5x5x5 Reading Plan – 1 Timothy


Dear 5x5x5 readers,  Welcome to 1 Timothy, a letter from the apostle Paul to his long-time friend and fellow laborer Timothy.  Timothy was younger than Paul, converted on Paul’s first missionary journey, and had become Paul’s most trusted disciple and co-laborer.  When new churches in the region experienced challenges, Timothy was often the pastor dispatched to help resolve issues and prevent a major meltdown.  Timothy was serving as the pastor to the church in Ephesus when Paul wrote these instructions (approximately ten years after Paul’s letter to the Ephesians).

A pastor’s job is not an easy one!  In any given week, a pastor may serve as a psychologist, priest, social worker, hospital chaplain, administrator, personnel supervisor, philosopher, teacher, and communicator.  Paul was very aware of the vital nature of such a job – churches sprouted up wherever Paul visited, but whether they survived or failed depended largely on what kind of local leadership developed.  1 & 2 Timothy and Titus are considered the “pastoral letters”, written by Paul to encourage and direct young leaders.  I often write the major themes of each Biblical book across the top of the introductory page in my Bible – on 1 Timothy I have written “church leadership and administration”.

Although this letter addresses a historical situation, many problems of the early church persist today – controversies, disorder, a generation gap, an integrity shortage, abuse of social aid, and a love of money.  As you read, look for problems Paul alludes to and ask yourself if they have any modern equivalents. What role does he expect different groups to play in local church leadership?  What example are they expected to provide?

Keep reading!  It’s September and we are going to finish the New Testament this year!



Text Book List – Introduction to the New Testament



My first class at Asbury Theological Seminary this fall is an Introduction to the New Testament.  For those who have asked, this is my required reading list:

The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight
The Shadow of the Galilean by Gerd Theissen
Who Chose the Gospels: Probing the Great Gospel Conspiracy by CE Hill
Recovering the Full Mission of God: A Biblical Perspective on Being, Doing, and Telling by Dean Fleming
What Saint Paul Really Said by NT Wright
Honor, Patronage, Kinship, & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture by David deSilva

There must be one hundred different ways to design a syllabus for a class like this, I’ve compared a few and they can be very different!  My professor is a retired missionary from Kenya, and I’m excited for the cultural aspects he appears to be bringing to the class.

There are also many different ways to be a distance-learner.  This class is a full semester (Sept-Dec) with weekly reading assignments, discussions, and video lectures.  We meet in person mid-semester at Asbury’s extension campus in Orlando for 3 days in late October… that makes it a “hybrid” class.  As an extrovert I actually hate having to study by myself and interact online… but that’s just the best I can do for this phase of life!

If you’re a Facebook user, follow this blog here and I promise to at least offer up random bits for discussion as I go along!

5x5x5 Reading Plan – Corinth


This weekend our 5x5x5 reading plan is finishing Luke… I hope you’re still reading with us! (If not, you can always start with us today – just one chapter of the New Testament a day!)

Welcome to 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul’s first letter to the church in the city of Corinth, in ancient Greece.  Ah, crazy Corinth!  Every large city has one area where prostitutes, gamblers, hustlers, and drug dealers hang out.  In New York, it’s Times Square; in New Orleans it’s Bourbon Street; in Las Vegas it could be anywhere.  In the ancient world the entire city of Corinth was known for shameless immorality and drunken brawling.  For their religious ideal, the wild-living Corinthians adopted Venus, the goddess of love, and a temple built in her honor employed more than a thousand prostitutes.

Yet Corinth was not just a blue-collar town.  It was at one point the second largest city in the ancient world (after Rome) and with a population of 700,000 it hosted a large group of dignitaries and cosmopolitan leaders.  Geographically Corinth sat on small peninsula Corinththat a crucial trade route passed through.  I visited ancient Corinth this spring and it was immediately obvious to me why it was such a wealthy city.  Shipping traffic passing from the Aegean Sea (from Greece or Turkey) to the Adriatic Sea (headed to Italy) would unload at the port on one side, transit goods over a two mile-long land bridge, and reload ships on the far side.  (There is a canal there today.) The city grew rich on trade and taxes, and was a sprawling open-air market filled with slaves, sailors, athletes, gamblers, charioteers and people from all over the world!  What craziness!

Paul worked in Corinth for 18 months (Acts 18), in part because he understood the strategic importance of the city.  To everyone’s surprise, the church he founded became one of the largest in the first century.  Yet, several years later, the church at Corinth was wrestling with a multitude of challenges.  1 & 2 Corinthians are Paul’s longest letters, and cover a wide variety of topics, in part because Corinth added bizarre new twists to ethical issues and church problems in the first century.

As you read, ask “What is the actual issue Paul addresses here?  What are the underlying issues that transcend that era?  Are there similar issues in our Christian communities today?  What are the core values that Paul upholds?”

5x5x5 Reading Plan – Luke


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


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


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


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)