Peeking At Pastor’s Mail

Episode 30

I Timothy

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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.

 

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Dead Vs Living: Who Wins The Race When Jesus Returns

 

 

Episode 28

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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.

 

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The God Particle

Episode 27

Colossians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Finding Joy In Hard Places

 

Episode 26

Finding Joy in Hard Places

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Philippians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

URL For Podcast Page

 

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

 

 

 

Show Notes

Listen HERE

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.