WELCOME TO 1 PETER

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The Apostle Peter was clearly the leader of the Apostles when they walked with Jesus for 3 years. He could be impulsive, outspoken and easily intimidated. In some ways, he was the most reluctant Apostle. Yet, after Pentecost he was bold and committed, and the other Apostles acknowledged his leadership. Eventually, according to ancient, and probably reliable church tradition, Peter was martyred for his faith in Christ.
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The book of 1 Peter reflects the Apostle in his spiritual maturity and demonstrates how much God had transformed the man. The letter is addressed to “exiles in the dispersion” in Asia Minor, which we know as modern Turkey. The letter was probably written about 30 years after the resurrection during the reign of Emperor Nero.  The evil emperor had issued an official persecution against Christians, especially in Rome, causing the “dispersion” or “exile” of believers from Rome to other, safer places like Asia Minor.
Peter is therefore writing  to Christians who have been persecuted, displaced, and have experienced significant lifestyle disruption for their faith in Christ. When we read the letter of 1 Peter, even when those factors are not overtly mentioned, they should always be remembered to help us understand better what Peter is saying, and what the letter means.
The letter of 1 Peter is “pastoral” in that it seeks to encourage potentially discouraged Christians in difficult circumstances to remain faithful. Peter reminds them to live holy lives in an unholy world. He urges them to remember Christ is coming again and therefore the suffering of this life will be reversed. Peter helps the persecuted church to see itself in a different way by redefining their identity as Christ sees them, rather than as they see themselves. He also suggests practical ways for the believers to behave as faithful followers of Christ in spite of their troubles.
The letter of 1 Peter still encourages modern believers who are not in exactly the same dilemmas but who nevertheless need encouragement and spiritual growth. In other words, while you are reading 1 Peter, you can receive and apply it’s message to your own life and greatly benefit as a result.
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JKB

WELCOME TO JAMES!

748A2E74-E38F-4CC8-8258-FF0D55CD14BFWELCOME TO JAMES!

James is a unique book. It belongs in the category of an “epistle” but within that familiar category it has some uncommon features.
The special quality of James is it’s structure. At times it seems to be a book filled mostly with one moral instruction after another -almost like the book of Proverbs. In that way, it seems to lack the kind of personal quality of a book like 1 Corinthians, for example, which is loaded with the conversational “back and forth” tone of an actual letter. James is a letter, but at times it feels more like a collection of wise statements without context.
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Fueling that feeling is the grammar itself. The book of James has more imperative commands “per capita” than any book in the New Testament giving it the feel of a stern lecture from a Father or a boss. Still, in spite of it’s authoritative style, James addresses a common pastoral concern- the problem of suffering.
Another unique feature of James has to do with the way the book addresses the relationship of faith and works. At times James appears to directly contradict Paul’s view of faith alone by stating, “faith without works is dead” (2:17). Most evangelicals have concluded James does not advocate a “works gospel” but is instead expressing truth about faith and works from a practical perspective not in contradiction to Paul’s teaching.
James mentions Jesus only twice (once in the first verse of the book where the author identifies himself as the servant of Jesus) so the book never develops doctrines of the cross or the second coming or other specifically Christological doctrines. Instead, Jesus is “heard” rather than “seen” since, at times, James feels like a loose commentary on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, clearly reflecting the language and style of the famous teaching.
James is demanding, straight forward, and instructive for the Christian life. It is definitely truth for our times.
JKB
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Welcome to Hebrews!

IMG_2525Welcome to Hebrews! This wonderful book introduces us to a particular perspective about Jesus, developed in an in-depth manner more pronounced than in any other section of the New Testament. Jesus’ relationship to the sacrificial system of the Old Testament is explored more in Hebrews than anywhere else.

