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Monthly Archives: October 2012

2 Thessalonians – It’s the End of The World As We Know It…

2 Thessalonians has much of the same emphasis as 1 Thessalonians, largely because it’s written by the same guy to the same people and not a whole lot has changed.  So same song, second verse.  The three focuses of the relatively short letter are end times (eschatology for those of you who like big Bible words), encouragement for persecuted believers (this encouragement is mostly rooted in a good eschatology, which is the study of end times for those of you who like big Bible words), and encouragement to work for a living.  It is odd to me that both letters to the Thessalonians include encouragements to work for a living, making me think there were some seriously lazy folk in and around that church.

Chapter 1 begins with a greeting from Paul, Silas and Timothy to the believers in Thessaloniki.  He then immediately turns to encouraging those who have been persecuted or undergone trials and struggles because of their faith.  They should take great solace from knowing that God will bring justice to his creation.  While things feel wrong now, Christians can have hope because we know God will make everything right.  This faith and understanding should also inspire God’s people towards greater acts of obedience and belief.

One of the common objections to Christianity today is something along the lines of “How can God claim to be good, and all powerful and reign over a creation that’s so full of evil?”  Paul’s answer in 2 Thessalonians 1 is that God would completely agree with most of that sentiment with the caveat being that he’s waiting to fix it all.  For the time being, he has left his appointed people, Christians, here in his creation as forerunners to begin setting this to rights.  So don’t become discouraged, but instead begin declaring and actively transforming the redemptive work of Christ in all creation, reclaiming this world as God’s and promising with hope and faith that Jesus will eventually return to make things completely in accordance with the Creator God’s will once again.  Until then, persevere, stay hopeful, and keep doing the good work of the Kingdom.

 
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Posted by on October 30, 2012 in 2 Thessalonians, Pauline Epistles

 

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1 Thessalonians 5 – Pax Romana – Pax Christi

The Roman Empire came along carrying the slogan “Pax Romana” which means, “Roman Peace.” They promised that if you let them rule you, they would provide peace and safety for you. You just have to give Rome your allegiance and they will provide you with peace and safety.

Paul, talking about the end of time, says that while they are saying “peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly. Those who are in Christ will not taste this destruction and His coming will not be a shock to us but will be welcomed. He died for us so that we might live together with Him and we are to encourage one another with this reality.

With this in mind I would like to offer us some words of encouragement. The only peace and safety you will ever be able to fully hope in is the peace and safety that comes with Christ. He is our King and all other rulers are below Him. We have two candidates running for president right now. Both in different ways are promising us peace and safety. I see Brothers and Sisters who have aligned themselves with one side or another who, by the way they talk, have put their hope in their candidate. If the other candidate wins then everything is going to fall apart in the next four years. I hear fear in their voices as they talk about the “What ifs” of the coming election. With all this in mind, I would like to remind us again of the hope that we have in Christ. We have peace and safety in Christ, no matter who are president is. We have peace and safety in Christ, no matter who is number one in the world, holding all of its power. I want to encourage you Brothers and Sisters. No matter what happens in the next few weeks, next few years, next few decades, find your peace and safety in Christ and nowhere else! He has the only peace and safety that will last.

I would like to end our time in 1 Thessalonians with the words Paul ends with.

“And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject whatever is harmful. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”

 

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Praying for Bill

As many of you know Bill, the preacher at Northwest, spends much of October and November in Athens, Greece.  While there he teaches future ministers at the Athens International Bible Institute.  He is also able to work with a number of the Christians and churches he knows from his time spent in Athens as a missionary.  Truly, Bill is uniquely gifted to be a blessing to the students, Christians and church in Athens so please pray for his work, his safety, and good travel.

For Ryan and I, this gives us an opportunity at church to work in ways that we don’t always get to and we love it.  It’s fun getting to spend time in the pulpit, in different classes, and just doing some different things. It also presents some challenges from time to time as we juggle our own normal tasks with some of our bonus responsibilities.   Unfortunately our daily blogging has become a casualty to this reality.  I hope to get three posted today (last Thursday’s and this Tuesday’s in addition to this one).  Although, being missed is a good indication that you’re doing something worth missing.  So anyhow, here’s a flyer for a speaking engagement Bill has in Greece.  Please keep him in your prayers!

