The NEW Movement (Final): Revelation 19-22

Here’s a video explaining the second half of Revelation:

THIS WEEK

Revelation 19-22

This final section of the book of Revelation is perhaps the most important.  Revelation exists to encourage us to struggle against the worldly and Satanic powers which demand our allegiance.  Our faith and endurance will result in persecutions and sufferings, but these chapters provide the hope that motivates us to be faithful.  Finally, we get a picture of God’s victory and our vindication; this is where all our faithfulness is rewarded, and all evil is defeated.

Chapter 19 includes the battle of Armageddon (though the name Armageddon comes from 16:16).  Who does the actual fighting in this battle?  Where are we, during the battle?

In chapter 20, we find one of the most controversial and confusing passages of Revelation.  The meaning of the 1,000 year reign (aka the Millennium) is hotly debated today.  For a moment, ignore the question of when that 1,000 years occurs, and consider the more important question.  How does this passage help encourage you towards faithful living today?

The final judgment and the new heaven and earth are incredible moments.  What is most exciting for you about the description of the heavenly city?

The book ends with one of the most important prayers of the church: “Come, Lord Jesus.”  What would it mean for you to pray that prayer yourself each day?

 

NEXT WEEK

Our NEW Movement is over!  If you’ve made it even just through a book or two, that’s great; if you made it through the entire New Testament, that’s fantastic!!  

Even though our reading plan is over, there’s still more Bible to read.  Now that you have made a habit of reading Scripture, maintain that habit.  Perhaps you might choose to read Genesis and Exodus, or perhaps you might return to one of the New Testament books you read and enjoyed earlier.  

Spending regular time reading the Word is one of the most important parts of our relationship with Jesus.  I hope you continue on your own this summer, and in all the months and years to come!

Grace and Peace,

Jim

 

The NEW Movement: Revelation 12-18

THIS WEEK

Revelation 12-18

Chapters 12-14 repeat the central story in a new format - the dragon, the beasts and the Lamb.  Revelation 12 speaks of a woman (the nation of Israel) who is pregnant with a child (Jesus) and chased by a dragon (Satan).  We see a cosmic battle between Michael and Satan, and the beginning of Satan’s end, as he is thrown out of heaven.  

Why do you think Michael fights Satan, rather than Jesus or God the Father?  What are the implications for the church when Satan is thrown out of heaven?

What is the church expected to do during the reign of the beasts?  How is the coming of the Lamb a hopeful moment?

Chapters 15-16 include the final series of seven judgments, in the form of seven bowls of wrath.  What about this section seems familiar to the two previous sevens (seals, trumpets)?  What do you notice that is different?

Chapters 17-18 speak about the “whore of Babylon.”  What are the accusations against Babylon?  How are we to react to Babylon, as God’s people?

 

NEXT WEEK

Revelation 19-22

This is the end of the end - beginning with the final battle and culminating in the new heaven and new earth.  There are a number of confusing sections, especially those about the 1,000 year reign.  Focus on the passages that make sense to you as you read!  What do you learn about the new heaven and the new earth?  What do we learn about those who choose not to follow Jesus?  How do you feel about the final part of this story?

Keep reading - we’re almost there!

Grace and Peace,

Jim

The NEW Movement: Revelation 6-11

Here’s a video summary of the first half of Revelation.  This is a particularly challenging book, and these videos are a helpful resource!!

THIS WEEK

Revelation 6-11

This section of Revelation immediately continues the story begun in chapters 4-5.  The Lamb (Jesus), who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll held by God, begins to open the scroll one seal at a time.  After the seventh seal, we begin a second pattern of sevens, the seven trumpets.  After each event (seal or trumpet) something momentous occurs, often related to the judgment of God.

The first four seals (6:1-8) unveil the four horsemen.  What does each horseman represent?

The fifth seal affirms the faithfulness of the martyrs, both those who have died and those yet to die for their faith.  We also see martyrs mentioned in Revelation 11.  What is the role of the faithful during the judgment of God?

Notice again that the timeline of Revelation is not linear.  The events of the sixth seal sound like the end of the world, and yet the story continues.  

What strikes you as particularly strange or confusing in this section?  How do you make sense of some of these strange illustrations (for example, the army of locusts with human faces)?

The end of chapter 11 sounds like a natural ending point for the book; and yet it continues.  What aspects of chapter 11 sounds like a conclusion to the story?