One of the most enduring questions about Hebrews has to do with authorship. No one knows for certain who wrote it. While some claim Paul wrote the book (and it is assumed in most King James Bibles), there are numerous reasons to doubt Pauline authorship.
For one thing, unlike Paul’s known letters, Paul’s name is never mentioned in Hebrews. In addition, one of Paul’s favorite phrases-“in Christ” – found over 125 times in Paul’s letters, is noticeably absent. It never occurs in Hebrews. Furthermore, Gentiles are never mentioned. That’s a strange omission from “the Apostle to the Gentiles”. The title of Jesus as “High Priest” is found no where in Paul’s writings but is central in the theology of Hebrews (4:14). Another issue which contradicts Pauline authorship is the vocabulary and style of Hebrews. It is the most sophisticated use of the Greek language found anywhere in the New Testament, except for Luke’s writings (a fact which leads some to believe Luke wrote Hebrews). Hebrews includes at least 150 words not used anywhere else in the New Testament including 10 that do not appear anywhere else in any Greek writings.
Finally, the writer of Hebrews includes himself in the generation of those who received the Gospel message from others (Hebrews 2:3). Paul consistently stated the opposite, insisting he received the message by direct revelation and not from human messengers (Galatians 1:12).
Whoever wrote Hebrews had an intimate knowledge of the Old Testament and the ministry of the Jewish priesthood. There are about 35 direct quotations from the Old Testament and numerous indirect references. The original audience was clearly Jewish and the complex arguments from the Old Testament make Hebrews appear less relatable to 21st century readers. It is, however, a message we must hear even if it requires more patience on our part.
Hebrews was originally written to a group of people under so much pressure from a hostile culture they were tempted to abandon Christ! Hebrews is both a warning and a strong invitation to remain faithful and not retreat from Jesus due to cultural invectives. That’s a message we need today.
-JKB
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WELCOME TO EPHESIANS!

3FC25E95-65A7-4978-9136-929304C80F0CWELCOME TO EPHESIANS!

Ephesus was one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire. Today it is an impressive city of ruins and Archeological excavation in Turkey. I’ve been there three times and each time  I’ve been overwhelmed by the sheer size and former beauty of Ephesus. In its day, tens of thousands of people lived there and it was a center of education, commerce, and culture.
Ephesus had one of the largest libraries in the ancient world and a huge outdoor theater with a seating capacity of over 25,000, which is still used today for concerts. Once when I was there the rock band Aerosmith was coming for a concert and the stage was being built for them. It is a surreal sight to be standing imagining the origins of Christianity and what Paul must have felt, while starring at a massive Aerosmith logo.
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   Ephesus is mentioned more than 20 times in the New Testament. Paul went there on his third missionary journey and spent 3 years in Ephesus, a long stay in one place for the traveling Apostle (Acts 20:31).
The book of Ephesians is full of doctrinal and practical truth for living the Christian life. The six chapters are nicely divided into 2 sections. The first three chapters are comprised of essential theology and doctrine for the Christian life. The last 3 chapters cover practical Issues of Christian living.
The letter of Ephesians is strikingly devoid of personal references to individuals, which is a surprising omission in a letter written to a group of people known so well to the Apostle. One possible explanation, which seems most likely to me, is that Ephesians is a letter which was intended to be copied and distributed to several churches in several cities in the region. The truth in Ephesians is intended for all believers, for all time. Ephesians is the letter of Paul to you and me.
-JKB
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WELCOME TO ROMANS!

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WELCOME TO ROMANS!

Romans explains salvation. From the opening verses you know you’re reading the explanation of how God justifies sinners and converts them into saints!
As as a result, some of the most well loved passages in the New Testament are found in Romans. For instance, in chapter one Paul writes,  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (1:16-17).
Later, he tells us the love of God was the reason for the cross. “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8). Perhaps the most well known passage in Romans gives every believer assurances about the purpose of our lives. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (8:28).
The book was written by the Apostle Paul to a group of Christians in Rome about 25 years after the resurrection of Jesus and provides the most comprehensive view of justification by faith found in the New Testament. The doctrine  of election is also developed in Romans more clearly than in any other New Testament work and has provided endless discussion and debate for theologians and average believers as well for the last 2000 years.
The book of Romans has also played a unique role in the spiritual biographies of some of our most significant Christian leaders through the centuries. For instance, in the 5th century, while in Milan, Augustine was converted by reading a passage from Romans and later became the most influential theologian since the Apostles.
As Martin Luther, the well known German Reformer, studied the book of Romans in the 16tb century, while he was still a Roman Catholic monk and theology professor, it changed his mind about salvation by faith alone and he was saved.  This discovery led to the Protestant Reformation. Later John Wesley, the famous evangelist and founder of Methodism, was saved while hearing someone read the preface to Luther’s commentary on Romans!
As you read the book of Romans ask the Lord to teach you, and reassure you, about Himself and His wonderful plan of salvation. Who knows what God may have planned for you as you read one of the greatest books in the Bible!

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-JKB

WELCOME TO THE BOOK OF ACTS!

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WELCOME TO THE BOOK OF ACTS!

