1 Timothy 3 – Qualified Leadership

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In pretty much every job description on earth there is a section that talks about what makes a particular person qualified for the job that they are seeking.  For most of those jobs, that will include education as well as a number of skills and experience that will be needed to get the job done.  The qualifications for leaders within the church, however, have much less to do with skills or education and much more to do with the living out of their faith in Jesus Christ.

Looking at the list that Paul writes here, most of this seems fairly obvious and self-evident.  As the leaders go, so will go the followers and as such, it is important that the leaders of the Christian community be those who are living out their faith well.

It is important to point out, I think, that in no way do these things have any bearing on the salvation of an individual.  Paul never meant this to be some sort of “works righteousness” message.  No leaders are earning any special place in heaven by being good leaders.  In fact, Scripture says that leaders will be judged more harshly because of their position.

Instead, we think about this in terms of modeling what means to live a life of faith in response to what God has done for us in Christ Jesus.  As leaders, we want to be examples to those around us, but not so that people can model us, rather so that they can model Christ.

Unlike our politicians, who tout themselves as the “best of the best,” church leaders should understand that they are not.  Their calling doesn’t depend on what they have done but rather what God has done for them in Jesus Christ.  As such, leadership in the church does not look like a number of people standing on a hill so others will look to them, but rather a group of people standing within the community pointing to Christ.



1 Timothy 2 – Worship Instructions

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I do not typically do a lot of research when it comes to these blog posts.  My goal and hope for these posts when I started them was that they would be more personal reflections out of some of my education and life experiences.  Today, however, I’ve done my homework.

First of all, Paul is addressing the worship of the church, particularly in Ephesus.  Some of this we have talked about elsewhere, especially in the book of Ephesians.  It is interesting to note, I think, that when addressing matters of worship, Paul never once addresses the issue of music.  Music is a stylistic preference that the church has far too often equated with whether worship is “good” or “bad.”

Paul’s concern in worship, as always, is where the heart of the people is as they gather together to worship God.  Here this motivation is found expressly through Paul’s encouragement toward unified prayer, not just for themselves, but for the world around them as well.

In doing so, Paul also encourages Timothy and the church in Ephesus to avoid distractions and put off and selfish ambition.  This is the driving force behind both the plea for unity, “lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing,” as well as Paul’s comments on modesty and appropriate dress.  Those who dressed in fancy clothes, jewelry, and hairstyles did so to show off their elaborate wealth, not as a way of honoring God.

All of this falls in line with what Paul has already written to the church in Ephesus, as does his comments about women being in leadership.  Remember that, in Ephesians 5, Paul talks about the roles of men and women under the distinct phrase: “submit to one another out of reverence to Christ.”  That is still true here.

The specific context here, 2000 years ago, is somewhat of a mystery.  Where the women of this community particularly dominating in nature, causing trouble with the men?  We do know that, because of the cultic worship of pagan gods that went on in the city, Paul desired that the Christians be set apart.  This pagan worship involved showy signs of spiritual indwelling as well as temple prostitution, most of which happened by women, and which Paul obviously wanted to avoid.  We find this to also be true in the context of the church in Corinth as well.

Whatever the specific issues that led to Paul’s words here, we also cannot read them in a vacuum without looking to the rest of Scripture for God’s will in this subject.  One of the fundamental themes of God’s work in Jesus Christ is breaking down barriers in relationships both with each other and with him.  Through the reconciliation that Jesus Christ ushered in, divisions were also broken down.  Paul himself writes that there is no longer “Jews nor Greek, Slave nor Free, Male nor Female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  In addition, the prophets attest to a time when God’s Spirit will be poured out on all flesh (not just on men).  Women have been clearly gifted by God for the tasks of leadership and service in the Chuch and in the world and we must honor that gifting and God’s call on their lives by equipping and empowering all women and men to their fullest God-given potential.



