Hanging in There

Ever need a good pep talk?  Clearly, Peyton Manning is probably not the place to start looking for one, but all of us need a good encouraging word now and anon.

This Sunday we’ll be looking at 2 Thes 2:13-16 (and in the Message), and I believe that’s what Paul is doing with his closing thoughts to the church in Thessalonica…giving them a pep talk.  Mind you, it’s a pep talk that’s pretty deep and rife with theological implications that have been studied and debated for 2,000 years…but a pep talk none the  less.  In a way, Paul is saying “look, I know that times are hard for you, and people keep predicting the end of the world for you…but hang in there.”  Then he gives them some reasons and ways to hang on.

In v13-14, Paul sets up the foundational encouragement for them.  What do you get as encouragement from these two verses?  Based on these verses, what can you remind yourself of when times are tough and you need something to hang on to?

V15 gives us a straightforward encouragement to do something in our “hanging on”.  What is it?  What do you think Paul is talking about, and how would we apply it to our day and age?

V16-17 tells us that God is the source of something to us?  What is it?  What should it result in concerning our state of mind and heart?

Ok…stuff to chew on.  We’ll talk about it more on Sunday.

Don’t Believe the Rumors

Whoops!  Had some skin cancer removed this week…and I’m such a weenie about it, it threw my whole schedule off.  Sorry about that.

Sunday we’ll be reading 2 thes 2:1-12 (the Message)

Once again, Paul is trying to calm the Thessalonians down after they’ve been zapped with end-time fever.  What is it that they are afraid has happened?  Have you ever felt left out of something…if so, what emotions did it inspire in you?  What does Paul do to calm them down…what does he encourage?  As you read the whole 12 verses…who has the upper hand in the events that are going to one day unfold?  What is there in this that can encourage a Christian who is concerned about the end of the age?

See you Sunday.

God is not Mad at You

Cause everybody knows

If you don’t mind your mother’s words

A wicked wind will blow

Your ribbons from your curls

Everybody moan everybody shake

The shankill butchers wanna catch you

Awake

~The Decemberists, “The Shankhill Butchers”

The concept of “retribution” is the fuel that drives almost every pagan religion, ancient or modern.  You find it as the driving force behind the concept of karma, as well as many other forms of religion.  If you do bad things, bad things will happen to you.  If you do good things, good things will happen to you.  A person measures his or her status among the gods or fate by the circumstances they face in life.

The thing is…this kind of mindset has influenced many Christian’s thinking…and often we don’t even realize it.  We’ve incorporated the law of retribution into our understanding of God and the gospel when we start trying to estimate God’s acceptance of us based on what’s happening in our lives.  A great example of it is found in the (waining) “Word/Faith” doctrines.  This teaching says that if you have enough faith in Jesus’ power, you’ll be financially rich, free from sickness and enjoying the good life.  If a person is sick, or struggling financially or in any way, it’s a sign that you don’t have faith, or there is some hidden sinfulness in your life.  It’s a crock.

Even if we don’t fall for egregious errors like the aforementioned…we sometimes slip into this way of thinking in more subtle ways.  We start thinking “God must be happy with me because everyone got the flu but I didn’t”…or conversely, “God must be punishing me because I lost my job.”…a Christian version of Karma.  While it’s true, God will sometimes use our circumstances to guide us, or communicate a message to us (sometimes being very distinct from ALL the time), His acceptance and love for us is an entirely different thing.

A person could point to the Old Covenant and say “Israel was sent into exile because God was mad at them”…but that’s not entirely accurate.  Israel had forsaken their national relationship with God, and God got their attention in a big way through the exile…but it’s made clear that this is for their ultimate benefit.  The book of Job stands as a startling revelation that the law of retribution is not the standard means by which God deals with His people, even though Job’s friends thought it was.

All this to say that this week we’ll be reading 2 Thes 1:1-12, as we continue our series “Looking for Hope in Uncertain Times”. (2 Thes 1 in The Message)

This is the 2nd letter Paul writes to this fledgling church, several months after his first letter.  Things have not gotten better for the Thessalonians, and in fact seem to have grown worse.  Which leads to the inevitable question that most of us would ask…”Is God mad at me?”.  Paul’s opening remarks seem to be trying to put them at ease, letting them know that God isn’t mad at them…and that there are some other ways of looking at trouble that comes into our lives that help us understand why we face those things.

V1-2 provide Paul’s greeting.

In V3, Paul is encouraged because he sees something happening in them, something growing.  This is one of the reasons we face trials…so that we will grow.  What is it that is developing with them, and how would we relate it to our own troubles.

V4-5 indicates something else Paul is aware of concerning this church.  The perseverance they demonstrate during hard times makes something happen…what is it?

Paul warns that Justice will come one day (V6-10), that oppressors will have to answer for their acts of hatred.  So, he’s letting them know that things will be made right one day…and that is the day he points toward to provide them with hope.  What are we looking forward to in v7?  So what does that tell us about life here and now?  Based on what he’s saying here, if bad things happen to us, does it mean God is mad at us?

Finally, in v11-12, Paul makes the most alarming statement in the context of suffering as a Christian I think anyone could make. How would you summarize what he says in these verses?  How would you brace it against your own life and experiences?

See you Sunday!  

