Friday, September 30, 2016

6 keys to Endurance

Read 2 Timothy 2.

Dr. Henrietta Mears served as the Christian Education Director at her church for 35 years.  She directly influenced Billy Graham, Bill Bright, Christian publishing, Christian camping, world missions, and countless other ministries.  In one of her biographies, when asked the secret to her success, the answer was her 35 years.  Obviously, it took much more than longevity, but her endurance in using what God gave her changed the world to this day.

The Apostle Paul admonished Timothy to "be strengthened" as he served the Lord.  Paul used his own example of endurance in ministry, despite his suffering and imprisonment (vv.9-10).  Then, he encouraged Timothy with six keys to strengthening his character no matter the hardships.
1. By the grace of God. (v.1)
At the heart of living for Jesus is the recognition that everything belongs to Him.  Our existence, our salvation, our gifts, our opportunities, those whom we serve, and the results are all His.  Therefore, He alone receives the glory.  We serve with great gratitude and humility that the God of heaven would use us in His work.
2. By word of God. (v.2)
Paul faithfully taught and mentored Timothy according to the Scriptures.  Only by knowing and applying what God has said do we live lives pleasing to Him.  "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart."
3. By remaining focused of the assignment. (vv.3-4)
He compared this to the duty of a soldier.  The soldier preparing for battle cannot allow himself to become distracted by other pursuits.  Knowing what God wanted him to accomplish, Paul wrote, "But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on..." (Philippians 3:13)  But the prize of victory awaits.
4. By refusing to take shortcuts. (v.5)
An athlete who cheats will be disqualified from competing.  He must know what is expected and discipline himself accordingly.  First and foremost, this a character issue.  Second, it requires strenuous, private preparation.  Natural ability will only carry an undisciplined athlete so far before an embarrassing end.  But a crown of victory awaits.
5. By working hard. (v.6)
Without a full-on commitment to the required tasks in a timely manner, there will be no chance of success in the harvest.  Farming involves early rising and long days during the seasons of planting, cultivating, and reaping.  But the fruit of the labor awaits.
6. By maintaining purity. (vv.20-21)
The usability of a vessel is not found in the material but in its cleanliness.  A dirty gold cup will not be selected.  A clean, rugged, wooden mug will be picked instead.  In regards to being used by God, my friend Dr. Crawford Loritts is famous for saying, "The price is purity."  "If anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work."

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Using what God gave Us

Read 2 Timothy 1.

According to 1 Corinthians 12, every believer in Jesus has been gifted by the Holy Spirit to serve the Lord effectively.  Paul encouraged Pastor Timothy by reminding him of the foundations of the faith and his stewardship of what God had given to him.

Timothy had been blessed by a godly heritage.  But the faith of someone else will never suffice in pleasing God.  This chapter contains the core of what it means to live as a true follower of Christ.

1. He saved us and called us. (v.9)
No one experiences God's forgiveness and receives eternal life by their own doing or willfulness.  Salvation is a free gift of God's grace solely because of individual faith in Christ.  This was God's plan all along.  It is a "holy calling" from the Lord when a person understands and responds to the Gospel message.  An individual's salvation fulfills God's "own purpose".  He has a plan and a purpose for each individual life.  "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works..." (Ephesians 2:10)

2. He appointed us. (v.11)
God has an assignment for each of us.  Paul's appointment was to be a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher.  1 Corinthians 12 makes it clear that believers are sovereignly given different gifts, different ways in which we use our gifts, and different opportunities to employ those gifts.  In other words, everyone is not the same.  It is the responsibility of the believer to discover how God has made them and complete their assignment where God has placed them.

This does not come naturally.  Paul had to remind Timothy to "fan into flame the gift of God" (v.6).  It is our job to build upon what God has started.  If we are fearful and lack confidence in moving forward in serving Christ, understand that such fear does not come from the Lord (v.7).  Literally, the Greek word is cowardice.  What the Holy Spirit has provided instead, and will be evident when we submit to Him, is His power, His love, and His ability in our self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

3. He entrusted us. (v.12)
All of these provisions from God become a personal stewardship.  He is the Owner.  We are the managers of what He has given to us.  Paul's situation at this writing was an embarrassment to some.  He was in prison.  He could have been overcome with depression due to being so limited and done nothing.  What refreshed his hope was the strong truth that God was in control of his circumstances.  On that day when he would stand before the Lord and give an account of his stewardship, it would be with confidence.  "For I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me."  Paul recognized that God had placed him there for a reason and he would use the time to do what he could to further the Gospel.  Indeed, while incarcerated, he wrote multiple books of the New Testament and shared the message with untold numbers of people he would have never met otherwise.

These things are trusts that God has allowed us to enjoy for the eternal benefit of others.  The question is, "What are we doing today with what God has given to us?"

