Jun 10 - The Power Of A Superhero

The Power Of A Superhero

June 10, 2018

Exodus 19: 1-8

If you drive down the road over the bridge and up the hill and turn right at the cop

shop, you're almost there. A few more feet and you have arrived at the place the magic

happens! 6448 Gollege Rd. Right at the bottom of the hill there was the gathering. The

daily battle of good versus evil! It was there in the late 70s and early 80s we as local

kids would get together and with our capes and masks go into the forest behind the

house to make battle. To write the wrongs in our universe and in our neighbourhood!

The epic battles that would happen are legendary, we had set up tree forts kind of like

stark towers, and rope swings so we can fly through the city Spiderman, or Superman,

or controlled falling like Batman. The battles were epic. Sometimes the battles were

real when the older kids in the street would join in and those villains would try and

destroy the peace we had fought so hard for on Gollege Road.

One day those bullies had cornered a helpless victim and were trying to hurt it and yes

even kill it. Like Captain America I jumped in to the rescue running like nothing could

stop me, I reached in with my vibranium shield for protection and I rescued the

helpless victim from certain death. I cradled him in my arms and wanted to make sure

he could get a good recovery, so I went to the safest place I could for him to find

healing. I took this helpless gardener snake to my mom's flower arranging supplies and

turned it loose in that safe place.

That evening as I was reading my comic books upstairs lost in the world of

superheroes I heard a scream, a bloodcurdling scream and I knew there was trouble.

Mom had found the snake in like the flash I was running for my life.

Most people loved to imitate superheroes in their youth or at least watch or read the

cartoons and now watch the epic movies especially the new creations by Marvel

comics universe. Why? What's the attraction? Alex Alonzo editor marvel comics said

“they are not rooting for the powers or the costumes, they are rooting for the person

inside the tights with Spiderman there rooting for the kid from Queens who, when he is

not saving the world, has to scrape to make rent; with Captain America they are rooting

for the 98 pound weekly who through the miracle of science, was granted muscles that

finally match the size of his heart.” Superheroes are “models for life; people who rise

above their personal baggage and insecurities to face great challenges and do great

things”

The Bible is the foundation of all superheroes and for the next 8 to 10 weeks we are

going to look at the super heroes of the Bible. We will have multiple speakers over this

series featuring some of your favourites, Mike Mitchell, Pastor Kurt Friesen, Pastor

Sharon Berg, Ben Coles, And myself. We will be looking at and learning from the super

heroes of the Bible, David… Esther… Joshua… Elijah … Moses… Daniel… Rahab…

Mary… Paul… Peter just to name some of the possibilities of ordinary people, 98

pound weakling's so to speak that became superheroes for God. And we will unveil the

secrets and discover their strengths and power. While the search committee prayerfully

sorts through the applications makes a recommendation to the board and to the

congregation on who should be our new lead pastor, I will be filling in as the interim

lead pastor.

Before we can look at the superheroes though we need to look at their source of

strength. Exodus 19 the second easiest book in the Bible to find. Turn there if you have

your Bibles this morning. If you don't have your Bibles I want to encourage you to bring

them each week as we are going to be spending lots of time in them over this series

and the next series. If you don't have a Bible or would like one that you can write in, we

have some inexpensive Bibles available at the information booth for purchase for $10.

You can also use an app on your phone or your iPad to look up Exodus chapter 19.

I want to give you a summary to where we are in this passage before we get going.

And in the summery of where we are going to see a God of Power and compassion, a

God of Grace and mercy but also a God of Judgement and wrath revealing his Power

and abilities ….

The Israelites were in slavery in Egypt. Moses was told by God to go to Pharaoh and

demand that he let his people go free. Pharaoh said no, so God sent 10 plagues water

was turned blood, loss of crops, Locust, flies, frogs, death of livestock and then

eventually the death of the firstborn of every person in the country finally pharaoh set

them free. 1 million slaves are now set free and they find themselves trapped at the

Red Sea and God parts the sea and they walk through on dry land they then witnessed

God drown their enemies in the sea behind them. Then he leads them to Mount Sinai

to where he is going to talk to them. Where he is going to show up!

400 years of slavery and now they're free… probably how Pastor Spencer felt on

Wednesday morning when he woke up to find himself retired.

So lets read Exodus 19:1-5 On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left

Egypt on that very day they came to the desert of Sinai. After they sent out from

Rafidim, they entered the desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front

of the mountain. Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the

mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendant of Jacob and what

you are to tell the people of Israel: you yourself have seen what I did to Egypt, and how

I carried you on Eagles wings and brought you to myself.

1)Grace is the starting point with every relationship

with God.

Grace is Gods Unmerited/Underserved Favour!

J.I. Packer says (talk about a superhero in the faith)“that Grace is the keyword in

Christianity.”

-So before God gives his people the 10 commandments and the law in the next

chapter he reminds them of his grace here in vs 3-4 and then says it again in 20:1-2

Why/

God wants his people to know that a covenant relationship with the almighty is based

entirely on his grace. It is a relationship we do not deserve but it is given to us out of

Love.

To understand this God who is our source of strength and power in our struggles of

Good vs evil in life we have to understand first of all his grace. Underline vs 4 and just

write grace in the margin. This verse reveals three aspects of God’s grace.

1) Divine Judgement— You have seen what I did in Egypt —as God revealed his

power and broke the country to the point they were going to let 1 million slaves

leave and give them riches if they would go fast. We cannot understand grace

without understanding the need for judgement. People often will say God is not the

judgemental god of the OT he is loving and full of mercy and grace… but God is the

same yesterday today and forever and grace would mean nothing if we did not

understand his opinion of sin, his wrath and judgement.

1) Mountain Line around no one not even livestock are to touch.

2) Multiple times they are told to keep away. Moses got quite a workout.

3) High Voltage God

2) Divine Deliverance —I carried you out on Eagles wings. — The slaves in Egypt

could not escape on their own they were being culled and broken and weakened.

They could do nothing on their own but that is where I love the grace of God

because in his strength I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.

Grace is a gift and not something we earn. God set them free and he continues to

set people free today from our slavery to sin.

3) Divine Drawing — and brought you to myself — what is your story of God drawing

you to himself? What did he have to do, what Red Sea did he have to part to draw

you unto himself? That is grace you don't deserve him yet he wants you.

We are saved by grace alone into a Covenant/Contract of Obedience

2)God’s plan and promises are always and if/then

statement.

Vs 5-8

Now if (circle that highlight it, Underline it) if you obey me fully and keep my covenant,

then (circle that, highlight it, underline it,) then out of all nations you will be my

treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, You will be for me at kingdom

of priests and a holy nation. These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.

God has brought the people out (salvation is a free gift —grace) and He is now offering

them a contract.

God’s Plan and Promises are always an if/then statement

If you walk in obedience Then you will be my treasured possession.

God is offering a Covenant of obedience and God is offering the same covent to us

today, because He is the same yesterday today and forever. And yet we so often accept

the grace part of the relationship with God but we are not so excited about the

obedience. But if we want the blessing God’s plan and promises, royal priest—holy

nation, then we have to obey.

This is the difference between Religion and the Gospel. Religion says, "I obey, therefore

I'm saved." The Gospel says the opposite, this is why the middle of our missions

statement is that we are compelled by God’s love. "I'm saved, therefore I obey." This

may seem inconsequential. But it makes all the difference in the world.

Thinking Religion, never brings a revival, and makes the Christian life heavy,

burdensome and with a false sense of holiness and spirituality like that of the

Pharisees. But knowing the Gospel, brings a continuous revival in our soul all the days

of our lives.

Still, we wonder if Moses is confused by making 2 seemingly opposite statements in

Ex 19:4-5: "God saved you by grace" (Ex 19:4). "But unless you obey, God won't save

you" (Ex 19:5). How do we explain the conditional "If/then" language in Ex 19:5? Before

doing so, let us examine 4 wrong ideas or sentiments that people, including Christians,

have about salvation:

1) We are saved by works. If my good outweighs my bad, I will be saved and blessed.

2) We are saved by faith and works (obedience). This is clearly refuted by Ex 19:4, Eph

2:8-9.

3) We are saved by faith/grace, and kept in salvation by our works/obedience.

4) We are saved by faith, so we don't need works or obedience or the Law.

Basically, all four answers/ideas/opinions are wrong. #1 is perhaps the most common

non-Christian idea. #2 and #3 is the inclination of "legalistic" Christians. #4 is the

sentiment of "liberal" Christians. Other Christians flip flop between legalism and

liberalism. We are "harsh" when we are legalistic and "lenient" when we are liberal.

I find this flip/flop in myself, swaying back and forth from being tough to gentle, and

gentle to tough. I know that I should be both simultaneously by the work of the Spirit.

To understand obedience as a Christian, it helps to understand 2 things:

1) Every relationship has responsibilities. Every covenant relationship has its own

responsibilities, which requires self-denial, submission and obedience to certain

laws. Marriage may be the best human illustration and example. I think Most

couples today take out the most important part of their vows and that is to obey.

The promise to obey is the first promise that hits the cutting room floor but I believe

it it the most important. Obedience when it is love based when it is mutual act of

outrageous loving each other because of the love you have for each other.

Obedient outrageous LOVE COMPELS US to action resulting in more LOVE!

2) Responsibilities are always blessings, not burdens. The most miserable and

unhappy Christians are those who try to have the least possible responsibilities,

with maximum blessings and rewards. The failure of Christians through out history

come from excuses and justification to not obey God's laws and commands. A sad

excuse for disobedience says, "I am saved by grace, not by obedience to the Law."

Such thoughts completely misunderstand the love and grace of Jesus.

To one who knows and has tasted the sweetness of God's grace, obedience is a

responsibility that are simultaneously blessings, the greatest blessings. God's people

do not become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation when they obey. They are

already a kingdom of priests and a holy nation by God's grace alone. Their obedience

is simply their happy life living in gratitude and in response to the grace of God.

Don't ask God to bless a life that you haven't given to him in obedience .

Living with you boyfriend or girlfriend and then pray god would help you in your

relationship. He isn't listening because your not obeying

Having financial troubles and praying that God will bail you out, but you never have

given your finances over to him Your not tithing not giving to the needy. But you can

afford trips and treats. Don't ask him for more till you are obedient with what he has

already given you

Asking God for help at work and yet you have never lived him out in your work place…

You fill in your unanswered prayers here and examine what area of your life might not

be walked out in obedience.

3) Choose to live out God’s Mission

As we experience Gods deliverance and Grace we walk in obedience to his word.

Jesus summed it up Love God and love others.

When we respond to his Grace by our obedience God promises to make us the

following

1) You are a Treasured possession (circle that )

Gods grace made us his treasure, Do we a followers of Christ Treasure him? Mt

6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.….. What do I

treasure things of earth or things of heaven. Is my heart for me alone of for the

things of God and am I backing that up with my wallet.

2) A kingdom of Priests (Underline that) A priest is someone who brings God to

people and people to God. This is a hard job because sinful people don’t want to

come to a holy God. And God can not come to a sinful people without destroying

them. So it is our job to bring the message of grace lived out in our lives. As we are

all priests.

1Peter 2:9-10 9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,

God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called

you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people,

but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now

you have received mercy.

3) and a Holy Nation (Highlight that). Holiness (being set apart) is not an option 1Peter

1:16 Be Holy because I am holy.

Examine your life and see if you are really setting yourself apart from the world for God.

Entertainment—Lifestyle—Heart—Marriage—language—etc

As I open this series on Superheroes of the Bible and superheroes of faith many of us

feel like little kids in our faith and wonder how as a 98 lb weakling with a big heart how

we could possibly make a difference. As the Battle for Good and Evil rages on all

around us in our jobs, marriages, homes and it appears that the church and that God is

loosing ground how could we possibly take a stand against the evil of the world today?

Iron man Quote ….

Heroes are made by the path they choose not by the powers they are graced with.

We have a choice to make do we choose the plans and promises of our selves or plans

and promises of God? If we Choose God then we have accepted his Grace and now

HAVE TO WALK IN OBEDIENCE

Each one of us can make a difference for God in this community with the power of God

to be superheroes of the faith by accepting his grace and walking in obedience in the

promise and plans that he has for us.

Some concluding questions to ponder:

* Does the grace of God drive your obedience as a Christian?

* Do you think obedience is optional since you are saved by grace alone?

* How are you living out your obedience daily?

* How are you living out your Christian life as a kingdom of priests and a holy

people?

* Is the love, joy and peace of grace the language of your heart?

* Does grace create and cause a continuous revival in your soul?

Jun 3 - Can I Look To Jesus For Answers?

Can I Look To Jesus For Answers?

June 3, 2018

John 8: 12-59

 

CAN I LOOK TO JESUS FOR ANSWERS?

June 3, 2018

John 8:12-59

 

All of us have questions we would like answers to.  Our own knowledge, life experience, or limitations just aren’t enough to answer every question. 

 

Some of the questions we have may have to do with the present – for example, why is there so much hate and violence in the world? Or maybe, why am I so angry? Or maybe, am I doing with my life what I should be?

 

Or the questions may have to do with the future – for example, will my children live happy and fulfilled lives?  Will I regain my health?  Should I change the direction of my life?

 

Or the questions may have to do with God – for example, does he exist?  And if so, what is he really like?  Why does he allow the innocent to suffer? And what, if anything, does he want from me? 

 

Atheists might wonder why Theists at times seem so gullible and naïve.  Theists may wonder why Atheists at times are so cynical and sceptical. 

 

Everyone has questions.  Sometimes questions can lead to anxiety, to fear.  Will something bad happen?  At other times, questions can lead to courage, to stepping out, to discovery.  In fact, most of the great discoveries and breakthroughs in science or technology came about because someone had a question they wanted answered. 

 

So what are some of the questions that you have?     

 

In a similar vein, I also thought about the questions that would motivate someone to come into a church for the first time? 

 

What would they want answers to go to a place they’ve never been to, not knowing what they might encounter, or what the people there might be like?  

 

1. Is there a God? 

2. If yes, how can I better connect to him?

3. Why am I here?  What’s the meaning of my life?

4. Is what I am experiencing in my life all there is?

5. Is there something that could help me or my kids to live my life better

6. Will I find help dealing with my problems?

7. What happens after I die?

 

The common thread that likely runs through most of these kind of questions is a search for truth and meaning.

 

People who come visit the church for the first time likely are not asking whether or not the music or the speaker are great.   Of course, if the music or the speaker are lousy, they’re very unlikely to return. 

 

In fact, I heard a stat, that most people who visit a church for the first time will make up their mind about whether or not they will return within the first 7 minutes after their arrival. 

 

That’s before the service started, before they listen to the worship music, before they hear the message, before they have discovered whether or not there may be some truth there. 

 

That’s because, beside all of the truth questions they might have, they are also asking a different set of questions: 

 

1. Is this a safe place?

2. Will I feel at home?

3. Will I be welcomed?

4. Will I meet people who I can relate to? 

5. Will I fit in?

6. Will I meet people who will care for me?

7. Will I meet people who will enrich my life?

 

Think about this for a moment.  What if you visited a church for the first time and ...  

  • ...you have a hard time finding a parking spot. 

  • When you get into the foyer, you don’t recognize anyone. 

  • No one talks to you, because they’re all busy talking to people they know. 

  • You’re left to figure out where the kids should be dropped off for their program and when. 

  • You can’t find the washrooms. 

  • When you enter the sanctuary, all the seats at the back are taken.  And then you’re asked to sit in one of the front rows, where you feel completely conspicuous.   

 

Liam Neeson:  I don’t know who you are, but if you’re sitting in the foyer because you were late to church, I will find you and I will tell you there are plenty of empty seats in the front of the chapel.

 

Maybe the usher is Liam Neeson. 

 

I would venture to guess that at that point, you’ll have so many negative vibes, that you will not care to come back, regardless of the music and message.  After all, who wants to be in a place where you’re not made to feel welcome and where you end up feeling uncomfortable?    

 

This is the reason why Christians who regularly attend church need to view Sunday morning as a time of service.  If believers are only consumers, if they only attend church is because of what’s in it for them, something has gone wrong with their faith. 

 

Now there may be some exceptions.  If, for example, a person has been emotionally burned out, then there is a time to do little more than sit and soak.  But nothing should permanently side-line someone.  Christianity, after all, is not a spectator sport.

 

Do you remember what Jesus said at the Last Supper when he washed his disciples’ feet, the task of the lowest household slave? 
 

