Wary but not Paranoid

Scripture Focus: 2 Thessalonians 2.3-4; 9-10
3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

9 The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, 10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.

Reflection: Wary but not Paranoid
By John Tillman

In Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, Sauron’s physical form is twisted and horrific, matching the darkness of his motives and methods.

As fans discussed early episodes of the Rings of Power series, they speculated about which character was Sauron. When this was finally revealed, fans of Tolkien’s work were not surprised that the character is very attractive.

Sauron was one of a group of immortal beings called the “Ainur.” He came in the disguise of a “fair man,” tricking the elves into helping him make the rings of power.

Tolkien reflected on two things as he molded the mythology of his Lord of the Rings universe: The Bible and World War II. It is no accident that there are similarities in Sauron’s path to power and downfall that mirror Satan and the Axis powers.

Paul reassured the Thessalonians about “End Times” anxieties. Some unidentified leaders had given some false information. Paul corrects them saying that before the end, “the rebellion” must occur and the “man of lawlessness” must be revealed. We have no shortage of rebellions and insurrections today. We have no shortage of lawless men. Is one of them THE man of lawlessness?

Jesus warned the disciples not to believe those claiming he had appeared, saying, “He’s over there! He’s in here!” (Luke 17.23; Matthew 24.26) We should have similar doubts about those claiming this leader or that one is the Antichrist.

Most of those pointing fingers at Antichrists are pointing at people they already hate or dislike. More than anything else, this indicates they are probably wrong. An unbelieving friend of mine says that the Antichrist is probably Ryan Seacrest, or someone equally as attractive and appealing. He’s probably right—not about the individual, but about the method. 

The Antichrist will come, according to Paul, “in accordance with how Satan works.” (v. 9) If this is true, the outer package will be appealing. So what should we do? Only trust non-attractive people? Follow people we dislike? What do we do to prevent being deceived? Paul says, “love the truth and be saved.” (v. 10)

Like Sauron, even after the success of Satan’s deceptions, dark lords and men of lawlessness will fall before Jesus. We should be wary but not paranoid. Cautious but not in crisis. If we hold fast to Christ and love the truth more than human leaders no “man of lawlessness” will fool us for long.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
You are my helper and my deliverer; do not tarry, O my God. — Psalm 40.19

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 25 (Listen 2:20)
2 Thessalonians 2 (Listen 2:32)

Read more about Things Even Angels Question
End times prophecies are one of those areas in which well meaning believers can start missing the forest for the trees.

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More and More and Less and Less

Scripture Focus: 1 Thessalonians 4.1-2, 9-10
1 As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. 

9 Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more

Reflection: More and More and Less and Less — Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

Paul uses the term “more and more“ twice in the fourth chapter of his letter to the Thessalonians. Both times he is pleased with where the believers are currently, yet hoping for and encouraging them toward more. 

Sanctification is easy to confuse with moralism. 

To the moralist, “more and more” means more rules and ratings.
To those being sanctified, “more and more” means fewer outward rules and more inner change.

Through sanctification, we are slowly transformed by influences beyond ourselves—the Holy Spirit’s power and the reading of God’s Word. In sanctification, we focus on change in our lives, not others.

Through moralism, we transform scriptures into affirmations of our faithfulness and condemnation of others’ sinfulness. In moralism, we focus on others’ lives, measuring ourselves against them instead of scripture. 

Sanctification and moralism both introduce change, but only one is spiritual and is powered by the gospel. Let us pray this prayer that we may not be more “moral.” But that, instead, we may be more like Christ.

More and More and Less and Less
Gracious Father, we know…

We cannot do “more and more” of the things Christ calls us to without doing “less and less” of some other things.

More and more of Christ in our life means less and less of us. He must become greater and we must become less.

Give us more and less, Father… 
More of Christ’s love for others less of our love of self. 
More of Christ’s grace for others and less of our grudging forgiveness. 
More of Christ’s hatred of sin and less of our hatred of those whose sins differ from ours.
More of Christ’s Word, the Bible, and less of the algorithmic sales machines that social media has become.
More of spreading the gospel’s good news and less of spreading the worst news we can find about our enemies.

