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.

 

Easter: At this Point, What Difference Does It Make?

Episode 22

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We interrupt our regularly scheduled Route 66 journey to bring you an Easter Supplemental episode of the Radio Show.

I’m recording on Monday, March 28, 2016, the day after Easter and some things I read over the weekend disturbed me enough that I felt compelled to address them before moving on in our New Testament Survey.

Over the weekend, I read two articles that came out of Scotland, downplaying the historic value of the actual, physical, literal resurrection of Jesus to the Christian message. The essence of both stories, was that the Resurrection message was about hope overcoming adversity and emotional desolation. It is resurrection power.  We used to call that ‘Neo Orthodoxy’.

I remember way back in the 70s hearing a guy on the radio respond to a caller by saying that what really  happened was Jesus disciples realized on Sunday morning that although Jesus had been murdered, the love he showed and his core teachings of loving one another did not die with him. His teachings lived on through His followers so, in a sense, Jesus was still alive within them.

It’s a sappy, touchy feely sort of message that sounds good in some sort of milquetoast sort of way, but falls way short of mattering in the real world of disease, terrorism and discord.  It’s no wonder that a 20 pound weakling kind of message has been rejected by rough and tumble, pragmatic Scottish population.  It also explains part of why Christianity is slowly fading here in the USA.

Interestingly, the Bible itself has a completely different take on the Resurrection of Jesus. In the Bible, Jesus death and resurrection are the principal message of all four Gospels AND the Book of Acts.  Each of them recount the Death, burial and resurrection of Jesus as space, time event, that are verifiable. They are not purely spiritual in their meaning, but historic events that change the future of humanity.

You can read about it in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20 and Acts 1. Acts 1, in fact, has Luke saying Jesus demonstrated the reality of his physical resurrection by ‘many infallible’ proofs. Luke is throwing down, and says, check it out. Paul repeats that dare later on in Acts 26, when Governor Festus questions Paul’s sanity over his declaration of the Resurrection, the Apostle appeals to his reason by saying, “I’m sure Agrippa knows all about this, as none of these things were done in a corner.’

Paul goes even further in 1 Corinthians when he stakes everything about the Gospel and Christianity’s right to exist, on the verifiable, literal event of the Passion and Resurrection of the Christ.

The in your face, hair on your chest, nature of the Biblical doctrine of the resurrection stands in stark contrast to the weak kneed, Mealy mouthed, psychobabble that is pedaled in much of mainstream preaching and doctrine.

Let me share an incident from my own past that illustrates the superiority of a muscular Easter message to the squishy, pastel message as delivered in the two articles I read.

26 years ago, while I was at the peak of my career as a Christian Evangelist, serving in Scotland, my entire world collapsed. My life unraveled like a ball of yarn in a room full of felines.  I lost everything.  I ended up being and outcast in many Christian circles, rejected and literally scorned in many places. And all for things for which I was not guilty. As a result, like Peter, I denied Jesus.  Not verbally, But everything about my life, the people I hung out with, the places I went, the things I did, were all in stark contrast to who I’d been and what I did. Sure, I rarely missed Church on Sunday, but that was the extent of my relationship to my old life.

I wanted so badly to, as Job’s wife said, ‘Curse God, and die.’  One thing kept me from doing just that. I could not escape the fact of the empty tomb.  No matter how far I ran, or how I tried to ignore it, the empty grave followed and haunted me. In time, I turned to confront the story, and because I could not disprove it, I was faced with the awareness that the Easter message contradicted my deep feelings that my hurt and rejection had come from God and that the Gospel message was a hoax, without value in a real world.

Step by step, day by day I came to understand that the victory of Jesus of Nazareth over the grave, demonstrated that the real lie was the one being whispered in my ear by one who would use whatever deception possible to keep my heart away from the God who loved me without measure.

I knew instinctively that if Jesus was dead and gone, the whole Christian thing was a fraud, but because He really did rise, His message had to be considered. It was the empty grave that started me on the road back to Faith.  I couldn’t face my real life problems with some saccharine sweetened Pablum of a religious message, but a muscle bound Victor who wrestled death into submission, now that was a Savior I could trust to take me beyond my pain and help me become, as Paul said, more than a conqueror.

Someday, I’ll tell you the whole story, but for now, I want to encourage you not to reject Jesus because a lot of people are spouting crap in his name, I KNOW, both from my own experience and from the facts of the case, that there is a new life, a live of joy and victory available and accessible, because the grave is empty.  Check it out for yourself. Think on these things while you chew on left over chocolate bunnies and creepy marshmallow peeps. Cause it changes everything.