I have given you an example to follow.  Do as I have done to you.                                              John 13:15

 

People who walk into a church for the first time will know whether or not those who attend there actually take those words to heart.  When it is all about me, then I will grab the parking spot closest to the entrance, especially when it’s raining, even though I have no problems walking;

I will sit in the best possible seat.

I will not go up to people I don’t know to welcome them.  I will not teach in kidzone.

I will not serve coffee.

I will not hand out bulletins.

I will not invite someone over for lunch.  

 

On the other hand, if it is primarily about serving others, it’s a different picture, isn’t it? 

 

(Pastor Hugh’s parking only - all others will be towed; vs. First time guest parking)

 

In some churches, the pastor has a reserved parking spot closest to the entrance.  In other churches, there are designated visitor or guest spots that are closest to the entrance.  Which do you think is more welcoming?

 

So a non-churched person gets up early on a Sunday morning instead of sleeping in.  They drive themselves and maybe their kids to a church for the first time.  They enter a building where they know no one.  Why?  Because they are in search of truth.  That’s pretty impressive, if you ask me.

 

People who came to listen to Jesus also came looking for truth.  However, the truth they were looking for did not deal with the existence of God.  Most Jews in the first century took God’s existence for granted. 

 

And they were hearing Jesus through a filter, a lens, which, in part, was shaped by what they had been told about God by their religious leaders.  Keep in mind that the very large majority was illiterate.  They did not have the luxury of an education.  They could not read their Scriptures, so they had to rely on what they were told. 

And the messages from their religious leaders were, at times, contradictory.  For example, the Sadducees told them there was no afterlife, while the Pharisees told them there was.

 

One of the things that they were told by their religious leaders is that if you’re healthy or wealthy, it’s because God is really pleased with you, but if you’re sick or poor it’s because God is punishing you. 

 

If you have lots of children and if they are healthy, it’s because God is blessing you.  If you can’t have kids or your child gets sick or dies, it’s because God is cursing you.  You obviously must have done something wrong, because he’s angry with you.  

 

In other words, whatever is happening in your life, you deserve it. 

 

Jesus contradicted this teaching.  He told his followers that bad things will happen to good people, like the unfortunate Galilean Jews who Pilate had massacred at the temple, or the 18 people who had died because a tower had collapsed on them (Luke 13:2-4).  Jesus also told them that a blind person wasn’t cursed by God because of something that he or his parents had done wrong (John 9:1-3).    

 

Jesus’ followers had been told by their religious leaders that the Jewish people were God’s special people; that they were “in”, but that the non-Jews, the Samaritans and Gentiles, were “out.” 

 

Jesus contradicted their religious leaders.  God is interested in Jews and Samaritans and Gentiles.  Jesus told them that God wants everyone “in”.  That’s the whole reason Jesus came.  He didn’t come to save the Jews only.  He came to save everyone because God wants everyone in.[1]  Paul and the author of 2. Peter commented on this.

 

God wants everyone to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.                           1 Timothy 2:4

 

God is patient with you because he does not want anyone to be lost forever, but for everyone to come to the point of repentance.                       2 Peter 3:9

 

But as much as God might desire this, he will not force people to believe what they do not want to believe or to spend eternity somewhere they do not want to go. 

 

Jesus’ followers also were keenly aware that they were being oppressed and taken advantage of by the foreign power that had been occupying their land for 90 years (Pompey, 63 BC).    

 

And they had been told by their religious leaders that their subjugation was a clear sign that God was punishing the nation because he was displeased with it. 

 

They asked the question: What would it take for God to look on our nation with mercy, give us back our land under a benevolent Davidic King?   And, they had been told by the Rabbis, that the only way to reverse the fortune of the nation, was to focus on keeping the minutia of the Mosaic Law

 

Jesus disagreed.  He told the Pharisees that they had it completely wrong.  By focusing on the minutia, they were missing the bigger picture. God’s people should focus on following the two commandments that were of real importance to God, instead of figuring out what everyone had to do in every conceivable circumstance. 

 

Most importantly, they had to connect with God and living according to his will.  Period. 

 

Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul and mind.                                                       Matthew 22:37

 

This was the most important commandment in the whole of the OT. 

 

God has to become the most important concern in their lives.  He was to be more important than their careers, possessions, money, even more important than their human relationships.

 

The second biggest commandment, Jesus said, was treating other people with compassion and care.

 

Love one another as I have loved you;

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you;

Love your neighbour as yourself;

Treat others as you would want to be treated by them;

Give a cup of cold water;

Give food to the hungry;  Give the thirsty to drink ...

 

But there was something else, Jesus challenged his listeners to believe that he was the one that would make it possible for them to reconnect and be right with God. 

 

He challenged them to see that he himself - his identity - his person - and therefore his mission - was just as important as his message.

 

In fact, Christianity is not so much about a religious system, a group of people, a building, a liturgy, a dogma, as it is about a person.  Christianity begins and ends with Jesus. 

 

In John 8, we have a series of conversations between Jesus and the Pharisees (cf. 8:13).  In these conversations, Jesus claimed a number of things about himself.  

 

  • I am from above; I am not of this world (v.23)

  • You will know that I am (i.e., the one) (v.28)

  • I proceed forth and have come from God; He sent me (v.42)

  • I honour my Father (v.49)

  • I know God and keep His word (v.55)

  • Before Abraham existed, I am (v.58)

 

The first thing to notice is that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, the Saviour.  He mentions that he was sent by God and twice notes that he is “the one” (vv.24,28 - implied).[2]

 

The one” is a common way to refer to the Saviour, the Messiah, of the nation.  Jesus was pointing out that he would be the one who would be instrumental in the process of reconnecting God’s people with God and thus saving the nation of Israel. 

 

Have any of you watched the movie, The Matrix?  Hard to believe it came out 19 years ago.  In any case, the movie is filled with biblical imagery and terms. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that you watch this movie!) Throughout the movie, there is a quest to find “the one,” that is, the one of whom it had been foretold that he would free the human race from being enslaved to sentient robots. 

 

As it turns out in the movie, a man named Neo ended up being “the one.”  This was proven when he was killed by a machine called “Mr. Smith”, but then came back to life when the female protagonist, Trinity, kisses him.  Subsequently, Neo easily defeats Mr. Smith by simply being able to control the matrix, for example, by stopping bullets.     

 

So Jesus claimed to be “the one”.  The second thing to notice is that Jesus claimed to be divine.  He said that his origin is “from above”, that is, from God.   He notes that he existed even prior to Abraham.  And he notes that he is “the light”.[3]

 

But the real clincher is found in the last statement, “Before Abraham existed, I am”. In order to understand this claim, you have to keep in mind that one of the personal names of God in the OT, is “I am” (ehyeh). 

 

God actually gave himself three names in those verses, all interrelated and based on the verb “to be”:

 

HYH   SR   HYH (Read: ehyeh aser ehyeh)

I am  who  I am

 

HYH (Read: ehyeh)

I am

 

YHWH (Read: yahveh)

He is   (i.e., he is the one who exists)

 

Should the Israelites ask, Moses is to tell them that “I am” (ehveh) had sent him (Ex 3:14).  So Jesus uses one of the personal names of God to refer to himself.  And this was immediately understood by the Pharisees, because they picked up stones to kill Jesus for blasphemy.

 

In John 8, Jesus not only spoke of his identity, but he also made a number of promises.  One of them is found in v.12. 

 

I am the light; the one who follows me will have the light of [eternal] life.                                             John 8:12

 

Jesus promised that he would provide eternal life for the person who believed and trusted him enough to following him.  In other words, those who would be in relationship with him, would also be in relationship with God himself. 

 

The Pharisees who rejected Jesus’ claims about himself, also didn’t think much of Jesus’ promises.  They did not view themselves as being separated from God.  Maybe the nation of Israel was separated from God, but that was the fault of others.  

 

The metaphor of light in Jewish thinking is connected to God, to moral purity, to goodness, to spiritual truth and insight.  So a person who leaves the darkness and comes into the light, comes to God, to doing what is right and good, and to receiving insight into what is true.

 

Jesus noted at another point in the gospel of John, that his followers would not be able to continue on in the darkness. 

 

I came into the world as a light, so that those who put their trust in me will not remain in the darkness.

                                                                   John 12:46

 

The author of 1 John, who was familiar with the gospel of John, noted that this transfer from darkness to light is not something inconsequential or unnecessary.  No, it is vital because determines whether or not a person will be forgiven from their wrongs and be in relationship with God, who is light, and with other Christians, who should be the children of light.

 

This is the message we received and passed on to you:  God is light.  In Him there is no darkness of any kind.  If we claim to be in communion with him but we live in the darkness, then we are lying and are not living out the truth.  But if we live in the light as He is in the light, then we are in communion with one another and the blood of Jesus, His son, purifies us from all of our sins.

                                                          1 John 1:5-7

 

What this meant for his listeners and what it means to me, is that I have to admit to God and myself that I have thoughts, attitudes and actions, that are wrong, that are part of the darkness. 

 

I may not have killed anyone, but maybe I’ve wished someone dead. 

I may not have physically cheated on my spouse, but maybe I did so in my mind. 

I may not have paid a witchdoctor to sacrifice a child in order for my business to succeed, a practice still common in some parts of the world (i.e. Uganda),[4]  but my spouse and I may have decided on an abortion based purely on financial grounds. 

I may not have stolen money from someone else, but I may have knowingly cheated on my tax return (like claiming expenses that were never incurred), or down-loaded copyrighted material, or paid someone to write my dissertation, or omitted important details about what is wrong with a product I am selling.

 

The reality is, that human beings, by their very nature, have a bent toward doing or saying or thinking things that deep down they know to be wrong. 

 

In 1 John (1:8) we read that if we claim to be without sin we have deceived ourselves and the truth is not in us. 

 

People who have a tough time admitting fault or who think that they have absolutely no issues, often will not see the need to be rescued from themselves.  In their own eyes they would consider themselves to be already good enough for God.  They do not need to change and can make it on their own steam.  The Pharisees saw themselves in this light.

 

The second step in following the light, is admitting to God and myself that I might have beliefs and convictions, even spiritual values that may be wrong ... that are part of the darkness, even if I’m not aware of it.

 

Those who think that they are the only ones who have a corner on the truth and who are always right, will not be open to insights that might challenge their beliefs.  Again, the Pharisees were a good example of this.

 

Jesus said, “... I came into this world to bring sight to those who think they are blind and to bring blindness to those who think that they can see.”  Some of the Pharisees near Jesus heard him saying what he did, and asked him, “We are not blind as well, are we?”   Jesus said to them, “If you admitted to being blind, you would not be guilty; but since you claim to be able to see, your guilt remains.                                      John 9:39-41

 

The Pharisees thought of themselves as being spiritually astute, of being able to tell others how to live their lives, based on their knowledge and interpretation of the Law of Moses. 

 

Jesus quite often would tell them that they are out to lunch.  They don’t really understand what’s by far most important to God, they don’t get his character, and they misapply the various laws. 

 

Ultimately, the truth of Christianity has to be based on whether or not Jesus was who he claimed to be.  If he wasn’t the divine Messiah, then Christianity is false and those who call themselves followers of Jesus are deluded. 

 

When Jesus claimed to be divine, he lost a lot of his followers because it just didn’t line up with what they thought the Messiah should be. 

 

Maybe you have left or you’re thinking about leaving your faith, because what you were told as a child about God, just doesn’t line up any longer with your life experiences.   s

Maybe, as you grew up, you realized that even your parents didn’t live out that version of the faith they taught you.  If they were hypocrites, why should you believe them? 

 

Maybe, as you went to school, whether high school, or university, or college, or med school, or law school, the things you were taught simply did not line up with your childhood faith ... they put into question a lot of things that you had been told as a child.

 

Your comparative religion prof tells you that the God of the OT is an ogre.  Or you’re told that the NT documents were written decades after the fact and likely include myth and legend.  And on and on it goes. 

 

What you’re being taught might also give you the freedom to dismiss the moral teachings of Jesus. 

 

Or maybe you’ve been told that a person of faith has to jettison sound reasoning and critical thinking.

 

I have always said that God has given us a brain to use, and that is no different when it comes to spiritual truths.  Of course we can and should question what we are being told by spiritual leaders, otherwise how will we know if we’re not being led down the garden path?  Beware of anyone who tells you that you cannot ask questions.

 

Or perhaps your religious experience in a church was not the greatest.   And it jaded you.  How can people of faith act in such a mean fashion toward each other?  Why are there power struggles and splits?  People disappoint, so why not walk away from them and therefore from God.

 

Most importantly, you screwed up personally.  You have violated your own rules of right and wrong, never mind God’s.  You have done things you are ashamed of.  You have done some things that you hope and pray no one will EVER find out. And you know that your own selfishness and impatience, and anger have deeply hurt others. 

 

And so you have regrets.  You feel guilty.  You are ashamed.  But at the same time, you want to stop feeling guilty for any and all of it.  So it’s so much easier to tell yourself that good and bad are subjective and walk away from your faith.

 

And then life happens.  Your parents split up, even though they both profess to be Christian.  A spiritual leader abuses you or someone you know.  Your Christian spouse decides to leave you, or you get married to an abusive spouse who claims to be a Christian.  You get fired from a job you loved.  Your health or the health of your child is severely compromised.  You deal with depression or anxiety attacks.  There are some physical traits that make you feel terrible every time you look in the mirror and feeds a deep insecurity that keeps you from being all that you could be.

 

And then, when it comes right down to it, there is this big temptation to only focus on pleasing yourself.  You don’t want to get up early and hassle with the kids to get them ready for church.  It is so much easier to get up late, or to go fishing, or to the golf-course or to watch TV than feel compelled by your faith to go to church or to a bible study.  So much easier to just let it all ride.

 

It reminds me of a story about John being woken up by his wife.  “John, it’s time to get up so we can go to church.”  John said, “I don’t want to go to church.  I want to stay in bed.”  Crossing her arms the wife said, “Give me three good reasons why you should stay in bed and not go to church.”  “OK,” he answered.  “First, I don’t get anything out the service.  Second, no one there likes me.  And third, I want to watch the game on TV instead.  Now give me three good reasons why I SHOULD go to church.”  His wife responded, “First, you can PVR the game and watch it later.  Second, there are people there who really do like you.  And third, you’re the pastor.  So get out of bed already!

 

Now we all want to think that we are bigger than our past.  That we have grown past our experiences, that it does not impact the way that we view our money, our lives, our children, ourselves, or God. 

 

The problem is that our past has wounded, jaded and hardened us.  The things that we chose to do and the things that happened to us, through no fault of our own, have in fact impacted the lens through which we see and interpret our reality and what we believe.

 

And while we may have a hard time seeing just how much we are a product of our past, we can see it in others.

 

When I heard all about what happened to my father when he was growing up during and after WWII, physically, emotionally, and in every other way, I finally could understand why he was the way he was. 

 

When I finally got all the information about my parents’ divorce, then I understood why they split up.  It then made sense why it happened. 

 

Yet when it comes to myself, I often have massive blinders on.  I can’t see that my convictions, thinking, actions, reactions, beliefs, are to a large part a reflection of what has happened in my life. 

 

Jesus may not answer all of our questions, but he himself said that he came in order to answer one big question, “What is God really like? And what is his will, his plan, for your life?” 

 

You know the Father and have seen him.”  Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”  Jesus answered, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you for such a long time?  Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” 

John 14:7-9

 

Jesus said, “Look at me and you will know what God is like and what is most important to God”!  But the disciples just didn’t get it. 

 

By the way, one of the criterion of historicity or authenticity of any ancient documents, is the criterion of embarrassment. There are other criteria, such as the criterion of multiple attestations, the criterion of consistency, the criterion of historical plausibility, and so on.

 

In any case, the criterion of embarrassment states that it is highly unlikely that an author would include anything embarrassing about himself or his hero in a historical account. 

 

And yet, Jesus is sometimes shown in unflattering ways, for example, when it took him a couple of tries to heal a blind man (Mark 8:22-25). 

 

And the disciples, one of whom authored the gospel of John, were depicted as being pretty thick when it came to actually understanding what Jesus was telling them.

 

Particularly Peter is shown in an unflattering light, he who would become the first leader of the church and whose supposed grave is covered by one of the most famous and larges basilicas in the world. 

 

He was so insecure about Jesus’ identity, that he cussed and denied that he even knew Jesus - three times. 

