5x5x5 Reading Plan – 2 Timothy

Dear 5x5x5 Readers,

I have just a few words as we started reading 2 Timothy today.  You already know the relationship between Paul and the young pastor Timothy who was laboring in Ephesus.  This letter is Paul’s farewell address, his last known correspondence.  Paul is “passing on the torch” to the next generation as he knows his death is near.  As a result, Paul writes on themes of staying strong, holding fast to the truth, preaching the Word in and out of season, training others who will carry on the kingdom work, and finishing the race well.  He gives warnings regarding quarreling and the dangers of self-seeking godlessness.  Paul finished well, but he certainly felt rather alone and abandoned – he had perhaps no idea that his labor would still be bearing fruit two thousand years later.  Praise God for a life lived in surrender to Christ!

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!



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 – 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)

5x5x5 Reading Plan – Ephesians

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!


5x5x5 Reading – Romans

If you’re reading through the New Testament this year with us, then the final words of Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20 should still be ringing in your ears.  “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, even to the very end of the age.”  Into all the world – including the very heart of the ruling empire.

Ah, Rome – the seat of a powerful kingdom that ruled the western world.  In the first century, Rome was the center of the western world in every way: law, culture, power, and learning.  In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul succinctly addresses the whole scope of Christian doctrine, which, at that time, was still being passed along orally from town to town.   Paul writes this letter from the city of Corinth, to believers in Rome (mostly gentile, but not entirely) a couple of years before Paul goes to Rome for the first time.

Paul structures a clear argument that unfolds point by point:

Romans 1-3 Introduction, the problem, and the need for the gospel (the end of chapter 3 is the theological core of the whole book, and the Bible for that matter);

Romans 4-5 Expanding the concept of how we become righteous before God

Romans 6-8 The working out of the gospel in a Christian’s life (chapter 7 is the famous “struggle with sin” that my family calls the Dr. Suess passage, and chapter 8 is full of well-known promises…)

Romans 9-11 Linking the gospel to the Old Testament for Jewish believers

Romans 12-16 Practical advice on specific problems

Great revivals in church history have been spawned by the study of Romans.  Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Wesley all trace their spiritual renewals to a reading of Romans.  Romans is a book to savor, read it slowly and carefully.  Though it is complex and requires concentration, it has no equal as a concise statement of the Christian faith!

Day6 (57)St. Peter’s Square, The Vatican in Rome, March 2017

5x5x5 Matthew and the Parables

Dear 5x5x5 Readers,

We started this week reading Matthew 13.  You can go ahead and draw a big line in your Bible at the chapter break between Matthew 12 and 13, since it is a significant turning point and I don’t want you to miss it!  A good Bible study student sometimes needs to step back and look at the outline of the whole book.  This is what we find for Matthew:

Ch 1-2  Genealogy, birth, younger years
Ch 3-4  Baptism, temptation, start of Jesus’ public ministry (Year 1)
Ch 5-7  Sermon on the Mount
Ch 8-9  Many miracles, healings, casting out demons, and raising the dead
Ch 10   Disciples sent out to do ministry
Ch 11   More preaching and teaching
Ch 12   Huge conflict with Pharisees over the Sabbath, they begin to plot to kill him (end of Year 2)
Ch 13   Jesus begins to teach in parables (Year 3)

Throughout years 1-2 of His public ministry Jesus taught in a straightforward manner so that everyone could understand.  His sermons were full of Old Testament references, and his miracles gave evidence to all that He was the Son of God.  Jesus’ teaching style shifts after the conflict with the Pharisees, and from chapter 13 on He will teach primarily in parables.  For those who seek truth, Jesus is delighted to explain the meaning behind his parables.  But for those who seek only to agitate the crowds and who are not interested in learning, the meaning is veiled.  In fact, “Their hearts have become calloused, they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.” Mt 13:15

There are nearly 40 parables in the gospels, mostly in Matthew and Luke.  If you are intrigued by them, I recommend reading John Macarthur’s recent book Parables: The Mysteries of God’s Kingdom Revealed Through the Stories Jesus Told.

Happy reading!