Saturday, July 30, 2016

We Are Called to a Better Country – 1 Thessalonians 2:12



God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (ESV)

His Kingdom and Glory

His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation. (Dan 4:3 NIV)

When we trust in Jesus for our salvation, we are brought into God’s kingdom. This is not some temporary visa or even a green card. We become citizens by adoption into the family of God, the King of the kingdom. Since we are adopted, we can come to the Lord God, the King, and call Him “Abba! Father” (Rom 8:15). At any time, we can walk into His presence and with full assurance know that He will never reject us. In fact when we are in trouble, we can come boldly before His throne and receive help (Heb 4:16). Because we are His children, He leads us by His Spirit (Rom 8:13). Lest we forget, all this is for His Glory, not because we somehow earn it or deserve it. He leads us in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake (Ps 23:3). How blessed we are when we are walking in those paths with our Father who never leaves us or forsakes us (Ps 37:28). 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. (Eph 1:3 NASU)

We have all the privileges of heirs to the kingdom because He has provided us with every blessing in the heavenly realms. Think about that for a while. Kingdoms of this earth provide wealth, comfort, leisure, luxury, and many other material blessings for the family of the king (dictator, president, or other leaders). But we are not in that kind of kingdom. We are in an eternal kingdom. Our blessings are spiritual. They are things that will endure through eternity where the material things only last a lifetime and are no guarantee that such things as comfort or leisure will extend beyond death. But the spiritual blessings, the fruit of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23 NIV) will be with us forever. If we have these, we don’t need all the luxuries that earthly kingdoms provide. We will be content with what we have because godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Tim 6:6-8). On top of that, we know that when we pass from this life into the eternal kingdom, we will have blessings that are unimaginable to us in this life (Ps 16:11).

When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Col 3:4 NKJV)

When Jesus comes back in glory, we are going to be with Him. The Glory of the eternal kingdom is something that I can’t really imagine. What will it be like to be seated with God in Christ and ruling over a kingdom (Rev 3:21) that we can’t even begin to fathom in this life? One thing is certain and that is our life in eternity will not be boring. We will have duties and be in the presence of God and Jesus; we will serve as priests and reign with Him for a thousand years (Rev 20:6). But that’s not all. After the thousand years, the New Jerusalem will come down out of heaven and sit on a new earth, one that is similar but unlike this earth (Rev 21:1-2). This will be eternity when God will be in the very midst of everyone, “God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever” (Rev 21:3-4 NLT).

Just think – when we apply 1 Thessalonians 2:9-12 to our lives, we can work night and day so that we can proclaim the Gospel in the way we should. People will testify to the way we conduct ourselves toward them before they accept the Lord and afterwards. We will demonstrate the qualities of a good father as we emulate our heavenly Father and live the way He wants us. We will have the assurance that we are called into His kingdom and glory.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Holy and Blameless, Like a Father with His Children – 1 Thessalonians 2:10-12


You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (ESV)

Witnesses

Here I am. Witness against me before the Lord and before His anointed: Whose ox have I taken, or whose donkey have I taken, or whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed, or from whose hand have I received any bribe with which to blind my eyes? I will restore it to you. (1 Sam 12:3 NKJV)

Paul called the Thessalonians to be witnesses to his behavior toward them. Samuel asked the same type of question of the nation of Israel. He focused on four things that we all need to apply to our lives when dealing with others, whether they are in the Christian family or not. Stealing was the first issue but we don’t have to worry about that because we’ve never taken a pen from work, checked our facebook status, or played Pok√©mon Go at work, have we? I’m sure none of us has ever cheated anyone else either. Any time we don’t pay taxes when we should, like buying on the internet to avoid sales tax, is cheating on your neighbors. Giving copies of the music you ripped from an album to others is cheating the songwriters and performers. Oppression comes in many forms and verbal abuse may be the worse. Do we ever try to gain the favor of others by buying them gifts? I’ve seen enough of that with parents and grandparents who then expect to have their progenies “owe” them. What would happen if, at the end of our life, we stood up and asked everyone we have ever met to come and witness either good or bad how we lived our lives. Will people say we behaved in the same way as a good father does toward his children? God isn’t grading on the curve where the good balances out the bad because He wants us to be like Jesus and He had no sin in Him. He wants us to be like Him because He is a good Father.

