5x5x5 Reading Plan – Luke

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NT imageOn June 27 we begin reading the book of Luke.  Luke probably did not know Jesus personally and he was not one of the 12 disciples.  Luke was a well-educated doctor and an early convert, who became very dedicated to the cause of the gospel and accompanied the apostle Paul on several missionary trips.  Luke set out to compile a very detailed account of the life of Jesus and he interviewed many eyewitnesses before compiling this compelling and thoughtful summary.

Luke’s gospel is sometimes called a “gospel of relationships” as he provides many excellent character descriptions.  As you read through Luke this month, make a note of all the different people Jesus encounters – consider their gender and their ethnic, religious, economic, and social groups.  Luke chooses to highlight the poor and outcast, and he introduces thirteen women mentioned in no other gospel.  He also shows delight and appreciation for children.  The gospel helps us see value in people that society often rejects, and to bridge socio-cultural gaps – consider Jesus’ interaction with people as you read and study Luke.

It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” – Jesus, Luke 5:31-32

5x5x5 Reading Plan – Philemon

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On June 26 we will read Philemon – you’ll find it tucked away right before Hebrews.  Philemon is a one page letter, Paul’s personal request for a favor from a friend. It’s a big favor – the life of an individual hangs in the balance.  Philemon owned a slave, Onesimus, who had run away.  In Rome Onesimus meets Paul and becomes a Christian, perhaps they even shared a jail cell together.  Onesimus’ conversion to Christ greatly complicated his future – he knew he could not keep running from his responsibilities forever, but if he returned to his master he risked immediate execution or (if the owner was merciful) branding as a runaway.  Paul writes a persuasive letter, using all his influence to persuade Philemon to welcome his runaway slave back and to treat him well.

Imagine an estranged relationship you know, or another awkward social situation where an offense has been committed, or there is a socially imposed distance… How can you play the role of a reconciler?  How does Paul use his best diplomatic skills to bring two people together?  What does he appeal to?

5x5x5 Reading Plan – Colossians

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On June 20 we started Colossians, the apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae.  Like the other letters of Paul we have been reading, it is relatively short and succinctly addresses both doctrinal and lifestyle issues.

When I think of the book of Colossians, several things stand out to me.  In chapters 1-2 you will find one of the most powerful passages in the whole of scripture on the identity of Christ.  In the margin of my Bible I have Colossians 1-2 tied to Ephesians 1-2 because in those four chapters you will find a very complete “Christology” (the doctrine of who Jesus Christ is).

Secondly, in the book of Colossians you will find a very good summary of what it means to be converted.  There are important themes of alienation and reconciliation, our transfer from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of Christ (1:13), what it means to live a life worthy of the Lord (1:9-12), how we were dead in our sins but are now made alive in Christ (2:9-15), the putting off of the old self and putting on the new self (ch. 3), and how being a believer affects our relationships (ch. 3).

Take heart, “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing”! (1:6)

5x5x5 Reading Plan – Philippians

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Dear 5x5x5 readers,  This week we move from Ephesians (a letter to the church at Ephesus) to Philippians (Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi).

Consider this as you read Philippians:  My scholars believe that Paul is writing this letter from a jail cell in Rome, about the time Emperor Nero began tossing Christians to the lions.  Perhaps Paul was remembering his first visit to Philippi (recorded in Acts 16) where there were many converts, a conflict with a slave girl, they were flogged and thrown in jail, and then an AMAZING jailbreak occurred!

Imprisonment did not seem to bother Paul too much.  His letter to the Philippians is known for addressing the topic of joy – joy in all circumstances, joy through difficult times, joy because we have an eternal perspective on the sufferings of this present day.  And by joy we mean a deep, heart peace independent of circumstances… something entirely different than happiness.

Oh that we might come to trust God and know Him well enough to find joy in difficult times!  That we might finally understand, “to live is Christ and to die is gain”. (Phil 1:21)

5x5x5 Reading Plan – Ephesians

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Dear 5x5x5 Readers,  We finish Romans this week and begin reading Ephesians, a letter from the apostle Paul (who is in prison) to the church at Ephesus.  The city of Ephesus, in modern day Turkey, was a leading center of the Roman Empire and hosted the 3rd largest library in the known world!  Paul spent nearly three years in Ephesus (Acts 18-20) teaching and building up the church.  Many unusual miracles occurred, sorcerers were converted, and people rioted.  I’d definitely recommend having a look at these chapters in Acts again before you read Ephesians.

The book of Ephesians is short, and neatly divided between doctrine (chapters 1-3) and practical advice (chapters 4-6).  The second part details how we should live in light of the great truths outlined in the first part, and includes the famous armor of God section (chapter 6).

Several years ago I visited Ephesus and I wanted to share a few photos with you!

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Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst

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So many great quotes – I should have opened a twitter account so I could share them with Uninvitedyou all!  Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely is the most recent of Lysa TerKeurst’s books.  (Others we have loved are The Best Yes and Unglued.)  Lysa is very funny, self-deprecating, honest, and relatable.  She’s like the girlfriend who leans in and tells you her heart struggles, but makes you spit out your coffee from laughing so hard.

Uninvited invites you to consider the power of rejection and its roots, to evaluate where rejection is damaging your relationships today, and to grasp what it means to live fully loved by God.  The book is excellent reading.  In addition, the study guide and dvd series (6 sessions of 15 min) offer you the opportunity to really evaluate yourself, to study relevant scripture passages, and to be held accountable by your small group over a period of time.

Members of our group walked away from the study with many different learning points.  For some it was digesting what the unlimited love and forgiveness of Jesus really means.  For others it was making the shift from walking into a social setting in need of affirmation (a dangerous and unfulfilling game), to being the one who walks into a social setting full of love and able to overflow into the lives of those more needy.  For some it was embracing the pain of the past, but realizing that it does not define their future.  And many of us grasped the lessons of the olive tree – that the hard, crushing times are a key part of God producing valuable fruit in our lives.

Buy two copies, one for you and one to give to a friend who will read it with you!

Uninvited

Prodigal God by Tim Keller

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My husband kept telling me I would love Prodigal God (2008) and I finally picked it up as a study for my small group.  It’s a short book, and extremely powerful.

You are probably familiar with the story in Luke 15 often known as “the parable of the prodigal son”.  Keller argues that we’ve missed 80 percent of the meaning behind this story because we focus on the Younger Brother.  It is rather a story of two sons – both lost, both seeking fulfillment and happiness in ways that are empty and sinful.  Keller says the parable redefines sin and lostness, and helps us understand how the Older Brother is just as lost as the Younger Brother.  Keller explores Jesus Christ as the true Elder Brother, how we long for home and find it so difficult to return, and how our Heavenly Father welcomes us into a feast that is salvation.

Keller writes, “I have seen more people encouraged, enlightened, and helped by this passage, when I explained the true meaning of it, than by any other Biblical text.”  Read it.  Prodigal God book

And don’t miss the 30 minute teaching video Keller did to accompany the book: