Archives For Prison Epistles


Great day I experienced with classes, super-sessions and keynote messages from some of the finest people in Christianity. I typed 10 pages of notes yesterday so I cannot include everything here but I want to give you some highlights that stood out to me.

Tuesday Morning, Mike Cope “Spiritual Intubation: How Community Keeps Us Alive” The Wizard of Oz: Revelation’s View of Community

  • “No church ever existed in a pure state. The church is made up of sinners. The fleas come with the dogs.” (Eugene Peterson)
  • Four characters who are known by their deficiencies. Much like Christians today.
  • Showing of who Oz really is. “The great Oz has spoken, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”
  • Pergamum
    • It’s a great distance from Colorado Springs to Pergamum.
    • In Pergamum it was very, very different.
    • Everywhere people went they told two stories: the power of Rome and Greek gods and goddesses. Everywhere they went they are told that they are caught up in and how could they not believe it. It “has to be true.”  Every market, athletic event, silver item told them about temple worship.
    • Where is the Pergamum church of Christ?
      • A tiny…insignificant few.
      • Imagine holding on to the story of Jesus while walking among the temples and other places where the minority is huge.
      • Have you been the minority?
      • Power, honor, identity was wrapped up into gods and Rome not Christ.
    • Persecuted Christians get it
    • “Though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw he saw no creatures so wild as one of his own commentators.” G. K. Chesteron
  • Deep Community is anchored in Jesus
  • Deep community has to be eschatological in nature.
  • Deep community is at its best when it is part of a mission…a larger story.

Tuesday Morning Keynote Kurt Johnston @kurtjohnston “Deep, Redefined”

  • Have you ever stopped and thought about all the things in youth ministry that you don’t do very well? We are great at trying to control the perceptions of other people. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are great at creating perception of us.
  • Four truths I have learned that have 1) pointed out my shallowness and 2) led him into a deeper experience in faith.
    • Life is a squiggle
    • I need a travel partner
    • Busyness will keep you in the shallow end.
    • When you begin to have a long view of youth ministry

Tuesday Super Session Frank Viola @FrankViola “The Missing Ingredient”

Observations about ministry to young people:

  • Catch30 Crisis – Human beings go through developmental stages as they get old. When they are 30 they reassess every decision they made in their 20s and they either abandon what hey believed or abandon them. You don’t know where someone is spiritually until they are thirty. You could not serve in the house of God until you were 30. Jesus did not begin his ministry until he was 30. Young people need to be prepared for this.
  • There is a difference between youthful enthusiasm and spirituality. Most of the big Christian movements are built on youthful enthusiasm. The problem is that many operates on youthful enthusiasm and the well runs dry
  • You can’t pass on to those whom you minister to what you have not experienced yourself.
  • I have to prepare them for the forgotten beatitude. Blessed is he who is not offended by me.

Other Notes from class…

  • If you cut the bible in any place it will bleed Jesus Christ.
  • Moses and Christ
  • Creation and Christ
  • Isaac and Christ
  • Jacob and Christ
  • Conclusion  – #1 – Find Christ in the bible. #2 – Do business with the Lord

Tuesday Afternoon Class 1 Josh Graves @JoshGraves “The Bible Jesus Read: Genesis 1-2”

2 Timothy 3:14-17; John 5

  • We need a more mystical understanding of Scripture. But also how it calls us to new spaces.
  • “All Scripture” does not exist yet and he has in mind Torah.
  • Inspired…he does not infallible, inerrant. They never show up in the bible. Sometimes the most important work we do is not learning new things but relearning old things.
  • 2 Timothy is not about proving Scripture over science but it is about inviting people into God’s world in order to see the world differently and “to do something about it.”
  • These stories carry the freight in any given culture.

Genesis 1

  • God can’t help but to create. He is in control. The things God creates would not be believable if we have not seen them.
  • Everything else that has creativity or imagination that somehow it is all linked back to the God who started.
  • One of the ways Genesis invites us to go deeper and that we live in a good creation. Does not deny the dark side of life but he made everything and called it good.
  • Most people who tell the story of God begin with Genesis 3 and not Genesis 1.
  • We have to introduce paradox to our students. Life is full of joy and pain. Paradox is one of the greatest contribution to the Western world.

