Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Letters from John

Read 1, 2 and 3 John tonight. I didn't realize it's the same John who wrote the fourth gospel as well as the book of Revelation. The guy was a prolific writer!

Anyway, the three letters are pretty short, and are to Christians warning them about false prophets, which evidently was a big problem after the original apostles were all dead. There were people preaching in the name of Jesus but who were really just trying to spread some other message and using his name to get attention. John says to test if someone's a real preacher or a false prophet (good or evil), there are two things to ask them: the first is, was Jesus a real man, and the answer, of course, should be a resounding "yes!" (because that was kind of the point -- he suffered as a human being suffers through pain and death), he wasn't just an apparition. The other test is to check whether these preachers/prophets follow the 10 commandments and show brotherly love, which is the foundation of all Chrisitianity. If you hate your neighbour you can't possibly love God, John says.

"Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us." -- 1 John 4:11-12

**NEXT: Jude

Monday, November 28, 2011

I & II Peter

Like the Book of James (of Letter of James), the Letters from Peter are open letters written to Christians spread far and wide, to give them guidance in maintaining their faith and how to understand and endure suffering for their beliefs. The letters were written after the apostles (first followers of Jesus) were dead and it started becoming difficult to keep the truth in tact. With false prophets out there trying to corrupt Jesus's message, it was important for Peter and James and the other new disciples to spread what they believed was the truth.

It's in these letters that Peter talks about salvation as like being "born again," to renew one's life after hearing and accepting the teachings of Jesus.

"Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." -- 1 Peter 1:22-23

Suffering is something Peter talks a lot about as well. To live as a Christian is to set oneself and others to a high standard, being patient, respectful, humble, even if it means suffering and not getting one's way all the time. Christians from the beginning were also persecuted for their beliefs and faith in Christ, and Peter reminds them that to suffer is to follow in Jesus's footsteps and be honoured to share in his work, by serving God.

"For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow in his steps." - 1 Peter 2:21

Peter's second letter focuses on how being a Christian is not a one-time act to be checked off a list and forgotten, but rather a life-long process. Peter urges everyone to be faithful, good, wise, have self-control, perseverence, kindness, and love. (2 Peter 1:5-7) He reminds the new Christians that God will sustain them in their lives if they trust Him, like He did with Noah, whom God saved from drowning because Noah was a good guy.

Finally, Peter ends with the reminder that Jesus would come again, and that while many people were becoming cynical because he hadn't returned yet, despite having been resurrected for many years, God's time is not like ours. For God, Peter says, a thousand years might be like a single day. Peter says we need to be patient, be ready, and in the meantime, "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." -- 2 Peter 3:18

**NEXT: I, II & III John

Saturday, November 26, 2011


The Book of James, a letter written by a guy who may or may not have been Jesus's brother, writes about what it means to live a Chrisitan life. Unlike Hebrews, in which Paul says that faith alone is needed for salvation (because your soul will be saved because of God's grace, which is greater than anything you could possibly do or not do), James talks about how real faith is always manifested in good deeds (because the proof of faith in God and love for Christ is shown through loving others).

"For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." -- James 2:26

It's important, James says, that a Christian not simply believe in Jesus and what his death on the cross meant for the salvation of humanity, but that if people are to be truly faithful and follow Jesus's teachings, they need to do good works, like look after the poor and needy, and help show others how to be good so they can also come to know God.

I understand all this to mean that while the most important thing is to believe, to have faith in Jesus -- who he was, what he did, etc. and that faith alone is needed to be saved -- a person cannot truly be a Christian, following Jesus fully, unless what is in one's heart (a love of Christ) is made manifest in one's actions (love for others). Jesus embodied, literally became love itself, by sharing in the physical experience of being human; walking among us, sharing our suffering and helping us through his teaching, healing and radical acts of kindness.

How cool is that? You've got God, an abstract entity up there somewhere, being a judgemental and angry Lord, who is separate from his people, down here on earth live in fear and trembling, following his laws as best they can (thanks to Moses for passing on the message), but who have never seen him, have never felt his physical presence, and can't connect with and be part of Him until they die. Then suddenly one day you've got this guy who's totally human, who eats and sleeps and feels pain and who you can talk to, and touch (I wonder how many hugs Jesus gave?) and who completely understands what it's like to be in physical or emotional pain... and who just so happens to be God, too. What a mind-blowing concept!

He showed us how much He cared by becoming one of us and setting us an example of what a perfect person is. It's like He said, this is what I want you to be and do, and then when He saw us scratching our heads, He said, "Okay, here, let me show you."

