Just Do It!

 

Swoosh

Episode 35

James

Listen HERE

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….

Click HERE for Current Episode

Podcast Archive HERE

RSS FEED HERE

 

Saint Paul The Comedian?

PhilemonEpisode 33

Philemon

Listen Here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philemon is pretty much in a corner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast Archives HERE

Podcast RSS Feed HERE

 

Herding Gluttons

GluttonEpisode 32

Titus

Listen HERE

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.

Points North Scotland Facebook Page: Like HERE

Podcast Archives Listen HERE

Podcast RSS Feed HERE

 

 

Peeking At Pastor’s Mail

Episode 30

I Timothy

Listen HERE
We’re shifting gears a bit in our Survey as we transition from Paul’s letters to Churches to his 4 letters to individuals. Those are the two letters to Timothy, the one to Titus and one to Philemon of the Church in Colossae.  Together, they are known in Theological Circles as the ‘Pastoral Epistles’. That’s because here, Paul is writing as an older Pastor to his younger protégés.

From a 60k foot level the books, especially those to Timothy and Titus deal with how to lead a ministry and how to develop future leaders.

If you could sneak a peek at your Pastor’s mail or e-mail, would you? In a sense, that’s what these ‘Pastoral Epistles’ are. They are very personal glimpses into the lives and ministries of Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and Paul. And they are quite insightful.

Frankly, they can be a bit difficult for 21st century minds because there are several topics that run counter to modern cultural understanding and can frustrate those who are new believers or aren’t yet deeply committed to the authority of scripture. For that reason, I don’t recommend Timothy and Titus as letters to read early in your plan. In fact, in future editions of my reading plan, I think I’m going to move Timothy and Titus to right before Romans, Jude and Revelation. That’s not because there is anything wrong with or in those letters, but they are written specifically to mature leaders and contain some material that requires extra discernment.

I hope that makes sense, but if not, email me your questions, or use the comments section of the show notes and I’ll be glad to try and clear things up for you.

The letters to Timothy and Titus are among the last that Paul wrote before his execution at the hands of Nero.  It looks like the precise order of these letters may be Philemon, 1 Timothy, Titus, 2nd Timothy.  They are grouped roughly according to length in the New Testament.

So, let’s move from an overview of this section and look a little closer at First Timothy.

From as early as I can remember, Timothy was my New Testament hero. Sure, I loved Peter, John and Paul, but Timothy was the guy I most related to. Primarily, that was because of his youth.  I would guess young pastors everywhere have a special soft spot for Timothy.

Timothy is from the Galatian City of Lystra. His mother is a Jew, his Dad is a gentile. His mother and grandmother are believers, but Dad does not appear to be. Sound familiar?

We read about Timothy joining Paul and Silas in chapter 16 of Acts. Timothy stands in stark contrast to Mark, who went with Paul and Barnabas on their travels, but got homesick and went back. Timothy, however, stays the course and becomes one of Paul’s greatest understudies.

Don’t let the obvious contrast between Timothy and Mark lead you to hasty conclusions, as we’ll see next week, both stories have happy endings. One merely got off to a better start than the other.

Every Timothy needs a Paul.  Someone older and experienced to help keep him grounded and focused. It’s easy to chafe against it, because we want to run off and slay dragons, but we are wise if we follow Timothy’s example and find a mentor.

I was no exception. I am, by nature, extremely independent and strong willed. It’s a wonderful trait and a dangerous one. I was fortunate to have a number of Paul’s in my young days as a Pastor in ministry.

Dad taught me how to be a man, Wayne Smith taught me how to love preaching and live with integrity, Woody Phillips taught me how to be a missionary rather than an American abroad, Alex Barr taught me how to be a Pastor rather than a clergyman, Dale McCann taught me how to preach with the end in mind rather than merely being an orator and how to love the Church in hard times as well as good.  There were others, but, like Timothy and Paul and Silas, there is wisdom in multiplying teachers.

Now that I am older, I am eager to be Paul and Silas to young Timothies, but we’ll talk more about that next week.

Back to the letter. The first chapter of first Timothy is dedicated to Paul encouraging Timothy to remain strong doctrinally and morally in the face of widespread hypocrisy and false teaching.  Our standing, like our salvation, is not based on our talent or training, but by grace.

