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Announcing “I Corinthians: Paul’s Challenge to Corruption”

If you’ve tried to figure out a Biblical response to the thorny issues of division, marital differences,  dietary issues and even spiritual arrogance, this letter–I Corinthians–is for you.  And besides finding answers, we get to see its author, the Apostle Paul, at his shepherding best.

A special goal of recent years has been to research and produce a talk on each of Paul’s seven authenticated letters (I Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians, I and II Corinthians, Philemon, and Romans), noting their differences, themes, Christian messages and application to today.

Bible Roads is pleased to announce today’s debut of “I Corinthians:  Paul’s Challenge to Corruption”, the fifth in the series.

While each church community Paul addressed had its unique challenges, the Corinthians were a class unto themselves!  Known for one of the more salacious reputations in the Empire, Corinth was a sailor’s port, a wild mix of emperor worship,  pagan practices, and economic disparity.  To this raucous crowd, Paul would assert his authority, remind them they weren’t quite as spiritually advanced as they thought, and encourage them to solve their differences and come together in unity through love.

In fact, it is to this unruly bunch that Paul penned one of his most treasured passages, his brilliant treatise on love in I Corinthians 13.   This is the letter people have read for centuries when working through divisions of every kind and its relevancy to today–in a world pulled by political, cultural and ethnic differences– is startling and worth fresh study.

Please take advantage of an introductory special available until May 15th,  a 20% discount with this coupon cor20.   Click here and the prompts will guide you.  And now you can undertake a full study of I Corinthians with the accompanying Bible Study workbook, for individuals or groups.

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Traveling the Holy Land: Caesarea Maritima

October’s offering is from that stunning seaside location: Caesarea Maritima. With two Caesarea’s mentioned in the New Tesatment, it’s helpful to know this is right on the sea, thus the ‘Maritima’ name. Herod built a palace there, Paul was imprisoned here, Roman chariot races took place and today it’s being thoroughly excavated and preserved, as you’ll discover in the film.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below. And, if you know of anyone that has wanted to travel the Holy Land, please share this post.

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Paul’s Easter Witness: Victor not Victim

Paul ConversionRoad_to_Damascus_-_WGA21655

Hans Speckaert – Conversion of St Paul on the Road to Damascus, c. 1570 Louvre Museum

One way to celebrate the resurrection of Christ Jesus is to look at the transforming effect Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance made on a Pharisee, Saul.  Because of his Damascus road post-resurrection encounter, Paul considered himself an apostle, as chosen as the original twelve. In his most autobiographical letter, Paul writes the Galatians:

            11 For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; 12 for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:11,12).

Luke, the physician (the Gentile writer of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts) traveled with Paul.   What stories Paul must have conveyed of his own conversion to this new Christian convert! Luke would write some thirty years after Paul’s execution, describing that Damascus road encounter, of Paul’s effort to identify that transforming voice and presence:

            5 … Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. (Acts 9:5)

I was thinking about this transforming experience for Paul when asked recently to write a paper for a national Christian organization on “Paul’s Theology and Mass Incarceration.” The United States harbors 25% of the world’s prison population but represents only 5% of that population, an astounding 2.3 million Americans behind bars–a 790% increase in just two decades.*  Because of Paul’s multiple prison confinements, it makes sense to consider what lessons the apostle  can teach about mass incarceration today.   Paul’s example actually speaks to all of us–whether physically or mentally incarcerated in bars of self-condemnation, regret, even self-loathing.

Wherever he was, behind bars or preaching and healing openly, Paul companioned with Christ and that brought him joy. It was this joy he would encourage the new converts to discover whether in captivity or not. Writing to his supporters in Philippi, themselves experiencing persecution, Paul proclaims:

                  3 I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you (Phil. 1:3,4).

And what was such joy based on, but the palpable and sustaining love of Christ. As Paul wrote the church in Rome:

            35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (Rom. 8:35)

The joy from companioning with Christ, in both humility and boldness, sustained Paul and kept him focused on sharing the Gospel message.

            20 It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body,                     whether by life or by death (Phil. 1:20).

This is the Easter message we celebrate today: Christ always with us, wherever we find ourselves, in whatever situation. The risen Christ, the living, palpitating presence of God’s love, makes us victors, never victims, and who proved this better than the remarkable Paul.  “He is risen”!

* “The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences (2014)”, study.

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Movies, Journeys and Acts

Kings HighwayIf you love golf, you probably know about a gem of a film, Seven Days in Utopia. You might not have connected it to the New Testament’s Book of Acts, but see what you think as you read. (Note: you won’t learn enough here to need a ‘spoiler alert’, so treat yourself to the film if you missed it.)

The main character, played by the always-superb and crusty Robert Duvall, mentors a young golfer on a journey to recover both his golf mojo and his life. The wise Duvall tells the young man that “SFT” is the secret he needs to move forward for a killer golf game –and more importantly—a satisfying, productive life.  What’s that, the younger golfer (and audience) wonder? “See His face; Feel His presence; Trust His love.” SFT.

The best stories are about journeys, whether it’s Homer’s Ulysses figuring out how to get home to his beloved Penelope, or The Divine Comedy, where Dante’s journey is the ultimate of the soul towards God.

