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.



Introduction to 1 Thessalonians

The city of Thessalonica was the largest city and also the capital of the province of Macedonia.  It is located in what is now northern Greece, on the Thessaloniki Bay making it an important port city.  Thessalonica was also located on a major junction of the great Egnatian Way, the same trade route that the city of Philippi was located on, where a road split off and headed north to the Danube river.  This made the city a strategic place for both the Roman Empire and the spread of the Gospel.

Paul first visited and set up a church in the city of Thessalonica, as recorded in Acts 17, on his second missionary journey.  He stayed there for less time than normal due to persecution.  His abrupt exit left the young church open to the persecution he was fleeing, a persecution they endured for which Paul commends them in chapter three.

He is also writing the church in Thessalonica to give them instructions and explain some subjects, perhaps things that he would have taught them had he been able to stay in the city longer.

Dealing with the subject of persecution in the church often brings up the subject of the “end times” as well.  In the first century, Christians were expecting that Christ’s return was imminent and could happen at any moment.  Most expected that they would live to see Jesus come back to set up His Kingdom.  This thought and desire permeates all of Paul’s letter to the church here and as such, this letter has been given the title of one Paul’s “eschatological letters.”

Eschatology means “the study of (or doctrine of) last things.”  Most of us think of the book or Revelation as the primary source for such study, but in fact much of what we know about the end times, death, and Jesus’ second coming actually come from Scripture outside of the book of Revelation and it is through those things that we begin to have the language and context to look at John’s Revelation.



Colossians 4 – Open Doors

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Pray that God would open doors to the Gospel

Pray that God would open doors to the Gospel

Remembering that Paul is in prison while writing this, he closes his letter with a request to the church in Colossae to be devoted to prayer for themselves and him as well.  Even though he is incarcerated, Paul is still fervently preaching the Gospel and believes that God is going to advance the Gospel through His situation, grim as it may be.  To that end, he requests prayer, not just that he would be able to tell others about Jesus, but that he would also have the wisdom to say what needs to be said.

What Paul asks for is quite profound.  We talk, in Christian circles, about always spreading the Gospel, showing God’s love to all whom we meet.  Yet how often to we ask God for the wisdom to say what needs to be said (or to not say what need not be said)?  We find ourselves in very specific contexts in our lives, no one context is similar to another.  Like Paul, we ought to be relying on the Spirit to give us the words to say, not relying on our own wisdom to get us by.

More than that, though, Paul encourages the church in Colossae to “make the most of every opportunity.”  This too is an encouragement for us.  How many times have we heard stories about people who regret not saying something to a friend, loved one, or coworker, thinking that they would have an opportunity later only to find out some tragic thing happened.

People in the world are walking in darkness, the eternity of their souls at stake.  We cannot afford to be lax in our words or our actions, simply waiting for another day.  For Paul, the time to preach the Gospel was now.  Whether he was in prison, at home, or on the road, he sought the spread God’s Good News of love and grace, praying that God would open every door and give him every opportunity.



Colossians 3 – Living the New Life

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The theme of life and death is one that runs throughout the Old and New Testament.  In fact, much of the meaning of Christ’s death as a sacrifice for our sins derives its meaning from the Jewish sacrificial laws and worship cult (which means: a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object) that was in place in the Old Testament.  For them, the understanding of the need for something to die so that one may live was normal and natural.

So when Paul talks about the New Life that we have in Jesus Christ in terms of putting to death some things so that we can live a new life, it would make sense in this culture.  Ultimately it is Jesus who died that we may have true, redeemed life.

For us to live this new life, though, our old life needs to die as well.  Paul talks about this in other places by saying that it is his “old sinful self” that was crucified with Christ and died with Him there, and when Christ was raised from the dead, so too is our new self raised with Christ.

Paul places several practical applications to this at the end of the chapter, but how he talks about it shows the everyday nature of new life in Christ.  He probably recognized that the difference between talking about the new life and actually living it are two different things.  While it isn’t as easy as putting on your clothes, it certainly is a daily decision to do so.  In the same way that, every morning you have to decide what you are going to wear that day, we have to choose to put on the clothing of our new life.  Sometimes those will feel more like work clothes than casual, but the simple fact is that each day we have to chose to put them on and live into the profound gift that God offers us in Christ Jesus.



Romans 3:9-26 "But What About…?"



Colossians 2 – What Fills You?