NEXT WEEK

Revelation 12-18

Chapters 12-14 discuss the dragon, the beasts, and the Lamb - strange stuff!  Don’t worry too much about the stuff you don’t understand; just keep reading.  Chapters 15-16 include the third group of sevens, the seven bows.  This section concludes with a conversation about “the whore of Babylon,” which is a metaphor for the city of Rome.  

Stick with it this week!

Peace,

Jim

The NEW Movement: Revelation 1-5

THIS WEEK

Revelation 1-5

Revelation is a special genre of Scripture called Apocalyptic Literature.  It is written by communities under severe persecution, in symbolic and metaphorical language, presenting the future judgment/victory of God over the current oppression.  The central message of Revelation is, “keep the faith.”  We know little about the author of Revelation, John of Patmos; while he could be the Apostle John, the book doesn’t tell us one way or the other and early church histories are divided on the subject.  We know Revelation was written as a letter to seven churches in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), likely between 92-96 AD during the persecution by the Emperor Domitian.

If you have a red-letter Bible, did you notice that the words of Jesus are red here in Revelation?  The appearance of Jesus to John on Patmos is a vision, not a dream, and these are truly the words of Christ, just like those in the Gospels.  

What strikes you about the appearance and words of Jesus in chapter 1?

Chapters 2-3 are the seven letters Jesus dictates to the churches in Asia Minor.  What similarities did you notice between the letters?  What is true (good or bad) about these churches that might be relevant for your life today?

Chapters 4-5 are the beginning of John’s incredible vision of the heavenly places and the end times.  These passages begin with worship - why might that be important?  What did you notice about the connection between The One Enthroned (God the Father) and the Lamb (God the Son)?   

Was any of the music in this section familiar

NEXT WEEK

Revelation 6-11

Chapters 6-11 include the outpouring of God’s wrath against sin, in the form of seven seals and seven trumpets.  Which of these passages contain stories you’ve heard before, maybe even outside the church?  What is particularly striking or confusing?

Note that the events of Revelation are not necessarily presented in a chronological or linear format (for example, in 6:12-14, the sky, mountains and islands are all removed, while in 7:3 the angels are told to not damage the earth or sea or trees).

How would these stories be a comfort to those who are suffering great persecution for their faith?

Keep with it!

Grace and Peace,

Jim

The NEW Movement: 1 & 2 Peter, Jude

We cover three books this week, and so here are three videos summarizing those books:

THIS WEEK

1 Peter & 2 Peter, Jude

1 & 2 Peter are written by the most famous of the apostles, Simon Peter.  1 Peter is addressed to the Jewish Christian community scattered beyond Judea, whereas 2 Peter does not specify the location of its audience.  Both letters must have been written before Peter’s death in the mid-60s at the hands of Emperor Nero, and his second letter, Peter clearly expects his death to come soon.  Jude is one of the half-brothers of Jesus, along with James, and he also writes to a non-specific group of Christians.

1 Peter 1 offers an excellent summary of the whole Christian faith, from Christ’s atoning death (1:18-19) to our response (1:13-16, 22-23).  A few points, however, require a bit more reflection.  For example, to what is Peter looking forward in 1:5, 1:7, 2:12 and 4:7?  And what does Peter mean by “our exile” in 1:17?

How does Peter emphasize the importance of Christ’s death for us?  How are we to respond?

Peter says the devil, our adversary, prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.  How does Peter instruct us to respond to the devil?  (5:6-11)

In both 2 Peter and Jude, the primary concern seems to be the emergence of false teachers, who misrepresent the gospel.  What do these two books warn us about regarding false teachers?  Where do we see similar false teachers in our world today?

NEXT WEEK

Revelation 1-5

Revelation is one of the most confusing books of the New Testament, but it begins somewhat straightforwardly with seven letters, given to John by the resurrected Jesus in a vision.  These letters, each to a different church, can offer us much insight into our own spiritual lives.  Read each carefully and consider which portions might apply to your own spiritual life.

In the next part of John’s vision, he is caught up into the heavens.  What strikes you as significant about what he sees and experiences there?  Anything that surprises you?

We will study Revelation on Wednesday Nights throughout May, as well as in worship beginning May 14.  Join us as you read to gain a deeper understanding of this book!

Grace and Peace,

Jim

The NEW Movement: 1, 2 & 3 John

Here’s a video that offers a simple summary of these three letters:

THIS WEEK

1 John, 2 John, 3 John

The three letters of John are assumed to be written by John the Apostle, the brother of James and son of Zebedee.  However, none of the letters bear his name.  1 John is anonymous, and 2 and 3 John are attributed to someone simply named “the elder.”  Because of the similarities in themes and writing styles, and because of the tradition of the early church, these three letters are usually presumed to have the same author as the Gospel of John.

