Friday, September 9, 2016

Social Media Is no Substituent for Fellowship – 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20



But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy. (ESV)

Social Media

As I look at the way Paul interacted with the people in Thessalonica, I wonder how this would work out today. I don’t think younger readers wonder what life would be like without all the methods of instant communications that are available. Can they read 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20 and really understand the emotional struggle Paul faced after leaving Thessalonica and being prevented from returning to visit the people he loved there? In Paul’s day, it would probably take weeks for a letter to arrive from them or to be sent to them. They had to trust other people traveling in the same direction to carry their correspondence. With social media, communication is often instantaneous. We can see each other face to face or we can instant message in a conversational manner. Some expect a response right away and can be upset if you don’t respond in the same way. Social media may be getting in the way of establishing relationships the way Paul did when he was in Thessalonica. 

On the other hand, relationships are forged or maintained with others when they move even half way around the world. A couple of days ago I saw a young woman in Washington State talking to her mother in England and got to say hello also. The potential for spreading the Gospel and keeping in touch may take some of the heartache out when persecution or other events separate Christians from each other. 

O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (Ps 63:1 NIV)

Does all this instant communication affect our relationship with God? We can connect to others instantaneously and even see each other in video or pictures. Is it possible to get so accustomed to that kind of communication that we somehow ignore God? It certainly seems to be a big distraction keeping up with texts, facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and whatever else is out there. These all promise things like, “every photo and video you share helps bring people closer to friends and interests, broadens perspectives and inspires a sense of wonder.”[1] Do we get so involved in the sense and wonder of the posts of cats doing their thing that we don’t look for the awe and wonder of our God? 

If we really want to know God, we have to seek Him earnestly. It is too easy to ignore Him when we are thirsting for entertainment or finding out what our friends are up to rather than taking some time to seek Him. Just reread what David said and check yourself. Ask these questions along with me. Does my soul thirst for God, for Jesus? If so, He will satisfy me (Matt 5:6). Does my body long for God? If so then am I yielding it to righteousness instead of ever-increasing wickedness (Rom 6:19). Do I feel I am in a dry and weary land? I should, because this is not our home (2 Cor 5:1; Phil 3:20). Social media would tell us all we need to do is get connected with other people and their posts leaving no time to seek God. 

Satan’s Schemes

Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. (Eph 6:11 NASU)

There are some groups within social media whose posts endeavor to encourage others to seek God. All social media isn’t bad. However, we need to be wary because some of these are misleading with great sounding quotes that are not Biblical. They are part of Satan’s schemes. One of Satan’s biggest schemes is to provide people with the allusion of community. Paul wanted that face to face contact. He wanted time with people to see if they were actually living the way they said instead of just talking. It’s easy for me to sit here and write about connecting with people and how that should look. It is quite another thing to demonstrate godly behavior and attitude while rubbing shoulders with other people. 

Online dating must be one of Satan’s schemes. Yes, there have been some great marriages and relationships established online. However, it is easy for people to fake it in their correspondence. They have time to consider the right words to say in each situation. They can flatter because the other person can’t see their facial expressions (except on video connections) or body language. Online dating is not a good substitute for personal interactions and observing how a person treats other people. Many convicts have convinced people on the outside that they are “soul mates,” but when they get out, their true colors come out. Satan will hinder people from getting together while developing online relationships until the hook is set and the “fish” is caught. Too often, the victims are women or even young girls, though men and boys have also been trapped. 

Our Joy

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. (Phil 2:1-2 NKJV)

Paul said that the Thessalonians would be his joy when Jesus comes back. An important part of having joy with people you’ve discipled is when they are able to continue the ministry and live godly lives. When writing to the Philippians, Paul emphasize that joy came from being like-minded. That includes the same understanding of how to love one another. It also includes being united and having the same goals. When I think about the direction some churches take, bending to the current social trends and morals, I get no joy. They are not like-minded with the Bible. 

The same principle applies to families, especially to watching children follow Jesus instead of the world. Proverbs 23:15-16 states it well, “My child, if your heart is wise, my own heart will rejoice! Everything in me will celebrate when you speak what is right” (NLT).  On the other hand many of us have experienced the opposite, “but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother” (Prov 10:1 RSV). 

