Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Embracing the Mess

 

“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”

1 Thessalonians 5:14

 

Many of us, in the church today, fail to interact with our fellow church members. As I’ve mentioned before, we make in our aim to get in and out of worship in as little time as possible. And, as a result, we don’t truly get to know those who surround us in the pews each week.

 

This can lead to false impressions. From the outside, it seems that everyone else has it all together. We, then, compare that impression with own circumstances, which we know to be a mess.

 

However, when we truly get to know our fellow believers, we find that their lives are a mess as well. We find that they too have problems and difficult circumstances in life. And this can affect us in one of two ways.

 

For some, it’s further reason to separate themselves from the body of Christ. Because their lives are messy, we assume that the faith professed by these people is either weak or non-existent. And it turns us off to the Church, and perhaps to the Christian faith.

 

However, as believers, this reality should create within us a desire to minister to our fellow believers. It should create within us a desire to bless our fellow believers. And, in the passage above, Paul told the Thessalonians how they could do just that.

 

He points out that some, in the church, are prone to idleness. They’re undisciplined and disorderly. They’re slothful and inactive.  And Paul encourages the church to admonish, or to warn, such people.

 

Others are fainthearted. They are disheartened or feebleminded. And they were to encourage such people.

 

Still others are weak. And, while this word can refer to those who are without strength or feeble when it comes to the body, or those who are weak in mind, in power, or in significance, they were to be helped. The body of Christ was to do what it could to assist them.

 

The last phrase, I believe, is the key. Paul tells the church to be patient with them all. Whatever their struggle, whatever their weakness, the church was to be enduring or long-suffering with them.

 

In the same way, as we encounter those in the body of Christ with particular needs or flaws, we’re to bear with them. We are to minister to them in their need by offering both correction and encouragement. And we’re to suffer alongside them as long as the need persists.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Peaceful Lives

 “Be at peace among yourselves.”

1 Thessalonians 5:13 ESV


One thing the church is not known for is peace. And when I say this, I’m not referring to the church’s relationships with those of other belief systems. Nor am I talking about actions carried out by the church in ages past, like the Crusades.


I’m referring to the relationships of those within the church. I’m referring to the life of its members. And I think we can agree that it is often anything but peaceful.


There has been some friction in every church of which I’ve been a part, either as a member or a pastor. Some, of course, are worse than others. However, this is true nevertheless.


We can simply chalk this up to our sinful nature, and we wouldn’t be wrong in doing so. Yet this doesn’t excuse the ugly reality that confronts us. We are called to do better.


As we see above, Paul called the members of this congregation to be at peace, or to live peaceably, with one another. Each member was to do his part in this endeavor. He couldn’t, of course, control the actions or the attitudes of others. But, as much as it depended on him, he could be at peace with others.


Paul stated as much in Romans 12:18. While the context of this passage isn’t the church, he reminded the people that it wasn’t their place to take revenge. When they were wronged, they were instead to leave this to the Lord.


He encouraged them to repay evil with good. This, you see, is what it means to live in peace with others. It means extending grace to those who wrong us. It means putting an end to the cycle of vengeance and allowing God to handle it according to his will.


If this isn’t reciprocated we’re, at the very least, testifying to the grace of Jesus by our actions. He, you recall, didn’t seek revenge against those who rejected and harmed him. He, instead, died in their place, paying the penalty of their sin, that they might have peace with God through faith in him.


However, if everyone lives in this way, what a blessing for all. In this way, we each receive grace from our neighbor. And, in this way, the church’s reputation of mutilating our own comes to an end.


This isn’t, of course, something we can do of our own accord. Having received the grace of Jesus, who established us in a state of peace with God, we naturally begin to desire peace with others. We naturally begin to live peaceably with others. And when we fall short, we seek the forgiveness of God that is found in Christ.

Monday, July 05, 2021

The Blessing God Intended


“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”

1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 ESV

 

Many of us, specifically here in the United States, have an extreme libertarian mindset. We believe that we can and should be completely independent, free of any guidance and oversight. In fact, we tend to buck any authority that is placed over us.

 

This is often true within the church, as well. Many of us, as believers, do not believe we need any oversight. We do not believe we need anyone to teach us. And we do not believe we need any accountability whatsoever.