Tuesday Afternoon Class 2 Sally Gary @centerpeaceinc “Reaching out to Teens Who Identify as Gay and Lesbians”

Many who struggle with same sex attraction but still love the Lord.  Struggles do not divide us.

Starved for Intimacy. Facebook and its struggles for intimacy. Question is: How can we meet this need? This desire for community. There is a great need for this connection.

What teens learn from the world: Glee, Modern Family.

What teens learn from the church: Nasty messages about homosexuals from the church

What they need is looking for a safe place.

How to be a safe place?

Deal with our own fears.

  • Change our thinking
  • Change our language
  • Listen
  • Be consistent
  • Model the Love and Acceptance of Christ

Tuesday Night Keynote Frank Viola @FrankViola “God so loved the world vs. Love not the world.”

The world in the New Testament is used in two ways…

  1. Speaks of the material universe. Jesus of Nazareth is this world’s true Lord.
  2. A system or network or order of things designed to draw us away from God.

Historically Christians have taken two postures: 1) Retreated from the world’s system (Isolationism) 2) Enmeshed by the world and married to it.

The most miserable person is a Christian who is living in a way where deep inside them they are told to give something up and they can’t. When we are in community with other Christians the Holy Spirit is clearest.

The Holy Spirit will reveal to you what is of the world.

2 Kind of legalists: 1) Salvation by works 2) I am going to take what the Holy Spirit has shown me personally and make it a law to you.

“The gospel spreads best not through force but through fascination” (Shane Claiborne)

Dinner in Colorado Springs: Uchenna Ethiopian Restaurant

This was ranked #2 in Colorado Springs by TripAdvisor and it was awesome. I had Yebeg Alecha which was tender pieces of lamb marinated with butter then sautèed with ginger, garlic, and 12 spices. There were no forks but you had this roll that you put the meat and the sauce in. It was excellent. The owner’s name is Maya and they cooked everything to order so it took a while but the food was worth it. They have mostly organic food and a substantial vegetarian menu. I have never tried authentic Ethiopian cuisine but this was a must! Went a left the owner looked at me and said, “Go in peace.” I love her already.

 

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Finding Balance

March 21, 2011 — Leave a comment

Close up of scalesI was in the airport in Las Vegas when  a man walked by talking to another gentleman and said these words: “We got to ride on a train and see some poverty. It was fun to see what it was like.” My initial reaction to this man was disdain because since when does viewing people barely scraping by become viewing pleasure?  Since when does watching people in economic hardships become akin to watching the nightly news?  I was upset with the man and I wanted to say something to him.  Upon reflection  (and a little Spirit-guidance) I thought about the opposite ends of the spectrum how some people who live and work among the poor often scathe those who are wealthy.  I am not sure that is helpful either.  Then I think about raising my children and how some people brag at how disciplined they are with their children almost running their home like a Ranger Training School.  Then I hear some people who do not have a clue as to what their child does as they let their child run the house as the parents heed to their every demand.  In politics there are some people who say we need God in every aspect of our government then there are people who say God needs to be completely out of the equation.  In youth ministry there are those who say we need to have a missional focus whereas other say it needs to be a family-oriented youth ministry.  In teaching and preaching many say we need to preach the old paths and have a steady diet of doctrine, doctrine and doctrine whereas others opt for a more story-telling/narrative approach to preaching.  On the same line people say that we need to preach more from the Old Testament and then I hear people say we need to preach more from the New Testament.  Some say that youth ministers need to be more relational with kids where as some say we need to teach them more about the bible.     I listen to the commercials on TV and hear people tell me that I can eat whatever I want if I take this little pill and then all my fat will vanish away and then I watch another commercial that advocates a slow, methodical properly-proportioned diet that uses the right foods with healthy exercise.  Some people say we need to go to college to get a degree whereas some people say not everybody needs to go to college.  Which is it?

The lines of dichotomy are not so visible the older I get  I used to believe all things were black and white but now I am not so certain.  It seems the operative word that has kept me going is the word “balance.”  We need balance in everything don’t we?  We need people who are ministering to the poor being place-sharers with them but good grief we need people ministering to the wealthy don’t we?  We need to hear people in politics from both sides of the fence whether you are red or blue.  We need balance in raising our families.  We need balance in preaching the Word.  We need balance in teaching our young folks.  We need balance in our relationships with other people.  We need balance in our approach to discipleship.  We need balance in how we approach college.  We need balance in our relationships with our fellow man.  We need balance in our relationships with our church folk.  We need balance in being the kingdom of God.

