Friday, November 30, 2012

Luke 7

The healing of the Centurion's servant (1-10) is an example of faith. Faith believes that what is said will be done. The Centurion believed that it was not necessary for Jesus to see the servant that was ill; all that was necessary was for Jesus to command that it would be done and the servant would be healed.

One commentator says that the saddest phrase in the gospel is in verse 12: "he was his mother's only son, and she was a widow;". In the economy of the time a woman was considered part of her father's house until she married of her husband's house until he died and then, usually, became resident with her eldest son until she died. A widow whose only son had died would be absolutely destitute in that time and place. Jesus not only restores the man who died back to life he has restored the widow's life as well.

The messengers from John the Baptist (18-35) raises some curious questions. Didn't John acknowledge that Jesus was the Messiah at Jesus' baptism? Doesn't he call Jesus "the Lamb of God" in John 1? How can John have been so sure a year ago and yet so full of doubt now? The answer lies in his situation. John is in prison. He has been put in prison because he has challenged the power of the day. What he challenged was right to challenge but when we challenge the powers of this world there are often consequences. John, the man of the desert, is locked up in a hole. I suspect that his imprisonment has worked on his faith and his hope and his understanding. Jesus demonstrates that he is the messiah by healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, preaching good news to the poor, etc. John was a great prophet in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets.

Jesus plays with the crowd (31-36). John the Baptist came wearing camel hair and eating bugs and honey and the religious establishment said "he has a demon (we might say he is crazy!)". Jesus comes eating and drinking and attending parties and human gatherings and the religious establishment says "he is a drunk and is clearly hanging out with the wrong crowd!" Jesus says they are like children playing in the marketplace. They sang the dirge (music of the funeral) and no one wanted to play funeral; they played the flute and no one wanted to play wedding. All of which is to say that the religious establishment is not interested in God's truth (which can come from the fasting in the wilderness John the Baptist types AND from the convivial hanging out with tax collectors and sinners types).

The story of the "sinful woman" would take too long to unpack here. What matters is the phrase "the one who has been forgiven much loves much." When we understand the depth of God's mercy extended to us we respond with gratitude. If we have never come to that understanding or do not believe we are in need of God's mercy we are less likely to live out that expression in love. The Pharisee feels justified by his religion and so does not even treat Jesus with the minimal of hospitality expected for the time -- water for the feet, a kiss of greeting, anointing oil on head. The women, whom Jesus likely encountered in the city street before entering the Pharisee's home, has experienced the transforming love and mercy of God through Jesus -- she expresses her gratitude through expressions of generous and extravagant love.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Luke 6

Beginning at verse 17 is Luke's version of the "Sermon on the Mount" Here it is the Sermon on the level place or plain.

The questions about the Sabbath and Jesus continual refusal to play religion with the hyper religious Pharisees is beginning to cause a stir within the religious community. When legalism prevails we no longer see human need and the amazing love of God that is available for everyone. When legalism prevails all we see are winners and losers, insiders and outsiders, or the faithful and sinners.When legalism prevails we denigrate the good deeds of others because they don't fit into our behavioral categories and expectations. Jesus heals on the Sabbath -- not forbidden in the law except for the Pharisaical spin that forbids anything that could possibly be construed as work on the Sabbath.

Before the "Sermon the the Plain" Jesus selects his 12 (see verse 12-16). Like any good Greek culture list the most important person is listed first (Simon Peter).

The Sermon on the Plain has beatitudes like Matthew 5 except that the implied curses are spelled out. As I understand the older traditions a list of blessings always had a corresponding curse list. The curses would be reserved for the opposite position of the blessings. Hence -- blessed are you poor (20) but woe to you who are rich (24); blessed are you who are hungry now (21) but woe to you who are full now; blessed are you when you are hated for my sake (22) but woe to you when they speak well of you.

The rest of the sermon looks a lot like the reader's digest condensed version of Matthew 5-7. Love your enemies -- it is not enough to only do good to those who will reciprocate by doing good to you (27) the key to the kingdom is to adopt the behavior and expectations of the king. This behavior us summarized in verse 36: "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." Do not judge; be generous, remember that the point is not just the change of behavior but the transformation of the self. One can change one's behavior and never be transformed -- this is the Pharisee's fundamental problem: they have changed their behavior through legalistic ropes and chains but their hearts are untouched.

Life in the Jesus is a life that is reworked from the inside out. We become good trees and therefore we bear good fruit. We become good people and therefore we bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This is what it means to build on a good foundation. This kind of life can only happen through a deep committed and life altering relationship with Jesus Christ and learning to live life in the community he formed.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Luke 5

Jesus calls his first disciples. Notice that Luke's version of the call of Peter, Andrew, James and John has a bit more detail than the other gospels. We have Jesus borrowing Peter's boat to teach and then the great two boat full catch of fish. Jesus' promise to Simon is a promise of leadership. You will no longer be fishing for fish but will be fishing for people.

The healing of the leper (12-16) has one remarkable element to it. In Jesus time it was believed that if you touched something that was ceremonially unclean it made you unclean. Since leprosy was considered the greatest of uncleanness it would have been unthinkable to touch a leper. Notice verse 13 "Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said . . ." Jesus was not bound by their restrictions. Jesus changes this understanding by noting that when the holy touches the unholy the holy is not defiled, rather the unholy is made holy. He demonstrates this in a multitude of ways (like touching people, hanging out with know "sinners and tax collectors" etc).

The healing of the paralytic (17-26) has some wonderful elements to it. Jesus claims to be able to forgive sins -- a prerogative reserved for God alone. The fun part for me is the faith of the man's four friends. What faith is required to dig a hole through someone else's roof to lower your friend into the presence of Jesus. Don't we all need someone who would go that far for us? I am blessed to have three brothers who are holding the rope for me -- who is holding the rope for you and drawing you into the presence of Jesus.

The call of Levi (27-32) has one feature. Notice that after Levi becomes a disciple his first act is to invite all of his friends and co workers over to his house to meet Jesus. When was the last time any of us invited all of the non Christians in our world to a party with the sole intent of helping them get to know Jesus?

The chapter ends with the cloth and wine skins illustration. The point is simple. Each new move of the Spirit will have new structures, new music, new technology, new methods. Putting the new wind of the Spirit into old structures causes breakage and heartache. The new move of the Spirit needs new structures to help it grow and to nurture it properly.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Luke 4

This chapter marks the beginning of Jesus public ministry. It is important to note that the beginning of Jesus public ministry does not begin in public but in the wilderness and in a private struggle with his identity. Luke 4:1-13 is a description of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. These temptations go to the core of who Jesus is and the mission he was sent to accomplish. "Turning stones into bread" is the temptation, and one we all face, to use our power and position for ourselves. Will Jesus use his power to care for himself or others? He chooses others. The second temptation: 'worship me and I will give you the world'. Is, at its core, not only a temptation to fall into idolatry but is a temptation to take a short cut. Philippians 2 tells us that at the end of all things all things will be put under Jesus feet. Every knee will bow, every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. That is Jesus destiny. But to earn the crown promised he has to endure the cross. The 2nd temptation is a temptation to take a short cut -- to have the victory without the pain. Again, Jesus refuses. The third temptation is a temptation to make a big show to draw a crowd and attention. It is worth noting that the evil one quotes scripture when it suits his purpose. Jesus, again, refuses and identifies who he is to the evil one: "you will not put the Lord your God to the test (13)."

Jesus ministry begins in Galilee and a journey to his home town. The Nazareth manifesto (as some of my friends like to call it) is a statement of his purpose. It has at its heart a quote from Isaiah: "the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." This is Jesus opening sermon in his home town. It is the place where he was raised, it is the one place where people knew him best as the son of the carpenter as the son of Mary and Joseph. Jesus chooses to preach from a passage that is identified with the coming of Messiah and he announces: "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing (21)." In other words, the messiah has arrived. These words and the examples that follow cause a riot to break out but Jesus walks away with his life.

From here Jesus moves his ministry to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee where he teaches and preaches and heals many and "a report about him began to reach every place in the region (37).

Luke Introduction and Chapter 3

Monday, November 26

I am beginning Luke at chapter 3 so that we will be reading about the birth of Jesus on Christmas eve and day.

