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.

 

It’s All About That Grace!

 

ReDiscovering The Bible Online Radio Show

Episode 25 – Ephesians

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Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The breastplate of righteousness covers our hearts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Day The Apostle Paul Told A Bunch of Preachers to Go To Hell

Podcast Episode 24 – Galatians

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Show Notes

Galatians –

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Galatians is one of the easier New Tesament letters to understand. That’s why many Bible Study groups study this book early and often. It’s a great option for inexperience Preachers who want to begin preaching directly from the Bible rather than trying to come up with topics on a week by week basis.

Which brings me to my first rabbit trail today. It’s relevant but it really is a side road. This podcast was created to help you study through the Bible and understand it better so that you can make the Bible an integral part of your daily life. That’s why we’re going through the Bible Book by book. I’ve been reading lately, though, that some popular preachers are abandoning a through the Bible approach for a more current event or current issue methodology. One very popular mega church preacher has called this through the Bible teaching, Cheating.

I beg to differ. Yes, he has a huge congregation with many campuses. Yes, this guy has a huge platform and his word carries some weight in the Theological World, especially among younger Evangelicals and Millennials.  A large platform, however, doesn’t make one right. If I stick to going through the Bible, I know I’m on safe ground.  It’s when I digress from the Holy Spirit inspired scripture and going out on my own that I risk the thin ice of heterodoxy. Heterodoxy, now there’s a good preacher word for you.  It just means mixed doctrine. It’s kind of a gentle synonym for heresy.

But I digress.  Unlike the other letters Paul wrote to Churches, this one is to a group of Churches rather than to a single congregation. It’s kind of an open letter, or a round robin one. The Primary Churches are Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, with probably a few smaller congregations in between. None of the towns are huge like Corinth or Athens or Rome, but they are special to Paul because they are among the first churches he planted during his first missionary journey. He cares about them enough that he makes a quick stop back by on his second journey.  This is when Timothy joins the team.

Paul writes to these Churches to call them back to the simple truth of the Gospel of Salvation by grace through faith. That theme permeates the Galatian letter. It’s s message that never gets old.

Shortly after Paul leaves Galatia, a group nicknamed,  the Judaisers come to town and start telling the Jewish believers to stop associating with gentiles and the tell the gentile converts that they must obey the law of Moses, including circumcision and the special dietary laws.  Paul is outraged and, just as he will do with the Corinthians and Philippians he minces no words and takes no prisoners when dealing with these legalists.

In chapter one, he calls it a ‘different gospel’ and ‘no Gospel at all’. He suggests anyone teaching false doctrine should be sent straight to hell. We’ll come back to that in a minute.

In Chapter 3, the Apostle concludes they must be under a spell to believe such garbage. He uses the word, “Bewitched”.  Later on, he likens it to slavery instead of freedom.

As you read through Galatians, you’re going to see that the theme of grace being superior to law is the overwhelming theme.

But I want to spend a few minutes in Chapter one because, Paul has some very strong things to say about false teaching that sound incredible contrary in our new world of tolerance.

  1. He openly rejects this ‘different gospel’ and calls it no gospel at all. No ‘many paths to God’ for Paul.
  2. If that’s not strong enough language, he says anyone preaching a different Gospel should be ‘cursed, cut off from God’. In the original, that word is ‘anathema’. You’ve probably heard that word and maybe even used it. We kind of think of it as meaning something is a ‘no-no’, but it literally means, cut off from God with no hope of return. Paul could not have chosen a stronger expression of disdain. He says in essence, they can go to hell and rot.’ That kind of language will make you go viral on social media these days, and not in a good way. But, when eternity is at stake, sometimes we have to use strong language. We’re talking about people souls here. Paul is on a rescue mission for some of these Galatian Christians. He has no time to fool around.

The question is begged, How can we determine whether or not someone is preaching ‘a different doctrine’.

I’ve come up with 4 criteria that I use to determine whether or not a gospel, denomination, or even a religion is ‘different’.

Does it have a different:

God: Here Oh Israel, the Lord your God is One. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him, must worship him in Spirit and in Truth. I know, for example, a major religious group, that many Christians are slowly accepting teaches the God is an exalted man and that we may one day be gods and goddesses of our own worlds. Their statement is, As man now is, God once was. As God now is, man may become.

Jesus: Christianity believes Jesus is the Word (God) made flesh, virgin born, perfect, crucified, buried, raised, ascended, seated at the right hand of the Father and is coming again.  Some groups teach He did not die on the cross. Others that Jesus was not literally raised from the dead. Some teach he was married, even a polygamist.

Scripture: The Psalmist says, ‘Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” In fact, the whole 119th psalm is about the value of the Bible. In the New Testament, Paul wrote to Timothy that the Bible is ‘God Breathed’, or inspired. But some groups have different scripture in addition to the Bible. Some have changed the Bible because the Bible doesn’t teach their doctrines.

Plan of Salvation: The Bible is very clear that Salvation is by Grace through faith. Some, however, teach we have to practice certain rituals, or perform specific functions, or give a certain amount, or that Jesus blood doesn’t cover all your sins.

There is some really weird stuff going around out there, and its not all OK. I’m not going to pretend that it is. Here’s the bottom line: If a teaching has a different God, Jesus, Scripture, and or Plan of Salvation, it is NOT Christian. I’m not trying to be hateful, I’m trying to be truthful. Some things are ok to have different opinions about, but some things are either right or Anathema.

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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

Listen HERE

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

Listen HERE 

 

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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