Jesus bridged the gap between God and humanity, proving God's love for us by allowing Himself to become one of us, sharing fully in our humanity. The best part, of course, was that the Word of God (everything God said through the teachings in the Old Testament, through Moses, Abraham, David, and all the prophets and others) was suddenly manifest in the form of a human being.

Love = Jesus = Love.

Imagine a kid with an ant farm who decides one day to turn himself into an ant and crawl around in the dirt to show the other bugs he cares enough about them to lower himself to their level, and not only that, but allows them to kill him even though it's in his power to squish them all under his thumb. Crazy. Beautiful.

**NEXT: I & II Peter

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Finished reading the Book of Hebrews today. It's longer than the last few letters from Paul, and it's not known for sure, but speculated he didn't write this one.

Hebrews is a reminder of the Old Testament teachings, which were precursors to the life, death and ressurection of Jesus. Hebrews was written at a time when Christian numbers were waning and a reminder was needed of what Jesus did and how Christians should think of him as a priest (not just a prophet) who was/is superior to every priest before him, even Malchizedek, who, especially in the eyes of the Jews, was highly regarded at the time of Abraham.

Most of this book was written to explain how Jesus supercedes the Jewish laws, coming after the writers of the Old Testament to establish a new covenant with God. First, the author notes that for Jews it was/is important to sacrifice the blood of an animal for the atonement of sins. For Christians -- anyone who's willing to believe in Jesus and what he did -- the sacrifice of Christ's blood was enough to wash away humanity's sins once and for all, therefore there need be no more animal sacrifices.

(Side note: living in the 21st century, I am, of course, rather biased, but I like this message not only for the supreme hope it gives, but for the attitude towards less violence and killing of other creatures.)

Second, Jesus's superiority should be accepted above all other priests, and even above angels, who, while Jesus was incarnate (walking the earth in a human body), were superior to him, without sin.

Third, the covenant God had with his people was renewed with the death and ressurection of Jesus. With this act, Jesus removed the barrier of fear and shame in sinful ways for God's people who could now come to have a personal and direct relationship with God through his Son.

Finally, having full faith in Jesus is tantamount to being a Christian, and there are many examples of folks in the Old Testament who through faith were able to achieve amazing things and endure incredible suffering (think lions, pits of fire, torture, stonings, poverty, etc.).

The author of this book doesn't say, however, that faith is easy or that being a Christian doesn't take discipline and perserverence. There's a lot of work that's needed, physically, mentally and emotionally, but with faith and love for God and each other, the rewards are endless and eternal, as the author suggests. Anything worth doing is difficult, and being a Christian is very hard.

Be always aware of the moment, what you do and think and say, because in the end, God will judge everything and everyone throughout time. While this may sound harsh and scary, it is said with an undertone of hope and a message of encouragement:

"Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." -- Hebrews 13:1-2

I can't help but feel jazzed about reading the Bible these days. It's powerful stuff!

**NEXT: James

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Paul's final letter is a very short one to a guy named Philemon who's slave had run away. The slave, Onesimus, had run into Paul (perhaps in prison?) and Paul had converted him to Christianty. In that time, slaves who ran away could be punished by death, but Paul suggests that Philemon not kill his slave who has returned but have mercy on him and accept him as a brother in Christ.

Since we don't know how Philemon received the letter, I guess we don't know if Onesimus is saved, but I think it's a good guess to say he was accepted as a fellow Christian and not punished. A nice little tale of forgiveness and conversion.

**NEXT: Hebrews

Monday, November 21, 2011


Paul's letter to Titus is a short epistle telling Titus (ordained as the first bishop of the Church of the Cretians) how to pick good leaders. Faithfulness to the Gospel is especially important, says Paul, because the Cretians are a bunch of lazy, lying no-gooders. (Titus 1:6-9, 2:1-5) Paul says Christians should live by a high standard, being obediant to their rulers, peaceful, and avoiding arguments about the law. He also recommends a "third strike" for troublemakers who refused to listen and therefore should be shunned by other Christians.

"A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself." -- Titus 3:10-11

Hmn, really? Should a good Christian ever give up on someone? I don't know how I feel about that idea. What about the whole "do not judge lest ye be judged," and "who will cast the first stone" philosophy?

**NEXT: Philemon

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I & II Timothy

Paul's two letters to Timothy are quite powerful. It's amazing how the writing itself, the choice and cadence of words can make such a difference in sending a message.