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Fight the good Fight

Read 1 Timothy 6.

The phrase has become a common one.  It is often used in a secular context in recognition of one who faithfully struggled either physically or ideologically.  Unfortunately, that is a misuse of Scripture as it fails to finish the sentence.  Further, the intent of verse 12 looks forward, not backward.

The Apostle Paul admonished young Pastor Timothy to "Fight the good fight of the faith."  He went on to say, "I charge you in the presence of keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ." (vv.13-14).  This refers to the struggle of discipling one's character (v.11) while serving in a culture of differing doctrines and false teachers (vv.3-10).

Indeed, it is a struggle.  The Greek word for "fight" is an athletic term, describing a disciplined struggle of someone contending for a prize.  The English word "agony" comes from this root.  Fighting for the faith is not fun.  There will be agonizing times in confronting teaching that contradicts the Scriptures.  A compound of the same word is in Jude 3, admonishing believers to "contend for the faith."  The point is that we are never to back down when our faith is challenged.  We are to be agonizing in the struggle for the Gospel; willing to go toe to toe, if necessary.

Some will accuse us of being narrow-minded, old fashioned, out of touch with culture and not up to date.  We may face being marginalized, ostracized, criticized, and worse, being dismissed as irrelevant.  But the truth is this: We will never be effective as followers of Jesus in the world, nor prove the genuineness of our love for people, if we do not firmly stand for what we say we believe.

Two insights in preparing for the fight:
1. Remember who the real enemy is.
Our true foe has always been the Devil and his demons who are the sources of "arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God" (2 Corinthians 10:5).

2. Ready yourself to communicate the truth.
1 Peter 3:15, "But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect."  Those last three words demonstrate our Christlike character while we contend for the faith.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Unity and Community

Read 1 Timothy 5.

There is no place like a local church.  Everyone is freely invited to attend and participate.  Men and women, boys and girls, young and old, wealthy and poor, racially diverse, saved and lost, and on various levels of spiritual growth meet together.  They sing together.  They pray together.  They learn together.  They worship God together.  They serve together.  The assembly of the local church is where real community may be seen in action.

The locale of the church (a city, town, rural area) is referred to as a community but, in fact, may not be.  Community is rooted in unity.  Many civic communities are enormously divided along every line imaginable.  What unites people is a common interest, a common cause, a mutual enjoyment, and/or a mutual commitment.

In every writing by the Apostle Paul there was an appeal for unity.  The Holy Spirit guided this by dealing strongly with the issues that divided the local church and by delivering instructions regarding relationships.  Here in chapter 5, the congregation is commanded (v.7) to treat each other as a healthy family.  Encouraging one another in love as fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers should be the norm.  How a congregation treats widows is one indication of the health of a local church family.

What brings a church of Christ together in unity is our faith in Jesus, our desire for the word of God, our mutual pursuit to grow in our relationship with God, and our obedience in sharing Gospel with others.  Maintaining such unity requires work.

The responsibility for community within a local church falls upon the leadership.  " equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God..." (Ephesians 4:12-13a)  Jesus said, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35)

Monday, September 26, 2016

5 areas of training for Godliness

Read 1 Timothy 4.

The Apostle Paul wrote to a relatively young Pastor Timothy to encourage him as he faced some ministry challenges.  All false teachings are deceitful in that they have been made to sound Christian but, in fact, are not.  False teaching is always energized by demonic spirits.  In truth, such doctrines and their communicators are insincere liars, whose consciences become so callous they no longer understand right from wrong, moral from immoral, or God's word from man's word.

What is a true follower of Christ to do?  There is a negative and a positive answer in verse 7.
Negative:  "Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths."
Positive: "Rather train yourself for godliness."

There are five key areas where this training must take place and, thus, "set an example" of godliness for others.
1. In speech.
All words have meaning.  One of the devices of the Devil is to change the definition and usage of words.  This easily proved by simply listening to our culture.  Jesus stated that we will be held accountable for our words.  Paul wrote, "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear."  If our speech is not giving grace to others, then we need to examine our communication before the Lord.
2. In conduct.
God has a claim on our behavior.  All conduct either honors or dishonors God.  Titus 2:1-8 contains some general expectations of younger and older, men and women, slave and free, "so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior."  Our conduct communicates the genuineness of our commitment to Christ.
3. In love.
This refers to the self-sacrificing kind of love; the kind God has demonstrated to us by sending Jesus to die for our sins.  There is no room for selfishness and pride.  To serve others effectively requires a love that flows from humility.
4. In faith.
There is no substitute for having absolute confidence in the Lord and the Scriptures.  Without trusting God's sovereignty in all situations, we will become shaken by circumstances.  Without knowing and obeying the word of God, our faith will sway in the winds of the culture's opinions.  It is this confidence that spurs us on to tell others the good news of Jesus.
5. In purity.
This is the price of living a godly life.  We are to "flee youthful passions" (2 Timothy 2:22).  "Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded." (James 4:7-8)

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The mystery is Solved

Read 1 Timothy 3.