It seems to me that any point we look at someone else and say, “I am better than you” from any theological, political, practical or foundational position it seems to only come from a perspective of pride.  Balance gives us perspective on how we deal with mankind and the events put in front of us by God almighty.

Again Philippians 4:10-13 is on my mind…

10 I am very happy in the Lord that you have shown your care for me again. You continued to care about me, but there was no way for you to show it.11 I am not telling you this because I need anything. I have learned to be satisfied with the things I have and with everything that happens.12 I know how to live when I am poor, and I know how to live when I have plenty. I have learned the secret of being happy at any time in everything that happens, when I have enough to eat and when I go hungry, when I have more than I need and when I do not have enough.13 I can do all things through Christ, because he gives me strength.  (New Century Version)

Paul was a man of balance…


I have already addressed some issues concerning Christmas (i.e. paganism, materialism, et al) but a couple objections from the Scriptures I think need to be contextually situated before they are mis-applied to Christmas.

  • The first one I mentioned in the first post and that people use Jeremiah 10:1-10 and the “trees” and “asherah poles” as proof that Christmas trees are, in fact, pagan.

First of all, let it be known that there is much danger in grabbing a concordance and looking up “tree” and finding a verse and then applying it to the present context.  Each verse has both an immediate and an extended context.  Most people use Jeremiah 10:2-4 to prove (quite proudly I am sure) that the decorated tree is an example of what we should not do.  Trying to be as patient as I possibly can I want you to first note who is speaking: God.  That is important because also we need to address who God is speaking to: Israelites.  Those two bits of information are very important for last time I checked we are not Israelites and are not dealing with the cultural context that they were dealing with.  Clearly this tree, in verse 5, is an idol much like the Asherah poles mentioned in 1 Kings 14:23 and other passages.  One needs only to look at Isaiah 44:14-19 to see how a tree was cut down and fashioned into an idol.  The whole purpose of the tree spoken there was to serve as an idol where the people bowed down to it in worship.  Christmas (even Jesus) was not even a thought so how could Jeremiah be recording the words of God speaking to our present day Christmas tree?  Furthermore, the tree was an idol because it was worshipped.  When was the last time you saw someone bowing down worshipping a tree?  An idol is ANYTHING that takes the place of God so anything can be an idol because everything has been an idol.  A relationship with your husband could be an idol.  Your children can be idols.  Power, fame and fortune all can be idols because they take the place only God has a right to contain in our hearts.  So if a Christmas tree takes the place of God then it is an idol (doubtful anyone does this at all) but to say Jeremiah 10 applies to our present-day Christmas trees is poor biblical study and haphazard exegesis.  Do your homework.

  • The second objection to Christmas comes from Galatians 4:10 where Paul was against the Galatian observance of special days and months.

Again, there are three rules to proper interpretation I learned while an undergraduate bible student at Freed-Hardeman University: 1) Context, 2) Context and, 3) Context.  What is the context of this passage?  First of all the context is with the occasion of which Paul wrote the letter to those in Galatia.  They were apparently being bombarded with false teachers (1:6; 5:12) and apparently they are Jews who want the Galatians to keep certain elements of the Jewish faith.  Paul encourages them that Christ’s death brought about a new covenant (3:23-27; 4:4-5) in which they do not have to follow the old aspects of the Mosaic Law like circumcision (2:3), customs (2:14-15) and ceremonies (4:10).  Why?  Because there is now freedom in Christ and circumcision and customs have no merit but only faith expressed from love (5:1-6).  This is the context of 4:10.  They were recognizing Jewish ceremonies and BINDING it on the brethren which defeated the purpose of Christ’s death.  Christmas, in juxtaposition, supports Christ’s death and celebrates the new law.  The old ceremonies kept them captive but Christmas celebrates the freedom that “Christ has set us free” (5:1).  Furthermore, Paul said in Romans 14:5, “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers everday alike.  Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”  The point?  Do not be divisive about this kind of stuff.  Besides, did Paul, in Galatians 4:10, really speak out against special days?

These are two major objections from the Scriptures that usually are tossed out there that can easily be refuted just understanding one rule: context.  Tomorrow is the last post.