Acts of the Apostles is about journeys as well, and the SFT line from the film could describe why these travels were so successful. Each figure is praying and listening to ‘see His face, feel His presence and trust His love’.  We can take a lesson if some of our journeys are a little bumpy.

This bridge book between the Gospels and Paul’s letters was a way to introduce the new apostle to the world. If they read of Saul’s own march from Jewish persecutor to Christian apostle, perhaps the new converts would read his subsequent seven letters with understanding and appreciation!

One of the more obvious Acts’ journeys starts with the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection as they move in increasingly larger concentric circles out from Jerusalem to share the Good News. Like our travels, these are so much more than physical ones. Luke, the book’s author, makes a point of tying geography and theology together as he tracks their progress of increasingly seeing how the entire world needs the healing message of Christ Jesus’ teachings, beyond the original borders of Jerusalem.

We witness these early followers traverse the spiritual distance from timidity to boldness, finding their voices after the Pentecost. Initially their odyssey is at the great Temple in Jerusalem, ground zero of Jewish orthodoxy.

Then we see the structure of Acts unfold as Philip (not the disciple but a new apostle) takes the Good News to the Samaritans, a significant step out of not only Jerusalem but also Pharisaical Judaism. Here Philip meets the Eunuch, where both men have been directed by angels to meet for a holy lesson in an Isaiah text. The Ethiopian’s life is forever changed as he journeys home a convert.

Acts especially chronicles the harrowing journeys of Paul as he travels the Roman Empire, the farthest concentric circle from the ground zero of Jerusalem.  Seeking ever-newer ports to share the Gospel with Gentiles, he converts, admonishes, nurtures, reprimands, cajoles and everything in between in his three decades of healing, preaching and teaching.

This sets the stage for the final journey of the early Church that looks little like its Jewish beginnings in a short 70 years.  By the end of the first century, massive changes of language, geography, culture, customs and even economic status changed the original fledging church into one that would, in a short two centuries, transform the Roman Empire itself.

Where are your journeys taking you – both the physical and the spiritual ones? Summer may be a time for travel, but every single day, as we study Acts, is a time for the voyages that transform us forever.  Happy summer reading!

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Galatians Front and Center

Paul statue

Statue of the Apostle Paul, Basilica die Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Venice, Italy.

The third part of this Galatians series addresses relevancy. If we can’t apply what we’re learning, what’s the point? My favorite question in studying the Bible is just two words: “so what”?   It’s similar to  three simple guidelines when pouring over a text, similar to the methods we’ve explored in these two months of blogs (Jonah and Galatians).

  1. What does the text say?
  2. What does it mean?
  3. What does it mean to me?

So what are we seeing in Galatians that speaks to us today? Here are a few areas that come to me and will hopefully spur many more for you. I’ve commented on only a few and hope  you will address the others, as well as add to the overall list.  And hopefully you’ll do this with friends and share what you’ve all learned– one of the great joys of Bible Study.

  1. How does legalism show up in churches and faith communities today?
  2. Religious additives
  3. Fickleness
  4. Seductive influences
  5. Background and character of those new to the Gospel
  6. Tilling the soil to plant a seed that will stick
  7. Moving from anger to love
  8. How we have ‘authority’ in sharing the Gospel

We’ll look at three and hope you’ll tackle the others.

1. Legalism – Paul warned the new converts to watch out for legalism – excessive adherence to laws and religious forms. Such artificial form-over-substance practices would snuff out the hearts-on-fire spirituality of those moved by the Holy Spirit into fresh and inspired Christly paths for sharing the Gospel. It would creep into all our institutions – marriage, church or government – and we allow it at our creative peril.

2.  Religious additives – Just as we witness the “foodie” culture that prefers organic and pure food over artificial additives, so Paul understood that demanding the ‘additive’ of circumcision took away from the simple purity of the Gospel. Additives today can be worn-out practices that ‘we’ve always done that way’ that drive away the spiritual entrepreneurs seeking new ways to reach the un-churched and de-churched. Paul would have been on guard, and so must we!

3.  Fickleness – We’ve either been there ourselves or know people who get emotionally overcharged on issues. The Galatians were a temperamental lot, excitable and enthusiastic but without deep roots until Paul could work with them again. How do we plug away with such tendencies (emotional receptivity not grounded in spiritual logic) either in others or ourselves?

Paul’s example is staggering in its love. Early in the letter he’s mad — rebuking, denouncing, asking them if they’re going to overthrow everything they initially learned from him. Yet by Gal. 5:10 we see the softening imprint of Love:

            I am trusting the Lord to bring you back to believing as I do about these things. God will deal with that person, whoever he is, who has been troubling and confusing you.

Here is the great apostle leading by example, giving us insight as to how he continued year in and year out, yielding to the Christly love he encouraged others to experience for themselves.

This kind of spiritually unpacking of Galatians helps us glimpse that Paul’s letters are addressed not just to different geographic areas, but to differing mentalities and character tendencies, providing us concrete guidance on how to work with similar traits as they cross our path today.

 

 

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