Paul begins Chapter 2 by reminding Timothy to be a man of prayer, regardless of political views. This is a hard and mission critical teaching.  It’s well worth an episode all its own, and one day we’ll do that, but for now let’s just remember that God doesn’t take sides in Political debate. God looks on the heart.

From there, he gives some instructions on gender behavior and gender roles. This is one of those places that grates on a 21st century view of gender distinctions.  When we are able to spend a few weeks studying this letter we’ll dive more deeply, for now, it’s important to note that Paul does not hate women and he does not downplay the role of women in the Church. In fact, there are many places he commends brave, strong women for their efforts in the kingdom. He does, however, say that just like all humans carry a burden from the fall of Adam and Eve, women have a specific role and secondary leadership place in the church, but a primary one in the home via ‘childbirth’.

Chapter 3 details what are called the qualifications for Elders and deacons. These guidelines are primarily a reminder that we shouldn’t advance or promote just any one into leadership, because leadership in a local Church is a serious responsibility. This again, deserves at least one episode of its very own because it is misinterpreted by many congregations on many levels.  For now, let’s leave it with the fact that leaders need to take their walk with Christ and their relationships within and without the Church seriously. The world is watching and our behavior is our witness.

Chapter 4 is interesting because Paul zeroes in on what happens if we don’t choose our leaders wisely.  We will have all kinds of false teachers. Some will be crazy legalistic, while others will be extremely immoral, while others will just make up doctrines. Timothy is advised to stay strong morally and doctrinally despite the fact that some will reject him because of his youth.

In Chapter 5, Paul gives Timothy some exceptional advice on how to deal with other people, both men and women.  The easy part is treating younger men as brothers.  When it comes to younger women, Paul not only tells Timothy to treat them as sisters, but adds, with all purity.

He also gives some specifics on older men and widows. It’s really interesting and again, deserves it’s own episode. The widow part is particularly insightful. There is no hint that the state should look after the elderly. It is first the responsibility of the family, then the responsibility of the Church. I am convinced that this, and other scriptures show the error of modern teachings on Social Justice.  I want to stay here a while, but we can’t. Let me just say that here in 1 Timothy, Paul teaches personal responsibility and gracious mercy.

Paul finishes this first letter with wise counsel regarding ministry and money. How many Pastors, heck, how many people, have allowed the desire for money to get in the way of effective living and ministry.

Interestingly, the Bible has more to say about money than almost any other topic, including heaven and hell. Hmmm…

He warns about the pitfalls of great wealth as well as the temptation of craving great wealth. The key verse in all this is ‘Godliness with contentment is great gain.’

We often hear criticism of certain famous preachers and their riches. Sometimes those are well deserved, while they are often exaggerated.  Most preachers are NOT overpaid and often struggle to make ends meet. Especially young ones. The temptation to crumble under the weight of that pressure is intense. Paul offers very sound advice to Timothy…and to us.

The letter ends rather abruptly at this point, which suggests to me that Paul always intended to write another one.  We’ll look at that one next time.

For now, that’s all I got.

 

Podcast Archives – HERE

Podcast RSS Feed – HERE

 

Dead Vs Living: Who Wins The Race When Jesus Returns

 

 

Episode 28

Listen Here

Man it’s gorgeous here in North Georgia right now. After a crazy heatwave in April, May has rocked. We’ve had decent rain, nice days and fantastic sleeping weather at night. The bad news is, it’s over. All good things come to an end. This too shall pass, yada yada .  Starting tomorrow, we will feel like we’re living on the face of the sun. We’ll have high temperatures and crazy humidity. Here in Georgia, we call that summer. I fear it more than I ever feared winter in Northern Maine.

However, compared to what’s going on in India, our summer is a Holiday Resort. Over the weekend I posted some articles about a severe drought that is affecting many parts of the country. (The photo on the left is a dry well).  I’ve also had reports from friends who live there or who support ministries there and they all say water in stricken areas is in short supply.  Many wells are completely dry. Places where the water table is normal 20 to thirty feet deep are reduced to just a few inches. Schools  and colleges are cancelled and orphanages are spending large sums of money to have water shipped in.  I am going to ask you to pray for these hard hit places. Pray for rain, and pray for aid. If you want to participate in providing assistance, I’m going to provide links in the show notes to some agencies I believe in, who can give you more information.