 

For many Jews, the fact that Jesus was crucified, immediately disqualified him from being God’s Messiah.  How can he overthrow the Romans and usher in a new era if he was executed as a criminal?  That simply did not fit the profile. 

 

Even Jesus’ closest friends and followers were horrified when Jesus died on the cross.  Some of them had really thought that he might in fact be the Messiah.  But a Messiah wasn’t supposed to die, and on top of that in what at that time was considered to be the most shameful way possible. 

 

When that happened, they were convinced that they had spent the last 3 years following around someone who was completely self-deluded.  And they ended up in hiding, petrified that they too would be arrested.  Others left and returned to their jobs in Galilee.

 

However, these very same disciples, led by Peter, just a few weeks later went into the very streets the condemned Jesus had made his way to his execution, and proclaimed him to be the divine Messiah.  What in the world had happened? 

 

The answer is that they saw the risen Jesus.  It changed their whole perspective.  They weren’t the same people they had been.  Their faith was reborn.  They were no longer afraid.  They looked at everything through a different lens.  They looked at their reality differently. 

 

And so, Christians from the very beginning of the church believed that God sent someone from the spiritual realm into the physical, human realm, to give us a new frame of reference to answer some of our questions about himself, what he is like, about his will, and how humans should live in light of his existence.   

 

If you’re thinking about leaving or if you have left your childhood faith, have you ever asked yourself what the faith is you are contemplating on leaving?  Or why that faith has become questionable or unpalatable to you?  

 

Is it because you believe that you can no longer reconcile what you’ve been taught about God with science? 

Or is it because people of faith have disappointed you? 

Or is it because you no longer want to feel guilty? 

Or is it because you’ve been told that God is not interested in having all people be with him in eternity? 

Or is it because you’ve been told that a good God would never allow for the suffering of the innocent?   

 

I would challenge you, not to get hung up in the past, in the hurt and doubt and scepticism caused by people, by your experiences.  Instead, try looking only at Jesus. 

 

Jesus told the Pharisees, before Abraham was, I AM.  He told his disciples, if you see me then you have seen the Father. And looking to Jesus is very different from taking a class in comparative religion or philosophy at a university, or coming into a church building on a Sunday morning.   

 

So I would challenge you.  Read the gospel of Luke.  It only takes 2 ½ hours to read through it. Compared to how much TV we watch or how many games we play or how many hours we are online, it’s really not a lot of time.

 

So my challenge is for you to tune out all of the background.  And decide you won’t get hung up on your past and your experience, and hurt and doubt and scepticism and instead fix your eyes on Jesus. 

 

HAVE I SEEN GOD AND GOD’S WILL IN JESUS … IN HIS PERSON, HIS ACTIONS, HIS TEACHING, AND HIS DEATH AND RESURRECTION?

 

WILL I READ THROUGH THE GOSPEL OF LUKE TRYING TO DISCOVER WHO GOD IS AS I LOOK TO JESUS?

 

DO I NEED A SAVIOUR TO SAVE ME FROM MYSELF AND BRING ME TO GOD?

 

IF SO, WHAT WILL I DO?

 

I believe that there are those of us here this morning who need to get right with God.  We need to acknowledge that there is something within us we need saving from. 

 

 

[1] John 3:16 -  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

[2] Compare John 4:26, “I am he”; Matt 11:3/Luke 7:19, “Are you the one who is to come?”

[3] Compare 1 John 1:5, “God is light”; The OT speaks more of God’s radiance (cf.  Ezekiel 1:27-28) and the light of God’s presence (Ps 44:3) or glory (Ezekiel 43:2).

[4] Reemerged in Uganda around 2008.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-15255357; http://www.businessinsider.com/afp-child-sacrifice-for-wealth-and-power-in-uganda-2015-6

May 27 - What Do you Mean, I Have To Be Holy?

What Do You Mean, I Have To Be Holy?

May 27, 2018

1 Thessalonians 5:19-28

 

WHAT DO YOU MEAN, I HAVE TO BE HOLY?

May 27, 2018

1 Thessalonians 5:19-28

 

A three-year old boy opened the birthday gift from his grandmother and discovered a water gun.  He squealed with delight and headed for the nearest sink. 

 

The mother of the little boy was NOT pleased.  She turned to her mother and said, “I’m surprised with you.  Don’t you remember how we used to drive you crazy with water guns when we were small?”  The grandmother smiled and replied, “Oh I remember alright.” 

 

The grandmother was able to prophesy that the water pistol would aggravate her daughter.  She could predict accurately what would happen in the future, which is why she bought the thing in the first place.

 

We are finishing off our journey through Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica today.  In vv. 19-21 of chapter 5, we are getting to the tail end of the practical section on how the believers are to conduct themselves.  Here Paul deals with the use of the spiritual gift of prophecy in the church.

 

Do not extinguish the Holy Spirit.[1]  Do not despise[2] prophetic words.[3]  But examine[4] [scrutinize] everything carefully and hold on[5] to what is good.[6] 

1 Thessalonians 5:19-21

 

In a number of his letters, Paul lists prophecy as one of the spiritual gifts (Rom 12:6).[7]  In fact, he points out that prophecy is one of the most desirable gifts (1 Cor 14:1), when it comes to spiritual gifts that can be used during church services (1 Cor 12:10;[8] 13:2,8; 14:1-6,22).  However, Paul did NOT think of prophecy in terms of foretelling the future, something that OT prophets did, or that the grandmother did. 

 

Instead, Paul considered a prophet in the NT church to be someone who received a direct revelation from God and then passes it on to the rest of the congregation (1 Cor 14:26-31,37-40).  So a prophet could potentially be anyone in the church as long as they have received a message directly from God. 

 

Paul distinguished prophecy from the spiritual gifts of leading, pastoring, teaching, encouraging (exhortation), speaking a word of knowledge, and speaking a word of wisdom.[9] 

 

While all of these spiritual gifts are valuable and necessary, they usually do not pass on a divine revelation.  Pastors generally do not introduce their sermons with: “This is what the LORD is saying”, as the prophets of old would introduce their messages - at least they shouldn’t. 

 

The gift of prophecy should not be taken lightly.  Think about this for a moment!  If a prophecy is in fact received directly from God, it would mean that the prophecy would be infallible and beyond question. 

 

The prophetic word can be compared with the doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope when he speaks ex cathedra, from the chair (of the apostle Peter).  When the Pope announces that his proclamation is “from the chair,” something that has only happened once since the doctrine was introduced, then he is claiming that his message he is giving has been received directly from God.[10]

 

Paul termed the complete rejection of the gift of prophecy as putting out, or extinguishing, or quenching the HS (picture of someone dousing flames), and the reason he mentioned it here is probably because, for some reason, prophecy was forbidden in the church in Thessalonica. 

 

However, Paul makes a caveat when it comes to the use of prophecy.  Any so-called word from God needs to be closely scrutinized to see whether in fact it is from God.  Just claiming that a message is directly from God does not make it so.

 

The reality is that there is always a danger when someone claims to have a message from God or when someone claims to be the mouthpiece of God.  The message may not be from God at all, but from some tortured mind, from false motives, from human reasoning, or worse – potentially an evil and destructive spiritual force. 

 

I remember the time when someone came to me and told me that God had told him to tell me to preach from the KJV only.  Again another time, someone stood up during the sermon and told the congregation that they should be doing something I knew that he himself did not do. 

 

But, of course, these are pretty harmless examples.  A false prophecy accepted as a Word from God could cause much greater damage.  It could lead to division, church splits, and even death, as it did in Jonestown in Guyana (Nov 1978) where 918 people died, or The Mount Carmel Center in Waco (1993), where 86 people died. 

 

Because of potential false claims of having the gift of prophecy, and the damage or confusion that can result from it, Paul places limits on its use in 1 Cor:

 

  • At most two or three individuals should give a prophetic word in any given church service.

  • Only one prophet should speak at a time.

  • Most importantly, whatever is said should NOT be accepted out of hand as coming from God, but needs to be judged carefully.   1 Corinthians 14:29

     

    So in our passage, Paul says much the same by closely tying the use of prophecy to discernment.

     

    Examine carefully everything that is said, he wrote.   Accept and apply only what is genuinely good.  The implication is, that when a message is bad, if it is deemed heretical or unsound or unbalanced or weird or negative or destructive or divisive or damaging, it should be rejected. 

     

    In the book of James we are actually told what a message that is in line with God’s will and character looks like:

     

    The wisdom that is from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, accommodating, full of mercy, abounding in good results, impartial, and sincere.                                                                             James 3:17

     

    So if the so-called prophetic word is impure, confrontational, harsh, inflexible, lacking in mercy, one sided, insincere, resulting in evil, it is definitely not from God.

     

    Of course it would be difficult during a church service to confront someone and tell them their message is not from God, when they are convinced it is.  There is the potential for hurt feelings, and possibly disagreement, and conflict.

     

    In fact, who would have the authority to tell someone that their message is just not from God, particularly right during a worship service?  Would it have to be the pastors or elders or board members? 

     

    I may be wrong about this, but I personally think that in today’s church context, it would be much simpler and less painful for someone to approach the church leadership with a potential revelation from God and, if it is considered sound, the leadership can give the thumbs up for it to be shared during a service.  Mind you, it does kill the spontaneity, doesn’t it? 

     

    Interestingly, Paul also writes in 1 Cor, that the prophets have the choice to remain silent at any time (1 Cor 14:30-33).  In other words, it is OK not to give a word from God the very moment it has been received.     

     

    Paul continues with the practical section of his letter, but then adds a prayer, followed by a promise. 

     

    Abstain[11] from evil in all its forms.  And may the God of peace himself make you completely holy, keep your spirit, soul and body sound so that you will be blameless at the coming of Jesus Christ, our Lord. He who called you is faithful, and he will do it.

                                                    1 Thessalonians 5:22-24

     

    On Feb 1st, 2015, an Italian atheist and journalist[12] who frequently interviews Pope Francis, declared on Italian TV that the Pope denied the existence of hell, instead holding the view that the unrepentant will be annihilated after they are resurrected at the judgment day. 

     

    This is actually the view of the JW church, Seventh Day Adventism, and, more recently, the Church of England’s Doctrine Commission.  Famous theologians like the John Stott and Clark Pinnock hold to this view.  Even C.S. Lewis and F.F. Bruce noted that annihilationism (often shortened to annihilism) is an acceptable viewpoint for evangelical Christians (it may be, but it isn’t my view).  

     

    What caused an uproar over the journalist’s comments is that annihilism is NOT the official view of the Roman Catholic Church.

     

    Now, oddly enough, the journalist who claimed that Pope Francis holds to this view, never records his interviews nor does he take notes during the interview.  He recounts his conversations from memory.  This gives Pope Francis always a chance to claim that the journalist misunderstood or misrepresented his actual words or meaning.  However, there is no pressing reason why the journalist should lie, nor does it explain why Pope Francis continues to grant him interviews.

     

    In any case, the Pope’s alleged words points to a possible theological shift even in the RC church. 

     

    However, a much larger theological shift has taken place over the last 50 years within mainline (liturgical) churches, and it is growing in acceptance in evangelical churches:  The view termed moral relativism, the view that right and wrong are in the eye of the beholder and therefore are fluid categories.    

     

    Put another way, moral relativism among Christians focuses only on God’s mercy.  God in his mercy will forgive any and all sins at any and all times.  Therefore, personal purity and moral excellence is no longer necessary to enter God’s presence.  Repentance, forgiveness, obedience to God’s will, transformation, goodness, loving actions, none are actually required for salvation.  Therefore, in theory even an evil or unholy person will go to heaven.

     

    It reminds me of two men who met in the grocery store.  One said to the other, “Have you heard about Harry?  He embezzled the company he works for out of a million dollars.”

    That’s terrible.”

    Not only that, he skipped town.”

    “What, I always knew he was a bad apple.”

    “Not only that, when he skipped town he did so with Tom’s wife.”

    No way, what a no-good, rotten, person.”

    Not only that, he stole a car to make his getaway.”

    Wow, that’s truly unbelievable.  But what really worries me is who is going to teach his Sunday school class this coming Sunday.”

     

    In one of his homilies, Pope Francis mentioned that Satan seeks to enter the human heart through moral relativism, politely, quietly, but insidiously.  Moral relativism, once embraced, anaesthetizes the conscience, and once the conscience is anaesthetized, Satan has become the master of it.[13] 

     

    With his words, Pope Francis was alluding to a passage in 1 Timothy:

     

    The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.                               1 Timothy 4:1-2

     

    A seared conscience will no longer be able to discern right from wrong.  And the prophet Isaiah warns the nation of Israel that bad things would befall the person who proclaims evil to be good, and good evil.

     

    Woe to those who say that evil is good and good is evil.                                                                     Isaiah 5:20

     

    In verses 22-24 of our passage in 1 Thess, Paul strongly implies that personal holiness is in fact a prerequisite to salvation.  Elsewhere he states it outright, for example in Rom 6:22.

     

    Now that you have been set free from sin and have become servants of God, you have received a benefit that will lead you to holy conduct, the outcome being eternal life.                                               Romans 6:22

     

    In fact, the whole of Romans 6 is really making one point: baptized believers simply cannot live in sin as they formerly did.  In other words, being holy includes moral purity and ethical excellence. 

     

    The author of Hebrews, who was familiar with Paul’s writings, states Paul’s view about as bluntly as possible.

     

    Those who are not holy will not see the Lord.

                                                              Hebrews 12:14

     

    So Paul tells the Thessalonians to abstain from evil in any of it forms.  But then he adds a prayer - that God would make them completely holy so that they will be blameless at Jesus’ return.  This is followed by a statement that, in Paul’s opinion, God will in fact accomplish this for them. 

     

    For Paul, God’s unmerited favour or grace extends beyond forgiveness, the pardoning of bad words, thoughts and actions.  Being made just includes being given the necessary inner strength to renew oneself morally and ethically. 

     

    To put it in theological terms, justification includes sanctification.  Being made holy in standing also includes being made holy in attitudes and actions over time.

     

    Just to make it perfectly clear.  Paul is NOT speaking here about moral perfection.  That’s an impossibility in this life, no matter how long we live. There will always be times when we give in to temptation.  From time to time everyone purposefully will do or say something that they know to be wrong.  Pretending that we are perfect is nothing less than hypocritical.  If we do, others will just think of us as being self-righteous and holier than thou. 

     

    However, there is a process of sanctification, of being made holy, which speaks about the improvement of our moral standards over time ... the growing ability to live out God’s will.  

     

    It speaks of the process of being conformed into the image of Christ.[14]  It speaks of increasingly weeding out lying, stealing, and whatever else may be morally wrong in our lives. 

     

    Did you know that the whole purpose of our calling, of our salvation, is to become holy?  Holiness is the purpose and goal of God for his people

     

    There are numerous verses in the Bible to indicate this, one of which is found in 1 Thessalonians itself, another in Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians. 

     

    God did not call us to be impure, but to live holy lives.

    1 Thessalonians 4:7

     

    God chose you from the beginning to be saved by believing the truth and being made holy by the Spirit.                                                     2 Thessalonians 2:13

     

    Similar statements can also be found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

     

    God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and (therefore) blameless before him.                                                                    Ephesians 1:4

     

    Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her that he might make her holy.                        Ephesians 5:25-26

     

    So someone might ask themselves: “Where’s the tipping point?  At what point am I holy enough to go to heaven?  How much can I get away with and still be able to squeak into heaven?” 

     

    One problem lies in the question itself.  Christians should never actually ask it.  The goal should never be to skate as close to the precipice as possible without falling off.  The goal should be to stay away from the precipice altogether.

     

    A second problem is with the answer to the question.  Holiness cannot really be quantified, at least not exactly.  In fact, as the Scriptures indicate, the level of holiness necessary to enter God’s presence may be different for different people.  For example: 

     

    When someone has been given much, much will be required in return ...                           Luke 12:48

     

     

    1. In Luke 12:48, in the context of the parable of the servants, Jesus said, “to those who have been given much, much will be required in return.

     

    This verse seems to imply that people will be judged differently, depending on what they have received in this life. 

     

    Imagine a person is born in the Western world, is blessed with a loving Christian home.  He frequently hears about God’s love through Christ Jesus, has the wherewithal to attend whatever university he wants, has access to the best healthcare possible, is able to afford anything his heart desires, and experiences little suffering or pain, even in old age.  