 

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2012 in Hot Topics

 

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1 Thessalonians 4 – Proper Love and Dead Believers

As For Other Matters…

In a number of Paul’s epistles he will have a section where all of a sudden he says “as for other matters.”  When this happens, Paul is going to quickly give several pieces of very concise and practical rules for Christian living.  In this case, Paul has two topics he wants to emphasize.  First, God wants us to be sexually pure.  Look at the reasons given for being sexually pure:

  1. It is God’s will.
  2. It is an exercise in control over the physical body.
  3. It separates God’s people from the passionate lusts of pagans.
  4. It keeps us from taking advantage of our brothers and sisters.
  5. You have been warned and if you violate this, you will be punished.
  6. This isn’t a command from Paul, but as mentioned above, is a command from God.

Are all sins equal?  Yes.  Do Paul’s instructions in scripture indicate that some sins are worthy of special instruction and are somehow more dangerous to us and others?  Yes.  Can they be equally forgiven?  Yes.  Should we give extra special attention to teaching sexual purity?  Yes.  Clear enough?  Uh…..

Second, God wants the Thessalonians to continue in their love for one another and others.  Don’t be troublesome meddlers who upset people, but live quietly and respectfully.  Do good work with your hands so that you won’t depend on others and the world will respect you.

Believers Who Have Died

Ryan explained in detail in his introduction to the book that Paul is having to add this extra instruction on what will happen to those who have died and are believers.  Since many early Christian anticipated the return of Christ to be soon and very very soon they didn’t spend much time thinking or talking about what would happen to those believers who died before his return.  Since years have come and gone and Christians have passed away, Paul needs to add this teaching to those the church already had, making sure they understand that when Christ returns that the dead believers will rise and we who are still alive will rise with them and join Christ, so be encouraged by this news.  To those who were unsure about what was going on with dying believers, this certainly would have been encouraging news!

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2012 in 1 Thessalonians, Pauline Epistles

 

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1 Thessalonians 3 – Love Like Family

It used to drive me nuts that I had an 11 o’clock curfew in high school. One of my parents would be up till I got home. My mom at one point informed me that nothing good ever happened after 11 o’clock at night. What she didn’t know was that she was ruining my sand volleyball career. All of my friends played volleyball during the summer till around 2 or 3 in the morning and I could never stay and play. It wasn’t that my parents didn’t trust me. The reality is that they were worried about all of the bad things that could happen late at night. They had enough care and concern for me to make sure I was safe. I realized this more after I got older. It is in the tone of my parents that I hear Paul’s words to the church in Thessalonica.

Paul takes very seriously the role that he has as Father/Mother and Brother that he has with his fellow believers. When they hurt, he hurts. When they rejoice, he rejoices. When they are falling away, he takes it personal that he has a job to do to restore them. When persecution came, he wanted to make sure that they were encouraged and strengthened. When their faith proved strong, he was encouraged by it.

What do I take away from today’s reading? We are the family of God. Do we have the care and concern for one another as though we’re family? When someone struggles, do we inwardly burn for their redemption? Paul demonstrates the familial love that we should have for one another. Let’s not sit back and wait for others to love us in this way. Start loving one another as though you are family, because you are, and the church will be transformed by the love of Christ to be what He intends for it to be.

 

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1 Thessalonians 2 – “God Hates Visionary Dreaming”

This week I was reading Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  One of the statements in the book caught me completely off guard.  Bonhoeffer simply states that “God hates visionary dreaming.”  My initial response that this was an overstated absurdity began to change as I read what he meant when he said this.  (Disclaimer: I am not personally comfortable with the word hate in this sentence as it indicates that God would hate people trying to do good things in his church, but I appreciate to a certain extent what he’s trying to express so I’m going with it.)

Bonhoeffer goes on to discuss that God has already laid out a pure and powerful plan for what Christian community should look like.  When we add fluff, entertainment, programs, and all kinds of things to “enhance” Christian community we are often just providing superfluous distractions from what God intended.   When somebody steps forward with some grand new vision of what the church should look like and be like, they are often either watering down the community God intended or adding something unnecessary and perhaps even harmful.

Now there’s an endless debate that could be had regarding all of this, but I think there is something of this in what Paul says here in 1 Thessalonians 2.  Look at some of what Paul says here:

“For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.  On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.  You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness.  We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority.”