1 Timothy 1 – Distractions

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As Paul opens his letter, he implores Timothy to keep his focus on the main thing.  Apparently, there had been issues with people getting distracted from the main message of the Gospel through by the teaching of false doctrines.  Paul is also concerned about long discussions about “myths” and “endless genealogies.”

The reason that he focuses so much on those things is because they were part of the false teaching of Gnosticism that had cropped up in the early church.  These genealogies were a part of tracing things back to the very beginning of the world, or to attempted to discern or know some secret knowledge or spiritual being that others don’t know.  What these ended up being, for one reason or another, is just a mess of endless conversations about nothing that went nowhere.

Isn’t that fairly typical of the enemy?  Rather than a direct assault on the ministry of the church or a challenge to the power of the Gospel, he takes a round-about approach, distracting believers in endless discussions and arguments about things that are neither true nor matter at all, and Paul calls them out for it.

Paul’s letter, however, is not necessarily directed toward the church in Ephesus, where Timothy was leading, but rather to Timothy himself.  Paul left Timothy in charge at the church in Ephesus, and as such, is responsible for leading the people in this time.

People’s ability to talk around subjects is particularly amazing to me.  Far too often we spend time talking about issues and subjects that are not the true issue or problem in our lives.  Sometimes, we argue about subjects that don’t even matter simply to avoid the real issues that are taking place in our lives or in the life of our faith community.  Paul charges Timothy, as the leader of the church there, to see through this, cut through this, and get back on track to the Gospel message of God’s love for all people and the love he calls us to as His people in Christ.



Introduction to 1 Timothy

Paul’s first letter to Timothy is the first of three books known as the “pastoral epistles.”  These letters get their name due to a large amount of administrative work that Paul does in them.

After leaving Ephesus on his fourth missionary journey, Paul likely realized that he would not be back to the Ephesian community for some time (if ever).  He then writes this letter to Timothy, to work out his charge to Timothy as well as to refute some heresy that had cropped up in the church in Ephesus.

Timothy was one of Paul’s beloved traveling companions who lived in Lystra.  He joined Paul on his second missionary journey and helped Paul to found the churches in at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea.

Though his father was Greek, his mother and grandmother were devout Jews and brought up Timothy.  As such, he was very familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures, which Paul uses to teach Timothy about Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.

In his first letter, Paul gives some specific directions to Timothy regarding church leadership, laying out some of the details and qualifications for Elders and Deacons.  These words have given the church a blueprint for the role of these offices of ministry throughout the last 2,000 years.

Also in this letter, Paul addresses issues that have to do with the public worship of the church as well as dealing with false teachers and false teachings as well.  There were a number of different groups that were seeking to infiltrate the church and poison its teachings.  Paul also deals with the treatment of a variety of people groups within the church as well as a number of miscellaneous subjects that churches deal with, all while encouraging them to give honor and glory to God and live as a testimony to the Gospel message.



Exodus 2-6 "Moses and the Inmates"

At the first hint of Freedom and Hope, Pharaoh tries to crush the Israelites’ spirit. This is true when we seek freedom from our personal “egypts” as well. But God is up to the task, promising to act mightily on our behalf to bring us out of bondage and into the promised land.

1. How does the story of Moses’ birth speak to the work of God behind the scenes? How might this story offer hope for those dealing with their personal “Egypts”?

2. What are some Band-Aids in your life that allow you to cope with difficult things? Can you identify with some of the examples Pastor Jon talked about in the lives of people you know? How about in your own life?
a. Think about this in terms of the life of Hopkins Community Church. Are there some Band-Aids that we have been using in this church body?

3. How do you identify with the “broken spirit and cruel slavery” that kept Israel from following Moses? Is there a person in your life who has a vision for more for you?

4. What leadership lessons can we learn from the calling of Moses? How might that impact how we look at our nomination and election process here at Hopkins Community Church?

5. What would “leaving Egypt” mean for you? You may not have a full answer yet, but begin thinking of which “Egypts” in your life might be tougher to leave and which ones might be easier.

