Snow!

Snow!

So much for our mild green winter! There have been 5 snow days where all the schools have been closed in the Hamilton Public Board since the start of January, 4 of which have been in the last 2 weeks. Honestly, I’ve never seen anything like this in years, if ever (though today’s snow day seems a bit unnecessary).

Long story short, despite my best intentions I haven’t been able to catch up on my blog postings for the 1 Corinthians study as I’ve been dividing looking after the kids on the snow days with my wife Elaine. I hope to be caught up by next week – so long as the weather lets up and the school board doesn’t call anymore snow days.

The one upside is that I had fun game of Monopoly with my kids over the past couple of days. And if their ability to beat me (with a suitable financial bonus at the start and a little guidance from daddy as their real estate advisor) is any indication of the future, Elaine and I won’t have to worry about our retirement!

Bible Study – 1 Corinthians (Part 1 of 5)

Bible Study – 1 Corinthians (Part 1 of 5)

This week we begin our study of The Apostle Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians. We’ll start by taking a quick overview of who Paul was, what Corinth was like and a little about the early Christian communities Paul founded and wrote to.

Opening Reflection Questions

  •  What have you heard about the Apostle Paul? Have you read his letters for yourself? What do you think about him and his letters in the New Testament?
  • Are you familiar with 1 Corinthians? If so, what comes to mind when you think of it?

Background to Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians

Who is Paul? Why did he write so many letters?

The Book of Acts provides a detailed account of Paul’s story, written by someone who was either a follower of Paul or at least had access to first hand records from Paul’s ministry. You can find this account in Acts 9:1-31 and Acts 13:1-28:31. Paul tells much of his own story in opening to his Letter to the Galatians. But here’s the short version.

  • The man best known as the Apostle Paul was a Jewish Pharisee named Saul from the Greek city of Tarsus in what’s now Turkey. We was educated both in Jewish learning and Greek rhetoric (public speaking and writing). Paul is just the Greek version of the Hebrew name Saul.
  • While in Jerusalem Saul joined the opposition to the early Christian movement, and began seeking out and arresting Jesus’ followers. While on his way to the city of Damascus in Syria to hunt down Christians he had a powerful spiritual experience of the risen Jesus. Saul then joined the Christian movement (much to the surprise of everyone) and eventually made his way to the Syrian city of Antioch.
  • Paul’s beliefs about Jesus were shaped by his own  spiritual experience of Jesus as well as teaching from disciples like Peter and Jesus’ brother James.
  • He felt called to share the Gospel of Jesus with the non-Jewish people of the Roman Empire and made several missionary journeys to the cities of the Eastern Mediterranean. He founded Christian communities in cities like Ephesus, Colossae, Phlippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, and the region of Galatia. He only stayed in these places for a around 1-2 years, then maintained his connection with these new churches by letter.
  • In these letters we see Paul deal with practical issues facing these early churches, encourage them in their mission, and correct errors in their beliefs or practices.

paul's letter churches

What was Corinth like?

Corinth was one of the great city states of Classical Greece but was completely destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC.  It was then left in ruins until it was refounded as Roman colony by Julius Caesar in 44 BC. It quickly regained its status as one the busiest sea ports in the Mediterranean.

Corinth in Paul’s time was still a relatively new city where people had a greater opportunity to advance in society than in other places – it was a competitive environment where the rules of more established cities didn’t fully apply. We can see this reflected in the letter, where Paul deals with many issues related to social and religious status.

What were Paul’s Churches like?

Paul’s churches usually met in the home of the family with the largest house. A church community might include several smaller house gatherings that only met occasionally in one place. They met for worship on Sundays, and this worship (as we’ll see later in 1 Corinthians) included a community meal. Paul’s letters would have been read aloud in their entirety at a church gathering.

Introduction to the Letter (1 Cor. 1:1-9)

  • Paul wrote this letter from Ephesus in Turkey around 54 AD in response to concerns brought to him by people from the household of a church leader named Chloe (1:11).
  • The opening part of Paul’s letters always cover the main themes of what he’s writing about and help us understand the whole letter. In the opening of 1 Corinthians we hear Paul talk about the issue of spiritual gifts, which is the major issue at the heart of the letter (chapters 12-14).
  • Notice also how Paul refers to Jesus 9 times in these opening verses. He is reminding this gifted but divided church about who is the centre of their faith. This focus on Jesus is seen throughout the letter. It would have also supported this community as they proclaimed that “Jesus is Lord” in a city where everyone else accepted the practical reality that the Roman Emperor ruled the world, ie. that “Caesar is Lord.” Indeed the word ‘Christ’ to Greeks would have indicated royalty, and Paul’s many references to Christ Jesus can be translated as “King Jesus.”

Dealing with Divisions and Finding Unity in Jesus (1 Cor. 1:10-4:21)

The major issue Paul begins with is the serious division within the church over various church leaders (1:10-17). The main divisions are highlighted in 1:12, where some look to Paul’s authority, some look to another missionary leader named Apollos, and others to the Apostle Peter (who is called by his Aramaic name Cephas). Paul stresses that Jesus is the true leader of the church, and that divisions over human leaders is foolish. Christians are called to united in Jesus, no matter what they think about the various human leaders of the church.

