Saturday, July 31, 2010

Studying II Corinthians

Context and perspective: This is a book with a lot of nugget verses wedged between hard to understand parts. So, if you just sit down and try to read it like the newspaper, you will get sidetracked and confused, then find a neat verse (a promise for example) but miss the context and why it’s there and thus its full meaning. II Corinthians must be read SLOWLY. At the same time, once you understand the overall context , there isn’t a need for a lot of commentary because it’s pretty clear. It’s as if we are sitting down to listen to the intense conversation of a long-married couple. There will be a lot of emotion and many references to past incidents that won’t make sense unless somebody tells us the back story; after we know that, we’ll understand completely, or at least as much as another person can understand what is in another’s heart.

The book is more personal than doctrinal, more experiential than theoretical, and more emotional than logical (which is not to say there is no logic or doctrine in II Corinthians, only that the emotion and personal experience preside.)

So, what’s the background?

Paul planted the church in Corinth in Acts 18. There was some opposition from Jews; the church was a mix of Jews and Greeks, the Greeks coming from a pretty sordid background sexually and philosophically. He spent 18 months, at least, in Corinth; there is an indication he stayed a while longer. Sometime afterward he wrote a letter to them, which is referred to in I Corinthians. I Corinthians is his second letter, addressing some questions they had. After they received I Corinthians, he went for a visit where he had to deal with them harshly, face-to-face, because of the corruption in the church. Then he sent them another letter, very harsh, by Titus, his messenger, who stayed there to correct the damage. Toward the end of the book, Paul says he is coming to visit them a third time, although he says he hopes he will not have to mourn over those who have not repented of their fornication and lewdness (12:21).

The Corinthians could be very blunt in their criticism of Paul, such as in verse 10:10. Titus later returned to Paul and reported things were going much better; however, there are still corrupting influences in the church and Paul has to deal with them. Now he is writing II Corinthians, which is really 4th Corinthians. (The other two letters have been lost.) His tone is much more loving in this one, but he is trying to make peace with them. The letter is very much about their past relationship, his integrity as a spiritual father to them and as an apostle, forgiveness, reconciliation, and giving. He loves the Corinthians but cannot let them be self-satisfied with their spiritual status. He loves them too much to say, as we often do with people, “Well, that’s the way they are, let them be that way, it’s no skin off my nose.” He wants the relationship restored and peace made between them. That is a lesson for us.

Keeping all this in mind will help you read it, but still, you have to read slowly to savor everything. II Corinthians is often-quoted because it has so many great verses about heaven, the benefits of being in Christ, and grace, but it is not often preached from!

One word that comes up over and over is boast or boasting, especially toward the end. It’s used 29 times. That’s a little strange to us, because we think of boasting as “bragging on one’s self.” Here it is more about “who gets the glory—God, Paul, or the Corinthians?—and where does your joy come from?” Paul is making the point that if he wanted to boast about how much work he had done as an apostle, or how much revelation he had been given, he could do that, but he’s not going to. We’ll get into that later in this study. On the other hand, he’s not backing down. Three times he lists all he’s been through, and it’s a pretty horrifying litany of persecutions and tortures.

The following is a list of the “standout” verses in II Corinthians that thrill us in or out of context.
1:3-4; 1:20; 2:14; 3:17-18; 4:7; 4:14; 4:16-18; 5:6-8; 5:17; 6:2; 6:14-18; 9:6-8; 11:14; 12:7-10.

But we have to study what ties these nuggets together; what is the cement between these stones, what is the necklace that holds the jewels together. A good place to start is with 1:3-4, because it is the merciful, comforting, consoling character of God that makes reconciliation with others possible.

Questions: Is there a difference between comforting and consoling?
How does God console? How can we emulate His consoling activity?
Father of mercies—what does the name of God imply?
How did Paul see his experience of tribulation and comfort? What was its purpose?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Musings

In my Franky planner this morning I found this quotation from someone named Paul Boese: Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.

Amen. Forgiveness has many names and faces, and has many misconceptions attached to it. Forgiveness does not make what is forgiven unimportant or ineffective or inconsequential. Everything still happened; "what happened, happened," to quote an enigmatic character on LOST. Everything still hurt. And it might still hurt some after forgiveness is granted. Forgiveness goes by the name of reconciliation, confrontation, absolution, atonement, propitiation, reparation, repentance (although these are not totally synonymous words). Lack of forgiveness is confining, controlling, enslaving, debilitating, disastrous. Lack of forgiveness is the root of bitterness, the seed of resentment.