Application

What is the application? Personally, it would be to develop the like-minded qualities that Paul sought, love and being of one accord. That would mean personal interaction with other instead of depending on social media. It would recognize that taking care of others is hard work, work that Satan doesn’t want us to do. It means being of like-mind with other Christians who are studying and living God’s Word in their lives. It means that putting self ahead of other is just another of Satan’s schemes. 

Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. … Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. (Heb 13:7, 17 NASB)

It means that we need to imitate godly leaders of our churches. We need to be supportive of them and help them shepherd their flock without grumbling. It doesn’t mean that they are perfect, or that every aspect of the church is doing everything we think it should. But I am assuming that these leaders are in a solid Bible-believing church. It means being obedient to them and to what the Word of God says. It means being wary of leaders who are really wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt 7:15). That’s why the author of Hebrews said we need to consider the result of their conduct. 

Quite frankly, it is really hard to do any of this when your only contact with your “church” is through a TV screen. All you see is their stage performance. You don’t see them in real life being part of the body of Christ. Certainly, there are many who have thriving, Christ-centered churches and provide good teaching. But there are others that are just like the fakes of social media who will bait you with promises and reel you in, or maybe just your money. Unless you are physically isolated with no means of attending a local church, TV church is a pale substitute for attending and being a part of a vibrant Christian fellowship.


[1] “Instagram Today: 500 Million Windows to the World”, accessed September 6, 2016, http://blog.instagram.com/post/146255204757/160621-news

Thursday, September 1, 2016

God’s People Often Displease Him – 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16



[The Jews (1 Thess 2:14),] who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last. (NIV)

The Jews are God’s chosen people. There can be no doubt that they exist today because God has chosen them and He is still going to do a great work among them. Deuteronomy 7:6-11 is His affirmation that He not only chose them but told them why He chose them. It wasn’t because they were a great nation but because He loves them. He promised His love would be steadfast for a thousand generations if they loved Him and obeyed Him. That is essentially forever. However, in explaining His love for them He also warned them that He would destroy those who hate Him. He called them His treasured possession (Deut 14:1). 

Israel didn’t do very well in keeping God’s commands. As a result, the country was divided into Israel and Judah. Israel was taken into captivity by Assyria and God told Judah that He was going to destroy Judah because of their sins (Isa 43:28). At this point it would seem that God had un-chosen His people. However, on the heels of His prophecy, God speaks tp all His chosen people, “But now listen, O Jacob, My servant, and Israel, whom I have chosen” (Isa 44:1 NASU). He then extends His promise to the future after their captivity and ultimately to the millennial reign of Jesus after His return. God’s promise of punishment for Israel’s disobedience has been fulfilled over and over, yet through all these failures, God reiterates His promise to them for a future with Him.

“They shall be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “On the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them As a man spares his own son who serves him.” (Mal 3:17 NKJV)

Israel was partially restored after the Babylonian captivity but their struggles with being obedient to God continued. The last book of the Old Testament is Malachi. It was written about 400 years BC and there was no other prophetic word from God until the arrival of Jesus. Near the end of the book, the Lord assured those in Israel who feared the Lord and meditated on His name (Mal 3:16) that they are His. This promise extends to the “Day of the Lord” when God’s judgment will devour all the wicked (Mal 4:1). Nothing has changed in God’s promise for Jews from Deuteronomy through Malachi. They don’t have a blank check to do evil and the promise hinges on their relationship with God. He promised them that when He punished them and scattered them to the nations, “from there you will search again for the Lord your God. And if you search for him with all your heart and soul, you will find him” (Deut 4:29 NLT).

Jesus’ Displeasure

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in. (Matt 23:13 RSV)

Between the time of Malachi and Jesus’ arrival, the Jewish religious system developed into a legalistic system that was a far cry from what Jesus preached. He condemned those who would immerse people in that system so that they believed all they had to do to please God was follow all the Mitzvot or Commandments. This list of 613 Commandments was later compiled by Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, one of the greatest medieval Jewish scholars.[1] The Jewish religious system had substituted this legalism for the worship of idols that had been the downfall of their ancestors. 