We know that we will be at our happiest, at our most fulfilled, and at our most true self when we continually surrender more and more to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

No Christian is ever perfect until perfectly conformed to Christ. Conform us, Lord.
No Christian is ever righteous without the righteousness of Christ. Make us righteous, Lord.
No Christian can say, “It is finished.” Christ came to say it for us. Finish your work in us, Lord.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Purge me from sin, and I shall be pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed. — Psalm 51.8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 24 (Listen 3:37)
2 Thessalonians 1 (Listen 1:52)

Read more about Balaam’s Success
Balaam’s strategy of people-pleasing pandering to powerful politicians is still alive today. So are his methods of deceit and temptation.

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Intercepting Deconstruction

Scripture Focus: 1 Thessalonians 3.3-5
3 So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. 2 We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, 3 so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. 4 In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. 5 For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain. 

Reflection: Intercepting Deconstruction
By John Tillman

Paul mentions twice that he can “stand it no longer.” The tension of wondering what had become of the fragile, new faith of the church in Thessalonica was too much for him. Deciding to stay in Athens alone, Paul sent Timothy to check on the believers and report back.

To put that in context, Paul could stand a lot. He could stand imprisonment, stonings, beatings with rods, and many other indignities and sufferings. But to suffer the nagging doubt about the faith of those he cared for was beyond him.

Paul’s concern is two-fold. He was concerned that news of his troubles would distress the believers and that “the tempter” would take the opportunity of distressing news to short-circuit their faith.

Faith, like young plants, is vulnerable when immature. A young plant may be choked out by thorns but a mature tree barely notices their clutching at its bark. Plants mature over time but faith matures only through active cultivation.

However, even mature faith can be harmed and even great trees can be felled. Many in our day have backed away from faith or are reexamining it. Some irresponsible pastors have attacked “deconstructing” Christians as being fooled by or being tools of Satan. Some of these pastors are the same men who caused, endorsed, or ignored the abuse, hypocrisy, and suffering that has fueled the deconstruction movement. They stand throwing gasoline on the fire and blame the devil.

While it is true that spiritual forces and powers attack individuals and the church at opportune times, (Luke 4.13) we can’t ignore the tangible causes. When we find abusive pastors, sweaty and holding an axe by a felled tree, we don’t need to blame the tree for giving in to Satan.

Paul preferred to prevent, rather than condemn, deconstruction. And when faith faltered, Paul intercepted those who strayed correctively but always compassionately. His strongest words were directed at deceivers, not the deceived. 

In our age of social media and instant messaging, we don’t need to send Timothy on a hazardous journey to stay in touch, although sometimes discussing faith can feel like a hazardous journey.

Like Paul, let us take the risk and put our energy into cultivating, maintaining, and repairing faith. Who do you know, weak in faith, who needs encouragement? Who do you know strong in faith, who you can turn to?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
I call with my whole heart; answer me, O Lord, that I may keep your statues. — Psalm 119.145

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 21 (Listen 5:03)
1 Thessalonians 3 (Listen 1:44)

This Weekend’s Readings
Numbers 22 (Listen 5:55), 1 Thessalonians 4 (Listen 2:24)
Numbers 23 (Listen 4:01), 1 Thessalonians 5 (Listen 2:37)

Read more about Cultivation Means Tending
We must carefully plant and nurture the early growth of gospel teaching so that it grows strong, healthy, and productive.

Read more about Cultivation Leads to Harvest
How are you dividing up your spiritual harvest? To whom are you passing on biblical knowledge?

Fear of Being Fooled

Scripture Focus: 1 Thessalonians 2.1-4
1 You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. 2 We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. 3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.

Pray……we don’t get fooled again.” — The Who

Reflection: Fear of Being Fooled
By John Tillman

People don’t like being tricked. I don’t even like surprise parties. 

Perhaps our fear of being fooled goes all the way back to Genesis? After the serpent fooled his parents, the Lord told Cain sin was a crouching creature to be mastered. (Genesis 4.6-7) We won’t be fooled again…we hope. Yet, over and over again, like Cain, sin masters us. The serpent fools us.

There are many stories we tell ourselves about our world being a deception. Free Guy, The Matrix films, and The Truman Show are just a few examples. In these stories, someone is living within what they think is real, what they think is normal, and what they think is good. But eventually, they find the truth.

