus. There are several denominations that make Faith the gift, but grammatically and contextually, that just doesn’t fit.

When all is said and done, I’m so glad our Salvation is in God’s hands, rather than ours, because I would screw it up like I do everything else. Instead, I am confident that the one who made me, loves me, and sustains me is the one who guarantees my hope. I hope you’re glad about that, too.

Moving on, the heart of the book, from chapters 3 on are dedicated to instructions for living. They are incredibly practical and straight to the point. Some of the things, particularly in chapter 5 about families are controversial in our post modern 21st century, but remain a basic part of Christian doctrine and practice, at least in Bible Believing Churches.

Before we go, I want to spend just  minute in Chapter 6. Paul is getting ready to close, but just before asking for prayer and offering final greetings, Paul reminds the Ephesians that we are at war. Our battle is not merely a political or physical one, but is spiritual. He reminds them that if we are at war, we need to be prepared. So he advises them, and by extension, us, to put on ‘the full armor of God

I love it as he paints a word picture of a Roman soldier and uses the soldier’s armor as a model for our spiritual war.

He begins with the belt of truth which gives us flexibility and mobility.

The breastplate of righteousness covers our hearts

The Gospel is on our feet as shoes laced up for movement. The Gospel is meant for going, not standing still.

The shield of faith, puts out the flaming arrows launched our way by the Enemy.

Salvation is described as our helmet. The truth of our hope in Christ isn’t just something we feel, it’s something we KNOW. It is part of our intellect and not merely emotional.

The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God is the Scripture. Our great weapon is for hand to hand combat and is the only weapon mentioned. Our defense and our offense is not primarily built on our testimony, but on the Bible.

This analogy about armor is key to our understanding of how to be prepared to deal with opposition.

And that’s all I’ve got. As always, please do your own homework. Use the comments section on the show notes at samburtonpresents.com to share your thoughts and questions. Or…email me: samburtonpresents@gmail.com.

Next week we’ll take a look at Colossians and “The God Particle”. Until then, be blessed, and, be a blessing.

 

 

Cracked Pots, Bybee Kentucky, And Blackberry Cobbler – Episode 23

 

 

 

Show Notes

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2nd Corinthians

We’re back on schedule this week and are looking at 2nd Corinthians. Frankly, I probably should have reviewed both letters at the same time, because all of the background information is the same. So if you want to get all the scoop on Corinth and the Church there, go back and listen to the show two weeks ago, or read the show notes.

This second letter was written some months after the first one and after Paul hears that the Church has mostly responded in a positive manner to the first one.  Paul still has to deal with certain criticisms and gripes, but he is also more encouraging in this letter.  If you read the two letters back to back, the differences are rather obvious.

Since we’ve already dealt with many of the dysfunctions in the Corinthian Church, I want to spend our time today investigating one of my favorite verses in the letter. And that is Chapter 4, verse 7.

2Co 4:7  But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

Some of you have probably heard me discuss this verse before, but I think it’s well worth our time to park here for a few minutes and look behind the curtain at some of the takeaways of these few words.

First, what treasure is Paul talking about? If this verse appeared in a vacuum it would be a real head scratcher. But fortunately, Paul gave us the answer in the verse before:

the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

He’s just been explaining that many are blinded by the Enemy to the glory of God, but in verse 6, through Faith we have ‘seen His Glory’.  We live in the light of salvation by grace. That is the treasure.

I am fascinated by the concept that we are jars of clay. I mean, you don’t have to look very deep to get the importance of the idea, we are mere mortals, but God has loved us enough to grant salvation despite our limitations and mortality. “What is man that you are mindful of him?’

But if we stop and look closely at jars of clay, there are several layers of added value to our understanding.

When I was a boy, we used to visit a pottery house in Bybee, Kentucky. They made all kinds of clay objects and dishes there. I absolutely loved our annual visit to tour the place. I associate it with blackberry picking. We would go out for a day of berry picking, then visit Bybee before heading home. I positively loved watching the potters shape the clay, bake it in the ovens, then glaze it. I could look around the gift shop for hours. I think I wanted every bowl, cup, vase, plate and tray in the shop.

Every time I read 2 Corinthians 4:7, my mind travels back to Bybee and the things I learned about jars of clay.

  1. They are made on purpose – None of the beautiful, not even the plain items in Bybee was the product of random action. Each was meticulously hand crafted by a master. Each detail was expertly designed and created. What is true for clay pots, is equally true of human beings. Genesis reminds us that we are created in the very image of God. We are not a product of random chance. The psalmist reminds us that we were knit together in our mother’s womb and that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are not an accident, regardless of what you may have been told. You are unique, one of a kind masterpiece. Yes, unique. Even identical twins have distinct fingerprints.
  2. Not only are jars of clay made ON purpose, they are made FOR a purpose. In the Bybee gift shop I saw all shapes and sizes of objects, from Baking dishes to dinner ware, to simple flower pots. Some were very ornate, others were quite plain, but each had a role to fill. So it is with us. And each role is valuable. Yes, some of the ornate serving dishes were eye catching and grabbed the eye, but even the simplest pot, while not outwardly impressive, was used to grow the herbs that flavored the food served in the ornate dishes, or held the flowers that decorated the room in which the fancier dishes were displayed. Some of us understand our purpose instinctively from a very young age, while others struggle to discover where we are valuable, but the simple truth is, we DO bring value. We were made for a purpose.
  3. Clay pots are of no value until they’ve been though the fire. It is in the immense heat of the oven that the loose, soft, clay is hardened into something that can hold liquid or withstand the rigors of cooking. We may hate trials, and most times they are quite difficult, but just like fire purifies metal and hardens clay, our struggles purify and strengthen us, to make us valuable in service to the King.
  4. Clay pots break – I can’t even guess how many, mugs, glasses and baking dishes found their way to the trash can as a result of being dropped, kicked, or elbowed off their resting place. Those Bybee dishes may have been useful but they were by no means indestructible. Just like one of those clay pots from my youth knocked from a shelf, or Humpty Dumpty having a great fall, we easily shatter. And all the kings horses and men cannot put us together again.