1 John speaks primarily about the supernatural love of Jesus Christ, compared to the enemies of Christ, specifically the Antichrist and the devil.  John does not describe love as an emotion.  Neither does he suggested that love is blind acceptance.  Instead, he roots his understanding of love in two qualities.  See 1 John 3:16 and 4:9-10 for the definition of God’s love for us; then see 1 John 5:2-5 for the definition of our love for God.  What is similar?  What is different?

This letter has some often quoted passages, like “God is love,” that are taken outside of the intended context.  What does John mean by “God is love” in 1 John 4:7-12?

John also includes some challenging passages about those outside of God’s family.  He speaks not only of the “children of God” but also of “the children of the devil.”  (1 John 3:4-10).  What does he mean by each of these terms?

What strikes you as interesting about 2 and 3 John?  Why do you think these letters were preserved and placed in Holy Scripture?

NEXT WEEK

1 Peter, 2 Peter, Jude

1 and 2 Peter are attributed to Simon Peter, the chief Apostle.  Jude is assumed to be one of the half-brothers of Jesus (he calls himself “the brother of James” both to avoid claiming a special relationship with Jesus, and also because the Lord’s brother James became an enormously influential figure in the early church).

1 Peter is a powerful and beautifully written letter firmly rooted in the story of Jesus and the Old Testament, in order to strengthen the Jewish Christian believers scattered through the Roman Empire.  What section of this letter is most impactful for you?

2 Peter and Jude have some striking similarities.  Read these two letters together; what do they share in common?

Keep it up - these are the last three books before Revelation!

Peace,

Jim

The NEW Movement: James

Here’s a video that offers a simple summary of the Book of James:

 

THIS WEEK

James 1-5

The Epistle (letter) of James may be one of the first books written in the New Testament.  It is attributed to James, the half-brother of Jesus, an important leader of the early church not to be confused with either of the apostles named James.  This letter is addressed to “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion,” meaning the Jewish Christians living outside of Judea.  Significantly, James only mentions Jesus twice, almost in passing: James 1:1 and 2:1.  The rest of the letter sounds like it could have been written by a non-Christian Jew, except that it so often seems to quote Jesus’ teachings directly (for example, see James 5:12 and Matthew 6:33-37).

Why do you think this early letter focuses more on behavior than on theology?

Chapter 1 of this letter reads like a table of contents for the rest of the book.  Did you notice where these themes appeared again later in the letter?

James’ instructions in chapter 2 are particularly memorable and powerful.  “Mercy triumphs over judgement.”  “Faith without works is dead.”  “Even demons believe … and shudder.”  What is James trying to communicate in this passage?  What distinction does he make between belief and faith?

The letter concludes with a powerful exhortation to prayer (5:13-18) and evangelism (5:19-20).  Do you see prayer as James does?  What does your prayer life look like on a daily basis?  Are you in prayer for those who don’t know Christ?

NEXT WEEK

1 John 1-5, 2 John, 3 John

There are three letters attributed to John the apostle in the New Testament.  1 John, of course, is the longest and the only one with no names for the sender or the addressee.  2 and 3 John are written by “the elder” to a church and an individual respectively.  

What about these letters, especially 1 John, reminds you of the Gospel of John?  

How does 1 John define love?  What does it mean when John says, “God is love”?

Keep with it!  We are in the home stretch!

Peace,

Jim

The Gospel of Matthew, Conclusion

The NEW Movement: Matthew, Conclusion
 

Each Saturday, we send out a weekly recap of our NEW Movement readings, and a brief look ahead to the coming week’s assignments. Most weeks involve completing one chapter a day; Sunday can be your day off, or a day to catch up on what you’ve missed.

 

Here’s a video summary of the second half of the Gospel of Matthew:
 

 

THIS WEEK

Matthew 21-28

Through this Holy Week, we have been reading about the last week of Jesus’ pre-resurrection life.  So much is packed into these seven days; the triumphant entry, the cleansing of the Temple, Jesus’ debates and teachings in the Temple, the Eschatological Discourse (Sermon on the End Times), and of course the account of Christ’s final meal, betrayal, death and resurrection.  

The Kingdom of Heaven about which Jesus has taught so relentlessly has finally come; the Messiah has finally been revealed.  And yet some doubted.  After everything that happened, after the miracle of the Resurrection itself, some doubted - even some of the apostles.