6. Do you have a desire to become a “Moses” to someone else? What do you think needs to happen for you to get there?

*Some questions taken from Leaving Egypt by, Chuck DeGroat



2 Thessalonians 3 – Don't Be Idle

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We could probably rename this chapter to be “Understanding Dutch Work-Ethic.”  Phrases like, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” remind me of some of the hard lessons I’ve learned about work and responsibility over the years.  Not that I’ve ever gone without food, but I have learned the necessity of working hard to have the things that I want.

That lesson, however, is not really what Paul is getting at here in his parting words to the church in Thessalonica.  There certainly is an element of that, but it goes much deeper in the community of faith than simply working hard.  Paul understands that a community that is not working together will ultimately fail.  Indeed, when churches are full of people that are only there to be fed, with a select (sometimes hired) few to do the feeding, they are bound for failure.

We need people to be active participants in the faith community, living out the call of unity and love toward each other.  For when times get tough, we lean on each other in this community for strength.

As the human body summons multiple muscle groups to assist when lifting a heavy object, so too does the body of Christ depend on all its members for the often heavy lifting of life and ministry.

Indeed, this is true in our personal walk with Christ as well.  Idleness in our relationship with Christ will lead to a plateau in our spiritual growth.  All of Scripture calls us to and active relationship with Christ in response to the grace and love that we have been shown by God through Him.

While there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation or increase our favor with God, there is a danger in removing “works” from our vocabulary completely.  There is a danger that the enemy exploits far too often, that because everything is taken care of through grace, we don’t need to do anything in our Christian walk.  This leads to idle Christians, lack of growth, and ultimately selfish tendencies that destroy disciples and churches.  We must be on our guard against that…



2 Thessalonians 2 – Antichrist

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While this is the first time that Paul directly addresses the notion of an “antichrist” figure, labeled here as “the man of lawlessness,” it isn’t original to him.  In fact, the first mention of such a person, a sort of human embodiment of evil that comes with the power of satan, is in the seventh chapter of the book of Daniel.  Here this figure comes as the vision of a horn on a beast.

This figure shows up again in Daniel 9, 11, and 12 as well as the extra-canonical book of 1 Maccabees.  In each of these cases, this person, empowered by satan himself, comes to deceive and to claim the place of God in the world.  He/She does so by desecrating all that is seemingly holy and stop the worship of God, replacing it ultimately with the worship of him/herself.

Jesus also picks up this theme, directly referenced in Matthew 24 and Mark 13, with a more indirect reference in Luke 21.  All of these references, from Daniel to Paul, are directly related to eschatological (end times) discussion.

Throughout history, however, it has happened at least twice that a ruler from a foreign land has attacked Jerusalem, laid waste to the Temple of God causing the sacrifices and worship to stop, and desecrated the Temple in some way.  This happened after the life of the prophet Daniel, in 168 BC, when Antiochus IV Epiphanes sacrificed a pig on the altar of burnt offerings.

Later it would happen when the Roman military, led by Titus (a different Titus than the one Paul traveled with) attacked Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and raised it to the ground.  Several of the Roman Emperors in that time proclaimed themselves as “gods,” though none, I believe, did so in the Temple of God.

Over the years there have been many “antichrist” figures that have risen to power.  Each of these, in their own right, have fulfilled parts of what Daniel, Jesus, and Paul all warned the people of God about.  Yet none have lived up to the true “antichrist” described in Scripture either.

Honestly, though, finding the real “antichrist” is beside the point.  Christians have spent far too much time trying to determine who this person is.  Perhaps this president, or the next one.  Maybe it’s the Russian president or the Pope?  If we’re spending all of our time looking for who it is, or is going to be, we’ve missed the point of Paul’s teaching here.  The fact is that there are many who will come, evil people who will seek to defame and destroy God and his people, setting him/herself in God’s place… but only for a time.

This “antichrist’s” time is already numbered for, as much power as satan can give him, it as nothing before the power and might of our conquering Savior.



