Friday, December 2, 2016

Missionary Support – 1 Thessalonians 3:6-10



 But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord. For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account, as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith? (NASU)

We often think of supporting our missionaries by prayer and monetary provision. Certainly, we see examples of that in Paul’s writing. When he wrote to the Philippians in 4:15-17, he spoke of their support in the beginning when no other church was supporting him. They were a great support for his physical needs even when he was in Thessalonica. He rejoiced when they renewed their concern for him, most likely while he was imprisoned. Yet, the support for missionaries he expressed when writing to the Thessalonians is of a different nature.

It is possible to be vitally concerned for missionaries but not have the personal connection that Paul had with the Thessalonians. To be fair, this isn’t the same as when we send missionaries off because Paul had been sent to them. He saw their faith come to life as they were saved. He poured himself into them and they responded. Yet, their longing to see him is the kind of support we can also show to our missionaries. It can’t happen in isolation or by reading their newsletters without responding in some way. 

Longing to See Each Other

For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ. (Phil 1:8 NKJV)

If we are ever going to get to know missionaries enough to have this kind of longing to see each other, it can only happen in two ways. The first is the example of the Thessalonians. They were converted by Paul’s work. They spent time with him and learned from him. In supporting our missionaries, the way to do that would be to work with them while they are with us. In mutual ministry, we can get to know each other and form the bonds of friendship that the hands-off impersonal support doesn’t achieve. When they are sent out to the field, the bond will still be there. 

The other way is to go to where they are. We often question the effectiveness of short-term mission trips. What can a group of people do that really makes a difference in another culture? Can they effectively evangelize? If the goal is to win people to Christ, they may have some effect. If their goal is to make disciples, they are most likely less effective. But if their goal is to support and encourage the missionaries they are working with, then they may be more effective than we will ever understand. The desire to see each other again will be strong and the encouragement will be greater.
 
Standing Firm

Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings.” (John 8:31 NLT)

Jesus made it clear that remaining faithful to His teaching was a mark of a true disciple. I believe most missionaries have a goal of making disciples and not just converts. Hopefully, they all share Paul’s attitude that their life purpose is accomplished when they see their disciples standing firm in the faith. I’m not sure that this is the attitude of many people in our churches. I’ve seen some people latch on to a great ministry concept, one in which a certain segment of the church is encouraged, is evangelistic, and disciple building. Once they have the project up and running, they depart to start up another project that “the Lord has laid on their hearts.” While they work diligently on the new project, the old one falls apart and eventually is left by the wayside. 

What’s the problem? If Paul is setting an example, then there are two problems. The first is that they didn’t develop true disciples dedicated to the ministry who would stand firm and carry on when they moved on. The second is that they didn’t show concern for the ministry after they left. They didn’t follow up by sending a Timothy (or themselves) back to make sure the problems the ministry faced were being handled appropriately. They have a great ability to look forward, establish goals, and start ministry but they don’t apparently have the ability to look back and get the joy of living in the fact that their disciples are standing firm. Let’s encourage our missionaries not to move on too quickly until their disciples can stand firm.

Praying

For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God's will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. (Rom 1:9-10 RSV)

Prayer support for missionaries is absolutely vital. Without prayer, there would never be any effective missionaries. They would be like King Asa, “And in the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa became diseased in his feet. His disease was severe, yet even in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but the physicians” (2 Chron 16:12 NASB). Asa had two years of misery then died. Their ministry, done in their own efforts instead of seeking the Lord, will die.

However, there is an overlooked aspect of prayer support for missionaries that Paul expressed when writing to the Romans and the Thessalonians. The prayer is to see each other again. Have you ever prayed that you could go to some missionaries and see them face to face? In John Ortberg’s book, he tells of a man, Bob, who was challenged by Doug Coe to pray for Kenya every day for six months. If nothing extraordinary happened, Doug would pay Bob six hundred dollars. He didn’t know anyone there and after a while, he met a woman who helped an orphanage in Kenya. He went to Kenya and extraordinary things happened.[1] After reading that, I began to pray more earnestly for Pakistan, knowing I would never go there. I was wrong. After nearly a year of prayer, in 2011, I was able to visit Saul, a young man who had established a Christian school in his hometown along with other ministries. They are still going strong and it would be great to see them again. Be careful how you pray. God may answer in extraordinary ways.