From Genesis 3 and through the writings of the prophets, a Messiah had been promised to come.  Though directly stated or guided by the Holy Spirit, the words were mysterious in that they were not fully explained.  By faith, those living in the days of the Old Testament believed what God said and looked forward to the day these things would be fulfilled.

A few of the hundreds of examples include:
Genesis 3:15 "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel."

Genesis 12:3 " you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

Isaiah 7:14 "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."

Isaiah 53:5 "But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace."

Micah 5:2 "But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come for me on who is to be ruler in Israel."

But who is this one and when would these things take place?  How can a person be human and inflict Satan?  How can one die for the sins of others and then be ruler over Israel?  These and other Old Testament statements continued to be believed though mysterious.  That is, until Jesus came.  On this side of the cross, we can look back and put the pieces together.

In the last verse of chapter 3, the Apostle Paul quoted what is evidently a hymn of his day.  I am indebted to A. Duane Litfin of Dallas Seminary for his writings on this chapter.  The so-called secret of godliness is found in Jesus Christ alone.  Here then is our confession of faith regarding Jesus.
1. The Incarnation.  He is God in the flesh.  The Virgin Mary did in fact conceive by the Holy Spirit and bear a son.  The angel declared Him to be "Immanuel, which means God with us" (Matthew 1:23) His name is Jesus (Savior) "for he will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21)  His death on the cross was substitutionary in full and final payment for the sin of the world.
2. The Resurrection.  As David mysteriously penned Psalm 16:10, this "holy one" would not stay in the grave.  God's power over life and death was demonstrated for all to see.  The veracity of all that God said became clear.  The tomb of Jesus is empty.
3. The Exaltation.  Indeed, Jesus dealt the blow to the Devil and his minions.  "He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him." (Colossians 2:15)
4. The Proclamation.  Before Jesus ascended back into heaven, He charged His followers to be His witnesses of the truth and to tell this message of good news around the world.  (Acts 1:8)
5. The Salvation.  As Peter proclaimed, "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)  This life-changing, eternity changing message continues to be in evidence to this day.
6. The Ascension.  "He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things." (Ephesians 4:10).

But the story is not over.  Jesus promised to come again.  On that day, "every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:10-11)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Marching off to War

Read 1 Timothy 2.

In chapter 1, the Apostle Paul urged Timothy to "wage the good warfare."  The teaching of spiritual alternatives to Jesus and ungodly lifestyles are not merely differing ideas.  They, in fact, are the weapons of the devil in the ultimate spiritual war for the souls of humanity.  That is why in every instance the Holy Spirit guided Paul to respond in writing so decisively.

"For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, we are not waging a war according to the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:4)

How should a follower of Christ respond when government leaders, religious leaders, friends, neighbors and family members hold to beliefs in opposition to the written word of God?  How should we behave in this spiritual war?

Our fleshly weapons of anger that leads to revenge or responding in kind with slander and hurt filled words, for example, only lead us to sin.  As a result, the genuineness of our faith may be severely damaged.  If we are to be effective and see the power of God change lives, we ourselves must obey the Scriptures.  Galatians 5:16-24 commands us to be controlled by the Holy Spirit.  If He is in control our attitudes and speech will be marked by verses 22-23.  In Ephesians 6:10-18, the Christian is told to "put on the armor of God" for this war in order to be "strong in the Lord".

Okay.  The Holy Spirit is in control.  I have my armor on.  Now, what is the first thing I should be doing to combat the spiritual forces of evil?  "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions..."
People are so quick to criticize and defame others with whom they disagree.  This has become a political sport on social media in America.  It makes one wonder if those who claim to be believers in Jesus have invested regular, intentional time praying for that person.

How should we be praying?  Two prayer requests:
1. "...that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way." (v.2b)
This is a prayer for us-our personal protection and our personal behavior.  When opposed, what do the enemies of Christ see in us?  There will be exceptions, but the principle of Proverbs 16:7 should be our goal.  "When a man's ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him."
2. "This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (vv.3-4)
Often, we are tempted to think that some are so evil and so rejecting of Jesus that they will never be saved.  But we do not know that.  The Apostle Paul is exhibit A.  Also, keep in mind that the high ruler in Paul's day was Nero.  Four times in the first six verses of this chapter the word "all" appears.  "Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all." (v.6)

Yet, many have never prayed for the leaders of their country or local civic leaders individually by name and in this way.   Making a prayer list of those who are in authority and those who need Jesus is the first marching step in spiritual warfare.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The goal of Bible Teaching

Read 1 Timothy 1.