2 Thessalonians 1 – Now and Then

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Paul holds a very interesting tension as he opens his second letter to the church in Thessalonica.  As they are facing persecution from the Roman Empire, the church is faced with a theological crisis.  What are they to do and what does faith look like in the midst of such horrible backlash and trouble.  Yet what we don’t hear from Paul is an ardent plea to “hold on to their faith,” but rather a thankful praise to God for their perseverance in the midst of all this.

He is thankful for what he has heard about the church and its work through this time, but he also wants to encourage them because he knows that the longer it goes on, the harder it becomes.  It is to this end that Paul looks to the Gospel message of strength and hope for both now and in the future.

Far too often, when we face troubles, we look to future hope for comfort.  We find solace in knowing that someday everything will be made right.  This is true; Jesus will come again and all things will be put in their rightful place.  Yet a Gospel based solely on future events actually minimizes the Gospel message.

Indeed much of the power of the Gospel message comes in the reality that the Kingdom of God is here and now!  Jesus Christ ushered in the Kingdom on earth through His life, death, and resurrection.  From that time on, the Kingdom of heaven has been expanding throughout the world.  Paul celebrates this very thing with the church in Thessalonica.  Despite all of the enemy’s attempts to stop them, the believers of that city continue to grow, adding to their number, and persevering through all the hardships the world throws at them.

We can learn from this too.  The church in North America  can face anything that comes our way, not through the power of lobbying groups and political work, but because of the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives working in and through us to expand the Kingdom of God.



Introduction to 2 Thessalonians

Like his first letter to the church in Thessalonica, Second Thessalonians addresses questions concerning the Lord’s return and is meant as a pastoral encouragement to a body of believers facing persecution.  Given these similarities, it is likely that Paul wrote this letter not too long after the first.

It may have been that, after Paul’s first letter, there was still some confusion about elements of the Second coming, especially given the persecution that as going on.  More clarification was needed and so Paul addressed both of these subjects again.

As was true with 1 Thessalonians, and all other subject matter pertaining to the second coming, it is important to read this not in a vacuum but rather in the context of the other teachings regarding the end times, or what we call “Eschatology.”

The driving force behind Paul’s words to the persecuted church then and now is hope.  While circumstances in life ebb and flow, going from good to bad and bad to good, there is an element of the Gospel that transcends all of it.  We already know the end; we know that there is a greater future in store for us.  We know that there is nothing on earth that can separate us from that truth, from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus and sealed in us from now until eternity.

Whatever you are facing, whatever trials and tribulations come your way, we have the hope for something greater when this all comes to and end.  Yet, Paul doesn’t simply speak in terms of future hope.  We have hope for the here and now as well because the Kingdom of God is present, it is close, and it is expanding throughout the world.  The words of encouragement that come to us in Scripture are as much present-oriented, giving us the strength to endure hard times and the vision to see God’s work now, as they are future-oriented, giving us a hope for things to come when all things will finally be made right and find their fullness in the coming of Jesus Christ.



1 Thessalonians 5 – The Day of the Lord

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Paul echoes Jesus’ teachings in the latter chapters of Matthew when he speaks of the coming day of the Lord and then expounds upon them.  Jesus taught His disciples that, while there would be signs of the final days, no one actually knows when they will be so we much keep watch and be alert, always being at work and ready for when the master returns.

These teachings come from Jesus by way of warning, however, Paul points out that, for those of us who are in Christ, we really don’t need to be worried about this.  Jesus’ return to earth, for those who believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, will be a time of great rejoicing!  All that we have hoped and longed for will finally come to fruition and as the former things pass away and all things are made new.  For Christians, teachings on the coming Day of the Lord is a reassurance of the hope that we have in Jesus Christ.

Teachings like this are also an encouragement to action.  Because we don’t know when this time will be, we need to be about the Master’s business, which is preaching the Gospel and making disciples.  While the invitation of grace is available and open to all, this message also reminds us that there will come a day when that will end, all will be accounted for, and the fullness of the Kingdom will be finally realized.