At times, doubt can be stronger the faith.  Faith requires us to integrate our experience with our lives through the lens of Christ; doubt requires us to reject our experience and truth to maintain our preconceived notions.  Change was hard for the disciples; it is hard for us today.  But a man rose from the dead, and never died again.  After this week, everything changed.  Going back to life before the resurrection is like sticking our heads in the sand and hoping we won’t be noticed.  

What has to change, for you, in light of the truth of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead?  

NEXT WEEK

James 1-5

James is written by Jesus’ half-brother, who goes on to become the bishop of the Jerusalem church (see, for example, Acts 15).  James is not one of the two apostles with the same name; in fact, he becomes more significant than either of them in the context of the New Testament.  

The Letter of James offers few theological insights; it focuses primarily on behavioral choices.  Many believe it is one of the earliest (perhaps the first) books of the New Testament.  As you read, notice that the first chapter is something like a table of contents for the rest of the letter.  Which aspect of James 1 most captured your attention?

Keep reading and I’ll see you for Easter!

Peace,

Jim

The Gospel of Matthew, Part Three

THIS WEEK

Matthew 14-20

In Matthew 14, we hear about the murder of John the Baptist, which has a profound impact upon Jesus.  Yet as Jesus tries to get away from the crowds to mourn, the crowds follow, desperate for what only Jesus can provide.  We find, in this moment, a powerful juxtaposition between the humanity of Jesus, expressed in his desire for privacy and his grief, and the divinity of Jesus, manifested in the feeding of the 5,000 and walking on water.  

The following chapter includes several unfamiliar or confusing stories, including the account of the Canaanite woman and a second feeding miracle, the feeding of the 4,000.  What part of this section most confused you?  How did it relate to the stories in chapter 16?

Jesus first mentions his impending death and resurrection in Matthew 16, and again in chapter 17.  Each time, the foretelling of Easter is paired with a powerful affirmation of Jesus’ identity and divinity.  Why does Jesus reveal his future in this way?

Matthew 18 is the fourth sermon in the Gospel.  What is the major theme of this sermon?  

In Chapters 19-20, Jesus leaves Galilee and begins to move towards Jerusalem and Palm Sunday.  How do you see Jesus preparing the disciples for Holy Week in this section?

NEXT WEEK

Matthew 21-28

These final chapters cover the last week of Jesus’ life.  Considering reading a portion each day as a means of walking with Jesus from Palm Sunday to Easter.  Join us for worship on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday as well.  Walk with Jesus, but with eyes set on the resurrection!

Grace and Peace,

Jim

Matthew, Continued

Here’s a video recap of the first half of the Gospel of Matthew (chapters 1-13)

 

THIS WEEK

Matthew 8-13

The pattern of stories followed by sermons continues in this section of Matthew.  Matthew 8-9 contains a number of famous stories about Jesus, including the faithful centurion, the calming of the storm, the demons cast into pigs, and the raising of the synagogue leader’s daughter from the dead.  Then follows a sermon (called the Missional Discourse) in chapter 10, where Jesus gives instructions to the Twelve as he sends them on their missionary journeys.  

9:37-38 provides a critical transition between the work of Jesus, and the sending of the twelve.  What do these verses tell us about why Jesus sends out the 12?  What do these verses tell us about what Jesus wants from his disciples today?

Are you encouraged or intimidated by Jesus’ sermon in Matthew 10?  Why?

Again, in Matthew 11-12 we get more stories (with teaching interspersed), and in Matthew 13 we get the third sermon of the Gospel of Matthew, the sermon in parables (also known as the Parabolic Discourse).  

Each parable in Matthew 13 is about “the kingdom of heaven.”  What do you think Jesus means by this phrase?  How do the parables help you understand it?  What questions do they raise?

NEXT WEEK

Matthew 14-20

Each of the sermons in the Gospel of Matthew concludes with “when Jesus had finished saying these things.”  See if you can find the sermon in this section!  What is the main theme or topic of this sermon?

Chapters 16 and 17 include two of the most pivotal moments in the Gospel.  In 16:16, Peter declares that Jesus is the Son of God.  In 17:1-8, Peter, James and John see Jesus transfigured, together with Moses and Elijah.  Together with these wonderful, special events comes a new component of Jesus’ teaching.  What does he begin to show and teach them in 16 and 17, after each of these great revelations?

We are halfway through the Gospel of Matthew - stick with it!