"For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out." -- I Timothy 6:7

Or how about this one:

"I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word..." -- II Timothy 4:1-2

Paul's letters are addressed to this guy, Timothy, a young apostle to whom Paul is kind of a father/mentor. Paul writes from prison, a dungeon, actually, and the second letter to Timothy is written not long before Paul is beheaded. The letters are essentially instructions and encouragement on how to be a good Christian leader. They're also personal letters, in which Paul gives Tim some advice about taking a little bit of wine for his stomach troubles, and tells him about his own troubles, but even in those he talks of hope. Paul knows he's in deep *%$ having been arrested and held for preaching the gospel against the law, especially now that so many of his fellow evangelizers have fled and abandoned the work (this is probably why, of all biblical names today, no one is called Demas, Crecens or Titus, and so many are called Luke). Despite being hated and imprisoned and knowing he may soon be executed, Paul writes about feeling confident in having done all he could for God in this life:

"For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing." -- II Timothy 4:6-8

**NEXT: Titus

Friday, November 18, 2011

I & II Thessalonians

Paul wrote a couple of letters to the Thessalonians, people who'd been converted to Christianity only a few months before. (These are a couple of the earliest works in the New Testament.) Paul had been run out of town (Thessalonia) because there was a lot of opposition, mostly from Jews who were resentful of Paul's stealing members away to become Christians. Despite the protests, Paul managed to convert enough people to join the Christian church, which he hears about from Timothy who'd been there after him.

Anyway, so Paul writes to these new Christians saying hooray for following Jesus, and tells them they can expect a great reward when He comes again.

"For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words." -- I Thessalonians 4:16-18

Like a thief in the night, Paul says Christ will come again (5:2), which means they should be joyful, but also vigilant in following the teachings of the gospel and be good Christians all the time. Paul emphasizes the need to work hard, pray often and be thankful to God. In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul continues this theme, telling these people Jesus will come again to judge sinners, but more importantly, to save believers.

"But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil." -- II Thessalonians 3:3

Not much to comment on this book, since it's rather straight forward and nothing in it seems particularly surprising considering what I've read so far of Paul's letters. Well, except for the idea that Jesus/God will come again suddenly in the night. I don't know if I would have felt that was entirely something to be joyful about, if I were a Thessalonian. Anyone who sneaks up on me tends to scare me, which I'd say is pretty natural. And if it were Jesus, I'd want to be ready. I guess that's the point. If I feel I'm not ready, I should work on being ready all the time... Hmn... point taken.

**NEXT: I & II Timothy

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Paul's letter to the Colossians is pretty short; just four chapters. Paul wrote to these guys because they were falling off the Jesus bandwagon and starting to follow some Gnostic teachings, like angel worship. Paul reminds them that whatever they do, the Colossians should act for God, and not to impress others.

"And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ." -- Colossians 3:23-24

**NEXT: I & II Thessalonians

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Paul's letter to the Philippians is a thank-you letter of sorts. While in prison, Paul gets a visit from this dude from the church in Philippi who brings him money and offers to stay with him to be of any help he can. Unfortunately, the guy (Epaphroditus) gets sick when he gets there so Paul sends him back right away, but with this letter.

"Rejoice in the Lord alway; and again I say, Rejoice!" -- Philippians 4:4

This epistle is probably the most joyful of them all. It's short, and sort of informal, but in it Paul writes of thanks and gratitude and mentions how he is incredibly happy and honoured to be able to suffer for the cause of Christ. He's in prison, but he feels he is making a difference, preaching the gospel even to the prison wardens, who can't help but spread the Word of God themselves. If he lives, Paul will get to do more work for the church, and if he dies, he'll get to be with Christ that much sooner. Either way, life is good for Paul the Apostle. His advice to the people of Philippi is to also be joyful, trusting in God, knowing that to suffer means to share in the experience and life of Christ and understanding that there's nothing Jesus cannot do through those who believe in him.

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." -- Philippians 4:13

**NEXT: Colossians

Monday, November 14, 2011


Paul's letter to the Ephesians was very likely not written by Paul, but it's to him this book is attributed.
As per the previous letters from Paul, this epistle is all about telling the recipients what's what in terms of Christian living.

1. Be humble, gentle, and patient with each other (4:2)
2. Quit lying and start telling the truth (4:25)
3. Work for a living instead of stealing (4:28)
4. Replace bitterness, wrath, brawling, slander, and all malice with kindness and compassion (4:31 - 32)

There's more, but that's a sample. One of the main messages is that all benefits we receive in this life are by the grace of God, not earned or deserved, but simply given to us out of His love.

