Monday, December 19, 2011

Know The Enemy

A Christ-follower reading the Psalms has to contend with Jesus' command in
Matthew 5:44-48 (NLT)

"But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect."

What do we do when we encounter passages like Psalm 3?

Psalm 3:7 (NLT)
Arise, O Lord! Rescue me, my God! Slap all my enemies in the face! Shatter the teeth of the wicked!

I think we have to keep the passage in historical context on one level, realizing that the psalmist was talking about real, physical enemies. It was fully within the Old Testament understanding that God would bless, protect and shield the "insiders" while punishing those outside the covenant. "Us" versus "them" was very much the thinking woven into old covenant theology.

But as Christians I think we also have to realize that our enemies are spiritual forces in high places seeking to destroy humankind in general. We humans now are called upon to unite against this common enemy, manifested in all the spiritual wrestlings within our souls, selves and communities.

"We do not wrestle against flesh and blood," but against the spiritual forces that produce selfishness, hatred, fear and violence of all sorts within us. These are the true enemies that are robbing peace and security from the world.

-- gmc --

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Visions of an Angry God

Psalm 2:1
Why are the nations so angry?

... Wars are continually waged throughout history by nations. Why?

Psalm 2:3 (NLT)
"Let us break their chains," they cry, "and free ourselves from slavery to God."

... Ultimately it seems that war is really a rejection of God's supremacy and authority.

Psalm 2:12 (NLT)
Submit to God's royal son, or he will become angry, and you will be destroyed in the midst of all your activities- for his anger flares up in an instant. But what joy for all who take refuge in him!

... I can't help but think that in the OT, references to an angry God who suddenly strikes out to destroy the "bad nations," shows our human frailties and our need to be kept in line through fear, more than revealing the true nature of God - especially as revealed in Jesus Christ.

... Perhaps the most significant aspect of how Jesus affects our view of scripture is the way he challenges and overturns these visions of an angry God.

-- gmc --

Monday, December 5, 2011

Psalms read through the Lens of Jesus Christ

Psalm 1

For Christians the Old Testament becomes an entirely different book because we are required (and enabled) to read it through a new lens. This is seen immediately in the first Psalm. At first glance it is a poem about the great chasm that exists between "the wicked," and "the righteous." The original readers would interpret it as a warning to make sure we are on the right side of the line, squarely amongst the "right" folks who are doing the "right" stuff.

But to Christians it should remind us of our true predicament. We should be aware that "all have sinned and fallen short..." and remind us that our only hope for being declared righteous is through the grace of God and what he does for us in Christ. To a Christian Ps.1 becomes a song of gratitude for being declared righteous by faith and not by our own doing.

-- gmc --

Sunday, August 14, 2011

If death is the end...

Ecclesiastes 2:15-16 (NLT)
... So I said to myself, "Since I will end up the same as the fool, what's the value of all my wisdom? This is all so meaningless!" [16] For the wise and the foolish both die. The wise will not be remembered any longer than the fool. In the days to come, both will be forgotten...."

- Apart from a transendent worldview, that includes some sort of life after death, all our striving becomes meaningless. At the point of death, all we've done, disappears. It all becomes pointless with no repercussions into the future.

Aldous Huxley expressed this conundrum in a quote about our human tendancy to live in denial: "..the knowledge that every ambition is doomed to frustration at the hands of a skeleton have never prevented the majority of human beings from behaving as though death were no more than an unfounded rumor. "

-- gmc --

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Nothing New...

Ecclesiastes 1:10-11 (NLT)

Sometimes people say, "Here is something new!" But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new. We don't remember what happened in the past, and in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now."

-- In keeping with the economic and social turmoil of last week, and looking ahead to another week that promises more of the same, I wonder if it might be a good time to seek perspective.

The book of Ecclesiastes certainly offers this if we keep it in the correct context. It is a thesis of what life looks like when we disconnect ourselves from eternal life that came about through Jesus Christ. I wonder if we who live on this side of history - post Jesus Christ - underestimate the faith it took to believe in salvation when it was only a promised rumour. Solomon shows us what life without belief looks like.

Sooner or later, without a transcendent view of the universe and our place in it, we are confronted by the pointlessness of temporary, physical life, and all our struggles, trials and tribulations. In that non-transcendent worldview the very best we can hope for is to "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die."

I'm using the free online study booklet produced by ministries. If you care to access the same booklets you'll be asked to register, but there is no charge. I find these books to be top notch aids that strive for biblical accuracy without pushing any particular denominational agendas. Hard copy versions are available as well.

