As I read through Luke 15’s parables of lost things yesterday, they readily brought to mind Relient K’s song “The Last, the Lost, the Least.” I considered mentioning it, but as I reflect further, I’m glad I didn’t. Relient K’s song is more about the dignity of human beings as created in God’s image, particularly those we dismiss as worthless because of their poverty or weakness. Jesus’ parables in Luke 15, on the other hand, underscore God’s love for sinners and his desire to bring them to repentance and restoration. While there’s some thematic overlap, for the most part the extent of the song and the chapter’s commonality is the word “lost,” and even then, they’re using the word in two different senses. It’s unjust societal marginalization vs. genuine spiritual neediness.
How do you tell you’re in the end times? As Paul tells us, in the last days men will come telling you you can’t eat this, you can’t eat that, and you can’t get married.
To this point we’ve seen only Paul’s letters to churches in particular ancient Mediterranean cities, but today we begin a letter to an individual. Timothy was one of Paul’s missionary companions, a younger man who was also biracial, the son of a Jewish Christian woman and a Greek man. He’s first introduced in Acts 16:1-5, and we hear more of his missionary journeys and work in Acts 16-20. Beyond that, Paul at times puts Timothy’s name alongside his own in his salutations and mentions him in his letters. I don’t know to what extent Timothy influenced on Paul’s writing, whether he co-authored any particular letters or passages. But today we have a letter not from Paul and Timothy, but rather from Paul to Timothy.
It seems we’ve been flung back into the briar patch of controversial verses, and without the advantage of being rabbits. The middle chapter of Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians is rife with thorns, and here we are in the thick of the thicket, so let’s get to working our way through it.
Wow, that’s a wake-up call. I opened up my Bible this morning expecting Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians to start off similar to the first one–a little “grace and peace to you,” gratitude to God for the letter’s recipients, a pat on the back and a little “Hey, goin’ good, you guys!” And instead, Paul goes off with all the intensity of Jonathan Edwards rapping over an NF beat. Dang, son.
You guys remember the Strong Bad Email episode “Dragon,” right? Where Strong Bad, when asked to draw a dragon, invents one of the most iconic characters of the Homestar Runner universe, Trogdor the Burninator? In the middle segment, Strong Bad runs a dragon-drawing class, and as he checks up on his students, he finds Strong Mad carving the word “DAGRON” into the table. Strong Mad’s attempt is so off-base that Strong Bad simply responds: “You just…keep doin’ your thing, man.”
1 Thessalonians 1, let’s do it. I just spilled an entire cup of tea over the kitchen counter, and I have no idea what I’m going to say about this chapter. It’s pure introduction: Paul greets the church at Thessalonica with his usual gratitude, talking about the work that God is doing among them and through them. There are just ten verses here, so it’s time to find something to say about them. This should be fun.