Neo wakes up. Truman sails his boat into the wall of the sky. Guy learns about his creator and his imprisoner. In all these stories, someone is trying to fool the protagonist and someone is trying to free the protagonist. There’s a deceiver and a truth-teller at work.

Is it possible to go through life and never be fooled? I doubt it. If you never trust or put faith in anything, every time a true thing comes into your life and you refuse to believe it…you fool yourself. If you’ve been living with or inside a lie, being told the truth can feel like a trick. Sometimes, the skepticism that we think is protecting us, is actually keeping us imprisoned.

Neo, Truman, and Guy had truth-tellers who worked to free them from what they thought was normal, good, and real. These stories in our culture show our fear of being fooled and that searching for truth is arduous and risky. 

Skeptics aren’t usually out to try to harm believers. Most of the time they’re just trying to keep from being harmed. 

Skeptics in our lives need safe places and time for journeys of discovery. We need to allow them to work things out slowly, but that doesn’t mean the work isn’t urgent. We, like Paul, need to ensure skeptics that the gospel we share does not spring from error or impure motives. Words won’t be enough. It will take meals, time together, sharing experiences, and having difficult but respectful conversations about what is true.

As we help them search for truth, the truth will set them free.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom. — Psalm 90.12

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 20 (Listen 4:15)
1 Thessalonians 2 (Listen 2:53)

Read more about Last to Believe
Far from putting Thomas down, John treats Thomas’s journey from doubt to faith with respect and tenderness.

Read more about When Skepticism meets Kindness
Sometimes we look at kindness and assume there is a scheme of self-promotion or self-preservation behind it all.

Caring for the Dead

Scripture Focus: Numbers 19.11, 16
11 “Whoever touches a human corpse will be unclean for seven days.

16 “Anyone out in the open who touches someone who has been killed with a sword or someone who has died a natural death, or anyone who touches a human bone or a grave, will be unclean for seven days.

Reflection: Caring for the Dead
By Erin Newton

There is, in fact, a sting to death. It is painful and cruel. It rends our hearts with each new loss. Within the mortal body was someone dearly loved. With a final embrace, a closing of eyes—we often seek to lay their bodies to rest with gentleness and care.

In the ancient world, such contact with the dead led to a week’s worth of impurity. Those defiled by contact with death could not enter the Temple until they were cleansed. Death could not reside within the presence of God. Death is the antithesis to a Creator God.

Numbers 19 details purification through the washing of water mixed with the ashes of a red heifer. The ash-mixed water with other cleansing agents was sprinkled on those defiled by contact with the dead. This law, combined with the natural trajectory of life, meant this practice occurred quite frequently.

Respect and care for the dead could not be avoided, even if the cleansing ritual was inconvenient. Even in death, each person is an image bearer of God. Each mortal body must be treated with dignity and honor.

When Jesus died upon the cross, Joseph of Arimathea requested his body so he could be buried before the Sabbath. John tells us that it was Nicodemus who brought the burial spices and helped wrap the body in linen. Joseph and Nicodemus willingly entered a week of impurity. We do not hear from them again.

It is fascinating to consider the crucified Lord, having been prepared for burial and causing two men to enter a state of impurity, would choose to join with his disciples three days after his death. This same God who declares the uncleanliness of death is now content to meet with them, dine with them, and let them touch his body. They are at no risk of defilement; Jesus is no walking corpse. He is alive.

The purity laws are always reversed with Jesus. No longer does the impurity of death or bleeding pass from one person to another. Now it is purity that moves from the Son of God to mere mortals. The ashes of a heifer could outwardly clean, but the blood of Christ does so much more (Heb 9:12-14).

How we honor our dead continues to reflect the value and dignity of each person. But no longer does death stand between our intimacy with God. Death has no victory.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
Let me seek the Lord while he may still be found. I will call upon his name while he is near.

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 19 (Listen 3:39)
1 Thessalonians 1 (Listen 1:27)

Read more about The Staggering Dead and the Glory of God
One day, as Lazarus and our dear Christ, himself…we will leave our grave clothes behind. That is the glory of God.

Read more about The Broken Power of Death
For those in Christ, death is a toothless predator, a limbless wrestler, who cannot hold us down for long.