Let me see if I can provide the link:

-- gmc --

Friday, August 5, 2011

Hard Times

If we live in a culture of entitlement and self-indulgence, then hardships are devalued, useless and even an affront to what we believe the universe "owes" us. Hard times are only negative.

By contrast, if we live within a context of service and self-sacrifice, hard times, when they inevitably arrive, become opportunities for growth, strengthening of character and deeply positive experiences.

-- gmc --

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Repentance comes in stages and when least expected...

That word "repentance" doesn't mean to merely be sorry for what we've done.  Rather, it refers to a lifelong process of turning away from previous choices and beliefs and ideas towards a new way of living that we have come to believe is truer and better. A holy way if you will.  

That word "holy" also carries many misapprehensions. 

Holy is not intended to convey a snobbish, I'm-better-than-you attitude or spirit that expresses itself in aloofness, or apartness.  Rather it means to understand that there is actually a completeness, a fullness, a totally-of-existance for us all.  (imagine it being spelt as "whole-ly") .  We humans are just not there yet. But it is our destiny, because it is the state of our creator and that is where we are headed - eventually.

And the journey comprises one small step of recognition, awareness and change at a time - repentance.  To - re-path our lives into a new direction. Towards a goal.

I was innocently listening to a song by Steve Bell, many years ago, when suddenly I saw my own contributions to the sorrows and pains of the world all around me.  My self-centredness, my greedy choices that reflected an interest in my pleasure alone, had hurt many of my closest family and friends and this was just a microcosm of the sorrow, turmoil and pains extant across every nation, the entire world.

The realization came like a wave and I was soon laying face-down on the floor sobbing, as this song played over and over in my headset.

I had no idea of what exactly was going on, but later I came to realize it as a wave of repentance. Odd, awesome and embarrassing all at the same time.

Here are the song lyrics and I've tried to load the actual song to youtube:

You are to Be Holy  – Music and Lyric by Steve Bell
adapted from Isaiah 1 / Leviticus 20: 26
Hear, Oh heavens
Listen, Oh earth
The Lord has spoken
And given birth
I reared my children and brought them up
But they have rejected the Holy One
Even the ox knows his master’s voice
The owner’s manger a donkey knows
But you my people don’t understand
A sinful nation has turned their backs
You are to be holy
For I am holy
Come to me only
For you are my own
You are to be holy
For I am holy
Come to me only
For you are my own
My own
Your country is desolate
And your cities burned
Your fields are stripped by the foreigner
And right before you laid waste as when
When overthrown by a stranger’s hand
So take your evil from my sight
Stop your wrong and learn what’s right
Seek out justice for the oppressed
The widow’s cause and the fatherless

Friday, July 8, 2011

Cart Before The Horse...

3 John 1:11 (NLT)
... Remember that those who do good prove that they are God's children, and those who do evil prove that they do not know God.

Our actions never win our salvation... We cannot "do" our way into eternal life. But our choices in life reveal who we have chosen to follow.

-- gmc --

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Lovers In A Dangerous Time

2 John 1:1 (NLT)
This letter is from John, the elder. I am writing to the chosen lady and to her children, ...

An alternate translation of this phrase: " the chosen lady and to her children, ..." is: "the church God has chosen and its members."

This coded language is used throughout this short letter, so I suspect it is written to a church meeting secretly under dangerous circumstances. If the letter were to be intercepted, there is no way to identify the town or home where the church assembles.

In most western countries it is hard to imagine the dangers faced by Christians. However this threat is familiar even today for Christ's followers who live in places where belief is still outlawed.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Know Thyself

1 John 5:1 (NLT)
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. ...

- It's a popular turn of speech to refer to humans as a children of God, which is true in the sense that the life within all of us originates from the CreatorSource - aka God. What I think John is saying here is that when we believe that Jesus is the messiah, and come to understand what that means about who our Source is and who we are at our fullest potential, we truly come to "new" life as children of God.

-- gmc --

Sunday, June 19, 2011

God Is Love

1 John 4:16,19 (NLT)
We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. [19] We love each other because he loved us first.

- This chapter on God-as-Love and our relationship with God and one-another because of Love, is one of the most profound passages in the bible. If we can deeply understand just this much of the Good News, we 'get' the core message.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Actions Speak...

1 John 3:17-18 (NLT)
If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion-how can God's love be in that person? [18] Dear children, let's not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

See God

1 John 1:2 (NLT)
This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. ...

- I try to imagine what it must have been like... To hold Jesus by the hand, look into his eyes and to know that I am looking into the eyes of God. Staring into the source of my life, holding onto his infinite form as he expresses himself into existence as flesh and blood. To see God and be fully seen... Wow. That would change me forever, I think.

