Diotrephes, Demetrius, And Da Truth

Pergamum
Pergamum

Episode 40

3 John

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I hope you had a great week last week. It was busy around here as we prepared for our congregation’s 10th birthday party; and wow, what a day.  I won’t go into it, because unless you go to the same place we do, it will be pretty meaningless. I will say this, though, and it relates to the letters of John, if you are not attending a Church at all, or are going someplace that compromises on the truth, or does not practice Grace and Mercy, then let me know and I will help you find a good one. I’m not trying to be a jerk, but, as you can tell from John’s letters, there’s not time to put up with all the compromise and goofiness going on in many congregations these days. We need to be about the Father’s business rather than chasing some political or social agenda.  So if you need help finding a good congregation, email me, or use the comments section of the show notes.  If you include your name and where you live, I PROMISE to research and give you some suggestions. Yeah, it’s that important to me.

Speaking of important, let’s take a look at 3rd John.  Unlike 2nd John, or Revelation, this letter does not appear to be in code. John, kicks but and takes names, or at least names names, so he doesn’t seem to even make an attempt at discretion, so that suggests to me that he’s probably writing from his home base back in Ephesus.

John’s  frequent use of the word truth in his 3rd letter, just like the first two, maintains his pattern of emphasizing historic Christian doctrine in contrast to the mysterious Gnosticism that was so pervasive in Asia Minor during the latter decades of the first century.

Let’s face it, the New Testament’s emphasis on the uniqueness of Christian doctrine stands in stark contrast to the overwhelming opinions of the 21st century as well.  Christianity is rapidly becoming an unwelcome presence in the public arena.  I was recently reading a politically tinged article where the leftist magazine Salon, urged the Republican party to abandon their alliance with Christianity or fall into irrelevancy in our ‘post Christian’ America.

Wow.  I’m not going to spend one second on politics, but I didn’t know any party had an alliance with Christianity or with ‘Post Christian’ America either for that matter. But the article DOES imply that those who control the microphone, and editorial content of the mainstream have little tolerance for our faith.

So be it. It doesn’t change a thing. If we look at the New Testament writings, the early Church, and Jesus Himself during His ministry, saw truth as more important that acceptance.  Their attitude and practice was to tell the truth in love and let the chips fall where they may.

3rd John is a classic example of that. The letter is written to one, Gaius. That doesn’t tell us much at all. Several men by that name are mentioned in the New Testament. It was extremely common. Heck, it was even Julius Caesar’s first name.  Frankly, it’s like starting a letter, Dear Bill.  Without context, there’s just no knowing which Bill.

There is an ancient tradition that says John appointed a leader named Gaius as ‘Bishop of Pergamum.  While I’m not convinced that the Apostle appointed Bishops (we’ll leave that for another day), it is certainly possible that an elder by that name was the target of John’s letter.

Considering the possibility that John may have sent Gaius of Ephesus (see Acts 19) to Pergamum, this letter could be John’s welcome to Pergamum letter.

After a pleasant, if maybe a little lengthy, considering the brevity of the note, greeting, John identifies two other leaders for Gaius’ consideration. One, very negative and one, very positive.

The first of the two, Diotrephes, has become a pain in the rear for the Apostle. He is not mentioned anywhere else in Scripture,  but because of the tradition of Gaius being the Pastor of the Church in Pergamum, I can’t help but associate Diotrephes with the letter to the Pergamum congregation in Revelation 2. Pergamum is dealing with a great deal of false teaching including Gnosticism.  I just see Diotrephes as the villain behind the problems. You do your own homework and see what you think.

At any rate, this Diotrephes, had assumed almost dictatorial control over the congregation. He does not recognize the authority of the Apostles, and even excommunicates people who do receive the apostles and their representatives. What a goofball.

I love verse 10, where John demonstrates there’s a little Boanerges left in his 90 plus year old frame. This ancient Son of Thunder says if he gets to come to Pergamum he’s going to face down Diotrephes. That verse always sends a tingle down  the back of my neck. I love it. The man of God refuses to back down to the enemy of truth.  I only hope I would be so bold under the same circumstance.

In contrast to Diotrephes, John mentions another member of the Church, one Demetrius. Again, there are far too many men of that name to identify who this is.  Going back to Acts 19 and the beginning of the Church in Ephesus, a silversmith by that name, was so upset at the Gospel for hurting his business, nearly caused a riot in the city.

Wouldn’t it be really cool if it was the same guy? An enemy of the Gospel, who became a Christ Follower and a great example of the Faith?  We have no way of knowing, but it would be awesome if it was him.

John says in verse 12, that Demetrius is a man of absolute integrity and character. He says even the truth itself offers testimony to Demetrius character. Oh how I pray that could be said of me.