Also, before we get on with the program, I’m not sure I’ve ever announced to you all that Brittan and I are planning to return to Scotland in 2017 to serve the Kingdom there. I lived there for 13 years and feel drawn by God to return and serve again. Please pray for us as we are kicking off our fundraising efforts. It’s going to be quite a challenge, but our God is bigger than any challenge. If you want to follow our plans or keep up with news, we have a Facebook Page called, “Points North Ministry”. It’s going to get pretty active beginning in early June.  These are exciting times. BTW, I have no intention of ending the broadcast when we go, I’ll just be recording from someplace other than the camper.

Alright, lets get to the program.  The next two weeks, we’re looking at Paul’s 2 letters to the Thessalonian Church. I seriously considered doing both letters in one book, but there is enough material that I think its wise to do two broadcasts.

One of the things that fascinates me about these two letters is the fact of how personal the letters are, when Paul had only spent a short time there.  You can read about the founding of the Church in Thessalonica in Acts Chapter 17.  There are only a few verses dedicated to Paul’s time there.

No sooner had the Church been planted, when the Jews stirred up trouble for the fledgling congregation and Paul was forced to leave town. After a brief time in Berea, Paul goes to Athens and eventually to Corinth.  Most scholars and traditions tell us that Paul wrote the Thessalonian letters during the 18 months he was in Corinth. That being the case, it is likely that 1 Thessalonians was the very first of Paul’s letters and was written in approx. A.D.51.

One of the first things you’ll notice as you read through this first letter is how frequently Paul offers words of encouragement to them. I’m sure part of the reason is that Paul may be feeling a bit bad that he didn’t get to stay longer and he might be reminding them that he really cares for them and that his visit was not just a hit and run.

But is also seems obvious that the persecution from the Jews lingered long after Paul’s departure and was likely still in progress when Paul wrote.

It’s hard for us to imagine how tough it was for the early Christians. We have our political hassles here in the U.S. but the early believers faced genuine discrimination and outright physical persecution. But despite that, Paul begins the book by commending the Church for their perseverance and successful efforts.

Chapter two has many similarities to parts of 1 and 2 Corinthians where Paul defends his own behavior and compares it to many of the charlatans and persecutors who have less noble intentions. It seems that Paul and his company were constantly harassed by Jewish antagonists and the ‘Judaizing Christians’ who were trying add the law of Moses to the Gospel. It must have been exhausting for Paul. I know it would be for me.

Chapter 3 is spent telling them that Timothy had returned to Corinth from Thessalonica brought and encouraging report. Paul is excited to hear it and is disappointed that he was unable to go.

Chapters 4 and 5 are the real meat of the letter. As he does in most of his letters, Paul encourages the Believers to live holy lives both towards outsiders and towards one another.

He begins by calling them to sexual purity. It’s amazing how many times the new testament letters address sexual behavior. It’s tempting, in our 21st century world of easy access and anything goes, from Game of Thrones to instant porn on the world wide web, to think promiscuity is something new, but even a cursory reading of the Bible will rebut that notion. Immorality is not new, not by a long shot. Technology has merely provided us new ways to act out our physical desires. We’ve merely added digital and virtual reality opportunities, with robot lovers just over the horizon. We could spend a lot of time there, but I think we won’t do that today. We’ll get to it, but I don’t want to get distracted from the main message of this first letter, which begins in 4:13, runs through the end of the book and continues in the second letter.

Paul is intent of helping the Thessalonian Believers to a greater understanding of life after death and live in hope of Christ’s return.  Chapter 4 is one of the clearest presentations of the Believer’s hope that you will ever hear or read. So let’s park here for a little bit and take a closer look.

I love the way Paul describes death as sleep. Death looks so permanent and so strong, that a huge percentage of humans fear it. One of our most basic desires is to wonder what happens after death. While many secularists and materialists dismiss life after death as a fantasy, their arguments sound hollow to an overwhelming majority of the species. Instinctively and intuitively we know that this life is not all there is, or at least, we crave it to be true. Nearly all religions have some form of afterlife doctrine whether it be reincarnation, ‘moving into the light’, becoming one with the universe or hanging around like ghosts. This innate desire or fear is what allows many psychics and mediums to make a fortune offering comfort to the public.

