August 25: Jesus Makes a Difference!

Read 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

“Pivotal circumstances” are those events, situations, encounters in your life that proved to be a real turning point.  And, since we are talking about spiritual issues, these pivotal circumstances somehow served as catalysts of change or impetuses for increased faith.

I suppose the first of those circumstances in my life were the investments of Mrs. Shook.  She came to our public school offering Bible teaching and challenging us to memorize Scripture passages.  Although she made the gospel clear, it did not yet fully resonate in my life.

But then, when I was 14, a neighbor clearly shared the message of Jesus with me.  The Spirit of God convinced me of my need for the Savior.  On that day, I was born again.  A new magnetic north was established in my life; one from which I still take my compass readings today.

God used Paul’s preaching of the gospel to have a similar turning point impact on those in Thessalonica.  As a result of their encounter with the person of Christ and the message of the gospel, these men and women:

  • Turned from idol worship (v. 9)
  • Had begun to serve the living God (v. 9)
  • Demonstrated service characterized by faith, hope, and love (v. 3)
  • Were growing in Christlikeness (v. 6)
  • Lived exemplary lives (v. 7)
  • Proclaimed Christ in surrounding areas (v. 8)
  • Waited expectantly for the return of Jesus (v. 10)

To be sure, their lives were radically different as a result of hearing the gospel.  Because of the grace of God, they would never be the same.

Today, if you are present for the church picnic/baptism, you will hear some of the stories of people who encountered Jesus and who have been changed forever.  I trust you will listen with great fascination as God is honored!

When, where, through whom did you hear the gospel of Jesus?  How is your life different as a result?  Whether you were 4, 34, or 84 when it happened, God has designed that it would be pivotal circumstance in your life!

sbk

May 28: Characteristics of Good Words

Read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

Your words are powerful!  We have reminded ourselves of that reality these past few days.  Though seemingly small and insignificant, they actually wield much power, like a small rudder that steers a huge ship or a tiny bit that controls a horse weighing hundreds of pounds.  Your words can either refresh or suffocate.  You must be careful, then, in your word choices.

The result, however, is not an ear-tickling dialog in which you simply tell others what they want to hear.  As Paul recounts his ministry with the Thessalonians, he makes that clear.  You and I must keep in mind that our words have the potential to impact eternity for other people!  Look at some of the characteristics of Paul’s communication with the people he loved.

His words focused on the gospel (v. 2).  Paul had been commissioned with the message of Christ.  Even though he realized that the gospel created animosity and opposition, he still shared it in a clear, passionate way.  Even though your call to tell others about Jesus may not have been as dramatic as that of Paul’s on the road to Damascus in Acts 9, it is no less real.  So, let me ask, is the gospel message a regular part of your vocabulary?  Talk about words that have life-giving potential . . . those do!

His words stemmed from pure motives (v. 3).  Paul did not string together his words in order to trick his listeners.  He did not attempt to trick people into following Christ.  He was not leveraging his words in order to gain access to their money.  Instead, his sole objective was to draw them into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.  How about your words?  Do they seem to be one thing on the surface with an ulterior motive underneath?  Pure motives must drive your speech.

His words were designed to please God (v. 4).  Paul understood that the God of heaven was the ultimate audience in all that he said.  Rather than flattering people and get them to smile, his purpose was to evoke a divine smile.  Wouldn’t it be a shame if your words caused others to laugh and to think highly of you, but they did nothing to draw them into a relationship with Christ?  Wouldn’t it be tragic if your words caused others to think highly of you, but they did nothing to endear people to God?  You speak to please an audience of one.

sbk

September 24: God’s Will . . . Sanctification

Read 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

At times, discerning God’s will isn’t nearly as hard as we might think.  We don’t have to spend long periods of time in prayer and fasting in hopes of discovering the obscure.  We don’t need to seek the counsel of others who, we think, have insights to which we have no access.  It isn’t necessary for us to ask for some kind of miraculous sign that will point us in a direction we couldn’t have otherwise known.  No, sometimes God makes His will abundantly clear, and He does so through His written word:

“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God . . .”  (1 Thess. 4:3-5)

God desires our sanctification . . . that we are set apart from sin; especially regarding our sexuality.  Meanwhile, here are other clear passages:

“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality . . .”  (Eph. 5:3a)

“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.”  (Matt. 5:28, 29a)

God’s will is clear.  He wants you and me to live lives of sexual purity.  He wants our actions to be characterized by self-control, holiness, and honor.  His plan is that we steer clear of passionate lust.

But while His will in this arena of our lives is clearly expressed in His word, it is clouded by our culture.  Even while I was accessing an innocent Internet site while writing these words, I was invited to view pictures of singles in Wooster.  Try standing at the check-out at Wal Mart, and the magazine covers will invite you to compromise.  Television and the movie industry seem to pepper even “good” entertainment with suggestive language and scenes that can be burned on the hard drive of our minds.

Before we place God’s call to sexual purity in thought and action under the category of “impossible,” we must ask ourselves:

  • How committed to God’s will do I really want to be?
  • What radical steps am I really willing to take?
  • Which thought patterns do I really need to take captive?

sbk

May 29: Divine Affirmation

Read 1 Thessalonians 1:1-2:6

Each of us loves affirmation.  What kind means the most to you?

Paul must have been affirmed by the visible fruit of his ministry in Thessalonica.  After all, he had seen peoples’ lives and priorities change.  The kinds of things they gave themselves to as a result of his preaching was different.  He had seen evidence with his own eyes that his gospel message had deeply impacted their lives.  That visible fruit that must have affirmed him greatly.

Paul could have been affirmed by audible words of value and praise that the Thessalonians offered to him.  “Thank you so much!”  “God used you!”  “My life is different because of you!” He likely heard expressions like those.  And, if he was like most of us, it must have felt good to hear them.