Reading through the Sermon on the Mount, you can see how Jesus changed the way we should look at obedience to God from external behavior to an inward change of heart. He repeated the phrase, “You have heard that it was said” (ESV) citing the Law and following it by saying, “But I say to you” (ESV) with an explanation of what our heart attitude should be. He did this for anger (Matt 5:21-26), lust (Matt 5:27-30, divorce (Matt 5:31-32), oaths (Matt 5:33-37), retaliation (Matt 5:38-42), and loving our enemies (Matt 5:38-47). Jesus wasn’t displeased only with His own countrymen but His displeasure will also be against all who have substituted devotion to God for other things. At the judgment those who thought they were doing all the right stuff but neglected Jesus will suffer (Matt 25:31-46).

God’s Wrath on Them

Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. Even so. Amen. (Rev 1:7 NASB)

Paul affirms that there will be wrath upon those Jews who fail to recognize Jesus, just as it will fall on any others who reject Jesus. When He comes again, all who have “pierced” Him will mourn because they have not embraced the Savior. Rather, because of our sins, we have caused Him to be crucified. Even though it was God’s  plan to come to the earth in the person of Jesus and die on the cross in atonement for our sins (Acts 2:23), He does not hold us free from guilt if we don’t turn to Him in repentance and ask for forgiveness. 

But what is this wrath of God that will come upon Jews? To discover what that is all about we need to go back to the Old Testament. God describes the return of Jesus in Zechariah 13 – 14. It isn’t going to be a pleasant time for much of the world or for Israel. At that time Israel will be a nation, perhaps just as we see today. It will be a people that still have not embraced Jesus as Messiah. When Jesus comes back again, He will completely clean up the nation. He will get rid of all idol worship and false prophets. In this process He says, “’Two-thirds of the people in the land will be cut off and die,’ says the Lord. ‘But one-third will be left in the land’” (Zech 13:8 NLT). He will use the nations of the world to march against and destroy Jerusalem leaving only one half in the city (Zech 14:1).

On that day his feet shall stand  on  the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and  the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west. (Zech 14:4 ESV)

When Jesus comes back, He comes to the defense of those left in the land. He destroys all who have tried to wipe out His people. Jesus saves Jews from every tribe (Zech 12:7-14), but the sad part is that only a third are left alive to worship Jesus  and that is what they will do year after year (Zech 14:16). 

Don’t Be Conceited

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved. (Rom 11:25-26 NIV)

Conceited Gentiles believe they are now the only ones that are God’s chosen people. This leads to anti-Semitism and open season to persecute Jews. They don’t realize that it is only because of the Jews that we are saved. Jesus came as a Jew. It is through the Jews that we have the foundation for our belief, the Old Testament. Without the heritage that we have gained through Jews, we would still be lost. We tend to think we are better than Jews since God partially hardened them to allow us to come into His kingdom; we should be eternally grateful that God has included us. We should have the same attitude towards Jews as did Paul when he says, “My heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation (Rom 10:1 NASU). If you have any doubts about what our attitude should be toward Jews, then read Romans 10 – 11. If we don’t have the right attitude toward them, then we will displease God as well.

God Ensures Jewish Existence

I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Gen 12:3 NKJV)

When God called Abram, He gave him a promise. That promise has been kept throughout history. It has been repeated in several ways at various times. Even before God punished Judah for their idolatry, He promised that those who opposed them in anger or without cause would be disgraced, ashamed, and perish (Isa 41:11). After their return from captivity the promise was renewed when He said the nations that attack Jerusalem will stagger and hurt themselves trying to attack it (Zech 12:2-3). Certainly, God has brought His wrath upon Jews many times and He used other nations to do it.

A period of seventy sets of seven has been decreed for your people and your holy city to finish their rebellion, to put an end to their sin, to atone for their guilt, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to confirm the prophetic vision, and to anoint the Most Holy Place. (Dan 9:24 NLT)

God sent the angel Gabriel to Daniel with an outline of the future. That future provided a timeline for the Jews to usher in the kingdom of God. While being cryptic, it conveyed the idea that there would be a specific amount of time allotted to Israel to accomplish this. Because we can look back on history, it is possible for us to decipher the code of “seventy sets of seven” or seventy “weeks” as other translations say. From the time that Jerusalem would be allowed to be rebuilt until the appearance of the Messiah, would be sixty-nine sets of years (Dan 9:25). We know when the decree was issued and we know when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It is no coincidence that this is 434 years, or sixty-two sets of seven years.[2] Jesus’ death is predicted at this time (Dan 9:26). 