Nowhere in the Bible is there another book like Acts. It is the only biblical record we have of the exciting development and work of the early church.
Acts was written by Luke the physician who also wrote the Gospel which bears his name. In fact, the two works can be considered  two volumes of one continuous story. They are both addressed to an otherwise unknown recipient named Theophilus and in verse 1 of Acts Luke refers to his “first book.” In other words, Luke refers to his Gospel as his first book in the opening statement of his second book.
The two books are the longest two books in the New Testament. In fact, due to the length of the two books, Luke- not Paul- wrote more of the New Testament than any other single author. Paul wrote more individual books,  but Luke exceeds Paul in sheer word count.
In Acts we are introduced to the church in it’s infancy when prayer, dependence upon the Holy Spirit, and evangelism were the essential, identifying markers of the Christian life. It is not out of the question to perceive the core elements of the early church, as presented in Acts, as the “blueprint” of Christ’s church. As someone has said, “Jesus started the church the way He wanted it-now He wants the church the way He started it!”
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In the first section of the book through chapter 12 the Apostle Peter is the main human character and most of the action revolves in some way around him. Beginning with chapter 13, however, the narrative focus shifts so that Paul is the main character of the action until the end of the book.
As you read the book of Acts, take note of two things. First, notice how frequently the church retreated to prayer. Second, pay attention to how regularly the early church depended upon supernatural intervention and how often the Holy Spirit is mentioned as a result.
If the book of Acts reflects the purest stream nearest to the original source, how should our own church, and our own Christian experience, be corrected to align with what Jesus originally intended for His people?
JKB

PURSUING JESUS ’19: The Gospel of John

B4FC8CFB-7FA0-4A05-86EA-6A9D8E68CF84THE GOSPEL OF JOHN

The Gospel of John can surprise you if you’re not careful. At first glance it seems so simple. The more you read it however, the more profound and deep it becomes. Someone once observed that John is like a pool where an infant can wade and a theologian can drown!
Some of our favorite verses are found in the Gospel of John. Here is a list of some of the most well known and beloved.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
(John 1:1)
Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ –
(John 3:7)
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
(John 3:16)
God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
(John 4:24)
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
(John 8:36)
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
(John 10:10)
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live”
(John 11:25)
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. (John 12:32)
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
(John 13:35)
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.
In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
(John 14:1-3)
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
(John 15:5)
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
(John 17:17)
Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
(John 20:29)
WHY A FORTH GOSPEL?
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John is different than the other 3 gospels. In fact, about 90% of the Gospel of John is unique – in other words, it contains information and details about the ministry of Jesus not found in the other three gospels. For instance, most, although not all, of the material found in the other three Gospels (prior to the story of Jesus’ last week) takes place in Galilee. In John’s Gospel, however, Jesus is frequently in Jerusalem or some other area south of Galilee. As you read the Gospel of John, think about where Jesus is in that scene and you’ll notice this for yourself.
SEVEN I AM’S
John weaves seven statements of Jesus throughout his gospel which  give us the a more complete  picture of who Jesus is and what He does. Each of these statements begins with “I AM.” They are among some of the most well known and beautiful passages found in Scripture.
“I AM the bread of life.”  John 6:35, 48,51
“I AM the light of the world.” John 8:12; 9:5
“I AM the door of the sheep.” John 10:7,9
“I AM the good shepherd.” John 10:11,14
“I AM the resurrection and the life.” John 11:25
“I AM the way, the truth, and the life.” John 14:6
“I AM the true vine.” John 15:1
In addition to these seven metaphors beginning with “I AM,” Jesus also described Himself as simply, “I AM” 5 times (6:20; 8:24, 28, 57; 18:5).
SEVEN SIGNS
When we think of Jesus we think of His miracles. While He performed many miracles in all four gospels, John only records seven and he refers to them as “signs.” Obviously signs point away from themselves and to something else. In the case of the seven signs in John, the signs point to the Miracle Worker, rather than miracles.
  • Jesus changed water into wine at Cana in John 2:1-11
  • Jesus healed an official’s son in Capernaum (John 4:46-54)
  • Jesus healed  the paralyzed man at the Pool Bethesda (John 5:1-15)
  • Jesus fed the 5000 (John 6:5-14)
  • Jesus walked on water (John 6:16-24)
  • Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45)
MEMORY VERSE
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
(John 10:11)
Enjoy reading the greatly loved Gospel of John!
-JKB