Paul then turns his listener’s attention to who Jesus is, and how the Gospel of Jesus is all about turning the world’s expectations upside down.

1:22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified:a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

In chapter 2 Paul argues that many in Corinth have confused human wisdom (which values status and the appearance of power) with God’s wisdom (which comes through the humble and crucified Jesus). In Chapter 3 he talks about the true place of leaders in the church: that they are important and must be responsible, but everything ultimately rests on Jesus and God’s power. Every leader should also be assessed on whether they work on the foundation of who Jesus is and what he taught.

This section wraps up with chapter 4, but since we ran out of time at our in person section, chapter 4 will have to wait for the next post. Take care until then.

Bible Study Updates

Bible Study Updates

I’m planning to have weekly summaries up here on the blog no later than noon on the Tuesday following each Wednesday session of the 1 Corinthians Study.

If you want to go deeper into our Study of 1 Corinthians you can buy a copy of N. T. Wright’s excellent and very accessible commentary on 1 Corinthians from his For Everyone series.

wright - 1 corinthians 2

 

You can buy it as a paperback or ebook at Amazon or Indigo.

New Bible Study: 1 Corinthians

New Bible Study: 1 Corinthians

Starting on Wednesday January 23, I’ll be starting a new 5 week study of Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians.

This New Testament book is best known for what chapter 13 says about love, and this is central for Paul’s message to the church he founded in the Greek city of Corinth. This letter also provides a tremendous amount of practical advice on how Christians can live together in community, overcome their differences, and be united by their faith in Jesus and his resurrection.

For a preview of what we’ll be studying take a look at this video from the Bible Project.

Beginnings Session 1: Genesis and the Story of the Bible

Beginnings Session 1: Genesis and the Story of the Bible

Seeing as I’ve called this Bible Study “Beginnings” I want to start right at the beginning with the basics of what we’re doing. So the first thing I’d like you to reflect on are these two videos by the Bible Project on “What is the Bible?” and “The Story of the Bible.” Each one is about 5 minutes and together they provide a good place to start for understanding the big picture of what the Bible is, and what it’s about.

If you want to dig a bit more into the material presented in these videos you can find study guides and reflection questions here.

Why Are We Talking About the Story of the Bible?

Genesis chapters 1-11 tell a story that is the introduction to the the big story of the Bible. So to understand what it has to say to us today we need to understand how it connects to that big story as an introduction and frame for what follows.

And yes, Christians do believe that despite being a complex library of religious literature that was written by a variety of people over more than a 1000 year period, the Bible tells one big story. We believe this because behind all the different times, places, and people stands God’s Spirit. The Spirit inspired not only the people who wrote these books but also the communities of faith who discerned that the words of these books were God’s unique and lasting Word to people in all times and places. And because God’s Spirit directed this process, it all fits together as one story.

What is the Story All About?

The short version is that Christians believe that the Bible is the story of how God created a good world, how that world got messed up, and God’s plan to rescue the world and restore the goodness he intended from the beginning. It’s also about our role as human beings in this big story.

But Christians also believe something else about this story. The New Testament claims that the Old Testament is ultimately a story about Jesus if we learn how to read it correctly. Now this is a pretty big claim, yet we find that it comes from Jesus himself.

  • Read Luke 24:13-50 and focus on verses 25-27 and 44-48. What do you think about what Jesus is saying here? Do you think Jesus can do this for people today?

Now it might seem a bit puzzling how the Old Testament can be about Jesus, even if you accept that many of the prophecies were talking about him. But it makes a bit more sense when we look at what the writer of the Gospel of John has to say about Jesus at the opening of his book.

  • Read John 1:1-14. What do you think about John’s claims about Jesus?

The Gospel John claims that Jesus is God’s Word, eternally one with God and the one through whom God made all things. For instance when we look at the creation story in Genesis chapter 1, John is saying that Jesus is that word that God spoke to create the universe (and John’s not the only New Testament writer to say this, see also Colossians 1:15-20).

As my particular Christian tradition puts it:

“He is the living Word of God to whom the written word bears witness.” (Living Faith 5.1 the  Presbyterian Church in Canada)

So How Do We Read the Bible?

Now this is a pretty big idea and one that can be a bit hard to wrap our minds around. Yet, if we begin to accept it, I think it provides us with a really helpful way to understand the Bible.

If Jesus is God’s Living Word, then anything we can say about Jesus we should also be able to say about the Bible. And if we think about how Jesus revealed who God is through his life, death and resurrection, then I believe we can understand how God reveals himself, his great story, and his purpose for his through the Bible.

  • Jesus Acted: He did things that were both natural (eating meals with people) and more than natural (calming a storm).
    • The Bible tells the story of God’s great acts in human history. Some of these acts are carried out in ordinary ways (through ordinary people and nature), some are more mysterious or miraculous.
  • Jesus Taught: He provided concrete teaching about God, the world and how people should live.
    • The Bible presents God’s teaching, through prophets, priests, apostles and through Jesus himself.
  • Jesus Tells Stories: This is one of the most distinctive things about Jesus is his use of stories to reveal who God is, what God’ Kingdom is about, and how people should live in light of God’s Kingdom coming on earth. We call these stories parables.
    • The Bible tells parables that reveal truths about God, the world, God’s purpose for the world, and our role in that purpose.