 

I remember being told by a church member, long ago, that Christians ideally need no pastors. He seemed to believe that they are only necessary as a majority of Christians do not engage with the Word of God as they should, nor serve as they are called. This, however, contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture.

 

We are told, quite plainly, that pastors are God’s gift to the church (Ephesians 4:11). They’re given to equip the saints for the work of ministry and for the building up of the body of Christ. And this tells us that they are, in fact, good and necessary.

 

In the above passage, Paul calls on the church to respect those who labor among them, who are over them in the Lord, and who admonish them. They were to esteem these leaders very highly in love because of their work. They were to be esteemed not because of who they were, but because of what they did. After all, according to Jesus, those who are greatest in the kingdom of God are those who serve (Matthew 23:11).

 

I realize that, because I’m a pastor, this may seem rather self-serving. But this isn’t a case of someone in authority telling those under his authority to submit. This is true for all of us, even pastors.

 

Even we need those whom God has placed over us, who admonish us, and who labor among us. We need the encouragement given to us by others who are servant leaders. And we need to be continually equipped, as we continue in our service.

 

For this reason, we must not buck those who are over us in the Lord. We must not think of them as unnecessary. We’re, instead, to receive them as a blessing of God.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Living in Light of Jesus' Return

 

“But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”

1 Thessalonians 5:4-11

 

Many of us, who profess faith in Christ, live a contradiction. While we confess faith in Jesus, and while we confess faith in his promises, we live like those who surround us. We live like those who have no faith in Jesus whatsoever.

 

Our life is not one of repentance, nor is it one of faith. It’s a life of sin and rebellion. It’s a life of depravity and immorality.

 

Earlier in the fifth chapter of 1 Thessalonians, Paul discussed the return of Christ. He recounted the fact that we do not know the day of Jesus’ return. But he drew a distinction between people of faith and those who are without.

 

This day, he said, should not surprise us. And it should not surprise us because we’re not of the night or of the darkness. In other words, we aren’t living in unrepentance. We are not living in sin. Although we still commit acts of sin, our life is not one of ongoing rebellion against the Lord.

 

For this reason, he calls us to keep awake. He calls us to remain sober. And he calls us to do so because God has not destined us to wrath, but to salvation.

 

In this way, Paul is calling us to live in light of Jesus’ return. After all, his return is our hope. And, believing his promise, we’re to live in this world expecting his coming.

 

What this means for us, as believers, is living a life of constant contrition and faith. It means doing so, knowing that he died on the cross for our salvation. It means doing so, knowing that he gave his life to free us from sin and its consequences and to bestow upon us redemption and life.

 

What does this mean for us, practically? It means a constant acknowledgment and confession of our sin. It means looking always to Jesus for forgiveness and mercy. And it means, by his grace, living according to his will.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Ready or Not

 

“Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief.”

1 Thessalonians 5:1-4 ESV

 

The end will one day come. Jesus will one day return. And this will be a time of blessing for believers in Jesus.  But, at the same time, it will be a time of judgment for those who do not trust in him.

 

However, that being said, we don’t know when this will take place. Jesus stated very clearly that no one knows the day nor the hour of his return. And, for this reason, he taught that we must we watchful. He taught that we must anticipate his coming.

 

What we do know is that it will be sudden. Paul, in the above passage, tells us that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. He compares it to labor pains coming upon a pregnant woman. When people feel that all is well, when they believe that they are secure, this day will abruptly come upon them.

 

That being said, there is a distinction between believers and unbelievers in this regard. We are not in darkness for that day to startle us. Even though Christians are equally unaware of when the Lord will return, his coming should not surprise us.

 

It should not surprise us because we are expecting it. It should not surprise us because we are watching for it. It should not surprise us because the return of Jesus is our hope.

 

We long for it as, at that time, our sinful nature will be no more. We long for it as, at that time, the consequences of sin will be a thing of the past. And we long for it as it marks the beginning of an eternity in the presence of the Lord.

 

Unbelievers, however, will be caught completely off guard. When they feel that all is right with the world, sudden destruction will come upon them. When they feel that they have all they need, the wrath of God will fall upon them.