Grace and Peace,

Jim
 

The NEW Movement: Matthew

THIS WEEK:

Matthew 1-7

Like the other Gospels, the original text of the Gospel of Matthew has no author’s name associated with it.  Early church leaders attributed this Gospel to Matthew the Apostle, the tax collector who follows Jesus in Matthew 9:9.  Matthew was written to a Jewish or Jewish-Christian audience, and we see evidence of that in the large number of Old Testament quotations and the genealogy through Abraham, amongst other places.

Whereas Luke emphasizes Mary’s role in the Christmas story, Matthew focuses more on Joseph.  What struck you about Joseph most in these passages?  Did you notice how often he heard from God in a dream?  Do you remember another Joseph in Scripture with a gift for understanding dreams?

Notice the similarities between John the Baptist and Jesus.  They both have, for example, the same mission statement (3:2 and 4:17).  What does this statement mean to you?  To John?  To Jesus?

The stories of Jesus’ baptism, the temptation in the wilderness, and the calling of the first apostles are all very familiar.  Did you notice anything in your reading of these stories that you hadn’t heard before?  What do you learn about Jesus from these accounts?

The church placed Matthew first amongst the Gospels in the New Testament because they believed that Matthew contained some of the best teaching for disciples of Jesus.  One excellent example of that teaching comes in the famous Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), which you read this week.  What parts of this sermon were most inspiring or challenging for you?  What stuck with you best after reading it?

NEXT WEEK:

Matthew 8-13

In this section of Matthew, Jesus increasingly reveals his divine power and identity; there is something of a crescendo building in Matthew 8-9 as he heals the sick, calms the storm, casts out demons, and raises the dead.  Which of these miracles most touches your spiritual life?  

In chapter 13, Jesus gives the sermon in parables.  Did you know any of these parables before reading?  What did they teach you about the kingdom of heaven?  What IS the kingdom of heaven?

Stick with it this week!

Grace and Peace,

Jim

The NEW Movement: 2 Timothy and Titus

Here are video summaries of 2 Timothy . . .

. . .  and Titus:

THIS WEEK

2 Timothy and Titus

Paul’s second letter to Timothy is thought by most to be written in 64 or 65 AD, though there is considerable debate, and many scholars believe that 2 Timothy was written before 1 Timothy.  Regardless, Paul is once again writing to Timothy, his spiritual son and protégé.  Timothy’s location is unclear; while it may be that he is still in Ephesus, it is possible he is in Troas, a city on the coast of modern-day Turkey north of Ephesus.  Either way, Paul, believing that he is near the end of his life (likely his trial is going poorly), asks Timothy to come visit him to provide some comfort near the end of his earthly journey.

Notice the interesting dichotomy between Paul’s expectation of death and his hope for resurrection.  He writes, “I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (4:6-7).  And yet just a paragraph later, he says, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom.”  How are we called to balance this acceptance of our mortality with our confidence in God’s salvation?  Could you look at your own life today and say, as Paul says, “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith?”  Why or why not?

Paul has experienced a good bit of betrayal by those he cared for (see 1:15-18, 4:10, 4:16, etc).  Have you had the experience of being abandoned in a time of need?  How are faithful friends (like Timothy) a comfort in those times?  Have you been a faithful friend to others in their seasons of crisis?

How does Paul find comfort in Scripture during his trial?  See 3:14-17.  Do you go to Scripture for encouragement, instruction and comfort?

Paul’s letter to Titus is another “pastoral” letter, written to a spiritual son and fellow pastor, Titus, who is serving a church on the island of Crete.  This letter is also likely written in AD 65.  Paul implies that he has visited Crete himself, but other than the stop he makes there while under arrest in Acts 27, Paul makes no other trip to Crete in the book of Acts.  Some believe that Paul is released from prison in Rome and has a fourth missionary journey, including a stop in Crete with Titus, before Paul’s final arrest and execution in Rome.  While this fourth journey is debated, it does help make sense of the timelines in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus.

Instructions are given to Titus about behavioral expectations for bishops, older men and women, younger women and men, and slaves.  Some of these concerns relate to a general understanding of Cretans as “liars, vicious brutes, and lazy gluttons.”  Paul’s concern is that the Christians on Crete must reveal through their lives and holiness the merits of the gospel.  We also live in a culture that appears to be opposed to the selfless, self-denying ethics of Christ.  How are you living in the same counter-cultural lifestyle to which Paul calls the Cretan Christians?

NEXT WEEK

Matthew 1-7

We return to the final Gospel next week; Matthew is one of the most familiar Gospels and your readings will likely be stories you have heard many times before.  Pay close attention to those familiar passages, for often what we remember and what the Bible says don’t match perfectly.  Pay special attention to the family that God is developing - from the genealogy of Abraham to Jesus, to the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus, to the new family Jesus builds with the disciples.  This theme of rediscovered family will run throughout the Gospel of Matthew.