Lacking in Faith

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (Col 1:28 ESV)

Missionary support works in many ways. Missionaries are working to “complete what is lacking” (1 Thess 3:10) in the lives of those whom they serve. Their goal is to “present everyone mature in Christ.” However, is it possible that all missionaries have the same amount of faith or maturity? Of course not. If that were so, we wouldn’t see failures on the field due to immorality or other sinful misbehavior. We often expect them to be the epitome of spiritual fortitude. Some of them are. They have insight into God’s Word and have applied it to their own lives. However, there is always room for growth. None of us will be completely mature until we reach heaven, but we continue to press on to know what it means to be mature in Christ as even Paul did (Phil 3:12-16). This is what we must all do and we must encourage and help missionaries grow in their faith as well. Paul’s admonition in Colossians 1:28 is for us to warn everyone, teach everyone so everyone will be mature in Christ. That includes our missionaries, people we disciple, and ourselves.


[1] John Ortberg, If You Want to Walk On Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 91-93.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Avoid Apostolic Anxiety – 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5


It’s been one and half months since I’ve posted any blogs or done much on facebook. Teaching my theology class was the top priority. I only have one class left and looking forward to it even though I may step on theological toes, especially those who believe most of the gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased with the last Apostle. But my post for the day is not about that, it is about Paul’s anxiety and what we can learn for him.


So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God's fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless. (NIV® 1984)

Apostolic Anxiety 

Doesn’t it seem odd to you that the Apostle Paul would have such concern for the church in Thessalonica that he twice expressed such strong emotional stress as, “I could stand it no longer”? We often quote Philippians 4:6 where Paul said, “Be anxious for nothing” (NKJV). This gives the impression that Paul went around with a transcendent smile on his face being in perfect peace. Though he faced many physical hardships, his concern for the churches may have been just as taxing as he explained to the Corinthians, “Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches” (2 Cor 11:28 NASU).

Why would someone have such concern for people, some of whom he had never met? He wrote to the Colossians that his concern extended to those who had not seen him face to face (Col 2:1). His goal for all the churches was expressed in Colossians 2:2, “I want them to be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God's mysterious plan, which is Christ himself” (NLT). Regardless of what kinds of trials they were facing, Paul’s concern was just these two things, love of each other and knowing Jesus. 

If we have strong ties of love for each other and we really understand God’s plan in Jesus, we will be able to weather the storms of life. We need each other for support and encouragement. A loving Christian community can provide that better than any other social connection. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen and the reason is probably that we don’t understand God’s mysterious plan, that is, we don’t really understand Christ. Sure, we think we do. We can quote all sorts of verses and even explain the hypostatic union in the incarnation. But when we don’t have a strong loving Christian community, it exposes the fact that we are still infants in our Christian walk. This was one of the biggest concerns Paul had for the Corinthian church as he wrote to them about the jealousy and strife in their midst, “But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as babes in Christ” (1 Cor 3:1 RSV).

Get the Facts

And the word pleased the sons of Israel, and the sons of Israel blessed God; and they did not speak of going up against them in war, to destroy the land in which the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad were living. (Josh 22:33 NASB)

Have you ever been anxious about a situation? You stew about it, thinking about all the different scenarios of what might be happening. That happened to the nation of Israel on the West bank of the Jordon. They thought the Israelites on the East bank had violated their covenant with God by building another altar. They were ready to go to war with them. After getting the facts, they found it was not so. The same can happen with us. We have enough information to know that there could be some trouble. There are a couple of different reasons for anxiety. One of them is the inability to trust God. we don’t think God is in control and that type of anxiety is a sinful reaction to the world. The other cause is a lack of information when we know God is in control but you have been given the responsibility to take care of things. This is Paul’s situation. He is the shepherd over these churches and he doesn’t know what’s happening. He isn’t taking on a responsibility that doesn’t belong to him. He has to weigh his own situation, what he needs to do in Athens, and the circumstances of his last visit to Thessalonica. So he sends Timothy to find out how the Thessalonians are coping and to bolster them if needed. He knew that sending Timothy would be a hardship for his ministry in Athens, but getting the facts was more important. Paul sets the example for us when we are anxious – get the facts. Don’t let speculations distract you from your work for the Lord.