Paul charged his younger protege Timothy to stay in Ephesus.  He was to deal forthrightly with the false teachers in that congregation.  Too many churches have prided themselves in tolerating differing views of doctrine.  But the Scriptures say otherwise.  Paul even rejected two named men in this chapter and announced that he had "handed them over to Satan" after they made "shipwreck of their faith" (v20).

What characterized teaching that made it false?  
These "certain persons" communicated a smorgasbord of different beliefs.  With their faith in Jesus, they mixed in "myths and endless genealogies", speculations, and "vain discussions" (v.6).  And, this they did with "confident assertions" (v.7).

Their approach to preaching and teaching greatly deviated from what the Apostle Paul had done.  He taught "thus says the Lord".  It was God's word that was to be communicated, not the opinions of others and certainly not the various views of those who differ.

Why did these teachers behave this way?
Paul said they had a desire to teach, but they were "without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions."  In other words, they did not know what they were talking about.  They had not studied God's word.  Instead, they turned to their culture and popular opinions for their subject material.  Indeed, they had "wandered away" (v.6) from the truth.  In the final analysis, their desire to teach amounted to nothing more than egomania.  Also, by implication in the following verses, these false communicators were living ungodly lifestyles.

What is the goal of communicating God's word?
Obedience to sound doctrine from the Scriptures changes lives both here and for eternity.  God has not given us a Bible for our information only, but for our transformation in order to behave as the people of God.  Paul makes this clear as he names seven ungodly behaviors and adds, "whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine" (vv.9-10).  Without the Scriptures we would not know what God expects of us.

The Apostle summarized the goal in one powerful verse (v.5).
Love.  Roberta Mounce wrote that this type of love "is not a romantic enchantment but a commitment of the will to place the welfare of others as a first priority."
1. Love from a pure heart.  This should cause us to examine ourselves and eliminate all selfish motives in serving Christ.
2. Love from a good conscience.  Freedom of conscience is what the Psalmist prayed for.  "Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlastings!" (Psalm 139:23-24)
3. Love from a sincere faith.  There is no room for hypocrisy here.  One's faith in Jesus is to be real and evident.  One's absolute confidence in the inerrant, infallible, unchanging word of God must be genuine.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Working while you Wait

Read 2 Thessalonians 3.

The Bible honors hard, productive work from Genesis to Revelation.  When God completed His creation, we are told He rested "from all his work that he had done" (Genesis 2:2).  Then, in Genesis 3, the Lord put man to work.  The night before the crucifixion, Jesus prayed, "I have glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do." (John 17:4)

In every chapter of his first letter to this church and in the first two chapters of this second letter, the Apostle Paul encouraged them that Jesus is coming again.  For followers of Christ, it will be a time of relief and reward.  Hebrews 3 calls it a time of rest.  Revelation 14:13 describes the death of Christ followers as a "rest from their labors."

Apparently, some in the Thessalonian church decided sit and wait for the Lord's return.  Acting in such a pseudo-spiritual way, they depended upon the mercy of others to care for them.  Paul was swift in his response and commanded that this stop (v.6).  Laziness is not a godly behavior!  Busyness and activity is not necessarily godly behavior either.  Once we come to personally know the Lord, we have been gifted and given opportunity to fulfill His assignment for us.  Knowing that life is short at best, we are to work diligently on God's agenda in every place He has placed us while we can.  Jesus made this comparison: "We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work." (John 9:4)

So, while we all have different assignments in life, there are three things Paul mentions here that everyone is to be actively doing while we work and wait.

1. Be Prayerful. (vv.1-2)
Two prayer requests are given that applies to every believer in every place.  First, ask God to "speed" the powerful effectiveness of His word as it is preached, taught, and shared.  It was belief in the message of Jesus that changed their lives and can have the same result in every one who believes.  Second, pray for God's protection.  Whenever the gospel goes forth there will be satanic opposition.

2. Be Faithful. (vv.3-5)
We learn this from God's faithfulness to us.  The Holy Spirit grounds the minds and hearts of those who submit themselves to Him.  This is the source of our confidence in God's word and His power to overcome evil by standing firm in "the steadfastness of Christ."

3. Be Careful. (vv.6-15)
There are certain people and contrary teachings from which we are to stay away.  Our lives are on display before unbelievers.  They watch to see if what we say we believe is genuine.  "...aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one" (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12).

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Why do things seem to be getting Worse?

Read 2 Thessalonians 2.

The Thessalonian believers were confused about the second coming of Christ.  Paul had personally taught them and even encouraged them about this in his first letter.  But, false teaching caused them to be "shaken in the mind or alarmed."  Questions arose such as, "Did Jesus already come and they missed it?" and "If Jesus is coming, then why are things in this world getting worse instead of better?"