     

    Compare him to the one who is born in the slums of Mumbai, is abandoned by his parents when very young, lives on the street, has no access to education, clean water, proper nutrition, or health care; never hears about God or Jesus; is permanently hungry and malnourished; constantly struggles with health issues; and dies a miserable premature death.

     

    Don’t you think that God may judge each person on a different scale?  To those who have received much, much will be required.

     

    2. The writer of James notes that individuals should be somewhat reticent to be spiritual teachers because these “will incur a stricter judgment” (Jam 3:1).

     

    Not many of you should become (spiritual) teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.                             James 3:1

     

    That’s a pretty scary verse for pastors and spiritual teachers, because it’s pretty blunt. 

     

    Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom!” And Jesus said to him, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:42-43                                   

    3. And do you remember the thief on the cross beside Jesus?  Jesus had promised him “today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).  There is not a lot of time for moral improvement in the few hours before the man died.  However, the man did acknowledge that he had committed crimes that deserved the death penalty, possibly murder or armed robbery (Luke 23:41), and he did voice his belief that Jesus would receive a kingdom (Luke 23:42).[15] 

     

    Wouldn’t the standard of judgment be different for individuals who had a true deathbed conversion?  And I’m not talking about an insincere last minute hail Mary, maybe I should do this just in case, thing?

     

    While the level of holiness necessary for salvation may vary from individual to individual, the goal for all Christians is the avoidance of evil in all its forms, and to allow God to make them completely holy and thus blameless.

     

    So Paul makes the point that God is committed to sanctify his people, to make them holy.    He is faithful, he will do it.

     

    However, just because God is committed to making his people holy, that does not mean that his people have nothing to do personally to become holy, no hard choices to make, no temptations to overcome. 

     

    Let’s review Paul’s admonishment with regard to how the believers in Thessalonica should live their lives in practical terms:

     

  • Treat your spiritual leaders properly.

  • Be at peace with each other.

  • Admonish those who live unruly lives.

  • Encourage those who are anxious and timid.

  • Help those who are weak.

  • Don’t retaliate.

  • Treat others in their best interest.

     

    They get the emotional and spiritual strength to treat each other that way as they ...

  • Rejoice always.

  • Pray continually.

  • Give thanks in every circumstance.

     

     Further, Paul writes,

  • Don’t extinguish the work of the Spirit.

  • Abstain from evil in all its forms.

    1 Thessalonians 5:12-22

     

    These are all things that the believers needed to do for themselves.  God wasn’t going to make the decision for them or force them into to do these things. 

     

    In his letter to the church in Philippi in Macedonia (one of the closest churches to the church in Thessalonica - 160 km away),[16] Paul points out that being made holy is really a combined effort:

     

    Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling for God is at work within you to give you the determination and the ability to live a life pleasing to him.

                                                    Philippians 2:12-13

     

    God provides the ability to lead a life pleasing to him through the indwelling HS.  But the actual decisions still needs to be made by the believers.

     

    That is why Paul tells the Thessalonians that THEY needed to decide to abstain from evil in all its forms.  The statement that God, in his faithfulness, would in fact make certain that the Thessalonian believers will be made holy, is not some kind of universal promise.

     

    It reminds me of five Germans who were crossing the border out of Germany in an Audi Quattro.  The custom agent tells them that they need to pull over because it’s illegal to put five people in a Quattro, since Quattro means four.  The Germans were flabbergasted and protested that Quattro has to do with all-wheel drive.  The vehicle legally seats five.  When they couldn’t convince the custom official they ask to see the supervisor.  He replied, “Sorry, he can’t come right now.  He’s busy with the two guys in the Fiat Uno.”

     

    I am dealing here with an issue that has been understood in two ways for hundreds of years (Calvinism vs. Arminianism).  Arminius argued that God predestined people because, as a God standing outside of time and space, he already know beforehand what would happen (Calvin argues that God chose people before any of them were born and there is really no free will when it comes to choosing for or against Christ). 

     

    Maybe you remember that Paul had sent Timothy to Thessalonica for the very reason that he was afraid that his converts in that city had abandoned their faith due to the opposition and persecution they suffered as believers.

     

    What Paul was actually saying is that, the ongoing faith of the Christians despite their difficulties, is an indication that God will in fact answer Paul’s prayers in the affirmative.

     

    In my opinion, this does NOT mean that God will override free will.  In fact, Paul just mentioned that it is possible to put out, to extinguish, to quench the work of the Spirit.  It is equally possible to resist the work of the Spirit.

     

    You stubborn people!  Your hearts and ears are like the heathens.  You are just like your ancestors, always resisting the Holy Spirit.                       Acts 7:51

     

    When Stephen spoke to a group of Jewish people in Jerusalem, he said to them that their stubborn refusal to listen to God, is really the choice to resist the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51).[17] 

     

    So God will not override the human will, he will not take away the ability to allow or disallow the Holy Spirit to do his work of sanctification. 

     

    It is very similar when it comes to the assurance of salvation.  Jesus said that those who follow him (as a sheep follows a shepherd) will have salvation and no one will be able to snatch them out of his hand or the Father’s hand (John 10:27-29).

     

    Paul affirms this in his letter to the Romans, where he writes that no external force can separate the believer from the love of God if they are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:38-39). 

     

    However, those statements do NOT negate the reality that we can chose to remove ourselves from God’s love.  While no one can pluck us out of Jesus’ hand, we can decide to crawl out of it ourselves.  We can decide to ignore the Spirit, quench him, resist him, and cauterize our conscience.  

     

    This is why Paul warns Timothy about those people in the church who have tossed aside their consciences and have thus shipwrecked their faith (1 Tim 1:18-20).[18]

     

     

    Timothy, my son, ... fight the good fight.  Hold on to your faith.  Keep a good conscience, which some have rejected and, as a result, have shipwrecked their faith.

                                                    1 Timothy 1:18-19

     

    By the way, what is the essence of human holiness?  The other day I was speaking with an atheist.  She said that her desire is to be a kind and loving person.  She got something right.  Jesus clearly said that the essence of human holiness is treating other people with love and compassion. 

     

    Holiness is first and foremost about abounding in loving action.  Loving action is the greatest of all moral virtues.   

     

    Paul then concludes his letter with two requests: for the believers in Thessalonica to pray for himself, Silas and Timothy (cf. 1:1), and that the letter would be passed around in the churches in Macedonia.

     

    Brothers, pray for us.  Greet all of the brothers with a holy kiss.  I adjure you by the Lord, have this letter read to all the brothers.  The grace of Jesus Christ, our Lord, be with you!                                      1 Thessalonians 5:25-28

     

    Paul tells the believers of different churches, the one in Rome, the one in Corinth, and the one in Thessalonica, four times to great one another with a holy kiss.[19]  They were to take a commonly used expression of endearment and use it to express their love for one another. 

     

    But he tells them to sanctify it, to make it holy.  In other words, it should not be used in some manipulative, offensive or hypocritical way.  The affection they have for one another should be real and pure.   

     

    We don’t kiss one another any longer in the church.  If all of us were from other traditions, we may give each other a kiss on the cheek, as is common among some politicians.  But it isn’t really appropriate in our North American culture. 

     

    So is there some kind of practical application for us?  Are there culturally appropriate ways of greeting others and expressing our affection for them in some way other than a kiss? 

     

    Maybe a holy handshake, a holy fist bump, a holy high five, a holy hug?

     

    Physical contact, whether a hand on the shoulder, a pat on the back, a squeeze of the hand, whatever it may be, is important, because some people never have physical contact with any other human being. 

     

    I believe that the physical demonstration of affection should be accompanied by words that indicate the unity and sense of family and community that Christians have for one another.

     

    So maybe speak words of love, compassion, comfort, and appreciation as you greet each other today after the service. 

     

    Is holiness something that I long and strive for?

     

    Am I quenching the work of the Holy Spirit?

     

    Is there something I need to change in my life?

 

[1] Gk: me sbennute.(from sbennumi) - of fire: to quench, to extinguish, to put out; metaphorically, to suppress, to stifle.

[2] Gk: me exoutheneite (from exoutheneo) - to despise, to hold in low esteem, to contemptuously dismiss, to view with contempt, to reject.

[3] Gk: propheteias (from propheteia) - the gift of prophecy, the office of prophet.

[4] Gk: dokimazete (from dokimazo) - to test, to examine, to scrutinize, to prove genuine (through examination), to approve

[5] Gk: katechete (from katecho) - to hold back from leaving, to retain, to take possession of, to hold secure, to hold fast.

[6] Implied:  Reject what isn’t.

[7] We have gifts that differ based on how we have been blessed. Let him prophesy according to his faith.  

[8] Re. Manifestations of the Spirit for the common good, distributed as the Spirit wills): To another (is given) prophecy ...

[9] For various lists of spiritual gifts see Rom 12:6-8; 1 Cor 12:8-10,28; Eph 4:11; 1 Pet 4:11.  Other gifts include serving, giving, mercy, faith, healing, miracles, tongues, interpretation of tongues, discernment, helps, administration, evangelism,

[10] The doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope was proclaimed by Pius IX in 1870.  It is exercised rarely and explicitly.  After 1870 only once, in 1950, defining the assumption of Mary.

[11] Gk. apechesthe (from apechomai) - to abstain from, to refrain from, to keep from.

[12] Eugene Scalfari, La Repubblica.  With regard to those who die in a state of mortal sin, the pope was to have said: They are not punished. Those who repent obtain God’s forgiveness and take their place among the ranks of those who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot be forgiven disappear. A hell doesn’t exist, the disappearance of sinning souls exists.

[13] https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/dont-fall-into-the-traps-of-relativism-and-rigidity-pope-says-44628

[14] Those who God foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.                                  Romans 8:29

 

[15] The other criminal rebuked the first, “Don’t you fear God, since you face the same death sentence?  We are condemned justly, receiving what we deserve for our crimes, but this man has done nothing wrong.”

[16] That’s about from here (Saanichton) to Qualicum Beach).  Imagine that there is only one church in Victoria and the next one in Qualicum Beach!

[17] This outraged them and they became extremely angry and upset.  By the way, according to Jesus, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the unpardonable sin.

[18] 18 Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, 19 holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. 20 Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.

[19] Rom 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; 1 Thess 5:26.  See also 1 Peter 5:14, the audience is to greet one another with a kiss of love.

May 20 - Living Well

Living Well

May 20, 20108

1 Thessalonians 5:12-18

 

LIVING WELL

1 Thessalonians 5:12-18

May 20th, 2018

 

Continuing in our journey through Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.  Next week we’ll be wrapping it up, but for today we are dealing with verses 12-18 of chapter 5.

 

After Paul deals with the questions that the Christians in Thessalonica might have ... for example, what happens to Christians who die before Jesus returns? ..., Paul concludes with a very practical section ... about how the believers should relate to each other in the church. 

 

We ask of you, brothers:  Appreciate those who work diligently among you, who lead you in the Lord and instruct you.  Esteem them highly and love them because of their ministry.  Live in peace with one another.

                                                1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

 

Paul was the founder of the church in Thessalonica.  And he was an exceptional person in his own right.  But he was forced to leave town and so others in the church had to take on the mantle of leadership, of preaching and teaching.  And that couldn’t have been easy for them, particularly since they would have had to fill Paul’s shoes.    

 

Paul was highly educated, a learned Pharisee, intimately familiar with the OT.  He had had at least one encounter with the risen Christ, very likely more, and during those encounters he had received revelations, information that he passed on and that would impact the direction of the church in immense ways.  In fact Paul’s teaching would transform a rather obscure Jewish sect in Jerusalem into a world-encompassing movement. 

 

Today, everyone has expectations of leaders in the church as well.  Sometimes those expectations are unrealistic, especially when Christian leaders are expected to be perfect. 

 

The perfect pastor preaches exactly 20 minutes, give a message that is both scholarly and practical; one that is fresh, relevant, serious and humorous, and hits home every Sunday.

 

The perfect pastor condemns sin, but never hurts anyone’s feelings. 

 

He will lead the perfectly balanced life, be in great shape, have a fairytale marriage and near-perfect kids, all the while being involved at the church from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. every day.

 

He will always be available in the office while at the same making 5 home visits a day.

 

The perfect pastor is impeccably dressed, drives a nice car, lives in a nice house, but makes half the median wage.

 

The perfect pastor smiles all the time, is never in a bad mood, has a great sense of humour, and is happy for any criticism he might receive. 

 

The perfect pastor is 29 years old, but has 40 years experience.

 

The perfect pastor is able to relate equally well to infants, kids, teens, young adults, the middle aged and seniors.  He spends all his time with the youth, yet has time to visit all the seniors.

 

The perfect pastor will attend all church events, every committee meeting, all retreats, and be available to do every wedding, funeral, baptism, and dedication. 

 

He will be a charismatic and visionary leader, but have a servant’s heart.  He is an excellent evangelist, while spending all his time discipling.

 

The perfect pastor should be praying all the time, be a great counsellor who has the insight to fix everyone’s problems, a mediator who has the emotional fortitude to solve every conflict, a fantastic MC, a great administrator, and a computer genius.

 

What’s wrong with these expectations?  They are not realistic. 

 

Whoever holds to any or all of these expectations will be sorely disappointed and disillusioned.

 

What about when there is a change in leadership, like there was in Thessalonica?  Will the expectation be that the new leader should do everything as good or better than the previous leader? 

 

What’s wrong with this expectations?  The reality is that every person is unique.  Just like the leaders in Thessalonica couldn’t be like Paul, so I couldn’t be like Pastor Ernie, and whoever follows me can’t be like me.  Everyone is their own person, human, vulnerable, and prone to mistakes.  Everyone.

 

That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be any expectations.  In 1 Timothy and Titus, Paul writes about some of the criteria of Christian leaders.  They are not to be predatory, greedy, aggressive, pompous, proud, argumentative, rebellious, quick-tempered, inflexible, abusive, alcoholics, liars, or sexually immoral. 

They should be gentle, uncontentious, temperate, able to teach, caring, just, devout, self-controlled, and so on. 

 

It is noteworthy how Paul concludes v. 13.  Live in peace with one another.  This is still spoken in the context of appreciating, respecting and loving church leaders.  To take them for granted, or to treat them with distain, or to dislike them and always complain about them, will inevitably invite hurt, division and potentially open conflict. 

 

One of the miserable of all situations in the church is when the pastors and the laity are at odds with each other, when there is a struggle to be in charge or to only have one’s own way. 

 

Paul continues to describe how the believers in the church in Thessalonica are to behave.  In vv.14-15, he speaks of how believers are to treat others in the church. 

 

Now we appeal to you, brothers:

  • admonish those who live in an unruly manner,

  • encourage the fainthearted,

  • help the weak,

  • be patient toward all people. 

  • Make sure that no one pays back evil for evil to anyone. 

  • Instead, at all times treat each other and all people for their good.                1 Thessalonians 5:14-15

 

The people who surround us in church can be unruly, fainthearted, weak, and hurtful.  Why?  Because they, like you and I, have their own point of view, their own convictions, their own idiosyncrasies, and so, like us, they have the potential of being exasperating and draining. 

 

So doing what Paul is writing is extremely hard.  It is hard to confront someone who professes to be a Christian, but is involved in a lifestyle that flies in the face of God’s will.    

 

It can be hard to support individuals who are emotionally compromised, who are fearful, timid, shy, depressed.  It would be so much easier to be self-absorbed.

 

It can be hard to provide strength to the weak, who are either physically frail or spiritually frail or emotionally frail.  It would be so much easier to just not care.

 

It is hard to respond with kindness to those who are hurtful.  It would be so much easier to be offended, bitter, defensive, vindictive and lash out at those who have hurt us.   When hurt, it’s easy to become hurtful ourselves. 

 

According to Paul, when it comes to our relationships, we should be patient with everyone ... and we should treat others keeping in mind what is in their best interest, not our own. 

 

I don’t know if this reminds you of Jesus’ teaching. 

Treat others as you would want to be treated yourself (Matt 7:12; Luke 6:31). 

Don’t take revenge (turn the other cheek - Matt 5:39). 

Forgive everyone (Mark 11:25). 

Do good to those who hate you, curse you, mistreat you (Luke 6:27-28). 

Be like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37).

 

When I thought about this, the question came to mind: Where in the world do I get the strength, the where-with-all, to be the kind of person Paul is telling his audience to be? 

