1 Thess 2:1-16 In this time of crisis whom do we trust? Some leaders exude empathy and act for the common good; others seek sympathy and act out of self-interest. Amid charges of fake media, left and right seem isolated in echo chambers, watching CNN and Fox News. Clickbait misleads to sites pursuing eyeballs and profits not truth. In Thessalonica the opponents of the fledgling church were attacking Paul’s integrity and motives. Paul writes a self-defense of his behavior. Like a babe, he was innocent of insincerity, delusion, impure motives, trickery, flattery, hidden greed, and pursuit of praise. Instead, he nurtured the Christians like a nursing mother caring for her little ones, like a father encouraging and comforting his children, urging them to a life worthy of their calling as God’s beloved children. Paul has a lot to tell us about what true Christian leadership does and does not look like.
1 Thess 1:1-10 “The best-laid plans of mice and men go oft awry.” Our carefully-made plans have been turned upside down by a tiny virus. Events have moved at a dizzying pace: now that we are confined to home, the cancelation of the King City and Liberia trips last week seems mild! We are adjusting to this new norm and finding silver linings. The apostle Paul knew what it was to have plans overturned. We start a new series in 1 Thessalonians, the first letter that Paul wrote to a specific church. He did so after his plans were thwarted at every turn, yet he starts the letter with effusive thanksgiving. What silver lining did he see?
Psalm 23 When life spirals out of control, our most common response is fear. Even for those of us who are followers of Jesus, it is easy to lose our focus and be overcome with anxiety, even despair. This week in the midst of the coronavirus crisis we will draw near to our true Shepherd in Psalm 23. Derek Kidner writes, “Death and strength underlie the simplicity of this psalm. Its peace is not escape; its contentment is not complacency: there is a readiness to face deep darkness and imminent attack, and the climax reveals a love, which hime towards no material goal but to the Lord Himself.”
Gen 29:31 – 30:24 The subject of this week’s text is children. The promise of children was a significant driving force in God’s covenant to Abraham, especially when given to barren women like Sarah and Rebekah. What follows is a very surprising birth narrative of Jacob’s twelve children, and with it we discover how two wounded women learn to connect with God. These two sisters give voice to the question, “Can children make you happy? At what price?” After we examine this question we will address the theme of children in the context of the New Covenant.
Gen 29:15-30 Anyone who is married knows it doesn’t take long to wake up from the dream-like world of the honeymoon and discover you married a sinner. For some, the revelation of these changes can be so dramatic that they may even question the sanctity of the marriage. No one woke up to the fact that he had in fact married the wrong girl as quickly as Jacob. Can you imagine the initial shock to wake up after your wedding night only to find the bride’s sister in your bed? The question our text addresses is, “Can we be blessed by God if we are seemingly trapped in an unhappy marriage?”
Gen 29:1-20 Jacob’s heavenly encounter with God and angels at Bethel has energized him as he journeys to Haran with eager anticipation of what God might have in store. Approaching the city, he encounters a beautiful girl by a well, a typical scene in the Bible that initiates a betrothal. The story strikes a resonant chord in every man, who wants to be a “prince charming”, and every woman who longs to be a beauty worth searching for. But deeper still, the story speaks to the longing of our hearts to be sought and courted by God.
Gen 28:10-22 We come to place in the Jacob story that is every parent’s nightmare, when a son or daughter goes off into exile. The conditions are anything but ideal. “The security of the sun has been replaced by the dangers of night. The comfort of his parents’ tents has been replaced by a rock. Behind him lays Beersheba, where Esau waits to kill him; ahead of him is Haran, where Laban waits to exploit him. He is situated between a death camp and a hard-labor camp” (Bruce Waltke). Though terrifying, exile can be a place of profound transformation. When we are offstage in extreme loneliness, we are better to hear the tender voice of God pursuing us. Once Jacob hears God’s word, his ordinary journey is transformed into a holy pilgrimage. May it be true of us as well.
Gen 27:1-29 In this week’s text we are drawn into the intimacies of a sacred meal where the patriarchal blessing, with all its eternal promises, will be passed down from one generation to the next through the chosen son. Sadly however, the sanctity of the occasion is crushed by dysfunctional family dynamics, where each party serves their personal interests through deceit, blasphemy, manipulation, and a literal “coverup.” How will God intervene to further his kingdom when the chosen family has all but denied God’s presence? There is so much in this text that speaks to family dynamics, birth order, competition, favoritism and the “coveted blessing” we all long for. I wish I had three weeks to tease our all of its implications.
Gen 25:19-34 This week we begin a new series on the Life of Jacob: Encountering God in the ordinary and often messy stuff of life. Paul Stevens writes, “As we travel through all the stages of Jacob’s life we discover that God is with Jacob in every aspect of his journey. The Bible is not an instruction manual that contains principles of spirituality. It is a story, a story about God in search of humankind and his progressive establishment of his kingdom on earth. And the amazing thing about this God is that he condescends to come right into the midst of our mundane, messy worlds of home, work and play as the stage where this ‘holy’ work occurs.” Each week we will discover how God is at work forging Jacob’s identity in the midst of a very dysfunctional and fragmented family, one that may be strikingly similar to our own.
Phil 1:27–30 Paul has been catching the Philippians up on the state of his life. While things look hard on the outside (he’s in jail awaiting a trial that could lead to his death) he remains strong in the Lord. He’s settled on his life mantra moving forward: To live is Christ and to die is gain. Paul will now turn his attention to the Philippians and what their lives should look like as citizens of God’s Kingdom, a lifestyle that he is modeling for them, and by extension, us.
Phil 1:19–26 Paul has let the Philippian Christians know that although he is in chains, Christ is being preached, the gospel is gaining ground, and so he rejoices. As Paul shifts his focus to his own predicament, we learn he isn’t totally sure if his imprisonment will end in freedom via deliverance from his chains or salvation via death. Knowing God will orchestrate his life’s journey, whether it be through a fruitful ministry on earth, or by receiving the crown of life after being faithful unto death, Paul, in all ways, will always rejoice! Can we follow his lead in living our lives on this side of eternity!?
Phil 1:12–18 After giving thanks and praying for his friends in the Philippian church, Paul seeks to update his koinonia partners on his well-being. But, in an unexpected twist, Paul doesn’t speak to his well-being while in Roman chains. The apostle instead focuses on the fact that the gospel is gaining ground in spite of his circumstances. There are some around Paul that are gaining clarity as to the reason for his imprisonment (preaching the gospel of Jesus) and some others that are gaining confidence. For Paul himself, he’s able to look beyond his hard circumstances and see the growth of the gospel, and this, for Paul, is a reason to rejoice! What an example we have to follow when our life circumstances are less than ideal!