Parents and Children

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. (Eph 6:4 NLT)

Paul exhorted and encouraged the Thessalonians to walk in a manner worth of the Lord. The way he treated others is the way he instructed the Ephesians fathers to work with their children. When trying to help people get out of a sinful life style or to develop a godly lifestyle, it is really easy to alienate them. The same goes for our kids. The NIV says we should not exasperate or kids. I really like that word. The Encarta dictionary gives the meaning as, “to make somebody very angry or frustrated, often by repeatedly doing something annoying.” 

Inconsistency 

Perhaps one of the best ways to frustrate another is to be inconsistent. That can take many forms. David was inconsistent in his actions. His sin with Bathsheba and murder of her husband was inconsistent with his previous walk with the Lord. Paul was able to exhort the Thessalonians because his conduct was like a good father and conformed to his exhortation and encouragement. 

Favoritism

My brethren, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. (James 2:1 RSV)

Another way of being inconsistent is by showing favoritism. When dealing with children, this is really hard to do, especially when one kid is an obedient pleaser and another is a rebel. We have examples from the Bible with Jacob and Esau, David showed favoritism to his sons and got poor results. But the best example is the prodigal son, his brother and their father. Yet even in that situation, with a loving, patient father, the older brother still turned out to be angry and bitter. All we can do is be consistent in our walk with the Lord and following His instructions. Each person must be willing to submit to the Lord. 

Changing the Rules

These twenty years I have been in your house; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you changed my wages ten times. (Gen 31:41 NASB)

Another way to provoke or exasperate children or other people is by constantly changing the rules. While Jacob wasn’t the most honest person in the Bible, his father-in-law, Laban, didn’t do any better. It was apparent that their culture promoted telling half-truths and manipulating others to get what they wanted. When we treat others, especially out kids or disciples in this way, they learn from our examples. Paul could tell his disciples that he treated them in the same way a good father does his children. This should be the way we treat others, whether they are our children, people at work, in our churches, or people to whom we hope to impart the Gospel of eternal life. This is a principle that Jesus taught when He said, “Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matt 5:37 ESV). Think how confusing many cults are because they change the rules for salvation to suit the leaders.

The only way to keep from this kind of inconsistency is to be thoroughly grounded in the Word of God. Because He does not change (Mal 3:6), we can offer the message of salvation that isn’t based on a bunch of rules and regulations that change over time. It isn’t based on changing cultural demands or political correctness. The message of salvation is through Jesus Christ and no other (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). We are sinners and we can’t save ourselves (Rom 3:23). We can only be saved by faith in Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice for our sins (Rom 10:9; 1 John 2:1-2). We demonstrate our faith by our obedience to His word (John 14:23).

Support Your Pastors – 1 Thessalonians 2:9



For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. (ESV)

Working Ministers

When should a minister of the Gospel, whether a local pastor, traveling evangelist, or long-term missionary supply all of their own financial needs? From 1 Thessalonians 2:9, it is apparent that Paul and his companions were not dependent on support from the local people and didn’t necessarily have any significant support from other believers at this time. Paul’s support varied in different situations.

And because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. (Acts 18:3-4 NIV)
Paul did what was needed to support himself and his companions (Acts 20:34). He was willing to live as a poor person so that he could share the Gospel without burdening the recipients or being accused of spreading the Gospel for gain (1 Cor 4:11-12; 9:12-15). 

Tentmaker ministries were once the norm for rural churches. Two retired pastors that I know both had pastorates in their younger years and both worked in construction so that they could provide for their families and still serve as pastor of their small churches. With today’s mega-churches, we don’t hear much about families who are so devoted to their ministry that they work two full time jobs, one to care for their flock and the other to provide for their family. There are also many Christian missionaries who are doing the same thing in countries that do not permit any proselytizing. They can’t get a visa unless they are establishing some kind of business or are attending school as students. They spread the Gospel by conducting their businesses with integrity and fairness toward their employees and clients. And, yes, they also find opportunities to share the Gospel with their neighbors. Now that sounds just like what we should all be doing. 