According to verse two, evidently, they experienced a concerted three-pronged attack.  First, a demonic spirit tried to infect their thinking.  Next, someone came with teaching a false doctrine.  Then, a forged letter was received pretending to be the Apostle Paul with contrary teaching.  Like many today who have not studied the truth of God's word for themselves or have been wrongly taught, confusion and ignorance has robbed them of their joy, comfort, and hope.

In a few short verses, Paul lays out God's plan for the future of this world.
1. The world will be in open rebellion. (v.3)
As he wrote to Pastor Timothy, "...evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived." (2 Timothy 3:13).  Such rebellion is already at work in the world (v.7).  Each generation witnesses the further erosion of moral and spiritual values to the point where all lifestyles and behaviors become increasingly acceptable, except holiness and moral purity.  While discrimination of any kind is unlawful, one who dares to live by the Biblical standards of what is right may be openly ostracized and ridiculed.  To the government, wrong has become right and right has become wrong.  This is bold rebellion against God Himself.

2. The man of lawlessness will be revealed. (v.3, 9-10)
The world exists in a leadership vacuum.  Where is the one who can unite the world and bring the promise of peace?  There is coming such a person who will seek to destroy all worship of anyone and anything, except himself.  This Satanically energized one will be none other than the prophesied Antichrist.  Both Daniel and Revelation provide the details.  He will offer himself as the solution to the world's problems.  He will perform "false signs and wonders" in order to deceive "those who are perishing," "those who "refused to love the truth and so be saved," those "who did not believe the truth" (v.12).

3. The Holy Spirit will be removed. (v.6)
Note the phrase "in his time."  God is in control and will be right on schedule in fulfilling all His plans.  The Holy Spirit first indwelt believers in Acts 2.  With the catching away of believers (living and dead), as Paul explained in 1 Thessalonians 4, there will be no earthly restraints left against worldwide rebellion and the Antichrist's rule.

4. The Lord Jesus will return. (v.8)
The Antichrist and all his armies will be killed "with the breath of his mouth."  This annihilation of the enemies of Christ is graphically described in Revelation 19:11-21.  "From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations" (Revelation 19:15).  The word of God is often compared to a sword.  Just as God spoke the creation into existence, at His word the rebellion will be put down.

So, in light of knowing how this story will end, believers should not be disturbed in their faith by world events.  Instead, we are to "stand firm" and "hold to" what we have been taught from the Scriptures (v.15).  Sound doctrine comforts us and encourages us to "every good work and word" (v.16).

Monday, September 19, 2016

Whose side are you On?

Read 2 Thessalonians 1.

Abraham Lincoln was once asked if he thought God was on his side.  He replied, "Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side.  My greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right."  The context of that quote had to do with the Civil War.  Of even greater concern, and what should be the first priority for every human, is to spiritually be on right side of eternity with God.

The Thessalonians endured suffering, persecution, and affliction due to their faith in Jesus.  However, through it all, by the grace of God, they remained steadfast.  The Apostle Paul commended them because, despite the hardships, they were growing spiritually and increasing in their love for one another (v.3).

Some would ask, "What is God doing?  Does He not see their suffering?  Why doesn't He intervene and do something?"  The answer is that God does see, He does know, and His plan for justice is at work.  The Lord is not unmindful when a believer suffers for His namesake.  There is coming a day when Jesus will deliver both earthly justice at His return and eternal justice at the Great White Throne.  The second coming of Christ is described in verses 7-8 as personal, visible, and victorious over all His enemies.  His appearance will be as attractive and devastating as a flaming fire from heaven.  An innumerable army of angels will accompany Him.  

In the final analysis, there are only two types of people described in this chapter with two very different eternal destinies.

1. Those who never placed the personal faith in Jesus. (vv.7-9)
First, the earthly judgment.  When Jesus returns, He will be "inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus."  In other words, He will persecute the persecutors.  Additional details are presented in Revelation 19:11-21.  But there is more.

Second, the eternal judgment.  The punishment will not end with physical death.  It will last forever.  They will be banished "away from the presence of the Lord".  There will be no party and no camaraderie.  It will be an eternity of loneliness, regret, and unspeakable torment.  Jesus provided a brief glimpse of what is to come in Luke 16:19-31.  Revelation 20:11-15 foretells of all unbelievers being cast into an eternal lake of fire.

2. Those who have personally believed the good news of Jesus. (vv.7, 10-12)
On that day, the people of God will experience relief.  Jesus will be glorified in them.  Everyone will marvel at the glorious appearing of the Son of God and His return to earth.  He will establish His earthly kingdom and those who were once rejected will rule and reign with Christ (Revelation 20:4-8).  The unbelieving world may consider the followers of Jesus with little to no value.  Christ declares us as have eternal worth (worthy).  This is our blessed hope.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Power of Praise

Read 1 Thessalonians 5.