"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." -- Ephesians 2:8-10

This book also highlights the analogy of Jesus being the cornerstone of the church, and how people in different relationships should treat each other. For example, wives should obey their husbands, and husbands should love their wives as Jesus loves them, and slaves should obey their masters while masters should treat their slaves with respect. We have to remember the context and time in which this letter was written, of course, because Paul isn't saying slavery is a good thing, or that women should be subjugated by men; he was simply giving advice based on what was the current reality of his day and his time.

**NEXT: Philippians

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Paul's letter to the Galatians could be called the Christian Declaration of Independence, as Cliffs Notes points out. It's all about Paul telling the Galatians (in an area north of modern Turkey) they shouldn't listen to the Jewish infiltrating notion of living up to the law only, that it's more important to live up to the spirit of Christianity. Loving each other is more important that just focusing on the rules. The spirit of the law, rather than the letter of law.

Galatians could also be called the Book of Circumcision. Paul goes on at length about how God doesn't judge a person by his/her external self, but by his/her spirit, or character, and Christians therefore shouldn't worry about getting circumcised.

**NEXT: Ephesians

Friday, November 11, 2011

50/100 on hold

So I haven't done a single sit-up or push-up for about two weeks. I've crapped out for now on the 50 push-ups/100 sit-ups goal and therefore taken it off my "Currently Working On" list. No excuse, it's just not fun in any way. At all. I'll get back to it later.

My back is killing me as I haven't been running regularly since the marathon, and I know the cure is regular exercise... but I have no establied routine. Yoga would probably be the best, but having no grand yoga goal to attain, it's very hard to stay motivated. OMG, I've become one of those people who does nothing unless it's related to her bucket list!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I & II Corinthians

Corinthians could be called the book of love. It espouses the teachings of Jesus as the way to eternal life, and reminds church members of the right way to live, but mostly emphasizes the need to "love thy neighbour" as the most important action of all.

"And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three. But the greatest of these is charity." -- I Corinthians 13:13

In the King James Version, the word 'charity' means love, which is agape love, not romantic love. We're not meant to love just one person, bringing them flowers and showering them with affection. Agape, meaning divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing love of God for mankind and of mankind for each other, is the kind of love we are to have for everyone.

Jesus was the physical embodiment of love in action, and to follow him and his teachings means to work at becoming like him, by showing love to others. It's so challenging, yet so simple. You don't need to be a brainiac to get Christianity at its foundation. Just love. That's it. Everything else will follow.

Like Romans, I & II Corinthians are letters written by Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to a church that was failing to live up to its goals and standards. The church at Corinth was getting out of line because it was starting to become influenced by the morally corrupt. The Greeks had 1,000 prostitutes working at a temple, which some of the Christians were getting to know a little too well.

Paul wrote his letters (three, actually, one in I Corinthians, and two in II Corinthians) to the church at Corinth to tell them what was what in terms of Jesus's teachings. He managed to set them right, back on course, but it wasn't without difficulty. Some of the church leaders were arrogant and said he wasn't worth listening to, but he kept writing back, defending himself and reminding them that if they are to follow anyone, and to trust anyone, it should be the original leader; Jesus himself. Eventually, they listened, and since his letters were so powerful and influential, they've become part of the New Testament. I Corinthians chapter 13 is probably the most repeated chapter in the bible. Anyone who's been to a Christian wedding knows this one. "Love is patient, love is kind..." it's almost a cliche.

Some criticism:

I don't particularly like the fact that Paul is a total misogynist, stating bluntly that women shouldn't speak in church, but ask their husbands when they get home if they have any questions. Seriously, Paul, what the heck? In doing a bit of research, my understand is that he meant prostitutes shouldn't speak their mind because they'll lead people astray, but this doesn't make sense to me. What about morally corrupt men?

Also, Paul tells the Corinthians they should weed out the morally corrupt from among them and push them out of the church because, like yeast, they will infiltrate and negatively influence everyone with their bad behaviour. Doesn't this fly in the face of what Jesus preached when he told the townspeople to cast the first stone at the adulterous woman? If we cast out the "bad folks" from our churches there'd be no one left. And who will cast the first stone? Are we not fully aware that no one is perfect? And should we not accept ESPECIALLY those who are imperfect into a church with open arms, since that's the very place they'll be influenced to good rather than continue down their crooked path? If not within the church, then where will those who need help get it from well-intentioned Christians? This seems like such hypocrisy to me. More investigation and understanding needed on this one. In the meantime, I'm onto to Galatians and the rest of Paul's much shorter letters.

**NEXT: Galatians

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Juggling Demo 2

So far, the best I can do is about 20 seconds. I'd like to be able to keep three balls in the air for at least three minutes, but maybe that's going too far. What constitutes being able to juggle? Am I there?