Supporting Ministers

So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. (1 Cor 9:14 NASU)

In 1 Corinthians 9:3-14, Paul delivers a concise argument that those who are called to spread the Gospel should be supported by their ministry. He first appeals to general revelation by pointing out that soldiers are paid and farmers receive the benefits of their work (1 Cor 9:7). He appeals to specific revelation by quoting the Old Testament and explaining its meaning and application to spiritual work (1 Cor 9:8-12). He also applies God’s provision for the Levites who partake of sacrifices for their own food to sharing material blessings with those who dispense spiritual food (1 Cor 9:13-14). Paul couldn’t have made it any clearer yet there is a tendency in some churches to make sure the Pastors and staff are not paid according to the same standard of living as their congregation. They must always be poorer for some reason (it keeps them humble). Then there are the churches that run their organization like a business with formulas and job performance standards just like any corporation. These are not necessarily related to spiritual content. Finally, we find the mega-churches that reward their top pastors with mega-bucks, private planes, and other benefits. I don’t think these patterns are what God had in mind when He inspired the Bible. I pray that we do a much better job. 

Burden

Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. (Phil 4:16-17 ESV)

One thing is for certain, if we feel that supporting our pastors and missionaries is a burden, then we don’t understand God’s economic system. Paul received support from the Philippians while he was in Thessalonica and he said that the reason he wants to see support is so that their fruit may increase. Was he referring to their material prosperity as some distorted preachers of the Gospel claim? No, because the fruit that will abound is the “riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19 ESV). This echo’s what Jesus said when He told us not to store up treasures on earth but in heaven (Matt 6:19-21). If we don’t have a proper perspective of supporting those in full-time Gospel work, then we are only cheating ourselves for eternity.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Dear to the Lost – 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8



But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. (ESV)

Gentle Caring

Paul used the imagery of a gentle nursing mother to remind the Thessalonians how he and his team had conducted themselves when they first brought the Gospel to them. This won’t be the last family example Paul uses in this chapter to describe the way he interacted with the people. He calls them brothers as he identified with them in work and conduct (vs. 9-10). But he also was like a father when he encouraged then in godly living (vs. 11-12).

Many people complain that God is a wrathful God and therefore don’t want to have anything to do with Him. They cite the many verses in the Bible where God commands complete destruction of nations, killing men, women, children, animals, and crops. Yet they ignore the many more passages such as Isaiah 40:11 where He describes His gentleness and compassion. I think Paul was like many of these people when he first encountered Christians and persecuted them. He took those passages that God intended for a specific time and place and applied them to his current situation, eliminating the spreading cult that followed Jesus.
It may seem hard to believe that Paul changed so much so that now he has become this gentle person. God changed Paul from the inside out. That is the only way it can be explained. Instead of focusing on why God would require the death penalty for a nation as He explained in Deuteronomy 9:4; he began to see the greater purpose of God in the redemption of mankind. He saw that Jesus was the Great Shepherd who carries all who come to Him close to His heart. With Jesus in his own heart, he was able to be a channel of gentle caring to those who needed salvation. He was able to demonstrate God’s heart for His people as described in Isaiah 40:11, “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young” (ESV).

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15 NIV)

How are we doing in this matter of approaching people with the Gospel? Are we being gentle, showing respect for other people’s feeling and what they believe? Can we do this and yet clearly express the hope that we have? My son recently went to Manti, Utah with others from various places in the U.S. to witness to Mormons. His goal was to explain clearly the difference between the Mormon and traditional Christian doctrines regarding God and Jesus. He followed Scripture in being a servant of the Lord, “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient” (2 Tim 2:24 NKJV). Unfortunately, not all of the people who went were gentle. Some were aggressive and in-your-face. 