So how do we know when the Bible is giving us history, concrete teaching, or a parable?

Well that’s a bit tricky. There’s not a lot of consensus on this. Different groups of Christians read the Bible in different ways and have always done so. Some Christians argue that all of the Bible is to be read factually and historically – stories might have deeper spiritual meaning, but they’re all history that happened exactly as they were written. Other Christians go entirely the other way saying that most (if not all) of the Bible is made up of fictional stories that only have a metaphorical meaning. Most Christians tend to be somewhere between these two extremes. These differences of perspective unfortunately often end up in name calling – “Godless Liberal!” “Crazy Fundamentalist!” I’d like to avoid that.

On the whole,  I personally to fall on the conservative side of center. I believe that most of the stories in the Bible are historical on at least some level and that many are very historical – especially the Gospels. However, I think it’s essential to believe that the key events actually happened (or will happen). What do I call the key events? Basically what’s is found is the ancient creeds of the Christian Church, like the Apostles’ Creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
      creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
      who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
      and born of the virgin Mary.
      He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
      was crucified, died, and was buried;
      he descended to hell.
      The third day he rose again from the dead.
      He ascended to heaven
      and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
      From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
      the holy catholic church,
      the communion of saints,
      the forgiveness of sins,
      the resurrection of the body,
      and the life everlasting. Amen.

I also believe that some of the stories in the Bible are more parable than history. I would classify books like Job, Esther and Jonah in this category.

So How Do We Read Genesis Then?

Some Christians read Genesis historically, some read it as a parable. I personally read Genesis 1-11 as a parable that draws on the history of the world, and Genesis 12-50 (the story of Abraham’s family) as entering the realm of history. But no matter how we read Genesis 1-11 I think most Christians would agree that these are some of the most important stories in the Bible, stories that help us to understand the rest of what follows. And no matter what kind of word they are, they are God’s Word. So let’s get ready to listen and reflect on what God might be saying to us today though them.

 

 

Beginnings: Fall Sermon Series & Bible Study

Beginnings: Fall Sermon Series & Bible Study

It’s hard to believe that we’re already in the first week of a new school year! Summer always seems too short, and for some reason this one felt exceptionally short. Still, it can be an exciting time of year. My youngest started junior kindergarten this week, which had me feeling extremely proud, grateful, overjoyed at how happy she was on her first day, but also a little sad. My oldest also had a big moment as he started French immersion, as he’s now in grade 1. Here in Canada fall is a time for beginnings.

It’s also a time of beginnings for my congregation of St. Andrew’s. After a long and arduous season of construction, the accessible renovation and expansion of our building is almost done, and we’re planning a Grand Reopening for the last Sunday in October. From both the outside and inside it really looks like a brand new church.

With all these new beginnings going on it seemed like a good time to preach and study the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis, which tell stories about the beginning of the world. These are stories that explore the big questions so many of us have: Where do we come from? What are we here for? Why is the world such a mess? Where is God in all of this? Is there a purpose or a plan for the universe and for my life?

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So with all of this in mind I’ll be preaching through Genesis 1-11 from September though to early November. And starting on Wednesday September 26 there will also be a short 5 week study for those who want to go deeper into the story.  A group will gather at the church each week at 7pm, and study notes and reflection questions will be posted here on the blog.

For  a sneak preview here’s a video from The Bible Project that touches on some of the things we’ll be exploring together.

Facing the Future with Hope

Facing the Future with Hope

About a month ago I shared how life wasn’t quite going to plan, but how that can be okay if we’re willing to step back and see God’s big picture. Well it continued to be a busy month, and this is about the first time I’ve had to blog since then.

One of the best parts of the past month though was a conference I helped to organize for the Presbytery of Hamilton (the regional council my church is a part of). We called it: “Evangelism, Replanting and Renewal: Hope for Churches Facing the Iceberg.” Our speaker was the Rev. Graham Singh, who grew up Presbyterian but came back to church through Holy Trinity Brompton (the home church of the Alpha Course) in the Church of England. Graham is now an Anglican church planter who has restarted churches in England and Canada.

It was a great day reflecting on the possibilities for spreading the Good News of Jesus and what is involved in empowering our churches to do this again. There is hope! Holy Trinity Brompton has restarted 50 churches in southern England; Graham is leading St. Jax Church (a replanted Anglican church in the heart of Montreal); and here in Hamilton our Presbytery has successfully replanted Heritage Green Church in Stoney Creek. Yet all of these hopeful stories have two things in common: 1) a deep love for Jesus and their neighbours 2) and a willingness to do church very differently than in the past.

A number of people have asked me for the message I preached at the start of the conference so I’ve included an audio file and a downloadable copy of the manuscript below.

Sermon – Evangelism Conference – April 21, 2018