If someone wants to know the will of God for their lives, the starting place is the New Testament.  Five times in the New Testament we are told "this is the will of God."  A life that pleases the Lord is dependent upon the intentional implementation of these declared behaviors.

In chapter four, we read, "For this is the will of God, your sanctification, that you abstain from sexual immorality." (4:3)  If one is not disciplining themselves to live a life of sexual purity and holiness, pleasing God will not be possible.  And, then here in 5:16-18 is another one.

Praise is the expression of approval.  When we praise God, we accept, or approve of, what is happening as part of God's plan for our lives.  If we truly believe that "all things work together for good" (Romans 8:28), then we are free to praise God for each situation just as it is.  Our human nature loves to complain and grumble and withhold any praise to God until the outcome is to our liking.  But that is the opposite of faith.  Unbelief says, "Seeing is believing."  Faith declares, "Believing is seeing."

A follower of Jesus maintains focus, not on the circumstance, but on the One who controls the circumstances.  Someone once said, "When God is all you have, you will discover that He is all you need."

1. "Rejoice always."
No one needs Jesus to be happy and excited when things are going well.  It requires faith, as an act of the will, to do so during times of adversity.  That makes no sense to the unbeliever.  But the God of the Bible is the sovereign controller of all things.  When our trust is in Him, we may rest assured that "his mercy (lovingkindness) is over all he had made" (Psalm 145:9).

2. "Pray without ceasing."
Confusion always comes in times of great need.  We believe God but we often do not know what He is doing or why.  A true believer trusts the Lord even when they do not understand.  God loves it when we cast our total dependence upon Him.  As our minds spin throughout the day, going over and over what is or what is not happening, we are to turn our anxieties into prayer.  Talking to God about our concerns, our desires, and surrendering our wills to His is to be an on-going conversation.

3. "Give thanks in all circumstances."
Each of these three is a test of our faith, not of God.  Perhaps, the toughest one is to express thanks when life does not seem to be going in our favor.  How can someone be thankful when a disaster just hit?  The answer lies in the clear understanding and commitment that this world is not our home.  We are only here on assignment as an ambassador of Christ for a few short years, at best.  The ability to give thanks in advance of the results is an indicator of the work of the Holy Spirit and His grace to us.   We can be thankful that our story is not over yet.  God has a plan and He is at work on our behalf, even when we do not see it.  "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:7)

Rejoice, when?  Always.
Pray, how?  Without ceasing.
Give thanks, how often?  In all circumstances.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

3 essential commitments to please God

Read 1 Thessalonians 4.

Paul taught the Thessalonian believers how to live in a manner that pleases God.  These instructions were not from human ideas, or denominational rules, but his teaching (and these writings we have in the Bible) are in fact from the Lord Jesus Christ (v.2).

In chapter one, we read of their repentance and changed life.  In chapter two, Paul transparently shared how he conducted his ministry to them.  In chapter three, he reminded them of the cost for following Jesus and how he prayed for them.  Now, his focus became very personal.  Knowing Jesus is only the beginning.  Living a lifestyle that pleases God requires daily discipline.  There is no discipleship without personal discipline.

1. Live in holiness with one another. (vv.1-8)
The Bible is not unclear concerning sexuality.  The subject is taught in plain terms both in the Old and the New Testaments.  God's standards are in writing and do not change with the changing winds of culture, political correctness, or denominational votes.  Sex outside the marriage commitment between one man and one woman is an abomination.  Jesus even warned about one's lustful thoughts turning to sin (Matthew 5:28).

Sanctification means purity or holiness.  The Bible teaches two aspects of our sanctification.  We are positionally sanctified, cleansed from our sin, at the moment of salvation.  We are then to be practically living as a sanctified people and daily dealing with our sin (1 John 1:9).  Our behaviors are to be pure and holy from the inside out.  Notice the list of things about our conduct in just these few verses.  We are responsible to "control" ourselves in this area.  Lustful passions are signs of those who do not know God.  It is not only sin against God, it involves sin against others.  "Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God..." (v.8)

Five times in the New Testament we are told "this is the will of God."  You do not have to pray about it.  It is not open for debate.  It is absolute.  And, living in sexual purity is one of those five.

2. Love one another. (vv.9-12)
Paul had already mentioned this to them.  They were already doing this.  Indeed, their good testimony of how they treated each other had actually influenced other churches.  His reminder here to them is not only for the internal health of the congregation.  Their manner of life displayed to "outsiders" the difference Christ makes.

3. Encourage one another. (vv.13-18)
Nothing pleases God more than believers who live with moment by moment anticipation of the Lord's return.  "...but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.  And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure." (1 John 3:2b-3)  Sanctification and the Lord's return go hand in hand.  Those who fail to regularly preach and teach what used to be called "the blessed hope" rob the people of a main source of encouragement.

The basis of our hope is fixed in our steadfast belief in Jesus' resurrection, in Jesus' return, and our reunion with all the saints of God.  "Encourage one another with these words."

