The majority of the New Testament letters were written by the Apostle Paul. These are the passages you have been reading for the past two weeks. This week you are introduced to some of the other letters in the New Testament. Not only did God inspire Paul to write the Scriptures, but also Peter, James and John. As I surveyed the readings for the week, what came to mind is the distinctive difference between the character of those called as citizens into the kingdom of God versus the attributes of the world. Notice how God uses all the Apostles to call God’s people to be distinctively different from the world around them. We are called to love dramatically; to put little confidence in our physical bodies; to live as “strangers” in the world, and to be joyful in the midst of trial! Wow! What a distinctive picture God paints!
As you read what stands out to you? How are followers of Christ called to be distinct from the world? What prevents us from living in this way? How do you think our neighbors would respond if they actually witnessed us living with such distinctiveness?
The readings this week center primarily around the Apostle Paul’s instruction and encouragement to Timothy. Timothy was mentored in the faith by Paul and was tasked with pastoral leadership in some of the churches founded by Paul. As you read, give thought to the broad picture that God is painting through Paul with regard to the qualifications and characteristics of a leader in God’s church. I have been a part of more than one nominating committee that became so focused on a specific characteristic within a person that they failed to consider the overall quality and faith of the person being considered. What are the qualities God desires in a leader as you read these passages?
Another challenge that some face as they read these passages is the question of whether God’s Word allows for women to lead the church. If you read these passages in isolation it does seem to indicate that only men should be considered for leadership in the church. However, remember that the Epistles are “occasional documents” meaning they were written to a specific group of people on a specific occasion. Therefore, it is imperative for the believer to derive the principles that apply to the church universally from these documents that speak to specific circumstances. Regarding women in the cities and churches to which Paul wrote: women in that culture were rarely considered for leadership in any capacity (ie. government, education, business, etc.) They did not receive training, respect or education to lead. Therefore, it is not surprising that directs his comments about leadership only to men. When you consider, however, that Jesus and the entire New Testament elevated the role and value of women and when you consider the leadership of women in other parts of Scripture (see: the prophetess Hulda, Deborah, Priscilla, Lydia, Mary, etc.) it is right to consider women for leadership in the church today. After all, American women have the same or even greater education and training in leadership than many men. Does this make sense? Any questions?
The editors of the E-100 reading plan picked some powerful and encouraging passages for us to read this week! These five passages are merely a sample of the direction God gave to the churches through the letters written by the Apostle Paul. What I hope you will notice is the incredibly hopeful and joyous message found in these passages. What you may not know is that this message of hope to most of these churches came at a time of great anxiety for the church. Both internal and external strife threatened to destroy the church and this new movement to which the Apostle Paul had given his life. That being the case, what do you think gave Paul reason for the confidence with which he wrote? Where does he find the resources to demonstrate joy even while enduring great trial? What do these passages have to teach God’s church today…..how can we live with joy and hope even in the midst of challenging and anxious situations?
This week’s reading continues to introduce us to the movement of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts. Having birthed the church in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit scattered the church through the neighboring regions and world spreading the gospel of Christ. However, though the church spread geographically, it remain relatively confined within the Jewish community of faith. That is, until a man named Saul was confronted by the Risen Lord on his way to Damascus. As he took the message of Jesus to non-Jewish people all around Asia-minor, it could be argued that Saul (later to be known as the Apostle Paul) did more than any person to grow the church, except Jesus! As you read, I’m curious to know what you notice about how God draws and uses people who we might not otherwise expect Him to use. How does this influence your understanding of God’s work and movement today?
Our readings this week take on a new twist as they introduce us to the “age of the church.” This of course continues to be the age in which we live!
When we read the Old Testament we may have wondered what it would have been like to receive the law or hear from the prophets. When we read the gospels we certainly must have imagined what it would have been like to be alive during Jesus’ ministry on earth. We do not, however, have to imagine what it’s like to be a part of the progress of Christ’s church because this is indeed what we experience everyday. It is my hope that this thought will give your reading greater insight this week.
All five readings come from the book of Acts, written by Luke as a sequel to the gospel of Luke. The formal title of the book is “The Acts of the Apostles.” However, I think it may be just as appropriate to title this book “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” because the Holy Spirit is really the primary agent in the birth and growth of the church.
As you look for the explicit and implicit activity of the Holy Spirit I encourage you to keep a list of this activity and then go to the blog and share with us your response to this question:
Do you think the Holy Spirit is working in the church today like He worked in the church of the first century? Why or why not?
The readings this week communicate the message upon which our faith hinges. If the story of God’s relationship with humanity were imaged as a bell curve, these accounts would mark THE change in the trajectory of God’s relationship with humanity!
Yet, many in the world claim that the events about which we read didn’t really happen. They contend that Jesus wasn’t crucified, and he certainly didn’t come back to life! Instead, they commend Jesus as possibly the greatest model for the way we should live our lives; the greatest of all moral teachers.
What do you think about this? What would it mean for our faith if we skipped this week, moving from the teachings and miracles of Jesus in the past weeks to the birth of the church in the week to come? How would that change what we believe and how we live? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
For His Kingdom,
This week we read about some of the miracles that Jesus did. The feeding of the five thousand, walking on water, healing disease and the raising of the dead are all miracles that were evidence to the truth that Jesus was indeed divine. However, there is a paradox that accompanies the consideration of Jesus’ miracles that we should be mindful of. On one hand, Jesus himself, said that the reason he performs these miracles is so that people may believe that he is God. (….believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father. John 10:37-38) On the other hand, when some of the religious leaders came to Jesus demanding that he perform a miracle to authenticate his authority Jesus declined. (Matthew 16:1-4) Add to this seeming paradox, the statement made in the gospel of Mark that because his own home town did not hold Jesus in honor, “he could not do any miracles there” we might be considerably confused about why and how Jesus went about doing miracles!
As you read about the miracles of Jesus, I’d love to hear what God brings to mind about this seeming paradox! When and why did Jesus perform the miracles he did? What would have prevented him from performing them all the time? Do you think we see miracles today like we read about in these gospel accounts? If so, in what way? If not, why not? Do you think experiencing a miracle first hand would strengthen your faith?
Hope to hear from you!
This week we sample some of the teachings of Jesus from the gospels. In a way, these teachings present a grand irony. On one hand, the teachings of Jesus could be considered some of the least controversial teachings in all of history. World leaders from nearly every religion and culture have acknowledged Jesus as a great teacher and these statements as “wisdom worth living.”
At the same time, these teachings are extremely controversial. They were controversial not only in the culture in which Jesus lived (the religious leaders of the day sought to murder Jesus on more than one occasion) but also in each of us individually. I find my spirit in great controversy when I’m told to “love my enemy,” “endure suffering,” and “turn the other cheek.” As a result these teachings are often exalted but seldom adhered to and herein lies the irony.
As you read this week, make special note of those teachings you find particularly difficult. What prevents us from seeking to fully live into Jesus’ teaching?
This could be a great discussion if we can allow ourselves to be a bit vulnerable. As for me, one of the reasons it’s difficult to obey is I wonder whether I can really trust God. If I “love my enemy,” “endure suffering,” and “turn the other cheek, etc” I leave myself open to be wounded and I’m not sure I trust God with that. If I’m really being honest, the only person I fully trust to protect my rights is myself…..yet I’m incapable of protecting myself fully and so this is an act of futility.
Finally! We’ve made it to Jesus! As much as I value the Old Testament, I’m thrilled that we are now beginning to read the gospels and encounter our Savior and Lord! The Old Testament has been a kind of prelude to the grand theme of Scripture. It has introduced us to a God who desires a loving relationship with people. It has dramatically shown how that relationship is completely impossible when dependent on the faithfulness of people. The Old Testament helped us to see that no law, no sacrifice, no system of religion is capable of connecting people to God because we cannot be faithful to any system…..we need a Savior!
Before you sit down to read the gospels this week I would encourage you to read the book of Malachi again. As you read about Jesus, how does some of what you read fulfill or speak to what the prophet Malachi prepared you for?
I would also love to hear about any other new insights you gained when reading about the birth and early years of Jesus. Sometimes, these passages become so familiar to us that we quickly skim them, thinking that there is nothing new to learn. After all, we hear them every Christmas at the very least! Instead, let’s ask God to reveal himself further in these passages and then share those new insights with one another.
May your time with God this week be blessed!
This week you will read a few passages from the Psalms and Proverbs. While these books are a great treasure within God’s word, they require an adjustment in your thinking when we you read them.
The Psalms are primarily poems many of which were written to be sung. In order to get your mind around this necessary shift consider how simply speaking/reading your favorite love song, fight song or even “happy birthday” instead of singing it changes the impact of the meaning that is conveyed. Much of the meaning of a song is conveyed by the emotion of the melody. Nonetheless, the Psalms given us “God approved words” to give expression to our emotions and can therefore be a great blessing to our faith and prayers in particular.
The Proverbs are statements of general wisdom from a father (Solomon) to his son. As general statements of wisdom they are not meant to be understood as literal promises that will always come true. Instead, they describe general cause and effect relationships in our world.
With that in mind, consider Proverbs 3:1-2. How would you support this statement as generally true. (ie. those who are not gluttonous generally have better health) What exceptions have you seen to this statement of truth?
In addition to answering this question, I’d love to hear what some of your favorite Psalms are and why?