I hear in this some of that same idea.  Paul didn’t come as a visionary trying to paint some fanciful picture of Christianity.  Paul didn’t dress it up or use tricks to make the Gospel appealing.  It was never about Paul and those working with him nor were they doing anything for their own benefit, gain or credit.  They taught the Gospel purely and truly.  And that’s powerful stuff.

The best part is that the church in Thessaloniki accepted their testimony not as the words of men, but as the Word of God which is at work in all of those who believe.

Certainly the modern church in the western world looks a little different than the churches Paul established or even the underground church Bonhoeffer was a part of in Nazi Germany.  And I believe the church was established by God in such a way that it could be successful in any cultural, being flexible to fit the people in that time and place.  So some of what the church does today accomplishes that goal of being present to people today in a way that makes sense for people today.  At the same time, I think there can be too much “vision” in the church sometimes that turns it into something it shouldn’t be.  From time to time we must step back and cut away that which is distracting from genuine Christian community and distracting from the Gospel itself.

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2012 in 1 Thessalonians, Pauline Epistles

 

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1 Thessalonians – An Early Letter From Paul

Paul’s letter to the Church in Thessalonica is one of his earliest and gives us great insight to a number of the doctrines found in Paul, most importantly the teaching of the second coming of Christ. The church in Thessalonica is made up of Jews who have converted, some “God-fearing Greeks, and quite a few prominent women” (Acts 17:4). Some of them turned from idols to serve the “living and true God” (1 Thess 1:9). The church was fairly diverse, comprised of a nucleus of former Jews and newly converted pagans in the middle of a thriving and vibrant city situated in the middle of the Roman Empire.

Interestingly, this is one of Paul’s only encouraging letters. The main problem he is addressing in this letter is not one where the church has been messing up. The main problem he is addressing is that people in the church have died (fallen asleep) before Christ returned. It appears that Paul did not emphasize the resurrection of the dead in his early preaching, if he mentioned it at all, because he seemed to believe that Christ would return in his lifetime. In 4:13, Paul says, “We do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep.” The word ignorant really means “uninformed” and conveys the idea that he is about to give them new information that he has not conveyed to them before. He then gives them a glimpse into the second coming of Christ. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 5:1-11 are arguably two of the most significant eschatological passages in the New Testament.

In chapter 1, our reading for today, we see that the Thessalonians were hard workers because of their faith, people who labored in love, and endured trials because of their hope in Christ. They modeled to all believers how to handle the persecution that came to them. They became models to others because they imitated the Lord. We learn from their example, how to be models to our fellow believers. We need to look at how Christ lived his life and live accordingly. While this seems painfully obvious, early Christians struggled with it as much as we do today. Sometimes we have to be reminded of the simple truths that have not changed: those who follow Christ look like Christ.

 

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Joseph – How Long O Lord

As a minister I often find myself talking to people going through trials.  Sometimes its a crisis that has come out of nowhere like a death, illness or loss of a job.  Other times its a slow growing problem like financial difficulties or a relationship that’s falling apart.  At times people confront these seasons of heartache with unwavering confidence and faith.  Others question and doubt.  All of those are acceptable responses in their own right and most people go back and forth between different responses.  

We say things to make ourselves and others feel better.  “This shall pass.”  “It’s just a tough season in life and a new season is coming.”  Unfortunately while seasons can last months, the pain and struggles of life can often last years or decades even.  At times we find our prayers echoing the psalmist, “How long O Lord will you forget me…forever?  How long will you hide your face from me? (Ps 8)”

And we often think of Job when we consider life’s difficulties, but Job’s struggles are fairly linear.  Things are really good.  Things get bad and then worse.  Then there is a conversation with God.  Job renews his faith and things get better than ever.  Job has much to teach us about suffering, but life rarely follows a pattern like we see in Job.  Life is messy with ups, downs, successes, failures and all kinds of junk in between.