 

In Psalm one, we read about a person who is like a tree planted near the water, a tree that does not wither, instead producing fruit at the proper season. 

 

And Psalm 1 was not written by someone who is familiar with a costal climate.  This author is familiar with places that are dry and arid and desolate and barren without water.   

 

What makes the tree flourish?  It is the fact that its roots are able to reach the water it needs to flourish and produce fruit.  So how do we draw the strength, the nutrients, the refreshment, that we need to be as God would have us be?  Paul goes on to tell the Christians in Thessalonica.

 

  • Rejoice at all times,

  • pray constantly,

  • give thanks in every circumstance,

for this is God’s will for you who are in Christ Jesus.                                                         1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

 

I believe that only when we build prayer, thankgiving and rejoicing into our lives that we are able to relate to others in the way that Paul tells the Christians in Thessalonica to do.  Persistent prayer that has as its major component gratitude and joy, is necessary if we are not to fall into indifference, skepticism, selfishness, impatience or vengefulness. 

 

How the way we approach God will affect our outlook on life, so that we are able to react to others in a new way – building others up, encouraging them, forgiving them and loving them.

 

Focus on God

Consistent prayer with rejoicing and thanksgiving

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Focus off self

Inner peace and strength

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Focus on others

Ability to treat others in love

 

When we are people of praise and thanksgiving, then that will change our attitude toward our own situation and toward others, so that we are able to act in loving and forgiving and caring ways.    

 

A heart filled with praise, rejoicing, thanksgiving leads to compassion and understanding, and the ability to make a difference.

 

What has to happen for us to be in consistent prayer with rejoicing and thanksgiving?  We can answer that question when we realize that this is both a personal discipline and a resulting mindset.

 

Keep in mind that prayer is nothing more than speaking to God. 

  • Some people don’t speak with God because they doubt that he exists. 

  • Others don’t speak with God because they are angry at him for something. 

  • Some people don’t speak with God because they don’t think it makes any difference.  If we knew that indeed it does make a difference, maybe we would pray more. (The point is that the greatest change that prayer brings about is within us).

  • Again others don’t speak with God because they’re just too preoccupied. 

  • Again others don’t speak with God because they find it boring. 

  • And there are those who stop speaking to God because they sense no need for God.  They can get along quite fine without him.

 

The nation of Israel was warned not to allow that to happen after they entered the Promised Land and prospered.

 

When the LORD [lit. YHWH] your God brings you into the land ... then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.   Deuteronomy 6:10-12

 

There shouldn’t be any life situation that would cause us to stop praying altogether.

 

We read in Daniel 6 how the Darius the Great (reigned 522 - 486 BCE), king over the Medes and the Persians, issued a decree that for 40 days no one was allowed to petition anyone, God or man, other than the king himself.  Disobedience to the decree was punishable by death.  This is how Daniel responded:

 

Now when Daniel knew the decree was signed, he entered his house (he had a window in his roof chamber that opened toward Jerusalem) and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously.                                       Daniel 6:10

 

Daniel lived a life that combined three disciplined times of communicating with God with spontaneous encounters with God throughout his day. 

 

If we want to communicate throughout the day with God, we should set aside specific times of prayer and rejoicing and thanksgiving.  This should include giving thanks at meal times and praying with our kids when they are in bed at night.

 

Paul is telling the Christians in Thessalonica that they should speak with God constantly or continually or all the time. 

 

In his letter to the Romans, Paul uses two of the exact same terms he does in 1 Thessalonians. 

 

For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly (constantly) I make mention of you in my prayers at all times.                                                   Romans 1:9-10

 

This did NOT mean that Paul spoke to God about the Christians in Rome every minute of every day.  What it does mean is that he prayed for them daily, and did so many times over and over again. 

 

So to pray, give thanks and rejoice always does not mean that we are praying, praising, giving thanks every minute of every day.  It does mean that we should pray as often as possible.

 

As an aside, I doubt very much that Paul is thinking of prayer as always asking God for something.  In fact, if our prayers consist only of a litany of requests, if the only time we think to speak with God is when we want something from him, that’s really not much of a relationship, is it?

 

Imagine that the only time someone contacts you is when they want something from you.  Otherwise they never, ever, bother to speak with you.  After a while, you will probably think to yourself, “forget him/her.” 

 

Maybe this message is relevant for you because you have become prayer-less.  In fact, you find yourself rarely if ever even thinking about God. 

 

Paul tells his readers that they should always pray and that they should always be thankful. 

 

Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what we have or what we have received, whether it is something tangible, like food, or something intangible, like a kind word.

 

We give thanks when we become conscious or mindful of something good in our lives, some blessing. 

 

When we are grateful, we acknowledge the goodness in our lives. In the process, we usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside of ourselves.  As a result, gratitude also helps us to connect to something larger than ourselves as individuals — either to other people or to God.

 

I have heard it said that God dwells in two places.  He dwells in heaven and in the thankful heart.  While theologically this may be a bit incorrect, practically speaking there is a ring of truth to it.

 

Unfortunately, some of us have so much, that we’ve stopped realizing when we are blessed ... we just take it for granted.  So we stop giving thanks, even at meal times. 

 

Instead of being mindful of the good in our lives, we get used to complaining about our problems. 

 

This week I met up with a friend, who told me that his wife had accidentally dropped a big jar of mustard and it had shattered on the kitchen floor and made a huge mess. It really upset him and his wife.

But the next day he said to me that the things that he complains about are really just inconveniences when compared to what others have to face.

 

So I believe it’s pretty easy for us to end up complaining and griping all the time, even if we have it really good compared to the vast majority of people on this planet. 

 

We move from thanksgiving to rejoicing when we feel happy about something that is happening and express that happiness in thought or word. 

 

We feel glad about something we purchase or possess, we are happy for the weather, or the beauty of nature, the marvel of the universe or a sunny, crisp morning.  We express joy at the birth of a newborn, or the people in our lives, or the ability to walk or sing.  We are overjoyed at receiving a smile, a compliment, a kind word.  We express happiness at some purchase or possession, or the fact that we have a roof over our heads, food in our stomachs and clothes on our back.  We might be joyful at the company of a good friend, or the taste of a good meal, or the love of a spouse, or a successful operation, or the greatness and goodness and patience of God.

 

So Paul tells his readers to rejoice at all times. 

 

Thankfulness                                      Ingratitude

      

 

Happiness                                          Unhappiness

Contentment                                       Discontentment

Joy                                                    Misery

 

Most psychologists are keenly aware that there is a direct and strong correlation between thankfulness (gratitude) and contentment or happiness (or a happier life) - and thus between ingratitude and unhappiness. 

 

A person who is thankful is also a person who is happier.  Thoughts and expression of thankfulness keeps them from focusing on worries and the negative aspects of life. As such, it creates positive emotions like joy and contentment, even love. 

 

The world’s leading expert on the effects of gratitude is Prof. Dr. Robert Emmons (University of California), conducted numerous studies on the effects of keeping a gratitude diary.

 

People who filled out gratitude diaries reported feeling more positive, being more optimistic, exercising more, doing more acts of service, feeling more satisfied with life, and sleeping better, particularly when the diaries were kept daily over a three week period or longer.

 

The more we pray, the closer we feel to God, the more we become aware of his presence, and the more conscious we become of the many ways he blesses us. 

 

When I give thanks, when I rejoice, when I worship God, it changes me inside.  I can’t but feel better about life.

 

I read somewhere,

 

 

 

Every day contains something good.  Nevertheless, the day will be bad if all we are looking for is the ugly.

 

 

If we're looking for ugliness in life, we'll have no trouble finding it. 

If we are looking for cruelty, or injustice, or violence, again, we'll find plenty of evidence for that too. 

War, death, crime, terrorism – it is there on the front page of our newspapers and the headlines of our newscasts.

 

But on the other hand, if we are looking for things to be thankful for, guess what, we'll be able to find plenty of things as well - literally a hundred blessings in life. 

 

In fact, given the very same circumstance, two individuals can look at it in two completely different ways.  For example, let's say that you were transferred to a different part of Canada because of work. 

 

One person would look at this situation as a major hassle or even a tragedy.  The kids have to attend new schools, the place they're moving to has a much harsher climate, they're moving away from friends and family. 

 

Another person will look at it as an opportunity to begin a new adventure, as a place where there is there is sunshine and snow in the winter, or where they can afford to buy a house and property, and a place where they have the opportunity to meet and make new friends. 

 

The point is, if we want to be truly thankful to God in the ordinary day-to-day experiences and the big events of life, then we need to see life and the situations it brings as a gift and a miracle - and always find reasons to thank God and be happy.

 

And when we praise and thank God, then we will constantly be reminded just how fortunate we are.

 

So let’s begin by making a sincere commitment to take the focus off all that is wrong and not working and bad, and replace it with a focus on everything that is good and right in our lives!

 

Let’s incorporate the discipline of speaking with God, always including thanksgiving and rejoicing, until it turns into a habit, a way of life. 

 

I’ve already mentioned that heartfelt gratitude and thanksgiving will drastically change the way we will view and feel about life.

 

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008), who suffered 8 years of incredible deprivation in the Gulags of Siberia (1945-1953), and subsequently almost died of cancer,[1] wrote in his book, "The Gulag Archipelago", these words:

 

If your back isn't broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms work, if both eyes can see, and if both ears can hear, then whom should you envy?  And why?  Our envy of others devours us most of all.  Rub your eyes and purify your heart and prize above all else in the world those who love you and who wish you well.

 

About 1.6 million people would starve, freeze, or be worked to death in Stalin’s Gulags between 1934 and 1953.[2] 

 

But for Solzhenitsyn, it would lead him to abandon atheistic Marxism and gradually becoming an Eastern Orthodox Christian. 

 

In Daniel Defoe’s book, Robinson Crusoe (1719), after the title character, Robinson Crusoe,[3] was wrecked on his lonely island, he took stock of his situation by drawing up two columns.  One he called evil, the other good.

 

On the one hand he noted that he was shipwrecked. 

On the other hand, he was thankful that he was still alive.

 

He noted that he was totally alone.

But he was thankful that he was not starving.

 

It was bad that he had no place to purchase new clothes.

But he was thankful that he was in a hot climate where it didn't matter all that much.

 

He noted that he had no weapons to defend himself.

But he was thankful that there were no animals on the island that would attack him.

 

By the way, the slave trader Robinson Crusoe ends up reading the Bible and becoming a Christian, thanking God for his fate in which nothing is missing except other humans. 

 

When he rescues a man from the cannibals who would visit the Island from time to time, he names him Friday and converts him to Christianity.  Now he has human companionship.

 

Eventually the Island, which he had named “Island of Despair” when he was shipwrecked, would become “my beloved Island”.

 

The point is, that no matter how bleak the picture may seem, when we are grateful for what is good, it can help us to regain a positive outlook and experience life in a positive way.     

 

When we worship God and give thanks for all the good things, it allows us to see that most of the things that cause us to worry are not huge issues and it will help us to leave them in God's hands.

 

Instead of complaining about your salary, thank God for the fact that you even have a job. 

 

Instead of yearning after a Mediterranean cruise, thank God for the fact that you are surrounded by opportunities to relax and enjoy, without having to travel far away.   

 

When I am thankful, it brings contentment and peace to my heart.

 

The more genuinely grateful I am to God for the gift of my life, for my wife, for the measure of health I have, for my home, my ministry, my freedom, for my friends, for my children, the more peaceful I feel and the more able I will be to treat others right. 

 

Think of what a genuine attitude of gratitude can do in relationships.  Instead of wishing that your spouse or your kids or your parents were different, try thanking God for their good qualities. 

 

You see, it is easy to get into the habit of taking one another for granted.  The combination of passing time, familiarity, and the hustle and bustle of life makes us forget how special and valuable our loved ones really are to us and how much they bring and add to our lives. 

 

Everyone loves to know and hear that they are appreciated and valued.  In fact, when someone feels taken for granted, or under-appreciated, resentment and apathy are usually not far away. 

 

A lack of gratitude toward others is a major factor in a relationship becoming stagnant and boring.  Couples stop caring because they don't feel acknowledged or appreciated.

 

By expressing your feelings of gratitude you are reinforcing that the relationship is appreciated as a gift - something of great value. 

 

Gratitude is a powerful force that can eliminate and overcome most problems that exist in a relationships.  In other words, you can make mistakes, as long as you remember to sincerely be thankful to the other person.

 

We should spend a moment every day thinking of someone to thank.  It can be anyone.  Someone who allowed you to merge into traffic, someone who held the door open for you, a physician who helped you get better, a kindness done by your spouse. 

 

Invariably, when I think of one person to be thankful for, the image of another person pops into my head and then another and another. 

 

When we make it a habit to be thankful to God for the people in our lives, then we will be on the look-out for what is right and beautiful in your relationships and that is what we will see and focus on.

 

So there are all kinds of benefits to being a person who is prays constantly with rejoicing and thanksgiving.  A heart filled with thankfulness to God is calmer and more accepting toward life.  It makes us more relaxed and peaceful.  It is a proven fact that there is a direct relationship between those who take time out to regularly connect with God in a positive way in prayer and those who are much less likely to describe life and relationships as stressful. 

 

So practicing the attitude of gratitude, genuinely taking time out of our every day to praise and thank God for His love, for all the good things in life, for our family or friends, for our home and the food we eat changes the focus to how blessed we are instead of all the negatives of life. 

 

When times are difficult, giving praise reminds us that, despite the difficulty, we are indeed fortunate to be alive and to have all we do. 

 

Let’s begin each day with rejoicing and thanksgiving, and end each day with rejoicing and thanksgiving.  For the privilege of being alive, for the food on our tables, the clothes on our back, for parents and kids and friends and neighbours, for all that is ours and all that we have.

 

The more accepting of life I become, the more I become open to the moments of grace and beauty in my life. 

 

The more I stop taking for granted God’s love and forgiveness, the good things in my life and my loved ones – the better my perspective on life will be and the greater my ability to actually admonish, encourage and help others. 

 

So allow that attitude of gratitude and joy to bring out the best in you, to help you maintain your emotional bearing, and to touch and transform your relationships.

 

Beginning today and for the next three weeks (21 days) will I discipline myself ...

 

... to pray a minimum of three times a day, even if it’s just giving thanks at mealtimes?

 

... to make three entries in a gratitude journal once a day?

 

... to make a point of telling one person every day why I appreciate them?

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Cancer Ward

[2] According to Russian estimates, over 1 million people died.  Non-Russian estimates range as high as 5 million to 12 million.  About 14 million people passed through the Gulags from 1929 and 1953, with another 7 to 8 million being deported and exiled in remote parts of the USSR.

[3] Crusoe is a corruption of the German name Kreutzner.

May 13 - Living In The Present While Looking To The Future.

Living In The Present While Looking To The Future

May 13, 2018

1 Thessalonians 4:13 - 5:11

 

LIVING IN THE PRESENT WHILE LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

May 13th, 2018

1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 5:11

 

Today I am continuing in our series through Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica, a church he had started maybe 6 months prior to writing to them.  Beginning in v.13 of chapter 4, he picks up the topic of Jesus’ return.

 

Now what do you picture when you think of the judgement day, or the end of the world?  What comes to mind?

 

Do you think of a giant asteroid hitting the earth?

 

Or do you think of an all-out war that ends in a nuclear war that wipes out most if not all of life on earth?

 

Or perhaps, the so-called rapture comes to mind, the removal of all believers from the earth?

 

Or maybe, you’re thinking of natural disasters, floods, and earthquakes, and the sky turning dark.

 

Maybe a lake of fire comes to mind.

 

Where do these images come from?  You’d be right in saying that they are, at least in part, a reflection of what is found in the Bible.  The next number of slides indicate some of the main passages that speak of the end times.  The first one recounts the prophecy of 70 weeks in Daniel.

 

Daniel 7-12

Mark 13

John 6

1 Corinthians; 1&2 Thessalonians

Revelation

70 weeks for Jerusalem and nation to finish transgression

 

 

 

69 weeks from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem until the anointed one (Messiah), the prince.

 

 

 

After 62 weeks the Messiah will be cut off and the coming prince will destroy the city and temple

 

 

 

For 1 week a covenant will be made, but sacrifices will cease, the abomination that makes desolate is set up, until the one who makes desolate is destroyed

 

 

 

 

We are not going to be spending a lot of time on any of these slides.  Just note that it speaks of the coming of a Messiah, the Messiah’s death, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and the arrival of the abomination that makes desolate. The next slide contains Jesus’ prophecies as recorded in Mark 13 and John 6.