 

Trusting in Jesus, then, we will remain watchful. We’ll anticipate the Lord’s return with a confident expectation. We’ll long for that day because of the blessing it will bring.

 

It will also motivate us to share the gospel with those who are perishing. It will motivate us to share our hope with those who have none. It will motivate us to do so that they also might look to Jesus in faith and receive the grace and mercy available to all who believe in him.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Why This Church?

 “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.”

Titus 2:1 ESV


What is it that draws you to a particular church? What is it that convinces you to remain with a particular church? And what is it that leads you to leave your church for another?


I realize these are heavy questions. But I believe they’re important for us to consider. They’re important to consider because they reveal what we believe to be the most important aspects of church life.


As we look at the above passage, the word that stands out to us is doctrine. As Paul instructs a young pastor, named Titus, he tells him to teach what accords with sound doctrine. In other words, his focus and his mission was to faithfully and accurately teach the Word of God.


For most, in the church today, doctrine has become a dirty word. Doctrine is synonymous with boring. It’s synonymous with a dead and a dry spiritual atmosphere. And, for this reason, people shun doctrine.


What leads many of us to join a particular church or to leave a particular church, today, is not doctrine. It may be that our family goes to that particular church. It may be that grandpa shingled the roof of the church building so long ago. It may be loyalty to a particular pastor, or our hatred of another. It might be the worship style. It might be that you hate a structured liturgy, and prefer a worship service that is more informal. Or, perhaps, the opposite is true. You hate the perceived lack of reverence you see in so many churches today, and you long for that which is more structured and seemingly respectful. It might also be the music. You may hate hymns, believing them to be old-fashioned. You may hate music that’s played on the organ or simply on a piano because it seems dull. And you prefer the upbeat contemporary music, with drums, electric guitar, bass, and incredible vocals. Or, once again, this modern music may seem to you to lack reverence, and so you are drawn to the old hymns. It might be the size of the youth program. It might be the activities that are offered. 


There are a whole variety of things that either draw us to a church or that lead us to leave it behind. However, the thing that should lead us to join or to leave a church is nothing less than doctrine. After all, doctrine is simply right teaching. It’s teaching that’s in accordance with the Word of God. 


Please don’t misunderstand me, when I say this. Each of us is certainly entitled to our preferences. But if the choice is between a church that caters to my preferences while the doctrine is questionable, and another where the doctrine is good but not all of my whims are satisfied, I’ll choose the church with right doctrine every time. I’ll choose the church that is going to faithfully proclaim to me, as well as to my family, the Word of God so that we are sustained and built up in the faith.


Perhaps you are fortunate enough to have found both. However, let us never forget what is truly important. More than any other element of the worship service or of church life, it’s doctrine that must be prioritized.


Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Heaven and Earth

 

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ESV

 

It’s interesting to hear the views that many express when it comes to the afterlife. It’s even more interesting when these people are professing Christians. And it quickly becomes clear that we’re missing something.

 

So many of us, today, tend to think of our eternal existence as something that is purely spiritual in nature. We believe that, when we die, our spirit goes to heaven to be with Christ. And that’s the end of it.

 

When it comes right down to it, we’re unsure of what eternal life will look like. Some view it as an endless church service. Others imagine that we’ll be forever sitting on a cloud, strumming our harp. But, whatever the case, we imagine ourselves to be spirits. We don’t envision any physical aspect of this existence whatsoever.

 

Although it’s true that, when we die in faith, our spirit goes to be with Christ, this is not how it will be forever. Our existence in eternity will not be purely spiritual. We will exist as the physical and the spiritual beings that God created us to be.

 

We see, in the above passage, that those who have passed on in faith are indeed with Christ. They are with Christ, away from the body. And, when Jesus returns, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.

 

At that time, Paul tells us, they will rise from the grave. In other words, their spirit will rejoin their now perfected body. And those of us who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the air. We will join them with our body as well.

 

We learn from this, as well as from other passages of Scripture, that our eternal existence will take place in the body. It will take place in the body, which has been delivered from sin. And we’ll live forever in a physical world.

 

The difference between the world in which we live now and the one in which we will live is that, as there will be no more sin, the consequences of sin will be no more. Suffering and death will be a thing of the past. And we will always be with the Lord.