The Ultimate Hope in Uncertain Times

Man…the post below is so encouraging…I love seeing our young people engaged in the exploration of who Christ is.

rapture1This Sunday, we’ll be looking at 1 Thes 4:13-18.  (The Message version)

As we remember, the church in Thessalonica had just been planted, when Paul and company had to leave town under threat of violence.  That meant that these new Christians didn’t have much time to learn a very detailed theology or set of doctrines which could define their faith.  On top of that, they were now facing pressure and persecution for believing in Jesus as the Christ.  When Paul sent Tim to find out how they were doing, we glean from the verses we’ll look at that they had some questions about what they should believe…and what they were waiting for.

The Christians of the early church were all expecting that Jesus was going to return any minute, they had no idea it would take as long as it has.  For them, the pressures they were facing made sense if Jesus were just about ready to burst on the scene.  But then, before Jesus had time to come back, some from their group died.  “Now what?” they may have asked?  Do they miss out?  Did Jesus fail in their case?  Did they mess up somehow?

Paul sets out to answer these questions they apparently posed, and gives them a crash course in eschatology.  In v13-14 Paul says that he doesn’t want them to be sad like people who have no hope.  That small statement is huge in it’s implication!  What is the greatest threat that mankind faces?  What is the strongest threat any tyrant can impose upon a people?  With that quick phrase, Paul tosses finality out the window, and effectively pulls the rug out from under death’s imposing presence.

What does Paul cite as the basis for this hope? (v14)

V15-17 are the foundational verses that support the doctrine of “the rapture” of the church.  How do you interpret what he’s writing there, in light of the context of comforting people who were concerned about their deceased loved ones?   What is the emphasis of v17, in your opinion?

Paul indicates how this doctrine should effect them, in v18.  What effect does the doctrine of the end of this world and Christ’s return have on you?

Stuff to ponder.  See yer’ Sundee.

Truths About Troubles

Just a quick reminder, we’re having a meeting after 2nd service ( 1-18-08 ) for anyone interested in getting an update on Eastgate finances, hearing our present state and future plans, and meeting the supervisors of the various ministries we have currently in place.  Hope you can make it.

42-21352842This Sunday we’ll be reading all of 1 Thessalonians 3.  Also read it in The Message version.

In this section, Paul is recounting why he sent Timothy to them, what he heard from Timothy that encouraged him, and what his prayers are for them.  In this section, we get an insight into what Paul was concerned about for them as they went through the hardships of persecution for their faith….and I believe his concerns reveal some truths we need to keep in mind concerning the troubles WE face, as 21st Century, American Christians.

In v1-3, Paul is relieved that they weren’t thrown by the fact that they faced troubles.  He reminds them about the reality of hard times…what does he say about them?  How do we apply that to our OWN lives, as we face hardships?

In v4, Paul is relieved that their troubles didn’t result in something undesirable.  What is it?  What does that encourage us to be on guard about when we face difficult circumstances?

In v5-9 Paul goes over the good report that Tim gave him…and in v11-13, he tells the Thessalonians what he’s praying for concerning them.  What is the heart of his prayer, in v12?  What do we take then, as the priority of our journey, even in hard times?

Stuff to think on.  See you Sunday!

Learning to “Talk the Walk”

communicationn-copyYou may think I have the title backward.  “Isn’t it usually ‘walk the talk’, Rob?”  Yes..usually…the idea being that we don’t want to just talk about our beliefs without putting them into practice.  But as we finish our study in Colossians this Sunday, we’ll find that Paul puts an emphasis on talking. 

We’ll be reading all of chapter four, but our focus will largely be on verses 2-6. (The Message version)

We could break v2-6 neatly into two sections: v2-4 and v5-6.  The first kind of talking Paul mentions is talking to God.  Prayer.  It’s often an uncomfortable subject because so many feel inadequate when it comes to prayer…or struggle with a sense of condemnation because they automatically think they don’t “do it enough”.  That’s a brilliant strategy by our enemy, because the results of that is usually the avoidance of prayer on our part, until a crisis happens.

What have your experiences in prayer been?  Have you learned to find a comfortable means of communicating with God?  Everyone’s experience will be different, I’d love to hear yours.

Paul says to “continue” in prayer…that word means to be devoted to, or constantly attentive to something.  Like…when you’re watching a football game, but you have to fix a snack, you work on the sammich, but also listen to and snag glimpses of the game as you pile on the lunch-meat.  Or…maybe a nobler example would be more suitable: if you’re a parent, and your child is sick in another room, you may go about your work and deal with other issues…but there is part of you that is constantly on vigil, attentive to your child’s sounds and possible needs.  Right?

THAT is how Paul said our conversations with God should be.  What does that tell us?

Part of what Paul asks them to pray for is wisdom for him, to know how to talk to people about the gospel (v4).  Does that strike you as interesting, and even a little surprising?  Paul needs to know how to talk about Jesus?  Maybe, or more appropriately, he needs to know how the gospel should be presented?

Which leads us to v5-6, which deal with how WE present ourselves, and communicate with people.  Does anyone else have trouble reconciling a “bullhorn” evangelist with v6?  Maybe it’s just me, but somehow, the two seem incongruent.

As you read Paul’s final, personal greetings, is there anything that catches your attention that you’d like to hear expounded on?  I’m planning on skimming it…but if there’s something of interest in there to someone besides a historian who is intrigued with fitting the puzzle pieces together, I’d be glad to touch on it.

Anyway…hope you’ve enjoyed Colossians.  See yer’ Sunday!