Delegation 

I will take of the Spirit who is upon you, and will put Him upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you will not bear it all alone. (Num 11:17 NASU)

Moses had too much work to do. His father-in-law provided a resolution to delegate his responsibilities (Ex 18:13-26). This was confirmed by God when He told Moses to select seventy elders and put His Spirit on them. We all face distractions of one kind or another. Sometimes, being informed is a distraction. Instead of doing my job, I read the newspaper so I can be informed. Usually that just adds to frustration or anxiety and keeps me from my work. In Paul’s case, his concern could have distracted him from his work. Some distractions are important as previously mentioned; Paul had responsibilities on two fronts, the work in Athens and the church in Thessalonica. He resolved the issue by delegating to Timothy. He couldn’t go himself, so he did the next best thing, sending his personal representative. He didn’t delegate to just anyone but one who was a fellow worker. Timothy had the same zeal for the Gospel, as did Paul. He knew the situation and the people. When we delegate, it shouldn’t be to the most convenient person unless that person is qualified. My track record in delegating is not very good, but I’ve learned to make sure the people asked to do a job have the ability. While a person may love the Lord and have a desire to spread the Gospel, they may not have the ability or gift to teach or encourager those already in the faith. Timothy had the skill set needed.

Encouragement in Persecution

“These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.” (John 16:1-2 NKJV)

It is interesting that Paul seeks to encourage the believers in Thessalonica in persecution by telling them they were destined for it (1 Thess 3:3). We don’t normally tell people they are destined for trouble as a way of comfort. But that is exactly what Jesus said to the disciples. Read again John 16:1-2. Jesus is quite clear that this advanced warning is to make sure that we don’t stumble. The stakes are high, the highest that anyone on earth can ever risk, their very souls. We are talking about eternal consequences. The earthly consequences are saving our lives to avoid persecution but the eternal consequences are saving our eternal souls (Matt 10:28). 

These warnings and encouragements of persecution are not new. Daniel 12 tells us that there will be trouble in the future. The trouble may still be in our future or we may be experiencing it right now. The end result is still in our future when the resurrection comes and “Many of those whose bodies lie dead and buried will rise up, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting disgrace” (Dan 12:2 NLT). The proof is in the end results. Those who crumble under persecution and deny their faith are those who prove they were not saved in the first place. Trials come to prove that our faith is genuine (1 Peter 1:7). No wonder Paul was concerned for those in Thessalonica. Many can hear the message of salvation and embrace it but not have anything in themselves that is a result of true faith. When persecution comes, they fall away (Mark 4:17). 

If the church today made it clear that persecution was to be expected when we are saved, there would be fewer people making professions of faith and then falling away later. People should be told the true cost of becoming a disciple of Christ. We don’t want people spending their entire lives thinking they are saved because they said some words without understanding the implication. “And he said to all, ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’” (Luke 9:23 RSV ). Taking up that cross implies that there will be persecutions, trials, and troubles of all kinds because we belong to Jesus. Our future has changed and the world doesn’t like the transformation that should have occurred in our hearts, our minds – the way we think and act. 

Useless Efforts

So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. (Isa 55:11 NASB)

When Paul was concerned that the salvation of the Thessalonians had endured temptation to desert, did it show a lack in his faith? After all, God’s promise in Isaiah that His Word would always be successful was in the middle of a salvation passage. How can God’s effectual Word ever not accomplish His plan? The answer is most likely in Isaiah 55:8, “’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord” (NASB). When we start thinking we have all the answers and know what God’s will is, we are treading on dangerous theological ground. Yes, God’s Word will accomplish what He wants, but we don’t’ always know what that is. Paul knew that. As mentioned before, his concern was that the seed he had sown fell on rocky ground (Mark 4:17). 

For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. (2 Tim 4:10 ESV) They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:19 ESV)

There is possibly nothing more disappointing in Christian ministry than to see someone with whom you’ve worked and saw what appeared to be genuine faith abandon the faith. Even Jesus experienced this with Judas even though He knew that Judas would betray Him. Demas loved the world. People are pulled away by worries, the deceitfulness of riches and the desire to be like the world around them instead of to follow Jesus (Mark 4:18). It’s a temptation that each of us must face. We don’t know if people who profess Christianity are really Christians because we don’t know their hearts. We know for sure when we see a person finish life strong, glorifying God. Those that abandon the faith sometimes come back. When they don’t, we can be sure that they were not really Christians in the first place.

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you — unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Cor 13:5 NIV)

That only leaves what we know about ourselves. We don’t know others but we do know ourselves and can be sure of our salvation. I hear too many people say that they don’t know what they would do in the face of true persecution – the threat of death if they continue to confess Jesus. They sound pious by saying that they would only know at that time. They would be given grace only when needed but they couldn’t say beforehand. I say that is not an expression of faith in Jesus. It is hedging one’s bet. We had better make up our minds that eternity with Jesus is better than choosing to live a few days longer on this earth or we may have already failed the test because Christ is not in us. There is no need to be anxious about our own faith. One test is to have the confidence that in the face of persecution you will not surrender.
I pray that all who read this will know that Jesus is living in them and therefore will finish strong.

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