On that note, it is also important for us to remember that, while this is a message specifically directed toward a future event, that does not mean that the Kingdom has not come now.  In fact, Jesus teaches us that the Kingdom has come near through His work and the evidence of the Kingdom’s presence can be seen throughout the world.  Far too often we think about the coming Kingdom as a future thing, something we wait for, not something we participate in now.  When we do that, though, we miss out on the truth of the Gospel message that the life and work of Jesus Christ redeemed and transformed our reality now and the Kingdom of God is present and expanding here on earth each and every day!



1 Thessalonians 4 – Dead in Christ

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I have to admit, the title of today’s thoughts is intentionally eye-catching.  We often talk about being alive in Christ; we often wonder about what happens to those who are alive in Christ but experience physical death.  In lieu of talking about living to please God, something that is certainly important, but is addressed time and again throughout the New Testament, it is important for us to look more specifically Paul’s words here on the Second Coming of Christ.

Paul is addressing a question or concern that the church in Thessalonica had about those among them who had or were dying.  This is a legitimate concern, especially when facing persecution that may, in fact, demand one’s life.

We have to acknowledge that what Paul is addressing here is a great mystery, even for him.  He is not necessarily, here or elsewhere, prescribing exact events or giving detailed outlines about the second coming or life after death.  Instead, this is a pastoral reassurance from Paul to these believers who are facing persecution and wondering about what happens when this life ends.

The first thing he does as he addresses this subject is talking about those who are dead as those who have “fallen asleep.”  In using this language, Paul is making the point that death is not the end, nor is it somehow an annihilation of the person.  There is some continuity between who we are now and who we will be when in the resurrection.

He also briefly talks about Christ’s second coming, referring specifically to the resurrection of the dead and the coming reunion that we will all experience at that time.  Some have taken this to be a reference to the Rapture, an interpretation of Scripture about the nature of Christ’s return.

Again, Paul is not prescribing the events of Christ’s return, but rather giving the assurance that, at that time, all those who believe, both dead and alive, will be reunited together with Christ.  This is not just to say that we’ll be together again, but also to reiterate the nature of the hope that we have in Christ, a hope that transcends all trials and difficulties that we have in this world… even death.



Exodus 1 "Womb or Tomb?"

Sermon Series: Leaving Egypt (drawing from the book by Dr. Chuck DeGroat)

As the people of Israel were enslaved in Egypt, so we too find ourselves in our own personal “Egypts,” places that used to have been places of growth and prosperity, now turned into places of bondage.  But God doesn’t leave us there… He has paved a way out of Egypt through the work of His Son Jesus Christ.

Questions for Further Discussion:

  • Read Exodus 1:1-14 again. Notice the shift from Israel growing and thriving to Pharaoh’s persecution.  What do you suppose provoked Pharaoh’s wrath?  What do you think causes this in our own lives?
  • How is your story mirrored in Exodus 1? How does this chapter speak to your journey?  Do you see reflections of this at HCRC?  What are they?  Have you contributed to it?  How so?
  • Think of some good thing that has become misdirected in your life (ie. desire for success that turned into workaholism, love for food that became overeating, etc.). What good thing behind these things might you be longing for?
    1. Think about this in terms of ministry. Are there ministries that have become misdirected?  What good thing are those seeking after?
  • “Institutionalization” is defined as the process of becoming embedded in a conception, norm, role, value, or mode of behavior within an organization, social system, or society as a whole. It is where we accept the current reality, no matter how bad or harsh, and even fight to keep it.  How have you become “institutionalized”?  What about the church?
  • How does it make you feel to know that Jesus has also taken the Exodus journey?


1 Thessalonians 3 – Persecuted Growth

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There is a really interesting paradox that, throughout the history of the church, whenever real persecution happens, the church grows dramatically.  The paradox of this is that the persecution that takes place against the church, whatever form it takes, is meant to stifle and/or destroy the church and inhibit the spread of the Gospel message in any form.  Yet it is in these times that the Gospel message spreads at an increased pace and the church grows both in maturity and numerically.

Paul, as he is writing to the church in Thessalonica, addresses this very thing and also points toward at least one reason for this: persecution can often be the fire that refines the church into a much purer version of itself.  When the impurities and waste are burned away, metal becomes much more valuable and usable; this often happens when the true depth of faith and commitment to Christ is shown in the face of trial and tribulation.

Interestingly, this is exactly what Jesus promises His disciples when He comforts them about future trials.  He tells them they need not be worried about what they will say when they are dragged before leaders and judges because the Holy Spirit will speak for them (Matthew 10; Mark 13; Luke 12).

Another reason for the growth that takes place during times of persecution is the fact that it brings out a visible type of faith.  It is easy to belong and believe when times are good and peaceful, and it is not bad to have those times.  However, an entirely new witness emerges when believers hold fast to their identity and beliefs when everything around them would seek to pull them away.  In these times, people around us see our commitment, our hope, and our strength coming from a place beyond ourselves when it is not advantageous to us, and may begin to wonder what that is all about.



1 Thessalonians 2 – What It Actually Is

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As he reminds the church in Thessalonica about the ministry they shared together when he was with them, Paul grounds all of what happened, both pleasant and difficult, in the Word of God.  He may be referring here to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to the Old Testament, and/or to the preaching and teaching that he and others had done among them.  In any case, Paul’s feeling about what was happening there finds its foundation in the belief and reality that God speaks and that Word never returns empty.

This theological understanding about the Word of God has long been a part of the Church’s background.  We have long echoed the word of God in Isaiah, the God’s Word always accomplishes what God intends for it to do when it goes out.

Recently, though, it seems that the currents of relative truth and political correctness have challenged some of those notions.  People no longer believe that the Bible is the Word of God, a notion that has implications far beyond the scope of what simply happens on a given Sunday morning.

We believe, and Scripture tells us that it is authoritative, useful for teaching, rebuking, and training up in righteousness.  The power of those words come from them being the Word of God.  Take that away and it is simply another book, motivational and empowering at times, but just a book.

The other side of the coin is those who have militantly taken the Bible and beaten others over the head with it.  Scripture points out sin in its many forms, but always with an understanding of God’s love and grace for the sinner.  Failing to acknowledge this tension has led to profound injury and barriers to the Gospel message.

Thanks be to God that His promise of the Holy Spirit’s work through the opening of His Word is not solely dependent on us.  Since the very beginning, God has spoken and things have been transformed!  We are called to join God in His mission of bringing all people to Himself, to spread His message of love and grace.  Let us make sure, then, that our words and actions reflect truly what God’s Word says.



1 Thessalonians 1 – Inspiration

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Paul opens his letter to the church in Thessalonica with great thanksgiving for what God is doing in their lives and for how they have responded that work in spite of great trials and persecution.  He lists three responses to the Gospel that he is thankful for, stating them in the proper orientation:

  • Work – Produced by Faith
  • Labor – Prompted by Love
  • Endurance – Inspired by Hope

Each is a response to the grace of God shown to us in Jesus Christ and their orientation is important.  Work does not produce faith; because of our faith, we respond by “working” for the Lord.  This is true with the other two as well.  The importance of this orientation cannot be understated.  If indeed the church in Thessalonica was living like this, it would likely be the reason for why they endured such persecution so well.

Simply enduring persecution isn’t the end for Paul, though.  Keeping in mind his posture in other letters, this too is an opportunity for the spread of the Gospel and to build up the church through their actions and example.

Even as Paul is writing this, he relays to them how he has heard of what they have been doing through other churches, that they have become a model to other believers in the region.  The church in Thessalonica has become an inspiration for Paul and for other churches in the region, pointing not to their own strength but to the hope that they have in Jesus Christ.

Churches in today’s context can learn from this.  It seems that, far too often, we try to find our own niche, our own little thing that makes us unique from other churches, and then we claim that as our strength… even our identifier.  The reality, though, is that our strength and our hope come not from our own programs or great ministry ideas, but from the one person that binds us all together: Jesus Christ.