I have had much to forgive in my life; I still am seeking to forgive it, because unlike for God, I think for humans forgiveness is more process than act; but that's just my idea. At one point you do step over the threshold to true freedom and then your future takes a different shape.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Excellent article

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/julyweb-only/59-11.0.html

This article has spawned a lot of reaction. It's great, except for the writer's conclusion. Lord deliver us from experts. If we would just major on the majors--the real doctrines of Christ and radical obedience to Him, not these subgroups of certainty about dating, child-raising, money-managment, etc.--there would be a whole lot more unity and real fellowship in the body of Christ.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Updates at Random

1. Yeah for Spain. Spain is a beautiful country; it is not a glorified Mexico, so don't order a taco if you go there. (This is not a slam against Mexico, also a beautiful place). I am glad they won the World Cup. I am also glad we don't have to listen to those vuvuzelas anymore.

2. Is it possible that no oil is gushing from the floor of the Gulf! Thank you, Lord--also that the weather has cooperated. I am not going to thank BP's engineers.

3. It is shameful that most of what is on TV news is the exploits of selfish sinners. Lindsay Lohan (lowlife), Mel Gibson, the Barefoot Bandit.

4. At a discipleship group today we discussed community. I think community is something we all want, but not as much as we want our autonomy. To live in community is to die to self, and to die to self is to die to our "rights" over total personal use of time and resources. We are torn by these two strong desires, urges in our human natures. Family and blood ties are also a barrier to Christian community, or at least can be. Family is a god in many cultures, and a person who chooses Christ over family may lose family altogether, and all the support systems that mean. Ultimately we have to choose Christian community to be disciples. It's a hard choice.

5. That big red-headed marionette on the Mayflower commercials is just downright disturbing. On the other hand, the Charter commercial with the kids singing the National Anthem is great.

6. Old silent movies are really interesting.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Just Found Out

What those dastardly, annoying horns at the World Cup are: Vuvuzelas. I could say something tacky right now about what the word sounds like, but I won't. As one comedian says, they look like something you would put transmission fluid into your car. Please deliver us.

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Thursday, July 08, 2010

Finally

I finally read a Barbara Kingsolver book, The Bean Trees. Very nice. I read it all in one day, something I absolutely never do. I recommend it.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Most Recent Read

I have finished two books in the last month by Silas House. He's pretty good. No Cormac McCarthy, but a good storyteller. He writes about women well, a point at which he excels McCarthy. But I thought The Coal Tattoo (I also read Parchment of Leaves) just went on too long, and I got tired of reading about Anneth's sexual acts. House writes a lot about Pentecostalism and the Holy Spirit, but it is divorced from any other Christian doctrinal matter. I think he is trying to equate it with native American spirituality.

When I find I like an author, I read two of them to get more of a flavor. My next try will be Kingsolver. I know, I know, I should have read her by now. But literature is not my primary area, so I am always behind in that regard.

In respect to Appalachian literature, I am going to make a mean observation. Once a regional lit becomes a genre (and thus a college class subject area), the bar gets lowered. It's almost as if the writers in that genre no longer have to compete with the wider world of literature; they can just be in that little group and be studied and accepted within it. So comparisons with writers outside the genre no longer apply, and the writer may not be all that great but is considered "important" within that genre. Case-in-point (cliche alert): Lee Smith. I think she wrote one good novel (Fair and Tender Ladies) and the rest were rehashes.

Addendum to Last Post

By the way, part of the problem with spiritual gifts is that we think the exercise of them will lead to "success." Success equaling fame, notice, numbers, praise from others, results. Don't think so.

. Spiritual Gifts that Keep on Giving

Interestingly, I have/had to teach on spiritual gifts in two different settings this week, a small group with college students and my Sunday Bible study class. "Teach" on them is not the right word; I just had to lead a discussion on them. With the college students I was going by a book by Richard Foster et al on spiritual formation (apparently there is a Bible translation that goes with it?) in the book of Acts. The book is quite interesting and was chosen by the BCM college minister, who actually has two colleges to minister at so I am helping some. Anyway, one of the questions in the books was "What spiritual gift would you add to the lists Paul gives in Ephesians, I Corinthians, and Romans?"

My first response was, "Stupid question, if God wanted more spiritual gifts mentioned He would have done that." But I tried to think "outside the box" (cliche alert). Is it possible there are other spiritual gifts that are not mentioned, that might be applicable today? Could these be modern applications or variations of the ones in the New Testament? For example, one of the students mentioned the gift of leading worship. That may or may not be related to great musical talent, but it could be related to a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and an ability to patiently and reverently lead people to corporately focus on God. Why not?