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

How to pray for the Church

Read 1 Thessalonians 3.

Mutual love and care for one another is an indicator of a healthy congregation of believers.  They love God and they are concerned for the personal welfare of each other.

The Apostle Paul endured great affliction and suffering as a result of spreading the news of Jesus.  As he taught the word of God to the converts in Thessalonica, he also "kept telling them beforehand that we were to suffer persecution" (v.4).  Rejection by those who reject Jesus is to be expected.  But when the persecution came, the church worried about Paul and his well-being.  At the same time, Paul anguished over how the congregation was holding up as they likewise experienced such distress for their faith from the tempter himself (v.5).

He sent Timothy to Thessalonica to check on them and to encourage them.  Later, he wrote to Pastor Timothy, "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Timothy 3:12)  Here he wrote, "we are destined for this" (v.3b).  Why is this so?  Before a person receives Jesus as their Savior, that one, whether they know it or not, is following the disobedient will of Satan (Ephesians 2:2).  But when Jesus changes their lives, that person switches sides in this spiritual war.  They become a soldier of the cross with a new uniform, following the orders of a new Commander, marching to the beat of a different drum, and fighting against the very things that they used to fight for.

When the positive report came back, it was an answer to Paul's prayers for them.  "For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord." (v.8)  One could almost hear "whew!"  How did Paul pray for them during this episode and following?  And, what should we be praying for each other?

1. Pray for opportunities to help each other mature spiritually. (v10)
This is a lifelong process.  "Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ..." (Ephesians 4:13)  In other words, until we are just like Jesus.  Until then, we have work to do, to teach, to listen, to learn, and to practice this new life.  No one can accomplish this alone.  We need each other more than ever.

2. Pray for increasing love for each other. (v.12)
Jesus said, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35).  This is not possible unless we intentionally take the time to know other believers personally and involve ourselves in their lives.  It requires knowing about their needs, not just their names.  It means we respond appropriately when there is a need.

3. Pray for each other's holiness. (v.13)
The goal of Paul's prayer was that their hearts would be established.  The evidence of a heart that is resolutely set on Jesus is a lifestyle that is blameless and holy.  Our new life in Christ is on display in what we do and what we do not do.  People around us hear our words and witness our behaviors every day.  Do they see the difference in us?  And, overarching is the understanding that we want to be ready at any moment to be standing in presence of the Holy Lord.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The kind of minister every church Needs

Read 1 Thessalonians 2.

The Roman Empire was full of traveling philosophers and wandering religious charlatans.  Unbelieving Jews criticized Paul for being just like that.  They were saying that he lacked love and care for these Thessalonian Christians.  After all, he started this church and then left them.  What is more, they accused Paul of only wanting to take advantage of this church for his own personal profit.

But, in response, the Apostle Paul evidences his firsthand knowledge of the people.  Four times in the first twelve verses of chapter two, he used the term "you know".  Despite the statements by the critics, this church knew otherwise.  Paul had proved his genuineness to them.  He left them a powerful example of the absolute essential elements of a true servant of God that every church needs.

1. The Message. (vv.1-3)
First and foremost was the declaration of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  If that message is not being proclaimed with urgency for people to respond in faith, then that is not a New Testament church.  It is only a spiritually empty religious gathering.  Note that Paul could have made excuses due to his own personal sufferings.  He could have focused on those experiences to gain sympathy and support.  Instead, he preached Jesus with even more boldness.

To represent the Lord, one must have confidence in this life changing message.  The word of God (v.13) is without "error or impurity or any attempt to deceive" (v.3).  There can be no hidden agendas in what the minister says or who he is.

2. The Motive behind the Message. (vv.4-6)
He never altered, downplayed, or ignored parts of the word of God in order to please the people.  His true motive was to please an audience of One.  It was not his message.  These were not his people.  This was not his opportunity.  The results were not his.  All of these things belong to the Lord.  Therefore, he did not employ the tactics of the false teachers: flattery, greed and seeking personal glory.

Paul knew all too well that he would one day stand before the Lord and give an account of not only the message he delivered but the motive of why he was there.

3. The Manner behind the Ministry. (vv.7-19)
In great contrast to what his accusers were saying, Paul presented three metaphors to describe his manner in ministering to the people.  Each carries a context of intimate family relationships.
-A Nursing Mother.  No one is more loving and gentle than a mother of newborn baby.  Attention is given around the clock to the health, feeding, cleanliness, and care of that child.  The Thessalonians were Paul's spiritual children.  Notice the words he used in writing of his manner toward them: gentle, being affectionately desirous, to share our own selves, "you had become very dear to us."
-A Working Brother.  Paul did not come to boss them but to work alongside them to reach others and to build the ministry.  He even worked to support himself so as not to be a burden upon this new church.  As a result, his life had been transparent.  They watched his behavior in real life circumstances.  His conduct proved to be "holy and righteous and blameless."
-A Caring Father.  Three aspects of what a dad does are mentioned here.  There are times when a father must exhort or make strong, positive appeals.  Second, along with exhorting, children need to be encouraged with soothing, comforting, confidence-building words.  Third, fathers must charge or implore children toward right behavior.  This may involve a confrontation.