 

Daniel 7-12

Mark 13

John 6

1 Corinthians; 1&2 Thessalonians

Revelation

 

Many will come in my name and mislead you.

 

 

 

Wars, rumours of wars, earthquakes, famines, persecution

 

 

 

Good news preached to all nations.

 

 

 

Abomination of desolation stands where it shouldn’t

 

 

 

Jesus speaks of false Christs, wars, persecution, and the abomination of desolation being set up, the last being a direct reference to Daniel. 

 

But Daniel and Jesus weren’t the only ones who spoke of the end times.  The apostle Paul and the author of the book of revelation did as well.  And all of them spoke of a time of trouble or tribulation or distress.

 

Daniel 7-12

Mark 13

John 6

1 Corinthians; 1&2 Thessalonians

Revelation

Time of distress

The holy ones are given into the hands of the destroyer for a time, times and half a time before the everlasting  kingdom will be given to them.

Time of great tribulation; false Christs and false prophets.

Great falling away, the son of destruction (the man of lawlessness) will do great signs and wonders and take his seat in the temple

Great tribulation (seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls);

1/3 of mankind killed.

Persecution, plagues and war. 

 

 

Particularly in the book of Revelation, the time of tribulation is discussed in greater detail.  Both Jesus and the book of Revelation point to something that will happen with the “lights in the sky”.

 

SLIDE 10 - End time predictions cont.

 

Daniel 7-12

Mark 13

John 6

1 Corinthians; 1&2 Thessalonians

Revelation

 

 

 

 

Sun, moon no longer give light.  Stars fall to the earth

 

6th seal - Great earthquake, sun turns black, moon turns red. Stars fall to the earth.

 

So something would happen with the sun, moon and stars, a reflection also of Isaiah’s prophecy about the day of the Lord when Babylon will be destroyed (Isa 13:10-13).[1] 

 

Both OT and NT point to a more than human figure, the Son of Man.

 

Daniel 7-12

Mark 13

John 6

1 Corinthians; 1&2 Thessalonians

Revelation

The beast will be destroyed and one like a son of man will come with the clouds of heaven and present himself before God and receive an everlasting dominion.

Many of the deceased will awaken to eternal life or eternal contempt

The son of man will come in the clouds with great power.

 

I will raise them up on the last day.

At Christ’s coming the trumpet will sound, the man of lawlessness will be destroyed and believers will be raised from the dead.  The living and those resurrected will be transformed and given spiritual bodies.  They will meet Christ in the clouds and be with him forever 

One like a son of man sitting on a cloud.

 

Notice that one like a son of man arrives on or with the clouds.  This arrival is often connected with the resurrection of God’s people from the dead.  And Jesus understood himself to be this son of man. 

 

As I already mentioned, the book of Revelation goes into much greater detail when it comes to the time of tribulation.  I’ve only listed very few points, those having to do with a 1000 year reign of Jesus and those who had been martyred for their faith.

 

Daniel 7-12

Mark 13

John 6

1 Corinthians; 1&2 Thessalonians

Revelation

 

 

 

Gathering at Har-Magedon.

Lightening, thunder, earthquakes, hail

 

 

 

War against the Lamb and his army. Babylon is destroyed.

Enemies of Lamb are destroyed.

Satan bound for 1000 years.

Martyrs are resurrected and reign with Christ

 

 

 

After the 1000 years, the rest are resurrected

Satan is released, gathers a massive army, defeated and thrown into the lake of fire.

 

End time prophecies in the Bible are also connected to a day of God’s judgment. 

 

Daniel 7-12

Matthew 25

1 Corinthians; 1&2 Thessalonians

Revelation

 

When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all his angels with him, he will separate people like a shepherd separates sheep and goats

We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. 

 

Judgment takes place

 

 

 

Christ reigns until all his enemies are conquered, the last enemy being death

Death and hades thrown into the lake of fire

 

At the end of the judgement, death is done away with.  Jesus and the apostle Paul referred to what we often think of as “heaven” as the kingdom of God

 

The book of Revelation speaks of a new heaven and earth, terminology that is taken from the OT book of Isaiah (65:17; 66:22), something also reflected in the NT book of 2 Peter (3:12-13).

 

Daniel 7-12

Mark 13

John 6

1 Corinthians; 1&2 Thessalonians

Revelation

 

 

Believers are saved from God’s wrath.

The unrighteous cannot inherit the kingdom of God

There will be a new heaven, a new earth, and a new Jerusalem

Ungodly thrown into the lake of fire

 

 

 

God’s throne in the city.

No more curse or night

 

 

 

The saints reign forever

 

The difficulty is how to combine the various accounts into one coherent entity, or whether such an attempt should even be made. 

 

Now, there has always been an interest in the church about the events surrounding the end times.  Jesus’ disciples asked him about what would happen.  As we can see, it is likely that the Christians in the churches that Paul planted also wanted to know what would take place. 

 

What likely had caused consternation in the church in Thessalonica was Paul’s teaching that Jesus would return very soon.[2] 

 

Now it seems reasonable to assume that one or more believers had died in Macedonia since Paul had been there.  Since Jesus had not returned as yet, does that mean that they missed out on the Kingdom of God?  That they would not make it to heaven?

 

It is this question that Paul is dealing with.  So let’s begin reading in 1 Thess 4, beginning with v.13.

 

Brothers, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who have died, so that you won’t grieve like the rest who have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who have died in Jesus.                     1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

 

At this point all that Paul points out that when Jesus comes, God will bring with him all believers who have died prior to Jesus’ return.

 

We tell you this by the word of the Lord: we who are alive and remain so until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.  The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding word, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.              1 Thessalonians 4:15-16a

 

Paul mentions that his teaching is “by the word of the Lord”.  Jesus taught explicitly about his second coming.[3]  And Paul believed that what followed accurately reflected Jesus’ teaching on the end times.[4]   

 

So Paul points out that when Jesus returns, he will come with a great noise - a great shout and a great trumpet call.  This is clearly a reflection of Jesus’ own teaching.  In Matt 24, when Jesus speaks of his coming on the clouds of the sky, he also mentions the sound of a great trumpet (Matt 24:31).

 

In the OT, the trumpet was blown to summon soldiers for battle (cf. Jud 3:27; Neh 4:18), or prior to making some great announcement (2 Sam 20:1), or in order to sound alarm should enemies approach a city (Ezek 33:2-6). 

 

The trumpet call was associated in the book of Joel with the day of God’s judgment (Joel 2:1) and in the book of Isaiah with the restoration of Israel from exile (Isa 27:13; Zech 9:14).

 

Paul refers to the trumpet in another letter as “the last trumpet that will be sounded at the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor 15:52), something he also mentions in our letter.

 

Then the dead in Christ will rise first, and we who are alive, who remain alive, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we forever will be with the Lord.  Therefore, comfort one another with these words.   1 Thessalonians 4:16b-18

 

As Paul is answering the question about what would happen to those who had died prior to the second coming of Christ, he makes one point - and states it twice. 

 

There is eternal life with Christ even for those who passed on prior to his return

 

Death is not the end for the believer’s hope in eternal life, because, at the point of Christ’s return, both those who had died prior to that time, and those who are alive at that time, will join Christ and be with him forever. 

 

Paul not only mentions this point here, but he will return to it again in chapter 5 (5:10), that’s how important it is to him. 

 

And the believers in Thessalonica are to remind themselves of this fact, the hope that they have, the hope that brings comfort to those who have lost a loved one through death.

 

If someone close to you has died, you will know the deep pain, the immense sense of loss that this will bring with it.   The believers in Thessalonica were to comfort one another with the knowledge that death is not the end.  That there will be a reunion. 

 

In chapter 5, Paul continues on this same theme, but he shifts gears because he anticipates that the topic of the timing of Jesus’ return would be important to his readers.  However, he doesn’t try to put a date on it.  Rather, he reiterates a point that Jesus made - while no-one knows the exact day and hour, not even Jesus himself (Mark 13:32; Matt 24:36), it will happen at a time when many simply will not expect it

 

But concerning the times and seasons, brothers, you have no need to be written to.  You yourselves know perfectly well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.  When they are saying, "Peace and safety," it is then that destruction will come on them suddenly, like labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.            1 Thessalonians 5:1-3

 

Paul writes that he really has no need to tell them something they already know.  He had already taught them about what Jesus had said with regard to the unexpected nature of his return. 

 

“The day of the Lord” is an expression often found in the prophetic books of the OT (Isaiah 2:12; Daniel 12:12; Amos 5:18; Joel 2:31). The day is described as the time when God would judge the world, punish the wicked and save the righteous.[5] 

 

The expression “like a thief in the night” is something that Jesus himself said with regard to his return in order to tell his followers that they should be alert for and ready at all times for his return (Matt 24:44; Luke 12:40).[6] 

 

So Paul makes the point that the wicked will be blissfully unaware that something is about to happen.  They will think everything is hunky dory, and suddenly, unexpectedly, they will face God’s wrath. 

 

Many have tried to figure out when Christ would return.  Luther and many early Anabaptists were convinced it would happen in the 1500’s. Nostradamus, alive at that time, predicted the end of the world would come in 1999. 

 

In North America there was a particularly strong fascination with the return of Christ from the mid-1700’s to the mid-1800’s, probably because of the so-called Great Awakenings which were followed by the civil war. 

 

End time teachers and preachers, who made predictions about the second coming of Christ, were able to draw large followings.  Let me give you some examples.

 

The Shakers[7] under the leadership of Mother Ann Lee, predicted that the world would end in both 1792 and 1794.[8] 

 

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church, predicted that the millennium would start in 1836.

 

William Miller, whose followers were known as the Millerites, calculated from the book of Daniel that Christ would return and the world would end in October 1844. Many Christians firmly believed Miller and when nothing happened in 1844, the reaction was termed “the great disappointment.” 

 

Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, based on Miller’s calculations, also predicted that Christ would return in 1844.

 

 

John Wroe, the founder of the Christian Israelite Church, predicted that the millennium would start in 1863 and that Armageddon would begin in 1977. (Couldn’t find a picture of him).

 

Charles Taze Russell (founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses) predicted that Christ would return in 1874.  Subsequently he also predicted the world would end in 1914.

 

Joseph Smith (founder of the Mormon Church) predicted in 1835 that the end time would happen within 56 years (by 1891 at the latest).

 

Ellen White (founder of the 7th day Adventist church), taught that the 1800’s were the beginning of the great tribulation and that the day of judgment was near.  To her credit, she never set a date as far as I’m aware of.

 

And of course there were many who would follow, including Herbert W. Armstrong (1936, 1943, 1972, 1975), Pat Robertson (1982, 2007), Marshall Applewhite [Heaven’s Gate cult] (1997), Jerry Falwell and Tim LaHaye (2000), Sun Myung Moon (2000), Harold Camping (2011), John Hagee (2014/15) and many more - all of them wrong. 

 

But you, brothers, are not in darkness, so that The Day should come on you like a thief.  You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to darkness.  So then, let us not sleep [be spiritually unaware] as others do, but let us keep watch and be sober.                                       1 Thessalonians 5:4-6

 

Jesus made the point that a thief breaks into a house when people are asleep and do not expect him to show up.  If the thief was to announce his arrival to the homeowner, then the owner would have taken precautions and been prepared to defend his home (Matt 24:43; Luke 12:39).[9] 

 

Paul begins these verses with “but you”!  Things are to be different for believers because they do not belong to the night, or to darkness. They are children of light and day.  In first century Judaism, the dualism between day and night or light and darkness, was a common way of speaking about

  • God, goodness, kindness, moral purity, ethically sound behaviour on the one hand, and

  • Evil spiritual forces, sin, hate, impurity, and moral compromise, on the other.[10] 

 

Paul notes that the believers at Thessalonica are to be both sober and watchful for the very reason that they belong to the day and the light (1 Thess 5:6).

 

Being sober and watchful describes the attitude and actions of a watchman as he stands on the walls of a city and keeps a look-out. For the sake of the city, he needs to be awake, alert, and attentive.

 

The second term that Paul uses is the term translated “sober”.  The opposite of being sober is being drunk.  But here Paul uses the term figuratively. 

Being drunk points to a muddled mind and a muddled life.

Being sober denotes sound thinking and decision making.  It speaks of having good judgment, of having discernment.  More than that, being sober also speaks of a life and lifestyle that is impacted by sound decisions and good judgement. 

 

When hearts and minds are sober, they will not just focused on short term pleasure and gratification.  They will look at the long term and make good choices accordingly so that their actions reflect the moral will of God.[11] 

 

For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.  But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and the hope of salvation for a helmet, because God has not appointed us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.                                                                  1 Thessalonians 5:7-9

 

Paul uses some of the parts of the armour of a foot soldier, much like he does in Eph. 6, to describe the three most important qualities that are to characterize a believer ... the qualities that should be in the hearts and minds and lives of believers in order for them to be sober. 

 

Faith (proper belief) - particularly with regard to what is believed about Jesus,

love (proper behaviour) - what guides our actions in the present - and

hope (proper anticipation) - what we look forward to - the blessings of eternity (being with God, loved ones...). 

 

Maybe these terms bring to mind the so-called love chapter, 1 Cor 13, where Paul writes, “These three remain:  faith, hope and love ... but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13). 

 

So here Paul makes the second major point:

 

Jesus will return abruptly at any time,

therefore be prepared for it at all times

 

We should be absolutely aware of the fact that every day could be our last day on earth.  The reality is that we have no guarantee that we will be around tomorrow or the next day. 

 

However, most people, especially those who are young, assume they will live for many, many years to come.  And they act accordingly. 

 

They postpone the things that deep down they know are really important – like visiting a friend, or telling the people who they love how important they are to them.

 

I’m sure that those who died so suddenly on 9/11, or those who were mowed down in the streets of Toronto last month (Apr 23rd, 2018), or the man who was hit and killed in Saanichton while walking at on the side of the Pat Bay Hwy a few weeks back (Apr 26th, 2018), none of them likely had any inkling of what would happen to them when they left home that morning. 

 

Were their last words to their loved ones harsh or loving?  Were they upset or happy?    

 

When we are consciously aware that we could meet Jesus any day, It shouldn’t make us morbid or fatalistic, nor should it move us toward abandoning our responsibilities. Instead, it should lead us to make better, kinder, more caring choices, and it should leave us without fear about meeting our maker. 

 

Paul then finishes this section, as he did chapter 4, with repeating the first main point, followed by a command.

 

He died for us, so that, whether we are still alive or have died, we might live together with him.  Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, as indeed you are doing.     1 Thessalonians 5:10-11[12]

 

Believers should encourage and uplift each other with these words.

 

Today there is much discussion as to the various events surrounding the end times and the second coming of Christ.  There are various views on whether or not the rapture is identical with the second coming of Christ, and, if not, whether or not 1 Thess. 4 and 1 Thess. 5 even speak of the same event. 

 

The various views may include a rapture prior to the tribulation (pre-trib), after the tribulation (post-trib), or during the tribulation (mid-trib).  They may include the rapture prior to the 1000 year reign of Christ (pre-mill), or after the 1000 years (post-mill).  Or they may view all of the end time comments in spiritual terms. 

 

Idealism

 

Idealism was a popular belief in the early church, beginning with the church father, Origin.  All eschatological writings, including Revelation, give a symbolic or allegorical description of a continuous conflict between good and evil.

 

Historical

 

The Historical view was very popular in evangelical church between 1300 and 1900.  Very similar to idealism, eschatological writings give a symbolic or allegorical description of a cycle of conflicts throughout history.

 

Preterist

 

This view began around 1550 but is gaining more popularity over the last 50 years.  In this view, the tribulation took place in the earliest church and ended when Christ returned in 70 AD.  Most or even all portions of Revelation are believed to have already been fulfilled, including the return of Christ. People are judged upon their death. 

 

Amillennial

 

This view also began early on in church history, was popular around the time of the Reformation, but is held by many Christians today.  In this view, the millennium kingdom and Christ’s rule are in heaven while the church on earth is experiencing the time of tribulation until Christ returns. 

 

Postmillennial

 

The Postmillennial view was the most common view held in evangelical circles for 800 years, between 1100 and 1900.  As Christianity spreads, the world will become better and end in a peaceful rule of Christ.  WW1 and 2, served as a severe blow to postmillennialism. 

