Thursday, 19 February 2015

Reading the New Testament in Eight Weeks offers a version of the New Testament (and other parts of the Bible) specifically designed to be read from start to finish. There is also an audio version. But alternatively it is possible to use any edition of the NT.

Reading through the New Testament in eight weeks can be a wonderful experience. Here are some tips from the Community Bible Experience and below a table of readings, giving the page numbers that apply to the special edition and the chapter and verse references that will allow you to follow this programme with most editions of the NT available.
Avoid the temptation to multitask. Read big. Don’t try to catch every detail. Focus on the overall story. If you have questions, jot them down and keep moving.
Reflecting on your weekly reading, ask the following questions:
  • What’s something you noticed for the first time?
  • What questions did you have?
  • Is there anything that bothered you?
  • What did you learn about loving God?
  • What did you learn about loving others?
Ideally use these questions to talk with others about your experience.

23 Feb
pp. 1-11
Luke 1:1-4:13
24 Feb
pp. 11-25
Luke 4:14-9:50
25 Feb
pp. 25-33
Luke 9:51-13:21
26 Feb
pp. 33-43
Luke 13:22-19:27
27 Feb
pp. 43-54
Luke 19:28-24:53

 2 Mar
pp. 55-64
Acts 1:1-6:7
 3 Mar
pp. 64-75
Acts 6:8-12:24
 4 Mar
pp. 75-86
Acts 12:25-19:20
 5 Mar
pp. 87-102
Acts 19:21-28:31
 6 Mar
pp. 103-115
1 & 2 Thessalonians

 9 Mar
pp. 117-126
1 Corinthians 1-7
10 Mar
pp. 126-137
1 Corinthians 8-16
11 Mar
pp. 139-153
2 Corinthians
12 Mar
pp. 155-163
13 Mar
pp. 165-177
Romans 1-8

16 Mar
pp. 177-188
Romans 9-16
17 Mar
pp. 189-195
18 Mar
pp. 197-210
Ephesians; Philemon
19 Mar
pp. 211-226
Philippians; 1 Timothy
20 Mar
pp. 227-238
Titus; 2 Timothy

23 Mar
pp. 239-251
Matthew 1-7
24 Mar
pp. 251-262
Matthew 8-13 [13:52]
25 Mar
pp. 262-270
Matthew 14-18
26 Mar
pp. 270-283
Matthew 19-25
27 Mar
pp. 283-290
Matthew 26-28

30 Mar
pp. 291-297
Hebrews 1-4 [4:13]
31 Mar
pp. 297-309
Hebrews 5-13
 1 April
pp. 311-318
 2 April
pp. 319-334
Mark 1:1-8:30
 3 April
pp. 334-350
Mark 8:31-16:20

 6 Apr
pp. 351-358
1 Peter
 7 April
pp. 359-368
2 Peter; Jude
 8 April
pp. 369-382
John 1-6
 9 April
pp. 382-395
John 7-12
10 April
pp. 395-408
John 13-21

13 Apr
pp. 409-423
1 John; 2 John; 3 John
14 April
pp. 425-431
Revelation 1-3
15 April
pp. 431-444
Revelation 4-16
16 April
pp. 444-453
Revelation 17-22

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Life and Lent

Life is a gift. Lent invites us to take this truth to heart by focusing on three disciplines which do of course have a place outside Lent as well.

Our acts of charity (alms-giving) affirm towards others that life is a gift. What do we have that we have not received?

Our prayer acknowledges before God that our life is his gift. We owe him our live and gladly dedicate it to his service, knowing that his service is perfect freedom.

Our fasting and abstinence (whichever precise form it takes) reminds us that life is a gift from God. We are more than food and clothing. We are more than consumers. We reduce our intake of alcohol, chocolate, meat, youtube videos or whatever to tell ourselves that it is not those things that give us life but God.

Life is a gift and Lent can be life-giving (refreshing, revitalising), if we receive it from God.

What we all believe about death?

Any pastor taking funerals in England is likely to encounter a wide range of beliefs about death and the afterlife, sometimes expressed even within the funeral service itself, in a tribute or a poem. There are poems that claim “I did not die” (Mary Elizabeth Frye) and poems that proclaim “I fall asleep in the full and certain hope / That my slumber shall not be broken” (Samuel Butler).

Given this diversity of beliefs, it has not yet ceased to amaze me to discover that there is one conviction on which everyone seems to unite – a belief that is regularly expressed at our around funerals and never, it seems, contradicted. It is a notion that is not readily compatible with the Christian tradition and yet put forward by Christians as well as non-Christians, religious people as well as agnostics and atheists.

It is the affirmation that a person’s death brings an end to that person’s suffering. (Death does of course usually increase suffering for others but it is widely believed that at least the dead no longer suffer.)

What are the grounds for such a belief? Obviously, if a person suffers from a severe illness, this suffering comes to an end in the absence of a functioning body with which to experience the suffering. In this sense, the suffering has come to an end – like the suffering of the woman abused by her partner once she has left him. But we know of course that such a woman, now protected from the physical blows of her abuser, might still suffer and especially so if she loves her abuser or her children are still with her partner.

We know about mental anguish, depression and all sorts of suffering that has a physical manifestation and even often a physical cause among others but cannot be reduced to physical pain. Why do we believe that such suffering always comes to an end with death?

Is it because you need a body to experience the pain? This would be a good argument. Materialists who believe that when our bodies cease to function, we are gone, extinguished for ever, can affirm that someone’s death does indeed bring an end to that person’s suffering (as well as their joy and everything else).

Indeed, something similar (although ultimately quite different) could be said from within the Christian tradition by those who believe in “soul sleep” (e.g., Martin Luther, as far as I know) or affirm “non-reductive physicalism” (e.g., Joel B. Green).

What puzzles me is that the belief that there is no suffering beyond death is so firmly anchored also among those who assume that the dead still exist and live somewhere. What is the basis for this firm conviction?

Is it that we believe the dead to be “in the hands of God” (or some benevolent force) in a way they were not while they still inhabited mortal bodies?

It never seemed to me wise to query such beliefs in the context of bereavement and funeral. But when we reflect on our mortality in other contexts, e.g. on Ash Wednesday, we may do well to ponder these things. Are our bodies to be blamed for suffering? Is death to be praised for bringing release?

Life is gift. Life is not an entitlement. Life is not an achievement. Life is gift. Sometimes we cannot receive this gift without suffering. Sometimes suffering can be a gift because there are things worse than suffering. Arguably death is one of them. Our hope of freedom from suffering, certainly all unnecessary suffering, should rest in God, the giver of life, not in death, the destroyer of bodies.