Here is the introduction to Luke that I wrote for my Ugandan friends:

Luke has the distinction of being the only clearly identifiable non-Jewish writer in the entire Bible and is also the author of the Book of Acts. Luke was a Greek physician and companion of St. Paul. His education and training are shown in his use of classical Greek and his extensive use of medical terms to describe diseases and injuries throughout the Gospel according to Luke and The Book of Acts. He quotes from the Greek translation of the Old Testament (rather than the Hebrew.)  He writes to show that Jesus is the Savior of all humanity (not just the Jews) and that his coming is a world event. An example of this view can be seen in that while Matthew traces Jesus’ genealogy back to Abraham, the first Hebrew (Matthew 1:1-17); Luke traces it back to Adam, the first human. (Luke 3:23-37.) For Luke, Jesus’ life is seen as a procession that begins in Galilee and moves to Jerusalem where the true nature of the Son of God is revealed in Jesus’ death and resurrection. This story of salvation continues in Acts where it begins in Jerusalem and moves out to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8’) Luke was written between AD 70 and AD 90. Luke was not an eyewitness to the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. However, he claims to have done the work of an historian, gathered his information, and set out to present an orderly account of the coming of the Christ (Luke 1:1-4 and Acts 1:1-2). Key Learning: Jesus came to bring salvation to the whole world.

John the Baptist is the feature of Luke 3. John is the precursor, he is the forerunner, he is the voice calling "prepare the way! the Lord is coming!". Notice that Luke sets the date of these events as accurately as possible for the time -- 15th year of Tiberius, Pilate is governor in Judea, Herod is ruler of Galilee, Philip is ruler in Ituraea and Lysanias is ruler of Abilene. It is the time when Annas and Caiaphas were High Priest. This method of dating tells us that the events of John's preaching happened sometime in the year AD 26/27. John meets an untimely end because he chose to challenge the seat of power. One of Herod's sons (named Herod) had taken the wife (Herodias) of another of Herod's sons (named Philip). This was against Jewish law and John condemned both Herod and Herodias for this behavior. The end result was John being beheaded. Sometimes we are called to challenge the seat of power in a particular time and place: it would be in error to assume that the challenge comes without consequence. All prophets, including John, have unpopular messages to present and the prophets usually suffer dire consequences for their actions.

The word "repent" does not mean to feel sorry. It means to change. The call is to change our thinking, to change our understanding, and to change how we are living our lives. The reason for this change is the core message of the gospel: The Kingdom of Heaven (or God) has arrived. This call to change is seen in the exchanges between John and the crowds, the tax collectors and the soldiers.

The chapter ends with the listing of the ancestors of Jesus and, as I said before, the primary feature is that it does not go back to the first Hebrew (Abraham) but to the first human (Adam).

3 John

Here is the introduction that I wrote for my Ugandan friends:

3 John is a personal letter written to an individual named Gaius (a fairly common name.) The letter was written to address a specific matter of providing hospitality for Demetrius – this hospitality was being denied by another local leader named Diotrephes. Key Learning: Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers.

Even in the first century human begins behaved like human beings. Power struggles, striving for position and the occasional snub lead to an intervention by the Apostle John. John is the founding pastor and has the apostolic authority for this region -- for Diotrephes to resist this authority was to reject his spiritual head. John's solution is to contact another prominent person in the church, Gaius, and have him intervene on his behalf. The resolution of the dispute is never recorded.

2 John

Here is the introduction I wrote for my Ugandan friends:

2 John is a letter written to a specific Christian community by “the Elder.” Earliest tradition attributes the letter to the same hand as 1 John and was written from Ephesus. 2 John also addresses the Gnostic heresy that denies the incarnation (that God became flesh and lived among us.) Key Learning: Jesus is God incarnate come to live among us.

The key argument in 2 John is verse 9: "Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God;" The "goes beyond it is the key. The Gnostics had been teaching that the Christian gospel was a "jumping off" point, merely the beginning of the special knowledge needed for salvation (the rest of the special knowledge was in the apparently in the possession of the Gnostics). The early Christians believed that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus along with the coming of the Holy Spirit was the complete story necessary for salvation. It should not be reduced nor augmented.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

2 Corinthians 13

The chapter begins with some excellent advice on giving. "On the first day of the week each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn . . ." I like the idea that every Sunday I can set aside what I am going to give to God and to give to help others. It helps to make this decision, to make it regular and to follow through.

The letter ends with the usually ending of one of Paul's letters. He reviews his plans (5-9) he remembers his friends and co workers (10-12). He offers some last bits of advice (13-14). And he concludes with encouragement for his fellow laborers and greetings to the people he happens to know in town. Verse 21 -- ", Paul write this greeting with my own hand" -- is a reminder to us that Paul is dictating the letter and likes to sign off in his own writing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

2 Corinthians 12

Continuing his defense of his Apostleship, Paul speaks of his spiritual journey.