 

Classic Premillennial

 

The Classic Premillennial view, while held by some early church fathers, really has come in its own in North America since the 1900’s.  The church is seen as having replaced Israel.  After the church age, the great tribulation takes place and then Christ returns and the rapture takes place.  Christ then reigns 1000 years on earth prior to the judgment.

 

Dispensational Premillennial

 

The Dispensational view was first formulated in the 1830’s, but it has become the most popular view since the 1900’s.  After the church is raptured, the time of tribulation takes place when Israel is the key player, the temple is rebuilt.  This is followed by Christ’s return and the millennium.

 

Dispensational Premillennial

 

Some Dispensationalists argue that the rapture takes place not prior to the great tribulation, but sometime during that time of trouble.  

 

Of course, my drawings are a great oversimplification of the events that are said to take place.  Here is just one example of how some people combine the various elements of the Bible. 

 

I’m not at all sure that Paul, who never read the book of Revelation, was even thinking in terms of a millenium, a tribulation, or a rapture in the way that they are held today.   

 

Paul’s main concern, as I’ve already mentioned, was to tell the believers what the eternal fate would be of those who had died prior to Jesus’ return, and to encourage them to be ready at all times for Jesus’ return. 

 

In Paul’s mind, Christ’s return and the judgment day seem to both fall on the so-called “day of the Lord.”  He definitely seems to tie the display of God’s wrath and salvation to the event of Christ’s return (1 Thess 5:9). 

 

So what should we take of our passage today?  Do you remember the two main points?

 

  1. There is eternal life with Christ even for those who have died prior to his return.

  2. Jesus will return abruptly at any time, therefore be prepared for it at all times.

     

    I thought of these points in terms of

  1. honouring or celebrating the past instead of being stuck in it,

  2. living in the present instead of wasting it, and

  3. looking forward to the future instead of dreading it or obsessing about it.

     

    So today is mother’s day.  I think we can honour the past if we look back to when we were kids and our mother cared for us.

    We can live in the present by making sure that our mother’s know we love them or, if we’re female, by trying to be the best mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and sisters we can possibly be.

    And we can look forward to the time when gender truly becomes irrelevant (we will be like the angels), or when we see our deceased mom’s in heaven.

     

    Presently we in a season of change at the church here as well.

     

    We can celebrate the past, taking note that 42 years ago Pastor Ernie and Connie and their family started Friendship Community Church.

     

    This is the best church I have ever had the privilege to serve in and I know it is because of the wisdom, love, hard work and genuine desire to serve God by those in leadership and in the congregation who were here before me.

     

    We can celebrate our own past as well.  Not because things were easy or better.  Not because we had less aches and pains. But because there were good things that happened and good people who were part of our lives.

     

    And we should be able to celebrate the past without getting stuck in it.  Unfortunately, some people live in the past because it seemed so much better than today.  Their greatest triumphs were in the past.  And so they pine for the past.  They can’t let go of the past.  Their whole life is predicated and controlled by the past.  They have great difficulty accepting change, even though change is inevitable.

 

Other people are stuck in the past because it was bad.  Can you think of someone who can’t get over what happened to him or her?  Maybe you are that person – not able to get over how a parent treated you, or how a friend treated you, or someone at church treated you. 

 

Even though those events are long past, they become alive again as we rehearse them.  They can make us angry all over again.  It is easy to become absorbed in, or even worse, riveted to, our bad memories.  And when we do, it is as if the bad events are happening all over again.  

 

The reality is that we would be bent out of shape all the time if we focus on all the painful things that have happened to us.  Instead, here I am, here you are – in one piece. 

 

We need to learn to recognize the past for what it is – it no longer exists, it is no longer real – except in our memories, in our thoughts.  And thoughts and memories can’t hurt us, at least not without our consent. 

 

With the help of God we are able to stop them from continuing to haunt us.  With the help of God we can make a decision not to relieve past hurts over and over again, not to wallow in bitter thoughts about the past, all of which keeps us from moving forward.  

 

I need to celebrate the past – but I need to learn not to live in it.

 

 

Just as importantly, we should look forward to the future instead of dreading it.  To have hope.  We ought to be those who know that we are on the winning team.  As Paul writes, we are destined for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (5:9) so that we will be with him forever.  At that forward look will help us to keep perspective on the present.

 

The problem is that some people worry an inordinate amount about having enough in the future.  And so they obsess.  They spend their lives trying to get ahead, only to find out that they are never really happy or satisfied.  It is a chasing after the wind.  They are trying to win the rat race and find out that they turned into a rat. 

 

Nevertheless, even though our true home is with God, that should not mean that we are foolish about the future.  That is part of Paul’s admonition to work for a living and not become a burden on others (cf. 1 Thess 4:11).  However, this should not morph into greed nor should it keep us from doing what is best in God’s eyes.

 

And lastly, we should live in the present, instead of wasting it.  Irrespective of what happened yesterday or last year, and what may or may not happen tomorrow, the present moment is where we are at – always!

 

We can live in the present as we are thankful for all the good that currently is happening with our children, youth, young adults, small groups, missions’ endeavours, worship, church plants, and as we are involved serving God in whatever capacity we can. 

 

Many people allow past problems and future concerns to so dominate the present moments that they end up anxious, depressed or frustrated.  When we live in the past or the future, then often we live in a world of fear, anticipation, regret, anxiety and stress.  Whether it’s dwelling on a painful event or worrying about the future. 

 

Some people assume that, for whatever reason, tomorrow is going to be more important than today.  And that is silly.  We are here today, and today we can do something, while there are no guarantees about tomorrow. 

 

Think of it this way.  Let’s say that the place you live in burns down while you and your loved ones are traveling.  You can be consumed by grief because of all the special items you lost in the fire.  You can be consumed by anxiety because of the difficulties you will face in finding a new place and replacing furniture and the like.  Or, you could thank God that the fire is out, that no one was hurt, that you have insurance.

 

I make this point not to minimize the tragedy of a fire, nor to say that we won’t miss the special things or that we won’t care.  I’m making the point that we need to live in the present moment.

 

Jesus said as much in the Sermon on the Mount when he told his followers not to be eaten up with worry about what may be in the future, but to focus on dealing with the problems of today instead (cf. Matt 6:34).

 

We shouldn’t allow our thinking ruin our day-to-day lives.  What I mean by that is while we live in the past or the future, our children are growing up, the people we love are moving away or passing on, our bodies are getting out of shape, we miss out on opportunities to enjoy our loved ones and to enjoy life and to do the important things right now.

 

Paul did not want the believers in Thessalonica to worry about Jesus’ return.  He wanted them to be ready for it by living as if every day was their last.  Think of it in this way:

 

Starting my day with love means that when I wake up in the morning, I thank God for the day and for his love and all the good that is in my lives, and praying that He will help me to be loving in every aspect of my life.

 

Living my day in love means that throughout the day, I remind myself of the importance of living my life with love as my absolute priority. 

 

And so, I will try to be loving, kind, gentle and patient in the way I act and in the choices I make.

 

I will let go of past hurts and stop dredging up the past to throw it in someone’s face.

 

I will attempt to maintain a good perspective on life.

 

I won’t take myself too seriously, not take events so personally, and not blow things out of proportion. 

 

I will make allowances for the imperfections of others and of myself. 

 

I will make a real effort not to be judgmental but instead to be generous and complimentary.

 

Ending each day with love means kissing my loved ones goodnight and telling them how much I love them.

 

It means thanking God for the good things that did happen to me and the love shown to me by others and by God.

 

Have I lost sight of eternity?

 

Have I lost sight of the uncertainty of life?

 

Have I lost sight of being a child of the light?

 

One way to think about eternity, the uncertainty of life, and being a child of the light, is to ask the question:

 

Should I die today, where would I stand with God?” 

 

Maybe some of you haven’t as yet asked yourself that questions. 

 

If so, what needs to happen?

What decision do I need to make ... today?

 

 

 

[1] Apocalyptic exaggeration:  Stars won’t shine, sun will be dark when it rises, the moon will be dark in the day of God’s burning anger when he punishes the world for its evil.

[2] This likely was due to the fact that Jesus predicted his return within the lifetime of his listeners.  See Matt 24:34; 26:64.

[3] No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left.  Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.  Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.  But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what watch (i.e. time of night) the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.  So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.  Matthew 24:36-44

 

[4] Gospel passages about Jesus’ teaching concerning the end times (Matt. 24:1-29; Mark 13:1-25; Luke 21:5-26), his return (Mark 13:25-27; Luke 21:27-28), and the unexpected nature of that return (Luke 12:39-40; 17:26-37; 21:34-36 and Mark 13:32-36).

[5] The day of the Lord is a term commonly found in the OT to refer to the judgment day of God when he would destroy the sinners and unrighteous (Isa. 13:6-9; Ezek. 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1,11,31; 3:14; Amos 5:18-20; Obad. 1:15; Zeph. 1:7,14; cf. Ezek. 7:19 – the day of the wrath of the LORD; Mal. 4:5 - the great and terrible day of the LORD; cf. 2 Pet. 3:10). 

[6] Compare Matt 25:13 - Keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

[7] Originally the United Soceity of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming. 

[8] The UK founders of the Shakers (also known as Quaker Shakers) were James and Jane Wardley.  In 1774, the Shakers arrived in North America. Mother Ann Lee was their leader.

 

[9] If the master of the house had known at what time the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake ...

[10] Believe in the light while you have the light so that you will become the children of light - John 12:36; The children of this age vs. the children of light - Luke 16:8.

[11] Jesus said, as recorded in Luke (21:34) in the context of the return of Christ, that being alert means not having ones heart weighed down with a corrupt lifestyle (lit. dissipation), with drunkenness or with the worries of life that would keep.

[12] Lit. awake or have fallen asleep.

Apr 22 - Tempted To Let God Go

Tempted To Let God Go

April 22, 2018

1 Thessalonians 3

 

TEMPTED TO LET GO OF GOD

April 22nd, 2018

1 Thessalonians 3

 

A man walked along a steep cliff one day, when he accidentally got too close to the edge and fell. On the way down he happened to grab a root sticking out of the soil.  This stopped his fall, at least temporarily.

He looked down and to his horror saw that the bottom of the cliff was hundreds of meters below.
There was no way for him to climb up by himself and he was afraid that the root wouldn’t hold much longer.  So he started to shout for help, in the hopes that someone would walk close where he had been. 

HELP! HELP! Is anyone up there? HELP!"
He yelled for a long time, but no one heard him. He was about to give up when he heard a voice.

  • Paul, Paul.  Can you hear me, Paul?

  • "Yes, yes! I can hear you. I'm down here!"

  • I know, Paul.  I am the Lord.”

  • The Lord?  You mean God?

  • Yes, Paul.  Do you have faith, Paul?

  • Um, well not really, but NOW I do.”

  • OK, Paul.  I want you to let go of the root.

  • What?

  • I said, let go of the root.”

There was a long pause.  Finally, Paul started yelling again:  “HELP! HELP! Is anyone else up there?"

 

 

When I became a Christian, in my late teens, one of the very first Bible verses I memorized was 1 Cor 10:13.

 

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.                              1 Corinthians 10:13

 

The Greek word translated as “temptation”, can equally mean test, trial or difficulty.  So it is completely legitimate to translate it accordingly.

 

No trial has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tested beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tested, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.                                                      1 Corinthians 10:13

 

Since the word can have both meanings, it sometimes has the combined meaning of, “being tempted on the basis of difficulties or trials.” 

 

In fact, in 1 Thessalonians 3, it becomes evident that Paul’s primary concern was that the believers in Thessalonica - because of the difficulties and trials that they had to face - had been tempted to give up on their faith and walk away from God.

 

Today we are continuing in our series in 1 Thessalonians and today we are looking at the whole of chapter 3. 

 

When we couldn’t stand it any longer, we decided that we should remain in Athens and send Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the good news of Christ, in order to strengthen you and encourage you in your faith, because we did not want anyone to falter[1] because of these troubles.[2]                         1 Thessalonians 3:1-3a

 

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Paul, Silas and Timothy had to flee, first Philippi (Acts 16:39-40), then Thessalonica (Acts 17:10).  Paul also had to flee from Berea (Acts 17:13-14), but left Timothy and Silas there while he travelled on to Athens. 

 

We don’t know how long Paul was in Athens, possibly a few months, but Timothy and Silas joined him there.  It was from there that Timothy was sent back by Paul to return to the churches in Macedonia.

 

I mentioned in a previous sermon, the trip between Athens and Thessalonica was about 500 km one way.  Timothy’s journey would have been much the same as walking from Sidney all the way to Pt. Hardy.

 

The reason why Timothy had to make the trip back to Thessalonica was because of Paul’s concern that the believers there were not doing well, that they were faltering or falling away because of the persecution and hardships they were enduring at the hands of others. 

 

We know from the previous chapter (1 Thess 2), that they had to endure some form of persecution by others in town.[3]   Let me continue to read from 1 Thess 3.

 

As you know, we were destined for these (troubles).  When we were still with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we had to suffer trials[4] and, as you know, that is what happened.           1 Thessalonians 3:3b-4

 

When Paul was in Thessalonica, likely also the other places that he planted churches, he must have been quite up front about the fact that Christians will, in all likelihood, face persecution. 

 

He had reminded them previously in this letter, that he and Silas had endured a severe beating when they were in Philippi.

 

At a later letter, Paul wrote that he received the dreaded 39 lashes 5 times, that he was beaten with rods 3 times, that he was shipwrecked 3 times, that his life was in danger numerous times (when he crossed rivers or when he was confronted by highway robbers, when traveling through the country side or while staying in cities, his life was in danger from Gentiles and Jews), and that he was often without food and shelter, enduring hunger and freezing due to exposure (2 Cor 11:23-27). 

 

He also mentioned, that he was stoned and left for dead.  This happened during his first missionary journey when he was in Lystra. 

 

(While in Lystra) Jews came from Antioch and Iconium.  They riled up the crowds and stoned Paul.  When they thought he was dead, they dragged his body outside of town.                                                                Acts 14:19

 

After going to Derbe and recovering physically from the stoning, Paul returned to Lystra.  But note his message:

 

They strengthened the believers and encouraged them to remain steadfast in their faith.  They said, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”[5]                                                                                     Acts 14:22

 

Again, Paul was up front, that Christians won’t have a trouble free life.  He may have been familiar with Jesus’ teaching on this matter. 

 

Remember what I told you: ... If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.            John 15:20

 

In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world.                            John 16:33

 

There are three things about trouble we need to realize:

 

Either we’ve just gotten over some trials,

Or we are facing difficulties right now,

Or we are heading toward problems.

 

And I’m not being pessimistic.  Difficulties and trials are simply part of life.

 

So the reference to “we” in 1 Thessalonians 3, not only relates to the difficulties faced by Paul and his companions.  It also included the fact that the believers who were left behind in the town of Thessalonica were facing persecution of some kind.[6] 

 

It is because I couldn’t stand it any longer, that I sent (Timothy) in order to find out about your faith and whether the tempter[7] had (successfully) tempted you[8] (or: the one who produces trials has tested you) and our work among you has been in vain. 1 Thessalonians 3:5

 

Paul’s work would only have been in vain if his fear, that the tempter or tester had been successful in tempting them or testing them - that is, that as a result of the difficulties they had been facing, they had decided to abandon their faith. 

 

The tempter or tester is likely in reference to Satan, who Paul mentions later on in the chapter.  We find Satan referred to as the tempter only one other time in the NT, when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness (Matt 4:3).  In the book of Revelation, the devil is referred to as the one who tests or tempts some of the believers by having them thrown into prison (Rev 2:10).

 

The concept of Satan being the “tempter” comes from Genesis 3, the temptation of Adam and Eve.  In the Genesis account the snake is not identified with Satan or any other spiritual creature.  [In fact the curse placed upon the snake (Gen 3:14 - to move on its belly and eat dust) makes it highly unlikely that the author of Genesis thought of the snake as an evil spiritual being.[9] ]

 

However, other passages in the Bible, like Rev 12:9, make that connection.

 

... Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. ...

2 Corinthians 11:14

 

Just as an aside, when I think of Satan, I envision someone much like the Balrog in the Lord of the Ring movie.[10]  However, as Paul knows, Satan most often doesn’t appear that way.  He appears as an angel of light.  As something that appears to be innocuous, tolerant, even innocent and safe.