Then suddenly, after brief remarks about these two contrasting men, John just shuts down the letter, just like he did in 2nd John.  He says here, Gaius, you rock, I’m so proud of you. Beware of Diotrephes, he’s a jerk, but Demetrius is a great guy. See you soon, Say hello to the Church.  See you soon, John.

It begs more questions than it answers, but you have to love it.  We have two great role models in Gaius and Demetrius, and we have one moron, Diotrephes.  Just change the names to modern ones and it could be anywhere.

All I know is, I want to be someone accused of walking in the truth. I hope you do too.

That’s all I got. I do hope you love this little note that way I do. Ping me and let me know. I can hardly wait until we look at Jude next week. It is STRONG. Until then, be blessed. And be a blessing.

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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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Herding Gluttons

GluttonEpisode 32

Titus

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I’m in the studio on Monday. Yay, I love being back on schedule.

I need a favor. Prayer Network for Scotland. If you believe in Prayer. If you believe in the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, If you are Scottish, If you love Scotland, If you are a friend of this show I would really appreciate it, if you would join our network of prayer partners. There is no catch. There is no gimmick. We are simply seeking to gather a circle of Christian Scots and Albafiles together to pray for Scotland; her Believers, her Churches, her Leaders and her needs, both physical and spiritual. Here’s how to get started. 1. Go to Points North Scotland on facebook and like the page. 2. Send me a PM, an email or comment on the show notes page and let me know you want to Pray for Scotland. Please include your email address.  I will soon announce a private Facebook group and send you a personal invitation to join.  Thanks. Also, send me any questions. I’m delighted to answer.

Ok, commercial over, let’s move on to our topic.

Titus

Titus is a little known, but obviously important protoge of Paul, much like Timothy. When I say, little known, I truly mean it. He is only mentioned 13 times in the New Testament and 8 of those are in 2 Corinthians.

We know absolutely nothing about his background. He is never mentioned by Luke in Acts. His name is a gentile one, and we have that confirmed in Galatians 2:1, which is the first time he is ever mentioned.

In that chapter, Paul mentions that Titus traveled with Paul to the council in Jerusalem that is recorded in Acts 15. I find it interesting that Luke, another Gentile companion of Paul, makes no mention of Titus in his account of the council. It’s not a big deal, but I do find it curious.

Since the first mention of Titus is in the letter to the Galatians, it indicates the Churches are familiar. Also, since the visit to Galatia is the beginning of the end of the first Journey and the beginning of the second journey, and that Titus travels to Jerusalem with Paul, I’m going to suggest, that like Timothy, he is from one of the Galatian cities.

It is very interesting to me that the trip to Jerusalem as all about stopping the Judaiser attempts to force Gentile converts to obey the law, which is the primary theme of Galatians where Titus is first called by name. Then as we read through the letter to Titus, we will discover the same topic is a major theme it Paul’s letter to his young disciple.

The letter is very similar to 1 Timothy, albeit a much shorter. After studying the book this last week, I now believe Titus was probably written about the same time as I Timothy and possibly right before. The primary reason I say that is it appears from I Timothy 1, Paul seems to be on his way FROM Macedonia and is planning to meet Timothy in Ephesus. In Titus 3, he asks Titus to come to him in Nicopolis, which is a town in Macedonia. In episode 30, I suggested Timothy was written first. Now I think Titus may be a few months earlier than I Timothy. Still, the similarity in their content is so similar that they were very likely written near the same time.

Crete is an island south and slightly east of Greece, and virtually due west of Cyprus. In today’s vernacular, the insult, “Cretan” is a derisive term with historical roots in the decadent, immoral past of Crete’s cultural. Here in Titus, Paul mentions that one of the poets of ancient Crete, called the inhabitants of the island, ‘Liars and lazy gluttons.’

If you do a little digging, you’ll discover that the poet mentioned was also a philosopher named, ‘Epimenedes’. He lived in 600 B.C.

As an aside, he is also the indirect source of the altar ‘to the unknown God’ in Athens that Paul describes in Acts 17.

By the first century A.D. Crete is home to a large Jewish population. Acts Chapter 2, says there were Jews from Crete in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost and were among those who heard the Apostles speaking in tongues and were exposed to Peter’s Gospel Sermon that day. Seeing that it was not unusual for celebrants at Pentecost to have been residing in the city since Passover, it isn’t a stretch to suggest that many of them were witnesses to the Passion and Resurrection events of that earlier holiday.

It would be my educated guess that some of them were among the 3,000 baptized on Pentecost and that they became the nucleus of the first Christian congregation when they returned home. That would make the Church on Crete one of the oldest congregations in the Roman Empire.

The only time Luke records that Paul visited there was on his journey to Rome. According to Acts chapter 27, the ship was first on one part of the island, where ‘we spent a long time’ and then left for a safe harbor along the coast to winter in. It was while sailing up the coast of Crete they encountered the storm that blew them out to sea and after two weeks hit a sand bar and shipwrecked off the coast of Malta.

I guess this would be a good time to fill in some of the blanks related to Paul’s history and imprisonments. The book of Acts ends with Paul in Prison in Rome. Most conservative scholars call this his ‘first’ imprisonment. In piecing together the timeline of his letters, it appears that Paul was released briefly and made some short trips, including the visit to Macedonia mentioned here and in I Timothy. Some ancient legends say he even traveled as far as Britain in between imprisonments. I think that would be cool, but I just don’t believe there was enough time in between for such a long journey. Anyway, sometime after AD 64 he is arrested and was executed between 65 and 67. II Timothy was written during this second imprisonment.

If you have any thoughts or questions about that, by all means email them or use the comments section of the show notes.

Based on Chapter 1 here in Titus, Paul apparently went to Crete another time, or he left Titus there during his voyage to Rome and Titus was there a VERY long time. The former idea is more likely.

Again, from chapter 1, it looks like there were several congregations on the island. Titus is going to ‘set things in order’ and appoint elders to oversee the congregations. It looks like from that, and the doctrinal challenges, in all likelihood the churches were rather loose and disorganized. Titus was tasked with fixing that. I bet that was fun….not!

Paul goes on to give the same instruction to Titus about the characteristics of Elders that he gives to Timothy. He does not, however, include anything about deacons here.

Verse 10 in chapter 1 sets the major tone for the rest of the letter. He finishes the chapter with this subject then returns to it in verse 9 of chapter 3.

Chapter two is focused on relationships with other people; older and younger, just like Paul writes in I Timothy, but then that shouldn’t be too surprising if he wrote them about the same time.

Let’s go back to chapter 1, verse 10 and look at the problems the Cretan churches were facing. Paul says the Churches are dealing with all kinds of false doctrines and money hungry preachers. The thing these rogues have in common is they all have a Jewish heritage.

One of the banes of Paul’s ministry was that group called the Judaizers who followed the Apostle from town to town, stirring up trouble trying to coerce Believers to follow the law of Moses in addition to the Gospel. Paul devotes large portions of his letters to Galatia and Philippi to them; and even alludes to them in both Ephesians and Colossians.

It appears that because of the large Jewish Population in the island and the loosely organized nature of the Churches that these false teacher are pretty much running amok. Poor Titus has the unenviable task of shutting them down.

Having been in the position of confronting false teachers myself, it’s a scary, nerve wracking, and exhausting experience. And dealing with families who have been influenced and victimized by false teaching (and just like with Crete, it always goes back to money), there can be a lot of work and healing to do.

Here in chapter 1, Paul calls it rebellious, deceitful nonsense. He also says it’s shameful and that they must be silenced.

Over in Chapter 3 he calls it, Stupid, worthless and useless.

Pay very close attention to verse 10 in chapter 3

Tit 3:10 Give at least two warnings to those who cause divisions, and then have nothing more to do with them

here in the 21st century, in our culture of ‘tolerance’, we’re not supposed to ‘judge’. Paul has no such compunction. If the teaching is false, he says, shut it down. Peter and John are going to make similar statements in their letters. Stay tuned; no spoilers today.

Doctrine is important. Eternity is at stake. There are many things that are open for discussion, but some things like the Deity of Christ, His death and resurrection, salvation by Grace through faith rather than by obedience to the Law of Moses are not among the debatable. And those who try and spread false doctrine are to be silenced, not tolerated.

In our day, it’s a risky position to take, but we absolutely must. There is a lot of goofy stuff being taught out there and not all of it is harmless. This is why it is mission critical to have strong, capable, knowledgeable, faithful leaders, who can defend the truth and train the next generation so that God’s Church is full of GRACE and TRUTH. We need both if we’re going to be a light in dark places as we await Jesus return.

And that’s all I got. Go back and read Titus as soon as you can. This tiny letter was not merely written to a young preacher 2k years ago. It’s written to you…and me.

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The God Particle

Episode 27

Colossians

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One of the first things you’ll notice is the similarity between this book and the Book of Ephesians. There are a number of reasons for this similarity. First is the geographical proximity of these two cities. They are roughly 100 miles apart and were both important Asian population centers in the first century. Colossae and Ephesus are directly connected by trade and travel. They are similar in make up and are dealing with many of the same cultural, social and spiritual issues.