Silencing the Haters

July 26, 2010 — 4 Comments

Last night the youth group and I had an excellent period of worship at our monthly teen devotional.  I directed our thoughts from Philippians 1:27-30 and it seemed to be a good grounding point for the challenging next few weeks for the teenagers.  The Philippian church was not without her faults as apparently there were some preachers who were selfish in their desire to proclaim the gospel (1:15-17).  This must have been frustrating for Paul to see men proclaim a gospel yet only do so for selfish interests and personal gain.  Then Paul addressed something in Philippians 1:27-30 that caught my attention:

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have (NIV). 

“Whatever happens” is a bit of an understatement when you see the difficulties Paul himself faced (e.g. 2 Cor. 11:16-32).  He told them to act like citizens who are worthy of the death of Christ which is the gospel of Christ.  But he told them to not be alarmed by those who oppose you (ESV “opponents”).  We all have our “haters” don’t we?  Haters come in all shapes and sizes.  Haters are those who poke fun at the fact that you are a Christian and do things differently than they do.  Haters like to belittle your church participation and often are cynical at what you are trying to do.  Haters look at the church and are quick to point out her flaws, her inconsistencies and her hypocrisies.  Haters do not recognize the good that comes out of the church only the bad aspects.  Haters try to stifle, stymie, stall and cause the church to stalemate.  Haters, like the Devil, are equal opportunity destroyers lurking about seeking ways to bring the church down.  Haters are outside the church but often you will find some haters who are inside the church.     

What do we do about them?  Paul says to not be afraid of them and to keep on acting in a manner worthy of the gospel.  In the words of Nehemiah we need to say:

 “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down” (6:3). 

Paul said that these haters will eventually go away because doing the right thing as a Christian is a sign of their destruction.  So may I encourage you to keep doing what you are doing—yea—do what you are doing with even more zeal and let God and the gospel take care of the haters.


I preached a sermon this morning starting a series called “Obscure Characters”.  It is about Philemon and Onesimus.  Read and enjoy…or read and say, “This is junk!”  It doesn’t matter to me! 

Obscure Characters 1 – Philemon and Onesimus (Part 1)

Obscure Characters 2 – Philemon and Onesimus (Part 2)


I am in a class at Lipscomb covering the Prison Epistles (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon) and yesterday we covered Philemon which is a short book with only one chapter (or at least the book is a chapter…you know what I mean).  I never considered how theologically rich this little book could possibly be but yesterday we talked about all of the issues surrounding the book itself.  I will not discuss many of these but what I would like to focus on is the idea of mediation and reconciliation from Philemon 8-21:

8Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. 12I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced. 15Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good— 16no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.17So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

This is the thrust of the letter: namely that Paul is pleading for Philemon to allow Onesimus to come back.  Questions immediately arise:  Why did Onesimus leave?  Why did he go to Paul?  Why did this seemingly private letter make it into the canon which we call the New Testament?  Other questions arise but the important one I want us to think about briefly is that in Roman times it was customary for a slave to plead his point to someone who was equal to his master.  In this case, Onesimus so that equal as Paul who was (assuming) 1300 miles away in Rome.  What could cause Onesimus to flee like this?  Paul tells us that he owed something to Philemon (verse 19).  Whatever the case, Onesimus is in a tough spot as to how he is going to confront his master who is really upset and Paul is in a tough spot because his concern is with the Church and how this is going to be handled in the community.  What Paul does is astonishing.   He writes his letter to Philemon for him to receive back the slave like he would receive Paul….on the basis of love!  If this costs Philemon anything he is to put it on Paul’s tab and let Paul take care of it.  We are unaware as to the outcome but, at least, Paul is confident (hinging on Onesimus’ obedience as well) that Philemon will welcome him back. 

Two very important lessons:

1.  Who do you have to help you in tough times?  Mediation is difficult and it is impossible to avoid partiality but there has to be someone we can turn to hear our case in those desperate times of confusion.  I would like to think that I am a person my youth group kids could turn to when things with their parents seem most difficult and they need an ear to hear and a shoulder to cry on. 

2.  Reconciliation is the goal.  It was not enough for Onesimus to complain to Paul as he wanted to send him back.  The story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) is unavoidable here and worth at least mentioning in name.  But it is so true?  If a relationship needs to be mended then we need to have someone to help us mend that relationship but we need to work at mending it ourselves!!! 

I have class all week so posts will be few and far between!!!  Be Blessed.