That leaves just seven years for Jews to complete their God-assigned task. Of course, we know that Jesus made the atonement for guilt and has brought us everlasting righteousness, but Israel is still in a state of rebellion against God and will be until they embrace Jesus. The nation is almost completely secular even though they enforce the Sabbath. It appears that there is a huge gap in time from Jesus’ appearance until now and the gap will continue until the events of this last “week.” I believe this last week is the time God has given to Gentiles to be saved (Rom 11:25). Some call this the church age. This last week is still in our future. It is the time that God will restore the nation of Israel and it will live in peace because of a treaty with “the prince who is to come” (Dan 9:26 ESV). It is during this last seven years that God will work a miracle in the hearts of Jews and the third who are left will be saved both physically and spiritually (Zech 13:8-9). 

Christians Also Displease God

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Eph 4:30 RSV)

Jews don’t have a corner on displeasing God. Often, we are warned about displeasing God. Every time God rebuked Israel, it was an example that we can apply to our own lives. Every time God warned he scribes and the Pharisees, He was warning us as well. We grieve the Holy Spirit every time we sin. However, the Church has a long history of doing the same abominable things that the Jews did to Paul, and worse! Different sects of Christianity have slaughtered countless people of different sects since Christians started confusing politics with righteousness[3] and holiness with killing those who had even different doctrines of issues such as baptism. Early Reformers like Calvin and Zwingli supported infant baptism while Anabaptists refuted it in favor of adult baptism. The viciousness of the difference led to the execution of Anabaptist, often by drowning to mock their belief.[4] Zwingli was so legalistic that he removed the organ from his church because he couldn’t find that instrument in Scripture,[5] yet his legalism didn’t include listening to Jesus’ command to love his enemies. He was willing to go to war against Catholics.

The point of this is simply that we must not look back at history to condemn Jews for displeasing God. Christians have done the same thing in the past and we do it individually all the time. Rather than finding someone to blame we need to pay attention to what Peter said, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17 NASB). We first need to clean up our act. We need to see what displeases God and that is done by applying what Jesus said to our own lives instead of pointing fingers at those Jesus chastised (Jews or religious establishments). Secondly, we need to have compassion on those who are outside of the Christian faith. They need the Gospel and not our legalist interpretation of it. The ultimate of God’s displeasure is when we prevent others from hearing and responding to the Gospel.


[1] Tracey R. Rich, “A List Of the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments),” Judaism 101, 2011, accessed August 24, 2016, http://www.jewfaq.org/613.htm.
[2] Note that to arrive at the correct date requires converting Israel’s 360-day years to 365-day years that we use.
[3] J.A. Sheppard, Christendom at the Crossroads: the Medieval Era (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), Kindle 194-198, Kindle.
[4] Mark A. Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), 184.
[5] Ibid.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Persecuted Christians – 1 Thessalonians 2:14



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYyNrgkKf6o
For you, brothers, became imitators of God's churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews. (NIV)

Christians don’t usually go around looking for someone to persecute them. Certainly whole churches don’t usually do that. However, persecution is at the very heart of following Christ. Jesus made it clear that people who follow Him will not necessarily have a glorious stress-free life. He said that His followers must deny themselves and take up their crosses daily (Luke 9:23). We hear a lot about God wanting the very best for us, and that is true. However, God’s best for us is not necessarily glamour, riches, fame, popularity, or power. 

The first part of following Jesus is denial of what we want and seeking His kingdom before our own (Matt 6:33). The second part is taking up our crosses. When Jesus said this, it must have been a total shock to His listeners. They lived at a time when the Romans used the cross as the most torturous means of execution possible. Some people would survive several days before dying. Every day, we must have the attitude that we are on the same path as a condemned criminal. We should have nothing in this world that keeps us from giving our lives to follow Jesus. 