Two things stand out:
     One is the reference to being caught up "into third heaven (2)". In the first century the people believed in a tri-layered heaven -- hence three heavens. The first heaven is where the birds fly around and is the air we breathe. The second heaven is where the sun and the moon and the stars are and the third heaven is the throne room of God. So, being caught up into the third heaven is simply another way of saying he was caught up into the presence of God. It sounds like quite an experience.

     The second is the whole account of the "thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan (7)." We do not know what Paul's infirmity was. There has been much speculation based on other things he has said but this is all speculation -- there really is no way to know. What is clear is that the infirmity was obvious and occasionally debilitating. The lesson for us is the progress of Paul's prayer. He says "three times I appealed to the Lord (8)." So, on three separate occasions Paul went to pray to ask God for relief from this infirmity and for healing. God's response was the same: "my grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness (8)." So, Paul seeks healing and God says no, this is something you will have to live with. Notice what happens next. Paul prays "So, I will boast all the more gladly in my weakness so that the power of Christ may dwell in me (9)." In other words, when God speaks to Paul and tells him his circumstance will not change, Paul's prayer changes.

     The principle for us to learn in terms of our prayer life is simple: Pray until one of two things happens. Either 1) God answers your prayer; or 2) God changes your prayer. Most of us, when we pray, we give up way too early and way to easily.

Monday, November 19, 2012

2 Corinthians 11

Paul continues his defense of his ministry against "false apostles." We don't know exactly what the "false apostles" were teaching or doing but there are some hints in this passage. The message of the gospel they are preaching (another Jesus) is different from what Paul is preaching. They appear to be "boastful" and greedy. Paul defends his humility and makes note that he did not burden the Corinthians in any way. He calls his opponents "deceitful (13) and under disguise comparing them to Satan himself who "disguises himself as an angel of light (14)." I remember an early lesson in life that it was important to weigh and evaluate every teaching. In the modern world there are "false apostles" who teach things that are contrary to the Gospel. Sometimes these preachers blend American capitalism with the Christian faith or they blend American political or historical experience with the Christian faith and end up preaching something that sounds like Christianity but is actually promoting something else. The prime examples of this are the "prosperity gospel" and "American civil religion." Both of these examples are dangerous because they draw people away from the challenge and expectation of the gospel.

Paul notes these challenges beginning in verse 16. As further evidence of his Apostleship, Paul does not cite his successes nor does he cite his victories (he is not boasting). Instead, Paul cites his sufferings and his hardships. He boasts that he is a Hebrew, a descendent of Abraham. That he has suffered greatly for the message of the gospel. Notice the list: imprisonment, floggings, (near death), beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked, in constant danger, pressure and anxious for the churches he has planted. This, apparently, was the life of the Apostle. It was not a glamorous and "powerful" position. It was a servants position. In order to preach the gospel and plant churches the Apostles had to endure great suffering, hardship and persecution. All of them, according to the best records of the time, were martyred. What a life of ease and comfort we modern preachers have in comparison! But, for Paul, this litany is evidence of his authenticity -- his claim and calling to be an Apostle.

Friday, November 16, 2012

2 Corinthians 10

In these last few chapters Paul defends his ministry. He defends his ministry here in 10 on general terms, in 11against the "false" apostles and on his ministry experience and, finally, in 12 based on his spiritual experiences. Paul faced many difficulties in planting churches and building spiritually mature leaders to be overseers at them.

Here in 10 Paul is putting up a defense against nameless accusers and detractors. Apparently he has been accused of being forceful in writing but somewhat wimpy in person (10).  He has been accused of "overstepping his limits (14)."  He responds to his detractors by noting that they are making the wrong comparison (only comparing themselves to themselves) and that they are building their boastfulness on "someone else's sphere of action (16)."