While I would not want to add a bunch of silly and superfluous spiritual gifts to the list (the gift of humor, the gift of baking cookies), I am willing to accept that there may be a few more that specifically help the body of Christ to grow and that aren't just a natural gift. Most would fall under mercy and helps, though. For example, some people are good writers but not good speakers, and they can write books to help others study the Bible. That would be teaching, just not oral.

If there might be a few more gifts (very few, mind you) not listed in the New Testament, are some of those listed by Paul no longer around? Ah, that's the question. And I will be heretical. Other than apostleship, I don't think so. I think they are still around; the only problem is, they are misunderstood (tongues, notably) and misused, or they are ignored (mercy and prophecy).

One thing I will say about the Holy Spirit. We need to get out of the way with our set ideas. I was taught in my Bible School (very fundamentalist, but generally sound) all about what God couldn't do because of some verse in the Bible. I presently do not think it is wise to tell God what He can't do. It makes more sense to be still and listen to God and get out of the way and let Him do what He wants.

Friday, July 02, 2010

I Told You So

In 2004, the Passion of the Christ came out. Despite being told by people who should know better that "I had to see it if I wanted to understand the crucifixion," I demurred. No, I didn't demur--I refused. I had read enough about the cross to know what was involved and was not going to be dependent on a Hollywood/Roman Catholic mystical version of it.

Personally, I think people were starry-eyed because Mel Gibson had made it, and had even courted evangelicals so that he would get enough people to come and buy tickets. And why not? Evangelicals had not proven themselves to be all that savvy in other ways, so sure, they can be manipulated by a movie star who deigns to speak to them.

I never saw the movie. I am probably one of three who didn't, but I didn't. Nor will I ever, just because I have a stubborn streak and don't like it when people say I have to do anything, especially that I have to do it to be spiritual. And I wasn't persuaded by Gibson's so-called religious conversion.

So all those Christians who were taken in, what do you think now? The man clearly has lost his mind, but he had deep sin and sexual problems before that. Let's not be taken in, shall we?

Thursday, July 01, 2010

If Looking for a Good Book . . .

Do not read The Christian World by Martin Marty. What a waste of time. Anyone who knows the subject won't learn a thing and will only be annoyed by his kissing up to the Muslims, who apparently never did a mean thing in 1400 years of existence. The big villain of his book is Martin Luther, ironic since Marty is a Lutheran. Go figure. But don't read the book.

On the other hand, I have discovered Silas House. He is pretty good. One of the benefits of my life-change written about in previous post is that I won't be teaching literature in the fall, which is a mixed blessing.

I am editing this after almost two years.  This post gets a lot of hits, so I fear it might be a bad example of this blog.  So, let me add something positive.
My books, ha, ha, of course.  Google  my name to find them (Barbara G. Tucker)
Serena by Ron Rash
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
anything Dickens (where would the novel be without Dickens?)
Diary of a Country Priest

Observations of the Day, No Theme

Good sense has been "eclipsed," apparently. Especially within the church. Talk about lack of Biblical discretion.

The last few days have rocked my world--big changes. I am a little overwhelmed, but this is a good time for God's grace.

Speaking of overwhelmed, there is so much evil coming out of Washington right now that we are tempted to become numb with it all. That might be the strategy. Hit the American people on so many fronts that they can't respond normally, just frenetically, to the onslaughts on our freedoms.

The law of unintended consequences (or seemingly so). Because now 26-year olds can still be on their parents' health insurance, we have three results: 22-26 year- olds do not have to find a real job and grow up, companies who have older employees with children in that range are having to pay more to keep those young adults up, and companies that hire the twenty-somethings don't have to provide health insurance. The plan looks good and appealing on the surface (helps people), like most liberal ideas, but has more bad than good coming from it. Case #2: $8,000 rebate for buying a house--market took a nose dive after credits stopped. Who paid? the Taxpayers. Case #3: Cash for Clunkers. Took good used cars off the market, so now working poor can't get a good used car (they weren't all clunkers, in fact, clunkerness was not the criterion for the program, just a date); big bill to taxpayer; new car market took a nose dive too after program was over.

So do we have good consumer confidence and high numbers, despite these government bailouts? These are examples of a co-dependent relationship. The government is trying to keep up from feeling the pain of our mistakes, that is, lack of fiscal responsibility. We wanted too much without paying the price, and eventually we are going to all have to pay the price anyway.

I actually have the house totally to myself for a few days. And what do I do? I get to play music as loud as I want while I clean.

Purple in a Field

In Alice Walker's The Color Purple , she has Celie say a line that paraphrases to "I think God is upset when we pass by the color...