 

A Seriously Dysfunctional Church – Podcast Episode 21

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First Corinthians

To Christians in Corinth – Paul founded the Church in Corinth during his second missionary journey. See Acts 18. He stayed 18 months. He is very familiar with this congregation. The only place we know for sure he stayed longer was Ephesus. Interestingly, we can see from both Acts and his letters, that these are the two congregations Paul seems most familiar with and appears to be closest to.

Corinth was not just an important trade city in the first century, it’s also a religious center, a tourist attraction, and a naval port. In modern terms, it’s a combination of New Orleans, Las Vegas and Amsterdam.  It is a busy, prosperous and totally decadent place.

The Gospel was welcomed and embraced in Corinth, but from this letter, we can see, that the values of the city also made its way into the culture of the Church, creating some real challenges. Central doctrines were diluted and Godly morality was compromised. As we’re going to see, the Church in Corinth was as dysfunctional and organism as we will ever meet.

This first letter to the Corinthian congregations is pretty in your face.  Where the letter to the Romans was somewhat general and ‘high level’ in its subject matter, 1 Corinthians is quite familiar and in your face. Paul is very candid and direct in dealing with the sin and rebellion in the Corinthian Church.

Frankly, 21st century Church leaders would do well to take a page out of Paul’s book and be less circumspect when dealing with our own congregational problems. Let’s take a look and some of the things he addresses.

Chapters 1-3 Paul focuses on divisions that were cropping up in the Church. In this case the divisions were centered around Christian Celebrities (Paul, Apollos, Peter, and Jesus). Paul declares they are all wrong and reminds them that there are no celebrities in Christianity, only servants.

Unfortunately, Church splits have not decreased over the centuries. I wish I could count the number of Churches I’ve known that have divided angrily and have weakened their witness in their local community. I know a place in Texas where each corner of a particular intersection has a congregation that are all splits of a single Church. My second student ministry was with a split of a split. Wow, was that ever fun.

In Chapter 4, Paul defends his own ministry and his authority. You can hear his sarcasm when he says, I don’t care whether I’m judged by you or any other person.

Chapter 5 is one of the weirdest chapters in the whole Bible. Paul confronts the Church about a man in Corinth who is having an affair with his stepmother. Creepy.

Chapter 6 finds Paul addressing the fact that Church members are taking each other to court and that it’s a terrible testimony to the community.

After that he transitions to address sexual behavior outside of and inside of marriage.  He defines marriage and appropriate sexual behavior very clearly.  I know it’s unpopular to stand by a traditional view of sexuality and marriage, but who would know better than the creator of both, as to how it should work. (Story of Tim White and plane to Alpirod)

In Chapter 10, Paul switches gears and confronts some improprieties in worship. This discussion runs through chapter 14. During this time, he focuses on improprieties in worship like abuse of the Lord’s Table, and abuses of spiritual gifts. Chapter 13, the famous ‘Love Chapter’ is right in the middle of all this. The lesson is, if we love God and our neighbor, abuses will fall to the wayside.

In Chapter 15, the letter reaches a crescendo when Paul goes straight to the point that the resurrection of Jesus is the central point of Christian Doctrine. Apparently some people were falling in with the sadducees who say there is no resurrection. On the other side, some people were practicing ‘Baptism for the dead’.  Paul uses the confusion and division in Corinth to drive home the point that Jesus resurrection is central in our beliefs, our preaching, and our hope.

Finally, despite all their problems, Paul never says the Corinthians have been abandoned by God or that they had fallen away from grace. No, he tells them he loves and misses them and hopes to come for a visit in the near future.

God’s grace is far bigger than our tendency to screw up. We should all rest in that hope. What a relief.

 

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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

 

Episode 17 – The Gospel of Luke

 

God’s Route 66 Part 3

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Author: Luke – Physician, Companion of Apostle Paul, Gentile, Historian, Author of Acts

Date Written – Mid 50s – A.D. 66

Recipient – ‘Theophilus’ Probably a real individual as the name is not uncommon in the first century, but possibly a pseudonym for ‘Christian’ as the name literally means, friend or lover of God.

Focus – To establish the universality of the Gospel by identifying Jesus as ‘The Son of Man’. Since Luke is a Gentile and ‘Theophilus’ is a Gentile name, it is safe to assume that the earliest appeal was for a Gentile Audience.

Key Passages – 1:1-4, Chapter 2, 3:16, 4:18-21, 10:1-9, 10:25-37

 

Episode 14 – Every Day, Every Way, Every Where

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Acts 5:40-42

The Gospel is rarely politically correct – Verse 40

A weird Rejoicing – 41. Apostles weren’t masochists, they merely understood that God trusted them.

Verse 42 – Every Day, Every Way, Every where.

Day after day, they never stopped

teaching and proclaiming

in the temple courts and from house to house

note: Chapter 6 begins, In those days, when the number of disciples was increasing. – The Gospel WILL bear fruit.

Next week – Route 66 begins. Gospel of Matthew