 

So what are some things that might tempt us to abandon our faith today? 

 

1. God didn’t come through for me (or someone I care about)

 

I’m still struggling ... emotionally, relationally, financially, morally.  Stuff happens in my life but I can’t see anything good coming from this.  Rejection is painful. Loss is devastating.  Illness and pain are bad.  There just doesn’t seem to be an upside to any of these things. 

 

If God really cared, he would not allow the kind of suffering and death that we can see every day in the news.

 

Everything should be fun and exciting when it comes to God.  So where are the bells and whistles, the wonders and miracles, the adrenalin rush, the happy, happy, joy, joy life? 

 

Things should constantly be changing for the better.  I should go from one mountain top experience to another mountain top experience.  No need to hit the valleys.  One victory after another.

 

Life should be more like a video game, where death is fake and I can level up.

 

Many people don’t mind being a Christian, but when it comes to their personal lifestyle choices, they don’t want God to telling them what to do.

 

Further, God may be asking us to give up our comfortable and cozy lives in order to make a difference in someone else’s life. 

 

But most people want to live for their own enjoyment and pleasure ... and if they do something for someone else, that surely shouldn’t result in them doing without something - it shouldn’t cost them.

 

But God not only expects us to share our time.  He also expects us to share our income.  That too will put a crimp in what we want to do and experience and enjoy.

 

Jesus said that following him is somewhat radical ... he likened it to carrying a cross.  Honestly, many of us don’t feel like carrying anything, much less a heavy burden like a cross. 

 

Supposedly hardship builds character.  But some of us would rather skip the hardships and not have as much character.

 

Suffering, pain, trials, tribulations, misfortune ... all of these can lead to discouragement.  And discouragement can be costly.  A sense of defeat and hopelessness can settle in that saps us of energy and vision.

 

Trials can consume a lot of our time - because they may keep us worried and anxious, thinking of a way out.

 

Difficulties can keep us from doing what we need to do (procrastinating) because when we try to simply avoid dealing with it.

 

Suffering can be the reason why we end up in unbelief. 

 

Paul saw in suffering as a situation out of which God can and will bring something good or beneficial, either for the person suffering or for someone else.

 

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.                       Romans 8:28

 

It seems to me as if Paul had a joyful or positive outlook because he truly believed that, God will inevitably bring something good from anything that is bad.  We just need to have the insight to recognize it.

 

For example, Paul believed that when God provides comfort for someone who is undergoing a great difficulty, he is also giving the person the ability to understand and comfort those who are going through that same thing.

 

God comforts us in all of our afflictions so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the same comfort we received from God.          2 Corinthians 1:4

 

Or then there are the verses, like those found in 1 Peter, where hardships are seen as a way of proving the genuine nature of our faith. 

 

For a little while you have been distressed by various trials. Through them your faith will be tested and will prove itself to be more precious than gold that is refined by fire yet still perishes.                         1 Peter 1:6-7[11]

 

In other words, if those various trials don’t knock us off course and cause us to abandon God, then our faith is genuine.  But what a nasty way to find that out.

 

Let’s go on in our passage in 1 Thessalonians 3.  We’re at v.6:

 

But now, Timothy has returned from you to us, and has reported the good news of your faith and love, and that you always think with fondness of us, longing to see us, just as we long to see you.      1 Thessalonians 3:6

 

It likely took Timothy a couple of months to travel to Macedonia on foot, visit the various churches, and then return to Greece.  When Timothy returned, either Paul was still in Athens, or he had moved on to Corinth by then (see Acts 18:5)[12], where he would spend the next 1 ½ years (Acts 18:11).

 

Timothy’s report was extremely positive.  He reported that the Thessalonians had not faltered in their faith nor had their affection for Paul waned. 

 

Despite our distress and afflictions, the report about you and your faith comforted us.  When you persist[13] in the Lord, we have a new lease on life.  How can we thank God enough for you because you give us such great joy with which we rejoice before God?         

1 Thessalonians 3:7-9

 

Paul was elated when he heard the news from Timothy.  He described this feeling literally as “living”.  In other words, hearing the news gave him “a new lease on life”, he was now “truly alive”.  A huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. 

 

He was filled with so much joy and happiness, that he could not help but rejoice before God for what was happening in their lives.[14]

 

Paul goes on ...

 

We earnestly pray night and day that we will see you face to face again and complete what may be lacking in your faith.      Now may our God and Father himself, and Jesus our Lord, direct our steps to you. 

1 Thessalonians 3:10-11

 

Paul was praying earnestly night and day (cf. 1 Thess 1:2-3; 2:13),[15] that he would soon visit Thessalonica again. His desire to see them is a recurring theme in this letter, as can be seen from the verses out of 1 Thess 2, which I added to the slide. 

COMPARE

 

We are so eager and desired greatly to see you face to face.  We wanted to come to you, I Paul more than once, but were hindered by Satan.                    

1 Thessalonians 2:17-18

 

How Satan hindered Paul from returning to Macedonia is unknown.  Possibly, Paul may have suffered some illness or physical disability that kept him from traveling.  It may also be that he felt that the work in Greece simply couldn’t do without him at that time.[16] 

 

With his visit, the Apostle desired to “perfect or complete” something that potentially was still be lacking in their faith. Paul had left Thessalonica in a hurry - while the Christians there were still completely new to the Christian faith (Acts 17:1; Acts 17:4-5; Acts 17:10).

 

It would make sense that they did not fully comprehend the events surrounding Jesus’ return (see 1 Thess 4:13 - 5:3) or the moral implications of their faith. Paul addresses both of these topics in the next chapter of this letter (see 1 Thess 4:2-8; 5:6-8).[17] 

 

Paul then repeats a prayer for a reunion in the near future.  Unfortunately, this never took place.  3 or 4 years would go by before Paul passed through Macedonia again, this time on his third missionary journey (Acts 20:1-2).[18] 

 

Paul then ends this section of the letter with a blessing, really a prayer for blessing. 

 

May the Lord cause you to grow and abound in love for one another and for all people, just as our (love) does toward you, in order that your hearts may be unshakable[19] and so be blameless and holy before our God and Father when our Lord Jesus returns with all his holy ones.                              1 Thessalonians 3:12-13

 

Paul already mentioned that the love of the believers in Thessalonica is exemplary.[20]  Now Paul prays that their love toward one another and toward all men would grow even more and abound, just as Paul’s love abounds toward them.[21]   

 

The reason for an increase in love, and that really refers to loving actions, and not “just” a warm and fuzzy feeling, is that it would make firm or establish or stabilize or strengthen their hearts.  And a heart that is firm, that is unshakable, in turn will be blameless and holy before God. 

 

The point is NOT that they will reach perfection in the distant future when Jesus’ returns (for one, in Paul’s mind the time is too short for that). Instead, the prayer of blessing is that the believers in Thessalonica would be blameless and holy now AND that they would continue to be so until Jesus returns. 

 

The reference here to Jesus’ holy ones (who come with him at his return), could potentially be the belief that Jesus will come with an angel army in tow.[22]   It could also reflect the belief that the righteous people who have already died will accompany Jesus at his return (cf. 4:17,18 - the dead in Christ will rise first, then those who are alive will join Jesus and the previously risen). 

 

But the important thing to keep in mind, is that the believers’ blameless and holy character is ultimately the result of their increasing love for each other and all people

 

So let me end with just a few thoughts on the trials that we face.  Plato said something very similar to what is on the next slide:

 

Be kind because everyone you meet is likely fighting some kind of battle you know nothing about[23]

 

When we are young, we may not appreciate that sentiment because life at that point may seem pretty problem free.

 

But as we get older, we realize that most people we meet are facing challenges of one kind or another.  It may be the loss of a loved one, poor health, taking care of aging parents, problems with children or grand-children, addiction, dealing with bullying, or possibly with financial problems or illness, maybe stress and anxiety is creating havoc, or they are traumatized because of something that happened in the past.  The point is that no-one escapes this life unscathed. 

 

And the same is true of Christians. “In this world you WILL have troubles” Jesus said.   And since everyone faces some kind of battle,

 

1. We should treat them with kindness, and

2. We should not be surprised when we face our own battles. 

 

Mind you, we will likely never have it as bad as the apostle Paul. He writes of himself:

 

We are greatly afflicted in every way, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. ... Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward body is passing away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. Our momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.                                                   2 Corinthians 4:8,9,16

 

Paul somehow had the ability to view all the bad and potentially discouraging events in his life from the perspective of eternity.  So the great afflictions that he faced become momentary and light afflictions

 

Paul viewed every difficulty as something that is only temporary, something that would pass.  And he felt that no matter how long it persists, it’s still a very short time when compared to eternity. 

 

There will be sunny days filled with laughter and excitement.  But there will also be stormy days, filled with conflict, tears, anxiety, uncertainty, challenge and unwanted change. 

 

Now, the storms of life will affect us in one of three ways:

 

1. Either, we will be shipwrecked by them.

 

This is when we have a nervous breakdown, when we have one anxiety attack after another, when we fall apart, when we end up in shock, unable to move or act, when we throw up our hands and give up or give in or walk away.

 

2. Or we will muddle through the storm we are facing with difficulty.

 

We struggle and struggle, it’s tough going, we are torn apart inside.  So all we can do is just hang in there, slug through until it’s over.

 

3. Or we will sail right through the storms of life. 

 

This is when we are not fazed by the difficulties.  They don’t bring us down emotionally.  We remain incurably positive

 

Which would you like to be?  I think it would be wonderful if I always felt “on top of the world”.  If I remained positive despite setbacks.  If I experienced calmness and tranquility regardless of my circumstances.

 

So Paul seemed to be able to have this, despite the fact that his life wasn’t easy.  He writes about having learned the secret of contentment, whether he has lots or nothing, whether he’s well fed or suffering hunger.

 

I have learned to be content regardless of the circumstances I find myself.             Philippians 4:11

 

How can we handle trouble, the storms of life ... without having to give up on God?  Here are some suggestions (in no particular order ... not in order of importance):

 

1. Assess - what is the cause of the storm?

 

a. Storms that I cause (hardest to spot)

 

There are problems that we bring on ourselves. Often we have blinders on and don’t recognize when we are the cause of a problem ... the natural thing is to make excuses or to blame someone else.

 

b. Storms that others cause (hardest to forgive)

 

There are trials in our lives that are caused by other people.  They are not only the hardest to forgive, but also the hardest to respond to in a positive manner.  Our natural instinct is to hit back, to hurt back.

 

c. Storms that God allows (hardest to understand)

 

When a child dies, when a tsunami kills, when pain endures, these events and others like them are hardest to come to terms with because there does not seem to be any rhyme or reason for them. 

 

So the first thing I should do is figure out where the difficulty is coming from and decide whether or not I can do something about it.

 

The second way to handle the storms of life is to ...

 

2. Gain a new perspective

 

This means that we look at life differently.  How can we gain a new perspective?[24]  Well here are some hints:

 

a. Embrace life as it is (don’t compare)

 

So many of us want to embrace life as we want it to be, not as it actually is.  And so we are never content.  Instead of realizing that the vast majority of humanity have it worse than us, we compare ourselves to those who have more than us, who we think have it so much easier and better, and as a result we lose sight of the good things in our own lives - and become discontent. 

 

b. Stay calm and rational

 

Some of us have problems keeping our emotions in check. Instead of taking 10 deep breaths and realizing that it’s not that big a deal, we get completely bent out of shape.[25] 

 

And when our emotions get out of hand then we react without thinking things through rationally, often with disastrous results.    

 

c. Evaluate (actually re-evaluate) the problem in terms of eternity.

 

This is what Paul did,

 

However, normally when we gauge an event, or a problem or a difficulty, we often see only the present or maybe the very immediate future.  We have a hard time looking at things long term.

 

When someone really ticks me off, I sometimes have to tell myself, “don’t take yourself so seriously,” and, “in 100 years, all new people.” 

 

When we actually are able to see things long term, particularly in terms of eternity, then we will not be so prone to viewing every little inconvenience or problem as an earthshattering event, as if it’s the end of the world. 

 

d. Pray / be thankful / practice gratitude

 

That is one of the best ways to gain a different perspective.  Instead of focusing and dwelling on the things that are wrong, we focus on the things that are right and good and wonderful.  And we might be surprised just how much of the good stuff is in our lives when we set out consciously to thank God and others.

 

e. Get help / support / advice

 

Sometimes our pride does not allow us to get help, especially when we have a terrible outlook on life, when we’re only focused on ourselves and our problems.  But really, that is when we should reach out to people we trust. 

 

f.  Grow in love and compassion for others

 

When we go through storms and we are still compassionate and kind to others, it does something wonderful in our hearts and our minds.  As Paul wrote in our passage, it is foundational to strengthening our hearts and our faith and making us blameless and holy before God.

 

Today is the time to “increase and abound in love” as we await the return of the Lord.

 

 (No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted - Aesop)

 

HAVE I BEEN TEMPTED BY THE TEMPTER TO LET GO OF MY FAITH?

 

IF SO, HOW WILL I RESPOND?

 

 

 

[1] Literally, “to be drawn aside” (sainesthai)

[2] Greek Thlipsis, (literally “pressure”) meaning persecution, affliction, distress, tribulation.  This also includes the internal conflict due to tribulation, especially the feeling of being constricted or hemmed in without a way out. 

[3] See 1 Thess 2:14 - You suffered at the hands of your countrymen (as the churches in Judea suffered at the hands of the Jews).

[4] Derivative of same Greek verb in v.3.

[5] See also Paul’s letter to Timothy:  All who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted ...   2 Tim 3:12.  In the Western world Christians may not face the kind of persecution that was common in Paul’s day, but there are other forms of “persecution” (ridicule, rejection, etc.).

[6] See 1 Thess 2:14 - You also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen.

[7] Derivative from the Greek “peirazo” (see comment in footnotes above) - the one who tempts (to sin) or the one who produces trials or difficulties; 

[8] Derivative from the Greek “peirazo” - to tempt or to produce trials

[9] This then poses the “difficulty” of a snake that can speak. 

[10] This Balrog was known as Durin's Bane and he resided in the Mines of Moria, where Gandalf battled him.  Both ended up falling into the abyss.

[11] The same idea is found in James 1:2-4 - Christians should be overjoyed when they face trials that test (prove) their faith and produces endurance, which can result in wholeness and completeness (lacking nothing).

[12] Acts 18:5 - When Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, ...

[13] Greek steko, meaning “to stand firm,” “to persevere”, “to persist”, “to retain one’s standing”.

[14] Given that Paul was not harmed in either Athens or Corinth, he may be referring either to previous affliction, or perhaps about simply being opposed, such as being dragged before Gallio, the new proconsul of Achaia, while in Corinth (Acts 18:12-16), or about the physical distress of Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue in Corinth, who was beaten publicly (Acts 18:17).

[15] We give thanks to God always for you ... constantly thinking of your work of faith and labour of love and steadfast hope ....

[16] In Acts 18:9-10, Jesus (i.e., the Lord) came to Paul in a vision at night and told him to keep on speaking since many people in the city were or would become believers.

[17] These verses speak of sexual immorality and drunkenness.

[18] 2nd missionary journey c. 50-52 CE.  3rd missionary journey c. 53-58 CE.  Since he stayed 2 years in Ephesus prior to traveling to Macedonia (Acts 19:10), it could have been 3 years before he saw the Christians at Thessalonica again.

[19] The infinitive of the verb sterizo, which means to make stable, to make firm, to strengthen, to make consistent or constant, etc.

[20] 1 Thess 1:3 - your labour of love; cf. 1 Thess 4:9-10 - They are taught by God himself to love one another and do so toward all Christians in Macedonia.  Even so, Paul urges them to excel even more in that love. 

[21] In the 4th chapter, Paul encourages them to excel in love even more, despite him mentioning that they had shown love to all the believers in Macedonia.

[22] Jude quotes from 1 Enoch 1:9: “Behold the Lord (in Enoch: “he”) will come with 10,000 of his holy ones to execute justice ....” 

[23] Plato wrote, “Be kind.  For everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” 

[24] Joni Mitchell (1967?) Both Sides, Now.  She looked at clouds from above and below, she looked at love from gain and loss, she looked at life both as a wonderful thing and as one where friends put her down.  Her conclusion:  She doesn’t know clouds, love and live at all because they are illusionary (there is no up and down?).

[25] Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff.