Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Paul v. Calvin (no, not that Calvin!)

Paul expresses an important truth about death from the Christian's point of view in verses 22-26.

It is very different from the secular perspective, well-represented by the latest Calvin and Hobbes story line:

April 21
April 22
April 23
April 24
April 25
April 26
April 28
April 29
April 30

What's the difference between Paul and Calvin? Or more accurately, between the apostle Paul's writing and the beliefs of Calvin's parents?

Paul knows that there's something beyond the grave. Calvin and his family have a modern, five-senses approach to viewing life which neglects spiritual possibilities.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

To Die Is Gain

"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" (v. 21, NASB & NIV).

Without the promise of eternal life, this would sound like an unhealthy deathwish.

However, after the miracle of Easter, this positive tension between life and death is logically consistent.

Monday, April 28, 2008


In verses 12-14, Paul shares that his imprisonment has resulted in the opposite of what his captors intended.

Rather than preventing the gospel from being preached, Paul has taught the people who are holding him in prison about Jesus.

God works his will even in direct opposition to our best, sinful human efforts.

Don't bother fighting against God. In the long run, it will never work out.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Paul's Prayer

I hope that Paul's prayer in 1:3-6 for the Philippian church applies to me today. It is an incredible encouragement.

Just as the writer of Hebrews begins chapter 12 with a description of our spiritual grandstand cheering us on, so Paul is cheering on the Philippians.

Who is praying for me regularly? Who is praying for you, dear Reader?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Philippians 1 Outline

I. Paul's Greeting
II. Paul's Prayer
III. Paul's Imprisonment
IV. Paul's Comparison (Life v. Death)
V. Paul's Suffering

Friday, April 25, 2008

What's Different About This Church?

Henrietta Mears, in her classic work What the Bible Is All About, points out that this is Paul's most joyful epistle.

In his other letters to specific churches, Paul has sharper and more specific criticisms. But the church at Philippi does not receive this kind of negative feedback.

What was it about this church? How did they receive Paul's godly approval? What was different about this congregation?

Internal evidence may not be enough to answer this question. It may take most of the remaining 8 years, 7 months of my nine-year journey to puzzle out an answer to this question.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

You Bring Me Joy

Jerry Falzone is one of the musicians at my home church.

His song, "You Bring Me Joy," sums up Philippians well.

If I ever find the audio online, I'll link to it here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Theme of Philippians

Paul summarized his message to the Philippians well in 3:12-14.

Life is a marathon, not a sprint, and it is our job to focus on the prize. This is similar to Steven Covey's concept of beginning with the end in mind.

Do I live each day, do I approach each interaction, with the end in mind? Am I focused on what is truly important?

I particularly struggle with this concept within the context of work. There are pressures from below to support the faculty whom I represent. There are pressures from above to honor my superiors and trust their judgment, even when I'm not sure their decisions are the right thing.

Lord, I pray that you will give me wisdom and insight into this issue as I struggle to serve both my colleagues and my supervisors with a Christ-like, unselfish attitude.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Theme of Philippians

1:9-11 sums up Paul's purposes in writing this letter:

I pray that your love will keep on growing and that you will fully know and understand how to make the right choices. Then you will still be pure and innocent when Christ returns. And until that day, Jesus Christ will keep you busy doing good deeds that bring glory and praise to God (CEV).

Read these verses, and then read them again.

Now close your eyes and imagine Paul reciting this prayer aloud, just for you.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Transparent Paul

Philippians feels incredibly personal. Paul shares openly from the deepest places in his heart.

1) Who cares about the motivation of people who teach about Christ? 1:15, 18

2) Who cares if I live or die? 1:21-26

3) Who cares if I'm a righteous Jew? 3:7-9

4) Who cares if I'm in need? 4:12-13

Paul states clearly that Jesus will take care of him, and by implication each of his followers as well.

Do you follow Jesus, dear Reader?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

From Prison, With Love

One of the most important background details relating to Philippians is Paul's imprisonment.

In 1:12-14, (cf. Acts 28:11-31), we learn that Paul is writing to the church at Philippi while under house arrest.

This is significant context as we continue our study of this prison epistle (see Gene Taylor's excellent study guide, pp. 20-28).

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Outline of Philippians

I. Paul's Greeting and Prayer
II. Paul's Example from Prison
III. Be As Humble As Christ
IV. Stay Focused Upon the Ultimate Goal, Serving Christ

Friday, April 18, 2008

Where I've Been...Where I'm Headed

Seven weeks ago, when I started my study of 1 John, I didn't know any Greek.

Now I'm on the road to learning how to read the New Testament in its original language. My mom generously donated her college primer and Greek NT to the cause. Thanks, Mom!

This worked out particularly well because John writes in the simplest language of all the NT writers.

By next April 10, I would like to be able to read the entire NT in Greek.

What is your Bible study goal for the next year, dear Reader?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!

The word "lie" appears exactly twice in 1 John (NIV).

If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth (1 John 1:6).

I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth (1 John 2:21).

What I appreciate about this image is that it is not immediately obvious that the word "liar" is written in script.

I've experienced this in my own life. Even in the midst of telling a lie, I've convinced myself that it isn't really a lie or that it's for the other person's good.

But in reality, when I lie it's for selfish motivations. I just try to put a good face on it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Why Love?

"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God" (1 John 4:7a, NIV).

That's why!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


"As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you" (1 John 2:27a, NIV).

Try doing a google or flikr search for "anoint" and reflect upon this verse.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Light v. Dark

John uses very simple, clear imagery when describing the Christian life.

Everyone understands children's fear of the dark. But as we get older, we come to believe that this fear is foolish.

In a sense, kids are wiser than adults in this matter. It genuinely is more dangerous to be outside alone after the sun sets than during the middle of the day.

Spiritually, the same thing happens. As we age, we become more complacent and less afraid of the dark.

This is unhealthy and foolish.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

John's Audience

"My dear children"

"Dear friends"

I briefly scrolled through 1 John again, specifically to identify his primary audience.

John's tone is so laid back and familiar, I feel like he's writing directly to me.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

"Acting Normal" is an Oxymoron

I've enjoyed reading and studying 1 John for the past 6 weeks, but I'm left wondering how to apply what I've learned.

This morning, my son and I had an early trip to Dunkin' Donuts for some breakfast. On the way out, we chatted with a kid who grew up in western New York and asked about our license plates. Then we went to Stop & Shop and ran a couple of errands. Again, on the way out, we stuck up a chat with an employee.

How do these casual, passing interactions relate to eternity?

My first response is to say, "Who cares? Not everything needs to be about your faith." But then I reread this letter, and the last verse stood out to me: "Dear children, keep yourselves from idols" (NIV).

The key is not to be obnoxious, or even to talk about God with everyone I meet. But "fitting in" and "acting normal" (even this phrase is an oxymoron) cannot take precedence over being obedient to Christ. Sometimes I make these things idols.

So don't worry. If you bump into me, I won't beat you with a Bible. But I pray that I'll be obedient to the Lord if he prompts me to share a tidbit of faith.

Friday, April 11, 2008

In Memoriam

"I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5:13, NIV).

My dad and I just had a weepy moment remembering my younger brother. He passed away a few months ago.

Without the hope described in the Bible, there would be no place to go with our sorrow.

Some people use this Truth as a reason to discount Christian faith. They say that it's just wishful thinking.

But these are the same people who call hell unimaginable. They insist that hell can't exist because it's too harsh and unfair.

Which is it, wishful thinking or inhumane?

Eternal life is neither. It simply ups the ante and makes our decisions here on earth more important.

I say that people who discount eternal life simply want to avoid accountability. And what do they get in return? No comfort in loss. No security in a loving God.

That's too high a price for me to pay to ignore the truth.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

God Hears Us

How cool that God hears us!

The only rub in these two verses is the phrase, "if we ask anything according to his will."

This may be the point where many people lose their faith.

God hears everything, but he only grants me requests that are according to his will. Often I dislike this limitation.

But it's no different than how my wife and I say "No" to our children. They ask for things that aren't good for them. "I want more candy!"

How often to I ask God for "more candy?" How often do you, dear Reader?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Eternal Life

How encouraging that John's stated purpose is to comfort his readers.

If I didn't know my eternal destiny, I'd be distracted constantly by questions of existence, meaning, and doubt.

Because of the promises in the Bible and the historical evidence which supports its claims, I can go through life confident in my eternal destiny.

This is different than saying I have self-confidence. In fact, it is nearly the opposite. That's the key. It's not dependent upon my performance day-by-day. And that brings me great comfort.

The Christian life is simultaneously freeing because it sets clear parameters and freeing because the parameters no longer convict me.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

1 John 5:12

"He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life" (NIV).

Thank you, Lord, for allowing Jesus into my life.

Monday, April 7, 2008

1 John 5:3-5

In verses 3-5, John writes, "This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God" (NIV).

I believe that Jesus is the Son of God! So why do I feel like the world is overcoming me so much of the time?

Fortunately, it is true that the more I learn about Jesus, the lighter his commands become. Doing the right thing gets easier as I am obedient, not more difficult.

I see this principle at work among my students. There is a snowball effect when a student heads down the wrong path. It's much easier to continue doing the right thing you've always done than it is to switch gears and direction and get back on track. Momentum is not only a physical law, it appears to be a moral law as well!

I've experienced this truth in my own life. Doing the right thing is easier when I've already begun doing the right thing.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Bit Backwards

The Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary (NT vol. 2) points out that verse two is surprising: "This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands."

What would you expect John to say here, dear Reader? Why has he phrased his thought in this way?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Outline of 1 John 5

I. Obey God through Obeying Christ
II. Live through Faith
III. Work through Prayer

Friday, April 4, 2008

"I Will Be Here"

1 John 4:7-19 is the passage my dad read at my wife's and my wedding.

This is one of my favorite passages.

I suppose if we have one of those days where things just seem to be going all wrong, I should take a moment to reflect upon this passage.

I've linked the title today to a YouTube video of our wedding song, "I Will Be Here" by Steven Curtis Chapman. My wife even downloaded this as a ringtone so she knows when I'm calling her.

Yeah, yeah, I know this is sappy. But that's part of what happens in a strong marriage!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν

God is love.

This is one of the most important statements in the entire Bible.

And one of the most misunderstood.

Love has a weak meaning in contemporary culture. It can refer to physical attraction, or fondness (I love pizza), or tolerance of sin.

But when God is described as love, this makes love one of the strongest words in the universe. This kind of love is strong, steady, and unchanging.

Everyone knows that a good parent says "No" sometimes. Only a negligent, unloving parent lets his or her children do anything and everything they want to do.

A loving God says "No" sometimes, too.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

1 John 4:9-11

In verses 9-11, John reminds us that God's love is clearly illustrated by Jesus' sacrifice.

Again, the starting point of love, its original source, is God--not humans!

Therefore, we ought to love one another.

How would the world be different if our default perspective were love instead of suspicion?

Although I agree with Jesus that we should turn the other cheek, I have a very hard time seeing how to apply this perspective to world affairs. Maybe that's just because it hasn't been done before.

How would the world look different if we'd turned the other cheek after 9/11?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

1 John 4:8

John writes, "The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love" (NASB).

Again we are reminded that God is the ultimate source of love, not humans.

If someone is not characterized by love, the solution to the problem is not more education or better tolerance training. Rather, the key is to know God better and better.

For instance, if a conservative Christian consistently acts and speaks unlovingly towards a group of people (gays, Democrats, etc.), the direct approach will not be useful. Rather, remind them of Jesus' own words.

Only when convicted by God will this person soften in tone and treat their enemies as Jesus commands.