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When we find ourselves looking around in life for next best thing we don’t often take a moment to look back at the “last best thing” and examine why it didn’t live up to whatever we hoped it would live up to.  Instead, we tend to follow trends and fads, blown this way and that by the winds of culture and who knows what else.

In much the same way, the church in Colossae was facing down a number of different “new teachings” and such that offered them something more than “just the Gospel.”

One the surface, even as I write this, that doesn’t sound so bad.  We tend to do this a lot in the church of today.  We have the Gospel, but then we jazz it up with praise bands and new music, fancy worship venues and effects, hipster preachers and particular language.  All these are done to “meet a need” or to “reach a target group,” and sometimes it even works.

However, the problem often comes in the fact that, what was once a womb, far too often becomes a tomb.  What happens when music styles change or culture shifts?  Do we change with them?  Good intentions aside, the answers far too often is no.

Why?  Because we are comfortable with the familiar.  Because the familiar where all the good memories come from.  It is, after all, what got us here in the first place…

But should that thing, whatever it is, whether at church or personally, be what is filling you?  It may taste good at the moment, like spraying a can of Reddi-Wip in your mouth, but it will ultimately leave you hungry and wanting real food.

Jesus is the true spiritual food.  He is the Bread of Life; He is the Living Water.  Ultimtaely, it is He who satisfies and nothing else.  Human rules and traditions can be nice, they can even direct us toward deeper worship.  Be careful, however, that they do not become an end unto themselves for it is in that moment that what once led us to drink at the well of life, becomes nothing more than a path to a dry desert.

 



Colossians 1 – Supremacy

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Paul opens his letter to the church in Colossae with joy and thanksgiving for the work that God is doing in the community of faith there.  Quickly, however, he gets down to business, even in his greeting, reminding them of the enormity and simplicity of the Gospel that is the foundation of their faith.

He does this on purpose, knowing that one of the things that they have been struggling with is a number of false teachings in which things are being added to the message of Christ.  Far too often it seems that things are being added to the simple Gospel message…

Yes, Christ died for you… but you have to follow this tradition…

Sure, Jesus forgives your sins… but you have to have special knowledge for salvation…

Of course God will save you… if you avoid all the good things the world has to offer…

These were a few of the false teachings that were slipping into this relatively young church, and things that often slip into our own practice of faith as well.

The issue?  Disorientation.  As we are following Christ, keeping on the “straight and narrow” road, other things in life pop up, whatever they may be, and our straight and narrow path becomes a bit zig-zaggy.

This is true with our faith as well.  We claim Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives, but as we press on toward the goal, other objectives seem to enter in.  Sometimes they are things we are told we *have* to do (legalism, traditionalism, etc.), or maybe things we *have* to believe.  In any case, our faith becomes “the Gospel and…”  Sadly, most of these things start out as good parts of our lives, things that help to direct us toward God, and end up becoming idols in and of themselves.

Paul, however, makes sure from the get go that his readers in Colossae understand that with Jesus Christ there is no “and” to the Gospel.  He is supreme in all things, being both equal with God and the only one who can reconcile us to God.  Salvation comes from no one  and nothing else.



Introduction to Colossians

The book of Colossians is another one of Paul’s letters written to a church while imprisoned in Rome.  While the city of Colossae was not a very major city at the during the 1st century A.D., it was unique in that the church itself was started by Epaphras, a convert from the city of Ephesus.  This may make the church in Colossae one of the first church plants recorded in the Bible.

Because the church itself was young and its leadership rather inexperienced, it fell prey to the inroads of heresies, false teachings both from outside and within the Christian community.  While these are never directly described, it is possible to understand them based on what Paul is talking about.  The NIV study Bible lays them out in this way:

  1. Ceremonialism / Traditionalism – strict rules about eating, drinking, and religious festivals
  2. Asceticism – avoiding earthly forms of pleasure for religious reasons
  3. Worship of Angels – Belief that there were certain spirits from God through whom we approach Him.
  4. Devaluing the person and work of Christ – placing other things (like all of these other heresies) as being more important that the life and work of Jesus Christ.
  5. Secret Knowledge (pre-gnostic thinking) – a heresy that developed into a full-blown sect of Christianity, that somehow the way to God was through “secret knowledge” and “hidden secrets”
  6. Reliance on human wisdom and tradition – a topic Paul often addresses in his writing, certainly not unique to the church in Colossae.