But while visible fruit and audible words must have given him a good feeling about his ministry, there was a higher calling and a greater affirmation he sought.  He expresses it in 2:4:

“On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.”

The two sentences of that verse help greatly those who rely on visible fruit or audible words.  The Lord had entrusted him with the gospel.  As a result, Paul sought to please the Lord.  Though the apostle must have yearned for fruit, he would be no less affirmed if no one had responded.  Had he sensitively, faithfully, and accurately conveyed the message?  If so, God was pleased.

What if no one had offered audible words of praise and affirmation?  It made not difference, because that was not the kind of thing he sought.  If God was pleased, no human pat on the back was needed.

As you yearn for affirmation, be careful that you do not place too much value on visible fruit or audible words.  There is something greater still.  Instead, seek divine pleasure that comes from knowing you did/said that which blessed the Lord.

sbk

May 16: Verbalize Your Appreciation

Read 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Appreciation, when it is properly expressed, is two-dimensional.  You probably recognized that in verse 2 of today’s reading:

“We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers.  We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul appreciated the evidence of life change he observed in the Thessalonian believers (horizontal), and he expressed gratitude to God because of it (vertical).

Assuming you recognize the blessing of specific people in your life, do you see the vertical dimension to that?  They are gifts from God.

You can see that in a spouse.  Remember Genesis 2:18?  God said, ““It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”  He made Eve and brought her to Adam as a gift.

You can see that in a child.  Psalm 127:3 expresses it like this:  “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.”  If you have children, they are a gift from God.

In fact, according to James 1:17, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”  This reality does not only apply to God’s material provision or His supply of good health.  Even those people in our lives that bless us are part of His wonderful care.

Who are the people you appreciate most?  Pause and thank God for them.  In whom do you see evidences of life change wrought by the hand of God?  Take time to express gratitude to your heavenly Father.  Make sure that your appreciation is expressed to the One who is ultimately responsible.

But don’t stop there.  Do what Paul did here in these lines.  Express to the other people as well how you feel about them.  Let them know that you see them as a gift from God.  Make sure that you point to specific ways in which their work of faith, labor of love, and steadfastness of hope have intersected with your life in a meaningful way.

sbk

November 14: Send the Best

Read Philippians 2:19-24 and 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:5

Years ago, Ed Goodman, marketing executive of Hallmark Cards, Inc., developed a slogan for the greeting card company: “When you care enough to send the very best.” This slogan has forced Hallmark to maintain a focus on quality over the decades. While the slogan may have been coined by Goodman, it was certainly practiced by the apostle Paul 1900 years before Goodman.

God had used the apostle, you see, to establish churches in locations like Philippi and Thessalonica. Men like Silas and Timothy had been along with him…Silas seemingly as a fully vested partner, while Timothy was more of an intern. Their visits to these two regions had been cut short by persecution. Meanwhile, they left fledgling congregations behind.

Driven by concern for the welfare of these churches, Paul not only wrote letters, but he also planned visits. First, he tried repeatedly to make his way back to Thessalonica, but Satan hindered his attempts. Though he yearned to visit his dear friends in Philippi, his Roman imprisonment prevented him. In both instances, his longing to see the churches he had founded was strong, but situations made it impossible.

But even though he couldn’t personally go, he did the next best thing. He sent a representative. This was not just anyone. No, he “cared enough to send the very best,” so he sent Timothy. He sent this young man into whom he had been pouring his life. And, by the time Paul wrote Philippians, Paul said of his disciple, “I have no one else like him” (Phil. 2:20a). Timothy was a one of a kind. He was the best Paul had to offer!

What was it that set Timothy apart from others? What kind of qualities should you seek to develop in yourself and in those whom you are investing? Paul summarizes them in Philippians 2:20, 21 by saying that Timothy “takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” In other words, Timothy was Christ-centered. As such, he had learned to place a higher value on the interests of others than on his own. He had learned the “J-O-Y” principle or priorities…Jesus…then others…then you.

How will you demonstrate that principle today?

sbk

Rapid-Fire Instruction

Read 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

Parents are leaving a child for the evening.  While they are spending a few hours away, the child will stay at home…by himself/herself…for the first time.  Typically, the child has spent the night with grandparents, a friend, or…in a pinch…a “babysitter” has come in.  The final conversation before the parents head out the door is an important one.  Chances are, you have been on one end or the other of this conversation.  It includes rapid-fire instruction and reminders about stove use, snack consumption, television and computer rules, teeth brushing, bedtime, and more.

As Paul concludes this first letter to spiritual children in Thessalonica, he closes with some rapid-fire instruction as well.  In these few verses, Paul let’s loose with a barrage of reminders that cover many different facets of the Christian life.  Perhaps those rapid-fire thoughts came at you so quickly that you weren’t able to consider them.  In broad stroke categories, I suppose we could say that Paul is concerned that we understand…

1.                  How to relate to others (vv. 12-15).  There are statements here that tell us how to relate to spiritual leaders as well as to those who are lazy, scared, not so strong, and even to those who wrong us.

2.                  How to respond to circumstances (vv. 16-18).  Of course, prayer is always appropriate.  But when we realize that God is in control, joy and thanksgiving should be can be our dominant responses independent of what is happening around us.

3.                  How to retain spiritual energy (vv. 19-22).  Be careful!  Not everything is wholesome and spiritually sound.  But don’t allow your spiritual caution to become a wet blanket placed on even that which the Spirit of God wants to do in your life.

4.                  How to remain dependent upon God (vv. 23, 24).  While you play an important role in your spiritual development, God is not a mere spectator.  He is the one who faithfully transforms.  Don’t try to do the Christian life without Him.

Which of those did you need to hear and respond to today?

sbk