-- gmc --

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Bottom Line

2 Peter 3:18 (NLT)
Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. ...

After dealing with certain issues surrounding the question of Christ's return, Peter returns to the bottom line for believers. It is the one thing, the only thing that any of us can do anything about - growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Friday, June 3, 2011

What Controls Us?

2 Peter 2:19 (NLT)
They promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves of sin and corruption. For you are a slave to whatever controls you.

- I don't know who Peter is outing here so vehemently. I'm sure a good bible commentary will have some ideas. There are certainly false teachers around today who come to mind.

Buried in this powerful condemnation is an important little parable: "You are a slave to whatever controls you." That's well worth keeping in mind in any era.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Dawn's Early Light

2 Peter 1:4 (NLT)
... to share his divine nature...

- That the divine nature forms within human beings is mind-boggling.

2 Peter 1:16,18 (NLT)
...We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes [18] We ourselves heard that voice from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.

- Peter is referring to the event where he and two others winessed Jesus' transfiguration, and heard the voice of God testify, "this is my son." That's gotta leave an impression.

2 Peter 1:19 (NLT)
...and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts.

- the morning star refers to the planet Venus. For much of the year it appears as the brightest star in the dark morning sky as it rises just before the sun. So this is a beautiful metaphor describing Christ's shining in our hearts as a prelude to a much larger light illuminating the whole world.

- I wonder -

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Never Alone

1 Peter 5:9 (NLT)
... Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are.

1 Peter 5:12 (NLT)
... My purpose in writing is to encourage you and assure you that what you are experiencing is truly part of God's grace for you. Stand firm in this grace.

- It's hard to grasp that suffering can actually be a redemptive process - evidence of God's grace. But perhaps there can be some comfort from understanding that suffering is a universal aspect of our human experience. We will have trials, but we do not need to face them alone.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Love, Love Love

1 Peter 4:8 (NLT)
Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.

- Peter, in agreement with Paul, affirms the primacy of love.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Blessed Relationships

1 Peter 3:1 (NLT)
In the same way, you wives must accept the authority of your husbands. ...

- The key words in this admonition are "in the same way." He's just been discussing the importance of doing good and living what is right, even if it causes suffering as a result of doing good.

Just as we are to live this way before our authority figures in the surrounding state, so too we are called to do so within other reltionships as well. As the understanding of marriage in that culture and time ordained that a wife was the property of the husband, there was an authoritative relationship that existed. It would be a mistake to directly transpose this to our culture and society today. Peter is writing guidelines for living rightly before God in that time and place. He is not writing a 21st century marriage guideline for us.

1 Peter 3:7 (NLT)
...Treat your wife with understanding ... she is your equal partner in God's gift of new life. "

-Summing up both admonitions, I think it is safe to say that husbands and wives in our culture are called to be cooperative and understanding towards one another within the unique dynamics of our own relationships. The owner-property mindset is not valid, but Peter's reminder that we are equal partner's in God's gift of life certainly is.

There are gender differences that affect how we each need to be cared for, and we also have individual needs and abilities. Understanding this and seeking the goodness of God in our marriages is always appropriate in any age and relationship.

1 Peter 3:8-9 (NLT)
... Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. [9] Don't repay evil for evil. Don't retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, ...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Who Rules?

1 Peter 2:13 (NLT)
For the Lord's sake, respect all human authority-whether the king as head of state,...

1 Peter 2:18...
You who are slaves must accept the authority of your masters with all respect. Do what they tell you-not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are cruel.

- These verses certainly rule out armed insurrection as viable activities for Christians. In the old testament, even Moses was required by God to obtain Pharoah's permission to leave Egypt. It's safe to say that God does not support civil war.

So then, are we just expected to knuckle under when our rulers are cruel and unjust? And if our government sends us to war must we go?

[19] For God is pleased with you when you do what you know is right and patiently endure unfair treatment.

- I think part of the answer to our dilemma is found in verse 19. Peter says, "when you do what you know is right..."

We always respect the authority over us but we don't do what the authority tells us to do if it is wrong. Paul wrote elsewhere, "follow me as I follow Christ." In other words, if I am not following Christ, don't follow me.

Even as we respect a king's authority, we also expect that ruler to follow God as his or her leader. That is who we all ultimately follow. If the ruler violates that trust we are required to follow our conscience, and continue doing the good God requires of us. But we may have to endure punishment for disobeying our human authorities. I think of Daniel continuing to pray openly, which led to his being thrown into the lion's den.