The ministry goal of all these actions is so that each person will "walk in a manner worthy of God" (v.12).

Saturday, September 3, 2016

3 differences Jesus Makes

Read 1 Thessalonians 1.

Imagine for a moment that your pastor met one of your neighbors.  As the pastor began to tell them about Jesus, the neighbor interrupted to say that they already heard the gospel from you.  That is akin to what happened to the Apostle Paul.  In verse 8, as Paul endeavored to proclaim the good news in the regions of Macedonia and Achaia, they had already heard the message from the Thessalonians.

But it was not only the words of the message that had been presented.  These Thessalonians backed it up with unmistakable evidences of their changed lives.  When one embraces a true faith in Christ, they become a new person (2 Corinthians 5:17).  What were those noticeable differences?  How had Jesus transformed them?

In verses 9 and 10, we have their public testimony, not from them but, repeated by those who knew them.
1. They were headed in a new direction.
Feeling sorry for one's sin is not enough.  The Scriptures consistently calls for repentance; that is, making a 180 degree turn in life direction.  They had turned their backs on their old life and everyone knew it.  This involved a decisive break from their sin and the sinful habits of their past.  "For a godly sorrow produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret..." (2 Corinthians 7:10)

2. They worshiped a new Deity.
Before, they had given themselves to the false gods of their culture.  The deities of Greek Mythology were just that--myths.  The idols were only pieces of wood or other materials made-up by human hands.  The so-called spiritual deities had been made-up by human imagination.  But when they heard the message of Jesus, they turned from those empty and sinful practices to a personal relationship with the one and only Living God.  He alone can forgive and cleanse from sin.  Only the Lord of Heaven personally sees, hears, knows, cares, and is actively present in our daily lives.  "Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: 'I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god." (Isaiah 44:6)

3. They received a new destiny.
A true believer in Jesus has been saved from the eternal wrath of God.  Faith in the resurrected Christ delivers us.  While we are remain on earth for a relatively few years, we are to be displaying our new life and anticipating the return of Jesus.  The second coming of Christ is mentioned about once in every thirteen verses in the New Testament.  Every chapter in 1 Thessalonians ends with the hope of Christ's return.  We who personally know Christ, have been saved, delivered from the awful judgment of God, and have been given an eternal hope and a home in heaven.

Who would not desire that change in their destiny?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

3 basic needs in communicating your Faith

Read Colossians 4.

The Apostle Paul was a prisoner in Rome, but he was not alone.  A company of no less than eight men are mentioned in this chapter who were there ministering to his needs.  Embracing and then proclaiming the message that all, Gentile and Jew, may have their sins forgiven by faith in Jesus initially caused his arrest in Jerusalem.  But he never complained, and he never stopped communicating his faith.

Through his letters, he kept on encouraging others to be bold in sharing the gospel of Christ.  Here, he admonished the Colossians with three basic needs in order to be faithful witnesses for Jesus.

1. Be persistent in your prayers (v.2)
Specifically, by name, who are those you are praying to receive Christ?  This is a spiritual battle and requires perseverance.  "Continue", "be devoted", never give up in pleading to the Lord on their behalf that they will be drawn to Jesus.  "And he (Jesus) told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart." (Luke 18:1)  Why keep praying when we do not see any change?  "Being watchful" and staying alert with anticipation is what praying in faith is all about.  And, "with thanksgiving" means that we are expressing gratitude for what God is already doing, even though we may not see it.

2. Be wise in your walk (v.5)
People who do not know Jesus are constantly watching our lives to see if we are genuine in our faith.  Every interaction with people can either open a door for the gospel or slam it shut.  How we need God's wisdom to know when to speak and what to say at those moments of opportunity.  A good deal of applied wisdom is in the use of our time.  Are we intentionally investing time with those who do not know Jesus to see if and when their hearts will be open?

3. Be seasoned in your speech (v.6)
Not only is the message important but we must pay attention to how we communicate.  The tone of one's manner within a relationship may make all the difference.  People need to know that we love them.  Paul instructed that we are to always "be gracious".  In a world that is too often rude and crude, gracious people can gain a hearing.  Then, the Apostle added that our speech needs to also be "seasoned with salt".  An appropriate dash of salt can make things more appetizing.  Salt will make one thirsty.  A great example of verse 6 in action is found in John 4, as Jesus spoke with the woman at the well.  What she heard motivated her to want to know more.