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.

Friday, April 8, 2011

1 Corinthians 16:1 (NLT)
Now regarding your question about the money being collected for God's people in Jerusalem. You should follow the same procedure I gave to the churches in Galatia.

- Paul is responding to a previous communication from the believers at Corinth. It's too bad we don't have that message as it might help understand the context of some of Paul's instructions in this letter.

1 Corinthians 16:14 (NLT)
And do everything with love.

- Paul never stops emphasising the importance of love.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ultimate Hope For All!

1 Corinthians 15:17-19 (NLT)
And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. [18] In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! [19] And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.

1 Corinthians 15:20 (NLT)
But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.

1 Corinthians 15:26 (NLT)
And the last enemy to be destroyed is death.

- I was raised in a good Baptist belief that salvation is a kind of exclusive club, reserved for the few select folks who say the "sinner's prayer," and "accept Christ" according to a narrow, formulaic method.

Now that I've studied the bible for myself, I've come to see salvation as a huge thing! This passage is just one place where I find my evidence. Paul is saying that there is a specific order to the resurrection of the dead, but that ultimately death itself will be defeated. And though he highlights here the resurrection of believers at Christ's return, his message does not stop there.

In verse 20 he claims Christ is the first of "a great harvest of all who have died." And he goes on to say that the last enemy to be destroyed is death itself (verse 26). How can Paul claim that death is destroyed if death still holds onto the souls of millions of "lost" people, (as claimed by traditional Christian understandings)?

If this doesn't mean Ultimate Life for all, then I don't understand why Paul would say that. This is the only interpretation that justifies the claim, Good News! regarding Jesus' life and mission. Surely this is the understanding that is embodied in Paul's triumphant cry:

1 Corinthians 15:55 (NLT)
O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?"

Call me a heretic... But now I see a tremendous message of hope for all the world for all time.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Contoversial Paul

1 Corinthians 14:20 (NLT)
... Be innocent as babies when it comes to evil, but be mature in understanding matters of this kind.

- Good advice!

1 Corinthians 14:34 (NLT)
Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says.

- This verse is a strange one, especially in light of other verses relating the huge role of some prominent women in raising and sustaining churches. I suspect Paul is dealing with some issues specific to the churches in Corinth, as indicated in this verse:

1 Corinthians 14:36 (NLT)
Or do you think God's word originated with you Corinthians? ...

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Primacy of Love

1 Corinthians 13:2 (NLT)
If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God's secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn't love others, I would be nothing.

- After two thousand years do we get it? Do we understand that to love is the ultimate call of Christ on our lives? This is not a shallow, self-serving counterfeit love that we humans often fall for, but rather the kind of self-giving love that has the power to change the world, for the better, forever. Do we really "get" it yet?

If there were millions of Christ-centered people in the world who were steeped in and abandoned to this kind of love, would the world still be the messy, often-violent place it is?

1 Corinthians 13:13 (NLT)
Three things will last forever-faith, hope, and love-and the greatest of these is love.