Additionally, the two letters are likely written at the same time and Paul has certain topics on his mind.

While Paul was extremely familiar with the Church in Ephesus, he had never visited Colossae. The Church there was planted by one of Paul’s Protégés, Epaphras,  likely during Paul’s three year stay in Ephesus. Because of his lack of personal relationship with the Congregation there in Colossae, Paul sticks to higher level talking points and doctrinal matters.

Having said all that, we do learn that in addition to Epaphras, Paul does know some of the members of the Colossian Church very well.  In chapter 4, Paul sends personal messages to Nympha, who had a group meeting in her home. To Archippus, who may very well be the son of Philemon who gets his own letter from Paul. Then there is Onesimus, Philemon’s runaway slave, who is going with Tychicus to deliver the letter to the Church.

Undoubtedly, Epaphras and Onesimus had shared all they knew about the Colossian Church with Paul, so he is able to write a meaningful letter despite having never actually been a part of the congregation there.

Let’s spend a little time looking at some of the themes Paul addresses in this letter.

Chapter one is devoted to Jesus. In many ways it reminds me of the first Chapters of both the Gospel of John and the first Epistle of John. All three of those chapters heavily emphasize both the humanity and divinity of Jesus and His place in the Universe as well as in the Church.

Before we talk at any length about other issues, it is mission critical that we have Jesus right.  Of all the doctrines of Christianity, the doctrine of Jesus is front and center.

Verses 15 and 16 are particularly reminiscent of the first chapter of John’s Gospel. Coincidentally, John wrote his Gospel from Ephesus and was likely very familiar with Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and Colossians.

Verse 17, is extremely curious where Paul finishes his thought on Jesus as creator with the idea that He is also the sustainer ‘and in Him all things hold together’.

In particle physics there is a little understood particle called Higgs Bosson and nicknamed ‘the God particle’. In an oversimplification, this God Particle is the ‘glue’ that holds the universe together. For decades scientists have known it must exist because certain particles have mass that by all understanding shouldn’t have it. And since effects have causes, the Higgs Bosson was theorized and nicknamed, as I said, ‘the God particle’.

 

In 2012/13 with the help of the massive and outrageously expensive Large Hadron Particle Collider it was confirmed that a ‘God Particle’ does exist, but not much else has been confirmed. Extremely expensive experiments continue at the underground location of the collider in attempt to further understand how our universe exists and operates without flying apart.

According Paul, Jesus of Nazareth is the God Particle; The ‘secret ingredient’ that holds all creation together.

I’m also particularly interested in verse 19, “In Him, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”

One of the great debates on earth is “who is Jesus of Nazareth’? Prophet? Teacher? Healer? Fraud? Con Man? Charlatan? Myth?

The New Testament consistently and repeatedly calls Him God in the Flesh. He is Immanuel, creator of heaven and earth, Head of the Church, both God and Man, eternally existing, killed, buried and raised. Exalted and preparing for a Return .

There is no contradiction or ambiguity about what the Bible teaches about Him.  As you read through the New Testament, please pay careful attention to the claims of, and about, Jesus. They are the core of everything Christians believe.

Paul continues the theme in chapter 2 where he encourages the Christians in Colossae to remember the truth about Jesus when false teachers, who can be very persuasive, come in and try to lead them away from the Gospel as they first believed it. This is very similar to the first three chapters of Galatians.

False teacher, whether cultists, occultists, heretics, prosperity gospel preachers and others have always been around and some of them are very bright. They can twist and tie us in knots, if we’re not firmly rooted. But this isn’t new. On some level, the devil is a one trick pony. From the Garden, his message, his whisper in our ear has always been, “Did God really say….”

Paul reminds them, and us of the Truth, and puts it in writing so that we can go back to it, when we need confirmation and courage.

In chapters 3 and the first part of 4, Paul moves on to some practical guidance on how our Faith should change our behavior and our relationships. Again, this is very familiar to some of the things we read in Ephesians.

Finally, Paul finishes chapter 4 with some personal greetings and encouragement, which is a great reminder that our faith is not just a matter of doctrines and beliefs, but it’s about real life, real people and real relationships.

My wife reminded me the other day that Colossians is a wonderful letter for new Believers because it reminds us to put first things first. It is all about the basics of the Faith. I guess then the old saying is really true, the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

And that’s all I got. I do encourage you to read through Colossians and see for yourself how many core beliefs are highlighted and how much encouragement comes in these four small chapters.

Next week we’re in the awesome books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. All of you who are big fans of End Times studies need to be sure and tune in. And tell your friends. Until then, have a great week. Be blessed…and be a blessing.

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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.

 

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.