Enjoy your readings in Matthew this week!

Peace,

Jim

The NEW Movement: 1 Timothy

Here is a video summary of 1 Timothy:

THIS WEEK

1 Timothy

Paul’s letters to Timothy and to Titus are called “The Pastoral Letters,” as both Timothy and Titus are pastors sent by Paul.  Timothy is serving as the pastor for the Ephesian church while Paul is away; most traditional scholars believe Paul is in prison in Rome near the end of his life (around 65 AD), though there is considerable debate on this topic.  Each of these letters has a different feel that the other Pauline letters; Paul uses different vocabulary and different ideas as he speaks to these pastors.

A major emphasis in 1 Timothy is the instruction to “guard the faith” (6:20) and maintain “sound teaching” (1:10, 4:6, 6:3).  These themes appear in 2 Timothy as well.  How are we called to “guard the faith” and maintain “sound teaching” today?  In what ways are we, like the Ephesians, tempted by false doctrines?

One of the great challenges in 1 Timothy appears in 2:8-15.  Without the rest of Scripture, this passage would lead us to believe that women cannot be leaders in the church, and that they are saved not through faith in Jesus but through childbearing.  Of course, when read with the rest of the New Testament, neither of those ideas make sense.  How do you reconcile this passage with the rest of the letters of Paul?

1 Timothy 6:10 is a famous passage.  How does this speak to you today?

Paul tells his spiritual son Timothy to “fight the good fight of the faith.”  Are you fighting the good fight of the faith, too?

NEXT WEEK

2 Timothy, Titus

2 Timothy is a short letter but contains the beautiful story of faith passed down from Timothy’s grandmother, to his mother, to him.  It serves as a testimony of the power of Christ-centered families.  We also see in 2 Timothy that Paul appears to believe he is at the end of his earthly life (see 4:6-8).  What strikes you about this passage?

Titus is another co-worker of Paul, whom Paul regards as a spiritual son.  He is serving a church in Crete.  What similarities do you see between Paul’s instructions to Timothy and to Titus?  

Stick with your reading this week!  2 Timothy and Titus are the last of Paul’s 13 letters.

Grace and Peace,

Jim

The NEW Movement: 1 & 2 Thessalonians and 1 Timothy

Here are video summaries for this week:
1 Thessalonians:

2 Thessalonians:

THIS WEEK

1 & 2 Thessalonians

1 Thessalonians is thought to be the oldest letter of Paul in the New Testament.  Thessalonica was a city in modern Macedonia which Paul first visited in Acts 17.  Paul had success beginning a church there, but significant persecution from the non-Christian Jewish population forced him to flee the city.  His first letter to the Thessalonians was written while Paul was in Corinth, sometime around AD 51.  Paul’s focus in 1 Thessalonians is to encourage the believers, who he left so abruptly.  He had sent another church leader, Timothy, to their church between his departure from Thessalonica and sending this letter.  Timothy’s return provides the impetus for sending this missive.   

Did you notice how often Paul wrote about persecution?  This seems to be a sizable challenge for the Thessalonians.  Do we experience persecution today as believers?  Where do our fellow Christians experience serious persecution around the world?  Perhaps they should become part of our regular prayer life.

Paul often speaks about the return of Jesus in this book (1:10, 3:13, 4:13-5:11, 5:23).  What did you learn about Jesus’ return from this letter?  How often do you think about the return of Jesus?

2 Thessalonians is a short letter, written around AD 54 in response to concerns of the Thessalonian church.  Again, Jesus’ return is a major theme, as is the final judgment.  This time, Paul wants to let the people know that “the day of the Lord” has not yet come.  To do so, he reminds them of teachings he had previously given about the end times, specifically “the man of lawlessness.”  What did you glean from this passage about Jesus’ return?

What does it mean to be ready for the return of our Lord?

NEXT WEEK

1 Timothy

Paul’s letter to Timothy marks a dramatically different style of writing; prior to this letter, everything we have read by Paul (including the letter to Philemon) has really been directed to a church community.  Now, in 1 Timothy, we see a letter directed to a subordinate leader.  This is an incredible read; notice particularly the encouragements that Paul offers to Timothy in his ministry.  Do you have a Paul-figure in your work, home, or spiritual life who encourages and directs you?  If no, do you know people you might contact to fill that gap in your life?

Keep reading and I’ll see you Sunday!