Paul begins his writing specifically addressing the preeminence of Christ.  Placing Him above all things, in the rightful position in the world and in our lives and Lord and Savior solves a good portion of the heretical problems that the church in Colossae was facing.  When we understand this and our lives are oriented around it, we recognize the adequacy of Christ in all things and also realize our own empty weakness.



Philippians 4 – Think On These Things

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As Paul closes his letter, he returns to the subject of unity, once again encouraging them to be unified in their actions and thinking.  He even names a few people whom he asks the rest of the church to help in being more unified.  It is interesting that he doesn’t put them down here, but rather builds them up as those who are faithful in their work for the Gospel.  They have worked alongside Paul for the advance of the Gospel but struggle now with unity together.

How often does that ring true in our congregations?  We are all in this together, working to share the Gospel and Christ’s love for all people, but we cannot seem to get along with each other well.  Sometimes it’s because of current issues, but far too often it has to do with us holding on to things in the past that continue to divide us, even if the original issue has been solved or is no longer relevant.

How can we move toward greater unity in the midst of such struggles?  Paul says to think on things that are noble, pure, lovely, etc.  He encourages them to show gentleness to everyone as well.

Perhaps, if we are indeed looking for the good, seeking out what God is doing in our lives and all around us, and keeping the focus on the “peace of Christ” rather than on the abundance of negative things that are so prevalent around us.

The reality is that the Church is full of imperfect people.  We do things that end up causing hurt but we also have a choice in that moment, to focus on the negative and the injury to ourselves, or to share the same mind as Christ, identifying and forgiving sins committed against us, not allowing those things to cause division among us.



Philippians 3 – Press On

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While it doesn’t seem that there was a specific threat to the unity of the church in Philippi, Paul knows from experience that there are those both in the faith and outside of it who will come lurking eventually.  We have seen this in his other letters as well to the church in Ephesus, the churches in Galatia, the church in Rome, and his multiple letters to the church in Corinth.

So Paul takes this opportunity to exhort the church in Philippi towards greater unity and the collective goal, that they may not be sidetracked by the “Judaizers” who preach circumcision or any other group that might try to push its way in.

Paul’s way of doing this, interestingly enough, is by citing himself as an example.  Indeed he was the Jew of all Jews, a leader in the community before he met Christ on the road to Damascus.  However, what Paul realized very quickly is that all of it was for nothing, and is not merely a distraction from the true goal of following Christ Jesus.

He talks about this in terms of a race, an apt metaphor if ever there was one.  This isn’t, however, a 100M sprint, it’s a marathon.  In other places, Paul talks about training his body for this long race, not getting distracted by those who would offer an “easy win.”  I imagine it would be pretty tempting, in the middle of a 25K run, if someone offered a ride to the finish line.  Essentially, that is what the Judaizers were doing, offering a physical act as the true way of Christian identity.

To this, Paul says no.  Don’t take the ride, don’t listen to the lies.  We press on toward the goal for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.



Philippians 2 – Be Like Jesus

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As Paul continues to encourage the community of faith in Philippi, he both encourages them in their walk of faith and warns them of some potential dangers that might crop up in the church.  The chief among them is disunity and division.

When we experience good times of prosperity and growth, our tendency is to want to hold on to them.  While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can lead to selfish actions geared at personal gain, something that is antithetical to the message of the Gospel and the purpose of the Church.  Paul warns against this citing the benefits and encouragement from Union with Christ that are meant to be turned outward, not inward.

How we know this and see this is the example of Jesus Christ, His life, work, and especially His death.  Jesus, stepping out of heaven, humbled himself by taking on human flesh.  In this humility, not only did He put on the skin of a mortal being, He also submitted Himself to the will of the Father, fulfilling the Law by living the life that we could not and also dying the death that we deserved.  Paul writes that Jesus “took on the very nature of a servant.”

The cross was Jesus ultimate act of servanthood and humility. At the same time, it was also His greatest glorification.

The best way to avoid division and disunity is to take on these same traits, being like Jesus and turning all the benefits of being His child outward towards the world.  When we do this, we realize very quickly that it isn’t about us, it’s about God and showing His love and sharing His Good News.

As Paul continues in this chapter, he commends several people to the church in Philippi, all of whom are living out what Paul has encouraged the people there to do.  These are people who will encourage and strengthen the community when they arrive there, all because they are striving to be like Jesus.



John 3:1-17 "Reborn"