It’s precisely at this point we fully understand that the clay pot is not the treasure, it is merely the vessel that contains the treasure.

So it is with us. God made us on purpose and for a purpose. He allows us to go through the fire to make us useful and to house HIS treasure. But He is the chef, and salvation is His recipe. That should take a great deal of pressure off of us. The success of the Gospel is not based on our strength or lack of strength. The work of salvation is on HIM and He will bring honor to himself. Like good jars of clay, our job is to be the clay pot used to hold the treasure. Some plant, some water, God gives the increase.

 

Episode 20- Romans Made Easy

Rome

 

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Romans is the most difficult book in the New Testament for me. After all these years, I still struggle with making sense of parts of it. So what I decided to do was back out and look at it from a higher altitude, so to speak, and look at the big picture. Doing this, helps me a lot.

Lets face it, one of the big mistakes in Bible Study AND Bible teaching is trying to zoom in too close and draw conclusions from the minutiae rather than get the big picture right first. Looking ahead, that is frequently one of the problems we’ll deal with when we get to the book of Revelation. By looking at the big picture we gain perspective.  That’s how I’ve approached Revelation for years, so I decided to use that same approach with Romans, and it’s helped me a lot.

Traditionally, Paul wrote the book from Corinth, shortly before his third missionary journey and trip to Jerusalem where he was arrested. He gives strong indication of this time table towards the end of chapter 15.

Ok, let’s look at the themes Paul covers in Romans. Keep in mind he’s never been to Rome. He’s writing to a Church he’s never visited and has only heard about. That’s why he sticks to more general themes than say, in his letters to the Corinthians.  As a preacher, I will usually approach a message differently when I’m at a congregation I am unfamiliar with than I will in a place where I know the congregation well and where I am well known. You can feel a sense of formality in Romans as compared to the way he writes to congregations where he is better known.

After his introduction, Paul goes into the text of his letter where he addresses some universal truths

  1. The sinfulness of Sin and God’s hatred of it.
  2. The Universal lostness of the human race – We’ve all sinned
  3. Jesus has provided a remedy for our predicament
  4. Paul takes a diversion to deal with the Judaizers and Explains Israel’s Predicament as well as his personal love for his own people
  5. Chapters 12-14 have advice for practical Christian living ( Finding our personal gifts and ministry, dealing with secular authorities, and how to relate to legalists and people with differing social mores as they relate to acceptable behavior.)
  6. Finally, Paul spends time in personal greetings to people in the Church he is familiar with. You can almost feel his desire to be with them.

So, in essence, the Paul’s letter to the Roman Church is a presentation of the Gospel, but from the perspective of someone already a Believer rather than as a message trying to convince a skeptic or seeker to follow Christ.

 

Episode 18 – The ‘In Your Face’ Gospel of John

Image result for John the Apostle images

 

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Episode Notes

John is the fourth and in many ways the most dramatic of the Gospels.  It is certainly the one that most emphasizes the conflict in Jesus life.  Jesus it the light in a dark world. A key verse has to be, “a light that shined in darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. And also, He came to that which was his own, and his own did not receive it. Both are found in chapter 1

Let’s talk about the writer himself:  from Capernaum, brother of James, son of Zebedee, fisherman and one of the first of Jesus’ disciples. Of all the Apostles, John is the only one who follows Jesus all the way to Calvary.

He, along with Peter is the first disciple to the empty tomb. According to Luke, in Acts, Peter and  John are the first Apostles recognized as leaders of the Church in Jerusalem. Despite this, he quickly passes from the front lines of book of Acts.

We can piece together from John’s disciples and close associates that he spends his last years in Ephesus. It is while in Ephesus that he wrote his Gospel and three letters. Revelation was written either on Patmos, or after his return from exile there.

The reason for his exile by Domitian, is lost in the mists of history, but within less than 100 years, the legend is that the emperor tried, but failed to have the apostle killed. The story is that Domitian ordered John to be boiled in oil, fried like a chicken leg, but he didn’t die.

According to the most ancient traditions, John died of natural causes somewhere around AD 95 and was buried in Ephesus.

For many years, liberal scholars suggested that John’s Gospel was not written until the late 2nd or possibly the third century, because it deals with such specific matters and doctrines.  Lots of talk about Jesus Deity and Humanity.

The Gospel appears to be a direct assault on Gnosticism, which reached its peak in the late 2nd and early 3rd centuries.  However, a certain parchment fragment that contains part of John’s Gospel, on display in Manchester England, called P52, is dated to within 50 years of the original writing.

The purpose of John’s Gospel is most explicit in the very last verse of the chapter 20

Arguably the most important claim Jesus ever made about His own identity is in John’s Gospel. You can find it in chapter 8, verse 58