The NEW Movement: Philippians & Colossians

Here are video summaries for this week:
 


THIS WEEK

Philippians 1-4 and Colossians 1-4

Like Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians are written by Paul to his churches (in Philippi and Colossae) while he is still in prison in Rome.  

As I shared last week, each of these letters has had an enormous impact on my own life - Philippians 3:10-11 and Colossians 1:24-31 are passages I recite almost daily.  Was there a verse or passage that particularly spoke to you as you read?  Was there anything that you feel called to commit to memory?

When Paul writes to Philippi, he’s writing to some of his closest supporters and dearest friends.  Hence, we see him vulnerable and honest about his exhaustion from ministry; indeed, he affirms that he would prefer to “depart” from his body to be with Christ.  Yet we get this beautiful proclamation; “living is Christ and dying is gain.”  How does Paul’s perspective in the midst of his suffering inform your own faith, or that of others you’ve watched in seasons of great trials?

By the end of his letter, Paul appears to have talked himself back to hope by retelling the gospel; he writes, “I can do all things through him who gives me strength” and “rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.”  Have you ever been in a place of darkness or sadness and tried retelling the story of Jesus to yourself?  This is an incredible way to find yourself rejoicing while still in prison.

In Colossians 2, Paul warns the church to avoid returning to the pretense and form of religion, rather than the reality of faith.  Then, in chapter 3, he begins to describe the new life in Christ.  How does his metaphor of clothing help you think about the idea of “putting on Christ”?

NEXT WEEK

1 Thessalonians 1-5 and 2 Thessalonians 1-3

One of the major concerns for the church in Thessalonica was the timing of the return of Jesus.  To that end, we get some very specific instructions about what Jesus’ return will look like in 1 Thessalonians 4, and more detail about “the man of lawlessness” in 2 Thessalonians.  How do these passages match, or conflict, with your preexisting conceptions of the end times?

1 Thessalonians 5 tells us that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”  What does this mean?  Are you living your life so as to be ready for the sudden reappearance of Jesus?  If he came back today, by the time you finished reading this, would you be excited to see him, embarrassed about where he would find your life, or frustrated about what you had left undone?

Stick to it this week!

Grace and Peace,

Jim

The NEW Movement: Ephesians

Here is an excellent video summation of Ephesians.

THIS WEEK

Ephesians 1-6

We have returned to the letters of Paul.  Ephesus was a significant religious and cultural hub of its day, and also the city in which Paul spent the most time during his missionary journeys - he is in Ephesus for almost 3 years.  He writes his letter to the Ephesians from prison, and we traditionally assume this was part of his imprisonment in Rome (between 62-64 AD).  

Ephesians is a deep and challenging text, wrestling with concepts from predestination (mentioned twice in 1:5 and 1:11) to Christian marriage (5:21-33) to spiritual warfare (6:10-17).  At its core, however, is a proclamation of the character and identity of the church, especially as it calls Jew and Gentile together.

We find a masterful summary of the gospel in Ephesians 2:1-10.  Notice the emphasis on grace that runs throughout, as we are told that God loved us and made us alive while we were still dead in our sins, and as we are reminded that even our faith is a gift.  Re-read this section and consider committing it to memory.  What part of this section stands out to you as most striking?

The famous “armor of God” passage in 6:10-17 has been relegated to one of those “great children’s illustration” passages like Noah’s ark; we rarely reflect on it as adults.  Yet when we do, we discover how profoundly adult this passage truly is; the conversation about our war with the evil spiritual powers of the enemy is hardly light children’s reading.  How do you think about our war with the spiritual forces of evil?  How do we avoid reducing this to a metaphor, while also preventing an unhealthy fear or obsession about the “powers and principalities”?  

Did you notice the incredible prayers in 1:17-23 and 3:14-21?  Consider using these words as part of your prayer life to God this week.

 

NEXT WEEK

Philippians 1-4 and Colossians 1-4

Philippians may just be Paul’s most positive book, despite the depths of sorrow within which he finds himself.  Notice his language about rejoicing that runs throughout the letter.  Pay special attention to the hymn in Philippians 2:5-11; this is another incredible gospel summary.

Colossians will be strikingly similar to Ephesians, both in content and style.  Most people believe that these books were written together and perhaps even sent out together by the same messenger.  In 1:15-20, you will read a beautiful depiction of Christ, “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”  

Each of these books are precious to me, for each includes a passage that has deep personal meaning.  Philippians 3:10-11 is my life verse, and hangs on the wall above my office.  Colossians 1:24-31 is my personal mission statement.  Perhaps, as you read these two incredible texts, you may also find a verse or verses that impact the course of the rest of your life.