Christianity offers comfort because our hope comes from One who was publicly executed and buried, yet showed up for breakfast three days later. He is not some disembodied spirit seen only by a central character on stage or sitting in a candle lit room. He was seen by literally hundreds of eye witnesses. The resurrection of the dead, first that of Jesus, then the promise of resurrection for the rest of us, is the central focus of Gospel Preaching in the Book of Acts. The point of every sermon preached in that important book is the resurrection. Christianity stands or falls on it.

With that in mind, Paul says in 4:13, the resurrection should provide a different response to death that it does for those who don’t believe. He calls them, those who have no hope.

There are those who would say that the word sleep, surmises that those who die just nap until Jesus returns. In fact, there are entire denominations build around ‘soul sleep’ as their primary distinction.  And, to be fair, from our perspective, living in time and space, that’s the way it looks.

But we have to also consider Paul’s words to the Corinthians in his second letter, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”

Both of those things are true.  The passage in 1 Thessalonians 4 looks at death from the perspective of time and space. The 2nd Corinthian verse looks at death from an eternal perspective. Once we pass from this life we enter into a new one, a new dimension you might say, where time and space are meaningless. It is a challenging concept to get our heads around because we have never experienced anything other than our dimension and it’s timeline limitations. A few years ago, the television series, ‘Fringe’, which is one of my all time favorite series, tried to grapple with it, but while entertaining, came up empty handed.

It’s far easier to look at death and afterlife from what we understand by experience that to think in eternal, abstract terms. So we will leave that for the moment, but it’s going to rear its head again in just a moment. Stay tuned.  The main thing, is Paul is focused on our bodies, which remain tied to this physical realm even after death.

In 4:15, Paul tells us that those who have died in Christ, will rise before we join the Lord. Lets look at the drama in verses 16 and 17. Christ returns, it isn’t secret, it isn’t a mystery, it’s accompanied by a trumpet blast and a shout heard round the world.

In verse 16 he says the dead will rise first. But go back to verse 14 where he says that those who died in Christ will return with Him. Huh? What?

Two things. First, think outside the box. Death is physical, but our spirits live on. In some crazy, awesome act of power, the spirits of those who have already passed will return with the Lord and will somehow be reconnected with their bodies. That is going to be one incredible show.

Only after that, those who are alive at the return will be join them with Jesus. How is that possible?  Paul goes into some greater detail when he writes to the Corinthians. In chapter 15 he writes that we will be changed. Our time and space bodies will take on an eternal form or nature; one that’s not subject to the ravages of time or limited by space or victimized by the effects of sin.

It’s beyond our ability to visualize, but well within our ability to believe and hope.

Death is not the end. Jesus resurrection defeated death and His return will be the end of the grave and corruption. Incredible. Death is not all powerful. It’s just a blip on a screen. That’s why he says in verse 18, we should encourage one another with that hope.

Paul begins chapter 5 as a natural response to the excitement provoked by chapter 4. So, when will this happen? Soon? He says, I don’t know. It’s going to be a surprise. Live like it’s today, but be prepared for it to be a long way off.

Isn’t that one of the hardest things to do? It sure is for me. We’ll see next week that it was for the Thessalonians, too.

When all is said and done, the thing that keeps me going in a crazy, topsy turvy world, is the awareness that the grave is defeated and one day, maybe this day, Jesus is coming to make all things new. That dog hunts.

And that’s all I got. Please email me or use the comments section of the show notes to share any thoughts or ask any burning questions. Oh, and if you get a chance and haven’t done it, please leave a review on iTunes. It really helps in promoting the show. Thanks in advance.  Next week we’ll dig into 2nd Thessalonians and look at ‘The Man of Sin – Is Damien For Real?”  Until then, have a great week. Be blessed and be a blessing.

 

Episode Archives

Web Version: Click Here

RSS FEED: Click Here

Resources Regarding Drought in India

Samaritan’s Purse

Central India Christian Mission

PreVision Partnership

 

The God Particle

Episode 27

Colossians

Listen Here

 

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.

Find Previous Podcasts Here   (Podcast Website for Archives)

or

Here  (RSS Feed)

 

Finding Joy In Hard Places

 

Episode 26

Finding Joy in Hard Places

Listen HERE 

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.