1 Peter 1 – Living Hope

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Peter opens his letter with a customary thanksgiving statement that praises God for all that He has done and continues to do in the lives of His people.  As he does this, he references the hope that we have, a “living hope” that is in Jesus Christ.  This, for Peter, is the foundation for all that is to come, for our whole lives as those who are “in Christ,” who have been “given new birth.”

This is an important place to start for Him, given all that is going on in the context of this writing.  Peter, along with the whole Church in the Roman Empire, has been facing dramatic persecution, the likes, and duration of which they had not yet seen since Jesus was taken into heaven.

In the face of this, where people were having to worship in secret, hide their identities, and were likely watchings friends and neighbors arrested and even put to death, Peter encourages them in the same way that Paul does: “Hold on to your faith.”  Peter reminds the of the Gospel, of the true hope that is found in Jesus Christ and the nature of that hope as well.  There is nothing that humans can do to take that away from them.  No matter how bad it gets, God is greater.  Even death cannot put an end to this hope.

With all of us waking up “post-election” today, whatever the results are (I’m writing this having just voted), and wondering like the rest of the U.S. what the results are going to be tomorrow when this is being read.  There is a lot of opportunity for fear, doubt, and disbelief.  I’m sure there was back then as well.  But Peter’s words here, and all throughout Scripture reminds us that our true hope does not lie in things in this world and that nothing in this world can take the true hope, the hope that lives eternally in us through Jesus Christ.



Hebrews 12 – Cloud of Witnesses

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Do you ever feel like you are standing alone in your life?  Do you ever feel like the world is not on your side?  Lately, it seems, Christians have been a lot more isolated in North America because of their faith.  We don’t feel like we can talk openly about anything or even share our points of view because it seems to be no longer welcome.  We’ve been labeled, dismissed, and in some cases, even forcefully put to the margins of life.  It can feel very lonely.

In the context that the book of Hebrews was written, Christianity was facing some hard times, much worse that anything that we have experienced today.  Christians were hunted, imprisoned, and killed in numbers greater than pretty much every other time in history.  You can imagine that this was a bit isolating; a very trying time for the young Church.

However, the author reminds us here that we are never alone in our struggles.  It seems rather obvious for us to say that “God is always with us,” but the author is saying that and more here.  Yes God is with us in the same way that God has been with so many that have come before us, that have persevered through the life of faith, through all the trials and tribulations, and who fixed their eyes on the Messiah who would save them from all the evil of this world.

And so we are called to persevere, to run the race marked out for us.  We fix our eyes on Jesus because He is the one who gives us the strength and ability to run this race.  He also gives us the model for how we are to live in the midst of persecution, peacefully and lovingly, so that all will look and see Jesus Christ in us.



2 Timothy 2 – A Trustworthy Saying

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Paul offers a number of “trustworthy sayings” to Timothy and other recipients throughout his career.  In each of these situations, Paul is encouraging the reader to remember the truth of the Gospel, simplifying it into something that was easy to remember.  In our chapter today, he does this for what would likely be his last time.

The truth of this statement is telling, though, because of how it both addresses the situation that both Paul and Timothy are in, and it also acts as a reminder for both of them given the trials that are to come for them.  Because of the work of Jesus Christ, we have hope in every situation, a hope that extends beyond any physical trials or tribulations that we could ever endure.

We are called to perseverance through the difficulties of life as well.  Scripture often refers to this as part of our “sanctification.”  God doesn’t cause our trials, but He is always at work in us and through them to build us up and shape us into the image of His Son.

A lot of emphasis, in the midst of the persecution of the church in this time, was placed on staying true to what you claim to believe.  Though Scripture’s theology throughout the New Testament is that, once you receive salvation, there is nothing you can do to lose it, there is something to be said for the importance of not disowning Christ publically.  Doing so brings into question everything we claim to believe.  The prospect of disowning Jesus should be a gut check for us as to whether we are fully committed, or whether we are just trying to get our “get out of hell free” card.

No matter where we fall on this spectrum, though, Paul points out in the last phrase that Jesus is always faithful to us.  The promise of salvation is extended to all and there is nothing that we can do to preclude ourselves from it.  Thanks be to God that His Love and Faithfulness know no bounds!



2 Timothy 1 – Thankful

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Given the context of where Paul is writing from, no one would blame him for complaining or even, at the very least, expressing some desire to either be free or be done with it all.  Chained in a dungeon, facing his execution, and deserted by all of his friends and companions, it would seem a good time to just give up.  Rather than complaining, though. we see Paul open this second letter to Timothy with thanksgiving.  How many of us, put in the same situation, could say we would do the same?  I know I wouldn’t.

Paul, though, keeps everything in focus.  Yes, it is likely that his life will end soon.  He has also come to realize that his work for God is also nearing its end.  Yet that doesn’t keep him from continuing to encourage Timothy or to care for the Church.  He knew of the persecution that was going on throughout the Roman Empire and his first concern was for those persecuted, that they would not let go of the Gospel Message.

To make sure of this, Paul builds into Timothy, one of the major leaders of the Church at this  time.  He implores him to hold on to what he was taught and to “fan the flame” of God’s gift to Him.  Though the path may be dangerous, Paul doesn’t see this as a time to maintain the status quo.  Instead, he reminds Timothy of the empowerment that we have received through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We are not called to shrink back, to hide until our own safety is assured, but rather we are called to live into the hope that we have by being willing to risk everything for the sake of the Gospel.

There is nothing that the enemy can do to take away our hope, to separate us from God’s love once we have accepted Christ into our hearts.  However, there is plenty the enemy can do to prevent us from getting to that point.  One of the ways is to make us fearful so that we don’t spread the Gospel message.  Paul doesn’t want the church to fall into this trap.  The message must go out no matter what the cost!



Introduction to 2 Timothy

Paul’s second letter to Timothy came approximately five years after the first.  When his first imprisonment in Rome ended, Paul went on his fourth and final missionary journey, eventually ending up back in prison in Rome.  All of this took place under Emperor Nero who was known for his brutal torture and persecution against Christians.  This became especially true after the great fire in Rome in A.D. 64.  Nero blamed the fire on the Jews but lumped the Christians in with them as part of a “new branch” of Judaism.  Nero’s persecution led to the Martyrdom of both Paul and Peter.

Unlike Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome, where he stayed in a rented house and was visited by many people, this second time imprisoned saw Paul in a cold dungeon, chained like a common criminal.  Whereas his first letter to Timothy focused more on Timothy, his charge, and leadership of the church in Ephesus, this second letter contains a much more personal touch, speaking to Paul’s desires for himself as well as the anguish that he is going through.

In many ways, this was Paul’s farewell letter.  Chronologically, 2 Timothy is the last letter that Paul wrote.  Personally, Paul mentions that his work is done and that he will likely be taken from this life very soon.  It is also clear that Paul is very lonely.  Some sources say that Paul was guarded and imprisoned in a place that few could find.  Many had deserted him and others were barred from seeing him.  Only Luke (which we assume is the writer of both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts) was with him.

Yet even in this state, Paul shows a deep concern for the churches knowing that they too are enduring harsh persecution.  He once again encourages Timothy to hold on to what he has learned and to not stop preaching the Gospel, even if it means suffering for the message of Christ.



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 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.



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 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.