On the other hand, Joseph’s life is the roller coaster that looks more like what many of us experience in our own lives.  It begins with promise and blessing and then alternates between great successes and great tragedies.  Can you imagine how hard it would be to bound and traveling with slave traders while wondering how this could be any part of the dreams God gave you of greatness?  Just when you thought being at the top of Potipher’s household might be a reworking of God’s vision of leadership you are made a victim while being treated like the criminal.  For Joseph, his times of struggle and tragedy lasted for years at a time, but he never allowed hopelessness to settle in.  He remained faithful  

I think there is so much for us to learn from the story of Joseph and his family.  At this point, I am going to go ahead and tell you that this is a teaser for a sermon series that is starting at Northwest this Sunday.  Ryan and I will be preaching four sermons on the life of Joseph and what we can learn from how he dealt with success and failure, blessing and tragedy.  I hope and pray that this series will be a blessing to some who find themselves in seemingly endless cycles of trials in their life and also a reminder to us all of how we can live as children of God’s promises.

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2012 in Hot Topics

 

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Colossians 4 – Pray and Pray Again

There’s not a lot to this chapter since it’s mostly greetings and the like.  But there is a repeated emphasis to pray.  Pray with watchfulness and thanksgiving.  Pray for Paul and his message.  Pray that he speaks clearly so that the message reaches those who need it.  Later, Paul talks about how Epaphras prays for the Colossians frequently.  The repeated emphasis on prayer is not accidental.  At the end of this letter, Paul wants to leave them with the poignant reminder that prayer matters and that they need it and he needs it.

Another interesting thing that is partially speculation, but I will mention it here nonetheless is that Paul mentions the letter to the Laodicians. He first instructs the Colossians to forward their letter to Laodicia once they are done reading it.  This clearly shows that Paul understands this letter to be of benefit to people in multiple locations, times and contexts.  At the same time, he tells them that they should read the letter to the Laodicians.  Now here’s the potentially interesting thing…this could be the book that we know as “Ephesians.”  In ancient manuscripts of the letter to the Ephesians, there are a number of early manuscripts that actually have the letter addressed to Laodicians.  Much like the letter to Colossi, it is very likely Paul sent the letter to several congregations and we most associate it with Ephesus, but perhaps this is the same letter Paul speaks of here in Colissians 4.  We certainly don’t know, but it does show us that Paul recognizes that his writings are of value to all of God’s people and he desires them to have access to it.  Okay…maybe it’s not quite as interesting as I suggested, but I thought it was.

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2012 in Colossians, Pauline Epistles

 

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Colossians 3 – Reality Check…Is This What Christians Look Like?

Heart check! Where is it? Heavenly or earthly? You’ve been raised with Christ and your identity is found in Him. Your life is now hidden with Christ in God. The things of this world do not matter as much to you now because you’re part of a King and a Kingdom. Does the mean that you shouldn’t take interest in anything that is going on around you? It doesn’t mean that. What it means is, what has your heart? What gets you worked up? Where are your emotions focused? What occupies your Facebook posts? I’m not sure how much I’m kidding about that last one…

Because you have died with Christ, you now look different than you did before. The first list Paul gives (Sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed) are things that get hit on often from pulpits. These are the things that are bringing God’s wrath because they do not embody the Creation that He intended for us to be. He then gives an “also” to the list and these we really need to pay attention to and ask ourselves how we are doing with this. Anger, rage, malice (spite, hatred, etc.), and filthy language…do not lie to each other. These things are not what the New Self looks like that you have put on in Christ. When was the last time you were angry? Enraged? Had spite or hatred? Or simply just lied to someone?

Flip this list around. Christians should be some of the most calm, loving, level headed, kind hearted, honest people the world has ever met. Is this you? What needs to change for it to be you? Continue to look at the image of Christ and examine yourself to see that changes that need to take place for you to be the New Creation that God has called you to be in Christ. Clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Be forgiving. Encourage each other. Above all, love deeply as Christ has loved you. Take a moment to reflect on the love of God, displayed in Christ, and allow this love to transform you. Putting on this love will bring all of these other virtues out in perfect unity. How are we (you) doing with that?

Verse 15 is incredibly powerful for me. I feel like most of the Christians around me are incredibly anxious. What does that tell the world around us about the peace of Christ? It is ruling your heart? We’ve been called to peace. When was the last time you felt the peace of God reign in your life? What is keeping that peace from being reality? Is this peace realized in our families? How we act toward one another? Do all things as though you are doing them for Christ and no one else.

 
 

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