Of particular note are verses 4-6. Paul is describing our weapons. There is 1) divine power to destroy strongholds (4); we destroy arguments against the knowledge of God (5); and to take every thought captive (5). The first is the divine power of God the others on this list are borne of discipline. We study and we learn to refute the false arguments against the faith and we discipline our minds by learning to take every thought captive. These abilities and tools are not routine or random but are born of a long season of prayer and living a disciplined spiritual life.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

2 Corinthians 9

Paul continues his discussion on the collection for the poor in Jerusalem and in the process lays down some important principles on giving. I have come to believe that seeking to enforce the Old Testament standard of giving 10% of one's income -- the tithe -- is not compatable with New Testament teaching. Paul lays down the principle of generosity rather than legalistic giving. In the life under grace we do not follow laws expecting to receive a return or somehow earn favor with God. In the life in Grace we are free to give generously and, I believe, the standard of 10% becomes a low water bench mark rather than a legal requirement (that is to say I cannot imagine giving less than 10%)..

Verse 7 is vital: "Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." I believe it is my responsibility as a pastoral leader to give people opportunities to give. It is their responsibility to respond or not respond -- no compulsion involved. Here is an opportunity to help flood victims (help if you can). Here is an opportunity to help Ugandan seminary students (help if you can). And when the Lord speaks to our hearts to give then we should give generously, freely and without feeling compelled to do so (we choose). The phrase "cheerful giver" is fun in the Greek. In Greek the word for "cheerful" is "hilaros" which is the same root as our word hilarious. God loves an hilarious giver? When was the last time you laughed, giggled and roared your way through an offering? There is no mistake that the word miserable has as its root the word miser -- when we cling and hoard it does not create joy in our lives it creates anxiousness, worry and fear; that is to say it makes us miserable. God loves an hilarious giver.

I believe when we choose to live life with open hands and we choose (notice the use of the word "choose") to live generous lives it changes us from the inside out. Instead of grasping and clinging and trying to hold and hoard we are giving, sharing and using the resources God has placed in our lives to help others -- and when we choose to do this we experience a deep and satisfying joy!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

2 Corinthians 8

In a greedy and accumulation focused culture generosity may be the ultimate counter cultural act. Chapter 8 is Paul's plea to the Corinthian church to choose to be generous. He has been taking a collection in Macedonia and other places to alleviate the suffering of the poor in and around Jerusalem. Judea and Jerusalem have been under oppressive occupation under Roman rule. This oppressive occupation has made Judea a significantly economically depressed area. The Jewish and Christian residents of Judea are suffering under this occupation driven poverty. Paul's solution is to invite the churches in Achai (Corinth) and Macedonia (Philipi) to receive an offering for the poor.

This was met with general approval but there has, apparently, been some push back from some members and leaders in the Corinthian church. There must be some in every Christian community who view money and wealth as security. This view, though pervasive throughout history, is not biblical and may be border line idolatry. Our security and our protection does not come from our gold and silver (or investments or bank accounts). Our security and protection comes from trusting in a good and faithful God.  Faithfully managing the resources God has placed in our lives is a consistent biblical theme. Here in 2 Corinthians the message is generosity. How do I live my life with open hands? How do I live my life as a channel of God's grace and not a hoarding reservoir? How do I live my life free of greed and lust and pride?

If the three primary gods of 21st century America are Money, Sex and Power, then the only way to break down the power of those idols is to not bow down and not worship them. In the case of Money the breaking of this power comes when we choose to be generous. Instead of hoarding and keeping and accumulating we put the resources God has placed in our lives to work helping others, leveraging change and building leaders for the kingdom.

The struggle we have with this is not new. It is the same struggle people in the 1st century had . . . and I suspect will be a struggle until Jesus returns.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

2 Corinthians 7

"Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and rings no regret, but worldly grief produces death (2 Corinthians 7:10)." Consider the case of two men who betrayed Jesus. Judas, who for 30 silver pieces, sold the security and whereabouts of Jesus to the religions authorities in Jerusalem. Jesus, as we know, was arrested, tried and eventually executed. The other is Peter. On the very same night of Judas betrayal, Peter refused to acknowledge that he knew Jesus let alone that he was one of Jesus' closest companions. When the night is over both men are grieving. The Gospel says that Peter went out and "wept bitterly." The Gospel says that Judas tried to buy Jesus back and failing this he went out and hanged himself.

Both men were grieving their betrayals. One suicides the other weeps. One separates himself from the community and from life; the other isolates for the night but stays connected to the community. One goes beyond further help and the other becomes the leader of the Christian movement. That is the difference between godly grief and worldly grief. The godly grief leads us to sorrow and change and reconnection. The worldly grief leads us to despair.

There is nothing that separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (see Romans 8:31ff). When we fail, when we betray those we love, when we turn our backs on the way of Christ, we also have two choices. We can either repent (change) and turn back to the one who called us (Jesus) or we can despair. I choose life!

Monday, November 12, 2012

2 Corinthians 6

Remember the day of salvation is today -- there is no need to wait for tomorrow. The grace of God is freely and fully offered today! Grab on with both hands and join the ride. 

St. Paul lived a difficult and challenging life. His work often caused riots. On multiple occasions people tried various methods to kill him -- in Damascus, in Jerusalem, in Ephesus and so forth. It seems the simple unvarnished message of the love of God freely given through Jesus Christ was met with anger, hatred and violence. He shares all of this with the Corinthian church in order to get their attention and, I suspect, to help them listen to what he is trying to tell them.

Do no be yoked together with unbelievers. This passage, over time, has been used to justify a lot of harsh decisions. The point Paul is making is that we should not willingly enter into partnerships with people who do not share the same values as you do. In the case of marriage see 1 Corinthians 7. Paul says that if someone becomes a Christian but their spouse does not to be patient and not abandon the unbelieving partner. The issue here is not that kind of marriage situation but willingly entering into a partnership with someone you know is still practicing idolatry. A friend of mine called this "missionary dating" and it is never a good idea.

Friday, November 9, 2012

2 Corinthians 5

The eternal weight of glory spoken of in 4:17 is described in more detail in chapter 5. First our physical bodies "this earthly tent we live in (5:1)" is going to be replaced with a heavenly dwelling. We struggle in our physical bodies but there will be no struggle in our spiritual bodies. Our mortality will be "swallowed up" in immortality. Paul believes that this process in the life of the Christ follower has already begun. We groan and struggle but we also have victory and success because the spirit of Christ is at work within us. We will all appear before the judgement seat of Christ . . . for life or death depending on how we lived (10).

The ministry of reconciliation is the focus of the next several paragraphs. We have died in Christ (15) and now Christ is alive within us. Coming to Christ we have become the "new creation (17)" -- whatever we were before has been transformed. This transformation is one of those marvelous biblical "has arrived and is still coming" concepts. We are reconciled to God but we are "being saved". We are transformed and we are in the process of transformation. I like to think of it this way: I have become an adopted son of God. But I came into the household from out in the cold and do not know the standards of the household nor do I know what it means to be a son. The adoption is a done deal -- I am now a child of God -- but I am in process toward becoming like his Son. This journey, in my opinion, is the journey toward discipleship and, for the Christ follower, is a life long journey.

As Christ followers we are now engaged in the ministry of reconciliation. God was in Jesus reconciling "embracing" the world to himself. Now that we are adopted sons and daughters of God it is our ministry to be ambassadors for the house of God and to go out and invite others into adoption. This is the ministry of reconciliation. God is making this appeal through us to all the world "come and join the family!" Be reconciled to God!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

2 Corinthians 4

Paul uses some marvelous poetic language in chapter 4. First he talks about having this amazing treasure -- the very Holy Spirit of God, the glory of God, the transformed life that comes from living in the presence of God -- in "clay jars". What we hold from God, that is the transformation that God is working in us from the inside out, is held in fragile, human "jars of clay". This is such a vital and critical thing for us to understand. We do not hold goodness and glory on our own as if by our own efforts we earned it or deserve it. Instead we hold the glory and presence of God in our own flawed and broken humanness. I suspect, for most of us, the jars of clay are somewhat cracked, and worn down. Notice verse 7 "But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear the this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us." As a preacher of the gospel, it is essential that I remember that what I proclaim and what God has given me to give to others is not of my doing. I am simply an earthly and earthen vessel that God has chosen to use.

In 17, after noting all of the struggles that difficulties he has had as an apostle, Paul says, "For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure," C.S. Lewis gave a sermon in the 1940's about this "eternal weight of glory" wherein he speaks of what life could be like if we chose to see one another, not as the flawed and broken humans that we are now, but as the eternal creatures we are destined to be. If we chose to treat one another with the respect and deference accorded eternal beings; if we chose to honor one another for the glory for which we are destined; if we chose to serve one another according to the holiness we will all one day reflect -- and that is only marginally reflected through our current clay jars; then the church would look a lot more like the church that Jesus calls us to be. The eternal weight of glory would change our hearts and lives and perspectives.

Eternal weight of glory in jars of clay . . . what a concept!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

2 Corinthians 3

The glory of God is revealed in our lives. For Moses in Old Testament times his time with God was revealed in a face that shined with the glory of God. Unfortunately, this glory scared his fellow Israelites so he covered his face with a veil to cover up the glory. Moses continued to wear the veil long after the glory of his encounter with God faded (hence the "end of the glory that was being set aside {13})." One of the most profound and challenging statements in this letter is verse 18 "and all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed in to the same image from one degree of glory to another." That is to say our lives are to reveal to the world our relationship and connection to God. One of the functions of the Christian's life is to be the burnished and polished mirror that ever more perfectly reflects the presence and the glory of Christ. In our "unveiled faces" people should see the glory and the grace and the mercy and the unspeakable love and presence of God. Our life in the Kingdom is revealed in who we are becoming and through the actions and activity of our lives.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom! Ah, to be free of the rules of religion; to be free to live life in relationship with Jesus; to be free to live without veils and covers and pretense. That would be freedom indeed!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

2 Corinthians 2

The deep pastoral nature of 2 Corinthians comes out in chapter 2. Paul has been in a struggle with certain elements in the Corinthian church. This struggle has caused him to speak harshly (see 1 Corinthians for some of the harshness -- it is likely that the harshest conversation was in the missing Corinthian letter and is lost to us) to those who were causing the disruption in the church and to those who were not responding to disciplinary action.

Beginning in 2:5 Paul has apparently extended mercy and forgiveness to one particular offender in the church. The tone of these verses suggests that the leadership in Corinth has been less quick to extend this same grace. Paul is encouraging them to extend mercy where his mercy has been extended. It is frequently true that churches in places where there is much chaos and excessive or wanton living often develop a hardness and almost legalistic response to the freewheeling sinfulness around them. It may be that the church in Corinth, though profoundly permissive in some matters, treats its "backsliders" with severe judgement.

Monday, November 5, 2012

2 Corinthians 1

Paul begins the letter with his usual greetings but proceeds to a time of "thanksgiving after affliction." The life of an apostle in the first century was fraught with danger. Paul experienced great difficulty in and around Ephesus, barely escaping with his life.

Apparently waffling was not a 20 or 21st century phenomenon. The Corinthians have been accusing Paul of saying "yes and no" at the same time. Paul reminds us that the answer in Jesus is always "yes!" Think how that might apply to day to day life. Imagine taking the promises and calling of Jesus Christ and knowing that the invitation is always "go" and the answer is always "yes". Should I help this person? (YES). Should I tell this person about Jesus (YES). Should I help and encourage fellow Christians on the way? (YES) Should I serve in this particular mission capacity? . . . the answer is always YES. When God says no you will know it. Too many fellow Christians are bound up in wanting to "know the will of God" when in reality for the Christ follower God's will is abundant and plain. "Do all the good you can in as many place as you can for as long as you can . . . " is how John Wesley, the founder of Methodism put it. That is our call. See a hungry person -- feed a hungry person. See a person who needs a coat, hat, mittens . . . do something about it. Share the gospel in every possible situation and, if necessary, use words (to paraphrase Francis of Assisi).

The calling of God is YES. Let's get after it.

2 Corinthians -- Introduction

This is the introduction to 2 Corinthians that I wrote for my Uganda friends.

2 Corinthians In the year or so between 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Paul experiences two crises. First, his visit to Corinth to deal with a disciplinary problem has failed (2 Corinthians 2:1). Apparently Paul wrote another letter from Ephesus that is now lost but is referred to in 2 Corinthians 2:3-4 and 7:8. Second, Paul had an unidentified crisis that caused him to fear for his life. When he was finally able to travel, he went to Macedonia and met up with Titus who brought encouraging news from Corinth. Paul eventually makes a third visit (he probably wrote Romans from Corinth during this third visit). 2 Corinthians is one of the more intensely personal of Paul’s letters. He describes his burden for his churches, his struggles, and his love for them, and his deep abiding concern for their spiritual progress. We see, in very personal terms, the cost of his missionary life style and work. Key Learning: In chapter 12, Paul reveals a “thorn in his flesh.” In his seeking help from God, an important principle of prayer is revealed. When in need, we are to pray until one of two things happens: 1) God answers our prayer; or 2) God changes our prayer.