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:10 NASU)

While Jesus explained the cost of discipleship, He also explained the results of self-denial. There is stress and seemingly, inglorious lives when denying self, but Jesus called it a blessing. The blessing is being part of the kingdom of heaven. Being part of the kingdom of heaven is so important that it is worth the troubles brought on by persecution. We Westerners don’t really understand what persecution really is so we must rely on what the Bible says about it, what history has shown us, and what our brothers and sisters in other countries are undergoing. We trust that Peter provided reliable information about persecution when he said the scattered church rejoiced in their trials because they knew that it would bring glory to God when His kingdom would be revealed in Jesus (1 Peter 1:6-7). James urges us to consider these trials as pure joy (James 1:2). Persecution may come, but we are blessed when we understand the bigger picture that this life isn’t all there is and eternity will make the troubles worth it (2 Cor 4:16-18).

Suffering from Countrymen

We must not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and killed his brother. And why did he kill him? Because Cain had been doing what was evil, and his brother had been doing what was righteous. (1 John 3:12 NLT)

Why do people persecute Christians within their own cultures? It started with Cain and Abel. Paul said that the events in the Old Testament are an example to be used for our instruction (1 Cor 10:6). Cain and Abel serve as a vivid example of why Christians are persecuted. The principle that they demonstrate is that when people live righteous lives, those who do not get really upset. “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ … among those who are perishing. … we are the aroma of death leading to death” (2 Cor 2:15-16 NKJV). They don’t want to have the constant reminder (aroma) that their lives are filled with evil and that their ultimate destination in eternity is hell, so they do what they can to eliminate the source of their irritation. For Cain it was simple, he killed his brother. For other people in our lives, it is more complex. We have laws and cultures that make it more difficult. So they work hard to change the laws. Like Hitler, they eventually get to the point where they can declare those who are living righteously enemies of the state. 

More recently, Russian passed a new anti-terrorism law that prevents Christians from evangelizing in any location other than in an authorized church or religious site. “The amendments, including laws against sharing faith in homes, online, or anywhere but recognized church buildings, go into effect July 20 [2016].”[1] The really sad part of this law is that it is part of Putin’s overall plan to strengthen Russian nationalism by supporting the Russian Orthodox Church in opposition to all other denominations.[2] The frightening part is that he is suppressing Protestant Christianity in name of anti-terrorism. The logic is that anything that undermines nationalism is terrorism. When people want to oppose the Gospel they will find any reason to persecute their own countrymen. 

Anti-Semitism 

When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul. (Acts 9:23-24 RSV)

Paul is often call anti-Semitic because he often refers to “the Jews” who tried to kill him, persecuted the church in Judea (1 thess 2:14), and opposed the Gospel during much of Paul’s ministry (Acts 13:50, 17:5, 18:12, 20:3). Many gentiles who call themselves Christians since then have mounted persecution against anyone of Jewish heritage based on a few verses like this and verses like John 19:12 where “the Jews” intimidated Pilate into having Jesus crucified. They also use Peter’s first sermon to his fellow Jews as he blamed them for killing “the Prince of life” (Acts 3:15 ), Jesus. These fanatics call Jews “Christ killers.”
Regardless of how Paul was treated, whenever he went to a city, his first stop was at a Jewish Synagogue (Acts 17:1-2). While he recognized the persecution from the Jews, his heart’s desire was for them to turn to Jesus for salvation (Rom 10:1-4). He said, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers” (Rom 9:2-3 ESV). Rather than blaming them, he wants them to embrace Jesus. 

When Paul speaks of being persecuted by Jews and the churches being imitators of the churches in Judea, he is not inciting revenge, instead, he wants us to have a heart that yearns to see our persecutors saved. Anyone who calls himself a Christian and participates in any kind of persecution, whether it is anti-Semitism or homophobia, is in direct disobedience to God’s Word. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:44-45 NIV). A clear implication of His command is that those who become persecutors are not sons of God and their salvation is in question.


[1] Kate Shellnutt, Gleanings, “Russia's Newest Law: No Evangelizing Outside of Church”, Christianity Today, July 8, 2016, 1, accessed August 16, 2016, http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2016/june/no-evangelizing-outside-of-church-russia-proposes.html
[2] Ibid.