[21] For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.

- Likewise Jesus continued his mission, knowing that it led ultimately to crucifixion. He did not let anyone turn him away from that fate and he did not condone violent revolution, though his followers, in their confusion, tried both tactics.

1 Peter 2:24-25 (NLT)
He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right.

- We are called to "live for what is right..." hopefully under an authority that has the same goal. If not, so be it. That does not turn us from our mission, even if we suffer cosequences for doing good.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

1 Peter 2:2-3 (NLT)
Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, [3] now that you have had a taste of the Lord's kindness.

- After the premise set in the first chapter, that all our sustenance is from God and all our hope is in God, it is easy to picture ourselves as babies totally dependant upon God and hungry for his spiritual food.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Priceless Inheritance

1 Peter 1:4 (NLT)
... we have a priceless inheritance-an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.

- Paul wrote about how we can look forward to a spiritual body that we are becoming. Here Peter refers to an inheritance that is pure and undefiled, beyond change and decay. Sounds good. Sounds really good!

1 Peter 1:6 (NLT)
So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while.
(23) For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Pray on...

James 5:14-15 (NLT)
Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. [15] Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.

- This is one of the many verses in the bible that can cause a lot of confusion and pain, for who hasn't prayed and been prayed over, but without healing? Then to make matters worse, some misguided soul will notice the word faith in that admonition, and blame the sick person for not having enough faith. Or someone will heap even more burden onto the sick person by fixating on the part about sin and charge them with something like, "you must have some sin in your life you have not yet repented of..."

This attitude that our illnesses are exclusively the result of sin or lack of faith is refuted by many other scriptures and by our overall experience of life. Often while reading the bible we should simply be prepared to admit that our comprehension is lacking. Perhaps the original context of this passage, if we knew it, would clarify things. Perhaps there is an error in the translation that clouds our understanding.

Whatever the case, there are times to just put our confusion to the side and accept that we don't understand. Should we then keep praying for healing and calling for anointing and help in our need? By all means. Sometimes things are happening that we will never "get" in this life, but that's okay.

It's all just part of the wonder.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Only a Heartbeat Away

James 5:7-8 (NLT)
Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord's return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. [8] You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near.

- This is perhaps the most encouraging news of all. Despite self-declared prophets who set dates (this Saturday is apparently The Big Day...), we are encouraged to live in the hope that Christ will reign over all eventually.

Sometimes I think we have wildly different views of what that will "look like," but ultimately, believers are never further from the reality of God's prescence than our next heartbeat.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mark Twain moments...

James 5:2-3 (NLT)
Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. [3] Your gold and silver have become worthless. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This treasure you have accumulated will stand as evidence against you on the day of judgment.

- I think it was Mark Twain who said something like: "It's not the parts of the bible that I don't understand that scare me. It's the parts I do understand."

Jame's warning to people whose wealth is being hoarded up rather than put to use helping others and treating them fairly, is pretty clear.

I notice that the admonition is not against someone becoming successful, but rather against anyone who hides their fortune away where it becomes like food left to rot or fine clothing that becomes moth-eaten from lack of use.

James 5:5 (NLT)
You have spent your years on earth in luxury, satisfying your every desire. You have fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter.

- Given that we all live like royalty in Canada and the US, while most of the world labors and suffers under our current economic system, Jame's statements always give me a "Mark Twain" moment.

- I wonder -

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Leave No Good Thing Undone...

James 4:17 (NLT)
Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.

- Sin is usually thought of as "bad" we should avoid, but here James says rather it is "good" that we should constantly seek, but don't.

When you think about it, this is a much higher and more positive approach.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Who Are You?

James 4:7-8 (NLT)
So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. [8] Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.

- These passages remind me of Paul's admonitions to differentiate between being in the world, but not of the world. Our identity must be found in God alone.

I think there is a danger that we might take a wrong meaning here if not careful. Jesus himself is referred to as a friend of sinners (where is that?). So this warning by James should not be read in a way that makes us aloof and uncaring to our friends and neighbors.

In fact, if our identity is in Christ people should generally find something attractive about us. Something welcoming that says, "You are beloved, and significant to God and therefore to me."

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Heart of Peace

James 4:1 (NLT)
What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don't they come from the evil desires at war within you?

- "World Peace" begins as peace in human hearts. It sounds like such a simple thing.

Here's a song lyric I like that touches on our need and only true hope for inner peace:

"Walking on water was the easier part
Taking darkness out of every heart
Into His own this is alone
Keeping vigil."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Are We Buying It?

James 3:17 (NLT)
But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.

- This kind of wisdom is rarely seen or heard from in our current media-saturated, sound-bite, sensationalized, "news"-soaked public forum.

Surely this is our own fault. The media we so often love to vilify, might be pandering to our baser instincts but ultimately, they are just giving us what sells.

Maybe it's up to us to work a little harder and raise the bar on what we buy into?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Say Again?

James 3:2 (NLT)
... For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.

- Somewhere else in the bible, it is written that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. Here James is making a similar point. What we say (and do) are reflections of our inner being.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Breathing Life into Faith

James 2:17 (NLT)
So you see, faith by itself isn't enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

- it is always true that merely knowing something and claiming to "believe it" is completely useless if this belief doesn't translate into action.

For example, If a pilot says he is a safe operator, but does not follow through by "grounding" his plane when a defect is found during his pre-flight inspection, then his faith in safety does nothing to actually make our flight safer.

James 2:19 (NLT)
You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.

- James uses a shocking example to illustrate his point. Demons "believe in God" but of course they do not live according to that belief, or acknowledge God's authority. (and isn't it sadly ironic that the demons at least have the good sense to tremble in their knowledge of God while many humans do not.)

James 2:26 (NLT)
Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.

- This is a great expression of how good deeds are the breath of life for faith!

(Does anyone else ever have these experiences of reading a bible passage many times before, but suddenly discovering an idea as if it was not there before!? So strange...)

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Golden Rule

James 2:8-9 (NLT)
Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: "Love your neighbor as yourself." [9] But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law.

- Which is more challenging? To not give favor to a rich person based on their wealth, power and influence, or to give favor to someone who lacks all these, and maybe even needs a bath?

To see past all these trappings and recognize a fellow human being as worthy simply because they, like all of us, are children of God, is a high calling. I recall that Jesus was pretty good at this, eating happily with the rich and famous one day, and then dining just as comfortably with the outcasts the next.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


James 1:22 (NLT)
But don't just listen to God's word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.

- There are so many gems of wisdom in this first chapter, and each paragraph is worth an in depth study.

But finally if we don't put what we learn into practice, letting it change our inner being, then it's worthless.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Eyes on the prize...

James 1:2 (NLT)
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.

- Now that's a lifelong challenge!

Somewhere we're told that "for the joy set before him" Jesus endured death on the cross. Now when I stop and think about Jesus' struggles during his prayers in Gethsamane, I think we can let ourselves off the hook if we don't go skipping, jumping and rejoicing through our own trials and tribulations. Often the best we can do is soldier on, but if we can at least "keep our eyes on the prize" - that is, that opportunity for future joy, this can help get us through.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Scattered Abroad

James 1:1 (NLT)
... I am writing to the "twelve tribes"- Jewish believers scattered abroad. ...

James is using an expression that represents the descendants of Jacob who became the biblical nation of Israel. This article (linked below) discusses the origins of the biblical nation of Israel:

(This name has also been appropriated by a cult originating in Tennessee. As fundamentalist, messianic Christians, they seem to have taken the New Testament language about the spiritual extension of Israel's role through Christians and applied it in a rather literal way. Nothing new in that... Sigh)

Monday, May 2, 2011

DeAnn suggested James as the next book to read through together - which works great for me. Here goes:

James 1:1 (NLT)
This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. ...

- Wikki encyclopedia has a detailed article suggesting various authors of this book:

Regardless of the specific purpose and identity of the author the book is regarded today as New Testament wisdom literature.

I believe wisdom literature comprises some of the most important and over-looked parts of our bible. I cringe at how sometimes a friend will make important decicions based upon a scripture taken out of context, while completely ignoring these sections.

Wisdom literature requires us to be mindful of how this genre works. That is, it lays down, often poetically or with very specific examples, the larger principles over-arching our lives. It reminds us of how things tend to unfold in the big picture, rather than addressing the specific details of a specific situation. As the fine print on the tv ads say: "Your experience may differ."

Sunday, May 1, 2011

No Ego Trip

2 Corinthians 13:7,9 (NLT)
... I hope we won't need to demonstrate our authority when we arrive. Do the right thing before we come-even if that makes it look like we have failed to demonstrate our authority. ... [9] We are glad to seem weak if it helps show that you are actually strong.

- Paul's willingness to look weak, for their sake, is instructive. No ego problems with Paul.

2 Corinthians 13:14 (NLT)
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

- Amen!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Inspiration & Issues

2 Corinthians 12:2-4 (NLT)
I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago.

- Apparently in the worldview of the time, the lower sky of wind and weather was the first heaven, the stars and planets, moon and sun occupied the second heaven, and the third heaven was the invisible world of God and the heavenly beings which exists above all and is hidden from our normal perception.

2 Corinthians 12:2-4 (NLT)
Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don't know-only God knows. [3] Yes, only God knows whether I was in my body or outside my body. But I do know [4] that I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell.

- Paul's vision might explain the fantastic life of ministry he went on to live. I wonder if this was the same encounter he had with Christ on the road to Damascus, or a second vision?

2 Corinthians 12:21 (NLT)
Yes, I am afraid that when I come again, ... I will be grieved because many of you have not given up your old sins. You have not repented of your impurity, sexual immorality, and eagerness for lustful pleasure.

- Apparently Corinth was known in the ancient world for this kind of debauched living, and the church is continuing to struggle with these issues. Paul's admonitions throughout the Corinthian letters probably need to be placed in that context to be properly understood.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Comfort Zone?

2 Corinthians 11:23-26 (NLT)
Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. [24] Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. [25] Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. [26] I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not.

- Wow, that's quite the "resume."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Heavenly Warfare?

2 Corinthians 10:3-4 (NLT)
We are human, but we don't wage war as humans do. [4] We use God's mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments.

- I wonder specifically which weapons Paul has in mind. Prayer? I'm sure. Love? Grace? Compassion? Most likely. What else, I wonder...

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Cheerful Giving

2 Corinthians 9:7 (NLT)
You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don't give reluctantly or in response to pressure. "For God loves a person who gives cheerfully."

- Giving & Offering in the new covenant is completely different than tithing.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Mutual Support

2 Corinthians 8:4 (NLT)
They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem.

- Apparently the church in Jerusalem is experiencing some very tough times and the far-flung churches to whom Paul is ministering want to help out.

2 Corinthians 8:12-14 (NLT)
Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don't have.

- Elsewhere, Paul equates generosity with faith. Generosity is an expression of faith. But here he adds a practical element, as he refers to faith as well as financial means.

[13] Of course, I don't mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves. I only mean that there should be some equality. [14] Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

He Is Here

2 Corinthians 7:5 (NLT)
... in Macedonia,... We faced conflict from every direction, with battles on the outside and fear on the inside.

- It's instructive to see the famous apostle admit to fear. Despite our "head knowledge" telling us that with God we have no need to fear, actually achieving a faith so deep as to banish all fear is a lifetime goal.

2 Corinthians 7:6 (NLT)
But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus.

- Someone once said that there are times when we definitely need God to be present in the flesh - to "have skin!" Here is one example of how he does just that.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Healing The Rift

2 Corinthians 6:16-18 (NLT)
And what union can there be between God's temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said: "I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. [17] Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord. Don't touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you. ...

- Following on from yesterday's note, this admonition reminds us that the depth of our relationships with unbelievers is not the same as with believers.

I spend a lot of time hanging out with friends and colleagues at my local airport. They are an interesting gang of characters and I am blessed by knowing them. But sometimes their topics of converstion can become pretty raunchy, expressing things I'm not comfortable with. Usually this happens in the context of humour and camraderie. Balancing my reaction and particiption with my friends in times like this can be challenging. It is not my place to judge or "police" their behaviour (as Paul has layed out previously), but rather to love them as Christ does. So I avoid letting my face turn into a dark scowl, or otherwise demonstrating any disapproval. I might even smile or laugh when there is anything in their comments I can agree with. Otherwise I remain pleasantly quiet, or humorously turn the conversation back towards a healthier tone when I can.

In all this I am reminded that there is a gulph between me and my airport buddies. But I also look forward to the day when this chasm will be closed when Jesus reaches them with the same grace and love by which he also saved me.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

More Identity Changes

2 Corinthians 6:1,2 (NLT)
As God's partners, we beg you not to accept this marvelous gift of God's kindness and then ignore it.

For God says, "At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you." Indeed, the "right time" is now. Today is the day of salvation.

- This paragraph seems like a closing thought to the preceding topic in chapter 5. (The chapter divisions and verse numbering system in our bibles was added to the ancient texts at some later date.)

- Paul seems to be saying that it is possible to "be saved," - to have accepted God's gift, - but then continue on living as if nothing has changed. The quote about today being the day of salvation is less clear to me. Perhaps Paul is emhasizing the urgency for converts to get busy working out their new relationship with God.

2 Corinthians 6:17 (NLT)
Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord. Don't touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you.

- I think this passage is often misunderstood, leading to some Christians drawing lines between themselves and the very people God is reaching out to, in an attempt to preserve a misguided sense of holiness and purity.

Somewhere else Jesus mentions his disciples being in the world but not of the world. When Christ lives in us he will change who we are. But he will make us more loving and compassionate, not less.

Renewed Identity

2 Corinthians 5:10 (NLT)
For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. ... (16) So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. ... (19) For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people's sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.

- Over the centuries, and certainly in the last few decades, this true and glorious Good News message of reconciliation has often become entangled and confused within a false "gospel." Ironically, it is the church itself that is inadvertantly the vehicle for this false gospel, and a false image of God.

Where the real message is one of great hope, and wonderful joy, brought about by a loving, outrageously generous God, we too often see Christians portraying a gloomy, judgmental, moralistic image of an angry God who will only love us when we get our "act together." Christians today have allowed ourselves to be cast as some sort of moral police force, self-righteously wagging our fingers at people, as if we are their judges.

We are too often abducating our roles as the savoury salt, illuminating light and sweet fragrance of God's presence in the world, and sadly, we are driving people away from God.

The reason? I think it's the fulfillment of Jesus' warning that after his death "wolves in sheeps clothing" would appear. And as he warned in another parable about weeds sown amongst good grain, "an enemy has done this."

Happily, there is a growing movement to reclaim the church's true mission as purveyors of truly Good News, by boldly living out the abundant love of God. And actually, this role has never been abandoned at all, though we have perhaps, too easily permitted the enemies within and without to obscure it.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Heavenly Bodies...

2 Corinthians 5:1,3 (NLT)
For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. ... [3] For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies.

- This is a fascinating passage to wonder about. Paul's statement that "we will not be spirits without bodies," contradicts many views people hold regarding our future and what eternal life "looks like."

Friday, April 15, 2011

Three, even four big questions...

2 Corinthians 4:4 (NLT)
Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don't believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don't understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.

- This one paragraph contains four of the most fascinating statements in the bible:

1. Satan is the god of this world... How can this be so? Don't Christians believe that Satan was defeated by the resurrection of Christ!

2. Satan has blinded the minds of those who don't believe. ... Wow! Then how is it that some are now no longer blind, but not everyone?

3. ... the glorious light of the Good News..... What exactly is this?

4. ... the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God..... And that's a deep deep topic of study all by itself, as well.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cold Cuts or Sacred Trust?

I've been having an interesting discussion with an online-friend about human relationships with animals.  He maintains that they are given by God for human use and enjoyment.  I thought I'd post this explanation and see if anyone else wants to respond.

My friend writes this summation of what he believes I am saying:

... if you say eating animals came out of sin, then you must say that eating them now is a sin. There are a lot of things that the "fallen world" does that are sin and are not to be done by God's people..

I must not be explaining it well... so if you bear with me, I'll try again.

Let's look at some examples from the bible:

God's highest calling for marriage is one man - one woman, yet Abraham and many bible Patriarchs had more than one wife.  Did God condemn them for this anywhere in the bible?  I don't think so - but He allowed it without comment.

God's highest calling for humans doesn't include slavery.  Yet the bible contains long explanations of how to treat slaves.  Again, God allows accommodations to a fallenness in humanity and "makes the best of it" as it were. (He leads us along our journey towards a Greater Perfection that was foreshadowed - but not yet completed - in The Garden.)

Likewise look at human worshipping with icons and rituals and all the religious "stuff" we seem to need.  In the bible the case can be made that God acquiesses to human frailty by giving Israel temples and ceremonies (just like their pagan neighbours), because humans are unable to worship him (yet) in spirit and in truth alone.  They needed a stop-gap measure that would help keep them from pagan practices with all the "cool" trappings of statues and buildings and rituals and costumes etc.  (as if that's what God wants in the way of worship).

So, God gave Israel some of this stuff for a few generations, but carefully designed it to point only towards him.  This also goes for the Law and the Old Covenant.  It was a stop-gap measure that catered to human need - for a while.

In a related way, at one point the people demand a King like the nations around them - and God allows them to have a human king.  It's a stop-gap measure until The King of Kings is fully revealed.

Now, turning to animals and food - God allows us to kill animals for food after the flood, for some reason.  This is a new instruction that differs from the original "food mandate" given back in the Garden.  Was it to accomodate people's changing biological needs? (this happens along with a decreasing life expectancy and other drastic changes to the climate, environment etc.., so there's likely something larger going on).

Notably, it marks a breakdown in the fellowship between mankind and animals in that they now have greater fear of us (for good reason). So this no longer reflects the trusting relationship they had with humans "in the garden."  Interestingly, in that passage you'll see a strange little reminder about Capital Punishment, reminding us that if anyone takes the life of a human being, his life will be forfeit.  I think God is warning us that once we get used to killing animals, it'll become that much easier to kill one another.  Killing another sentient being requires a hardening of the heart and this can become a permanent condition if we are not extremely careful.  God did not design us to kill other beings.

Now, to be fair - I came across an argument claiming Jesus was a vegetarian.  I don't buy this.  I'm pretty sure Jesus ate lamb as part of Passover and it seems pretty clear that he ate fish with his fishermen disciples, and meat was part of some of the temple sacrifices where the worshipper is given back the animal to eat. So, I think when Jesus lived with us as a human-being, he ate some meat - with the proper attitude I'm sure of thanksgiving to the Source of Life who was in that animal just as He is in us.

To summarize, my point about our relationship with animals is that they are not created for our convenience and use, but they are given to us as a responsibility to care for and to love and be stewards of.  Just as Jesus said to his disciples that the greatest among them will not lord power over anyone, but seek to be everyone's servant, I think this applies to animals as well (if you understand what I am saying).  Animals are not our "masters" but rather they are fellow sentient beings towards whom we have a responsibility.  

When we ruin and pollute the environment where they live, when we kill them unnecessarily*** for food, when we use them for medical research, when we build super-highways that wipe them out by the millions every year as "road-kill," and smash them out of the sky with our aircraft -- we are creating suffering and adding to the violence and disaster in the world, rather than creating the peace of God.

And of course, the daily abuses that go on because of how we use animals, is too awful to dwell on. There is a continual holocaust going on across the planet.  How can any of this be part of God's ultimate, peaceful kingdom?  (I can point to some online videos about our current food practices if you're interested.) Even the pet industry brings about horrible treatment of animals because we humans are sinful and imperfect beings.  And the animals suffer the brunt of this.

Anyway, my point is not that we must suddenly stop eating animals because "it is a sin." -- but that the ultimate longterm goal for establishing God's Peaceable Kingdom on earth must look beyond our current philosophy of "lordship" and entitlement.

I don't know if all this makes my point clearer - but there you go .. ;-)

All the best,

***I don't believe we are currently supposed to all be vegetarians as most of us probably don't have a digestion system that could deal with that over the long term.  Also, in many parts of the earth (the far north) it's not an option.  But neither do we need to consume animals in the huge quantities that we do. And there's no doubt that we must treat the ones we do kill with much more kindness and respect and thanksgiving!

A New Way

2 Corinthians 3:9-11 (NLT)
If the old way, which brings condemnation, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new way, which makes us right with God! ...

- Obviously, Paul is a big fan of God's new covenant of life-giving grace!

2 Corinthians 3:18 (NLT)
So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord-who is the Spirit-makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.

- I like that we merely reflect God's glory, rather than our own. I also like that the action belongs to God as he "'makes' us more and more like him"

The New Covenant gives life because it is God's work in us and not our own.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

How's My Aroma?

2 Corinthians 2:15-16 (NLT)
Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. [16] To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. ...

- This is an interesting analogy that I have not heard expounded much, compared to that other analogy to light and salt. I wonder why?

Monday, April 11, 2011

2 Corinthians 1:24 (NLT)
But that does not mean we want to dominate you by telling you how to put your faith into practice. We want to work together with you so you will be full of joy, for it is by your own faith that you stand firm.

- More sage advice about getting along with fellow believers.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Through a glass, dimly

1 Corinthians 16:21 (NLT)
Here is my greeting in my own handwriting-Paul.

- Most of us use computers but don't know how to program them. In previous eras people used words, but didn't necessarily read or write. They used scribes just as we might hire someone to create a website.

At the end of this letter to the church at Corinth, Paul adds his name in his own handwriting, to personalize this greeting. I can imagine him carefully drawing out the letters under the tutelage of his scribe.

I wonder how much this method of dictating texts, might change their "voice?" Surely some scribes were better than others at capturing the exact words spoken, while others might elaborate a little or paraphrase, or might even add passages in their own words. For example I might direct my scribe to include a paragraph explaining what I said to a crowd of people yesterday, in a meeting he also attended.

All this is just me wondering how current-day "bible-ologists" account for the use of scribes when they determine the validity of bible texts. I've heard theologians say that such-and-such a book is not considered as coming directly from the author claimed by the text itself because it does not match his style of writing in other documents. But how certain can we be that such differences aren't caused by the use of different scribes?

Just wondering.