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. (Matt 23:13 NASB)

Obviously, Jesus had times when he got in the Pharisees’ face. He was blunt and condemning. But you can’t find any place in Scripture where Jesus heaped this kind of rebuke on the common people. On the contrary, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36 ESV). Why is there such a difference between Jesus’ words and actions toward the Pharisees and the common people? It is clear from these two passages that Jesus dealt with the leaders (the ones who should have known better and taught the people correctly) on a different level than those who had been mislead by these leaders of the corrupt religious system. The same should prove true in our attitude and behavior. We should deal sternly with those who oppose the Gospel and teach false doctrines but be gentle and compassionate with those who are their victims.

Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6:11 NASU) There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28 NASU)

If people are lost, it doesn’t matter what their favorite sin is (adultery, lying, homosexuality, etc.). It doesn’t matter what their social status is (rich, poor, homeless, or immigrant). It doesn’t matter what their race is. They all have the same opportunity to trust Jesus and become part of the family of God. Paul didn’t walk into Thessalonica, single out a subset of the population by any of these criteria, and demonstrate his love only for them. The same goes for those in Corinth, some of whom were guilty of various sins including murder, idolatry, and homosexuality (1 Cor 6:9-10). He didn’t ignore some and try to reach other. Not many of them were wise, of noble background, or influential (1 Cor 1:26), yet he shared the Gospel with them all. This is the standard by which we must also share the Gospel. We don’t make exception for one group or exclude another but must develop a love for all lost people and treat them the way we would anyone else we love, with gentleness and genuine care for their current needs as well as for their eternal needs. I think too many of us are willing to share the Gospel but not very much of our own selves.

Share Ourselves

Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited. (Rom 12:13, 15-16 RSV)

Just what does it mean to share ourselves? Three levels come to mind, physically, emotionally, and socially. Physical sharing occurs when we contribute to the needs of the saints or all people (Gal 6:10), it usually takes some time and effort on our part. At least that is the picture portrayed when it is followed up by practicing hospitality (Rom 12:13). While it is good to provide funds for homeless shelters or cash or food for a food bank, it is another think to follow up with serving at any of those institutions. When we get in the mix with people we want to help and introduce to Jesus, it becomes more than just contributing but it becomes sharing ourselves. Handing a McDonald’s gift card to a homeless person is good but sharing ourselves happens when we take that person to lunch and sit down with him and listen to his story.

The emotional side of sharing ourselves is more difficult. Sure, you can look at rejoicing with those who rejoice and believe that is no problem. However, we are talking about loving the lost. The lost rejoice over many things, good things in life and sinful things. They rejoice in great ways and in inappropriate ways. They rejoice at the birth of a child and a same-sex marriage. As a Christian wishing to demonstrate concern and share the Gospel, there cannot be true rejoicing with those who rejoice over sin. 

Emotional involvement has the most impact when it is on the mourning end of the spectrum. Mourning and walking through life crisis with people can be very taxing. Years ago, I did some counseling at a church and the training said that we could not afford to become emotionally involved with the problems of the counselees. Then the training I received at my current church said we are there to walk through these problems alongside the counselees. We are not detached dispensers of wisdom, but people who get to know and have great care for them. This is more in keeping with Romans 12:15. The same applies to working among people who need the Gospel. People don’t often listen to others who don’t demonstrate care for them. 

When we are unwilling to become involved with people, especially people of low social status, we appear to be haughty as if we were somehow superior to them. It is nothing more than conceit. Sometimes it isn’t always our fault. We do have a message of assurance that we are going to heaven and they aren’t. We are in the family of God and they are not. Some see that as conceit and arrogance. That is a hard image to overcome. If we point out we were the same but our lives have changed, they respond with an accusation that we are self-righteous even though we attempt to explain that it isn’t us, but it is Christ’s righteousness and grace that changed us. This is why being consistent in gentleness and sharing our very lives is so important. It is the only way that they will see beneath their stereotyped impression of Christians.

Who do you have in your life who doesn’t know Jesus? Are these people dear to you. Is it possible that the cantankerous neighbor could become dear to you? It will be easier to demonstrate God’s love to people like that when we consider and treat them as dear people.