Enjoy your reading and I’ll see you Sunday

Grace and Peace,

Jim

 

The NEW Movement: The Acts of the Apostles and Ephesians

THIS WEEK

Acts 21-28

Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem is momentous; we know from Paul’s own expectations (Acts 20:25) and the words of the Christian prophet Agabus (Acts 21:10-14) that the final stage of his life will likely begin when he comes full circle and returns to the city.  Yet Paul will not be dissuaded, stating that he is “ready not only to be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”  How often are we easily swayed from our own spiritual commitments?  How can Paul’s example be an encouragement to us?

His arrest and initial trials (Acts 21:27-24:26) afford him opportunities to speak and preach to large crowds, to the Jewish authorities, and to the Roman authorities.  Ultimately, his arrest even allows him to reach Rome itself (Acts 23:11).  Do you see God’s providence and plan, even in the midst of Paul’s suffering?  

Paul retells his story of conversion twice in this section.  What do you notice that is similar and different between these three accounts (Acts 9, Acts 22 and Acts 26)?  Why does Luke, the author of Acts, include these minor differences?  What do you notice that is consistent throughout each of the accounts?  Why are these central details so important?

Acts concludes with Paul in prison in Rome, and with no mention of either Paul’s or Peters’ executions, both of which occur in Rome in the mid 60s AD.  Some believe this is because the book was finished before their deaths; others believe that Luke saw their deaths as irrelevant to the story.  Either way, the conclusion of the book highlights the central promise of Acts; that Jesus has come for Gentiles as well as Jews.  

What aspect of the account of the early church in Acts did you find most fascinating or impactful?  Why?

NEXT WEEK

Ephesians 1-6

Ephesians is Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus - one of the congregations most beloved by Paul, and where he spent over 2 years in ministry.  See Acts 19:1-20:1 and Acts 20:17-38.

Ephesians addresses one of Paul’s major themes; the union of Jew and Gentile in the body of Christ.  

See Ephesians 2, for an excellent summary of the gospel message!  See Ephesians 5 for challenging and thought-provoking standards for marriages, and Ephesians 6 for insights on spiritual warfare.  But most of all, pay attention to the incredible prayers found in this book, and consider using them in your own prayer life this coming week!

Stick with it and I’ll see you Sunday!

Peace,

Jim
 

The Acts of the Apostles, Part 3

If you’re enjoying the video summaries, here’s an outline of the second half of the book of Acts.

THIS WEEK

Acts 13-20

Paul sets off on his three missionary journeys in this section of Acts.  His first journey is reported in Acts 13:1-14:28, his second is found in Acts 15:36-18:22, and his third is Acts 18:23-21:17.  For an excellent overview of these three trips, including maps and timelines, see http://www.ccob.org/women/docs/pauljourneys.pdf

The missionary work of Paul becomes the focus of the second half of the book of Acts.  From the text, we discover that mission is at the heart of the church’s identity.  We have always been sent out to share the story of Christ with our neighbors and the world.  

Paul’s travels are fascinating because he often remains in cities for only a short period of time - days, weeks or months.  Only twice does he remain longer - in Corinth, for a year and a half, and in Ephesus, for two years.  It is astonishing what he is able to accomplish in such a short time, and it serves as a reminder that it is not Paul who works, but Christ-in-him who makes the growth of the church possible.  

In Acts 15, the first gather of church leaders occurs - we call this the Jerusalem Council.  They meet to discuss whether one must become Jewish to be Christian, and resolve that we do NOT need to obey the law (aka become Jewish) in order to partake in Christ.  This is a seismic shift and transforms our entire conception of the Christian faith.  Too often, we ask people to get their lives in order before they can follow Jesus; the Jerusalem Council reminds us that we receive grace before we attain obedience.

NEXT WEEK

Acts 21-28

The conclusion of Acts focuses on Paul’s arrest, trials and imprisonments.  His status as a Roman citizen figures strongly in this section, as his ultimate appeal to Caesar shapes the course of the narrative.  Paul’s story ends with something of a cliffhanger; he is in Rome under house arrest but we aren’t told whether he survives or is executed.

We know that eventually Paul is beheaded in Rome.  However, some believe that Paul was released and completed a fourth missionary journey before his final arrest and execution; others believe that he is never again set free between the end of Acts and his final punishment.

Either way, Paul’s impact on the life of the early church is unmatched; we remain eternally grateful for his witness for Christ.

Stick with it this week!

Grace and Peace,

Jim