August 3 – His story: Man’s rescue – Today?

Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Almost eight years ago I wrote:

“The fact that I am actually writing these thoughts on October 22, 2011 is significant…and, for some, shocking.  Maybe you are aware of it, but a radio preacher had predicted that the rapture would happen yesterday.  (The rapture is the return of Jesus in the air to gather together His followers and take them to heaven.)  But I am still here on earth and able to write.  The rapture did not take place.  We can chalk this recent date prediction up with scores of others that didn’t come true.”

I guess I am a bit cynical when it comes to such predictions.  I don’t believe that God intended for us to be able to pinpoint the rapture.  But, in my cynicism, there is a reality that I need to embrace more wholeheartedly:

God wants Christians from every generation to anticipate the imminent return of His Son.

I am not sure that many of us live with that anticipation.  Today, generations after the first coming of Christ, we are put to shame by the mindset of those in the first generation after His ascension.  Thessalonian believers so embraced the imminence of the rapture that they thought believers who had died would miss out!  They considered this event to be so near that they had not even calculated in the possibility that someone could die before it happened.  To them, it was clear that it would happen in their lifetime.

At the other end of the spectrum, are we marked by a mindset that suggests that the rapture, though certain, will not happen in our lifetime?  If so, we are missing out on a key biblical truth that motivates us today towards personal purity and evangelistic passion.

But, this passage outlines events that could happen TODAY:

    •          Christ will descend with a shout, an angelic voice, and a trumpet sound.
    •          The dead in Christ will be bodily resurrected.
    •          Living believers will be caught up with them.
    •          We will be with Christ forever.

Man’s rescue includes an evacuation plan.  It could be today!

Steve Kern

February 23 – We are ALL IN!

Read 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 and 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Nineteen years ago God led me to discontinue my career as an elementary teacher. At the time I had no idea what was next; He didn’t lead me INTO my next step right away. About a year later I saw a posting about a position in the church office and thought it could be an interesting step to take until I knew where He was leading me more permanently. I began as an assistant to the Pastor of Spiritual Growth, doing a variety of tasks that enabled the pastor to do what only he could do. Leave the details to me; I do details well. And very soon I was hooked. I felt a fulfillment I hadn’t experienced to that level and I found areas where God could use my skills to His glory. My job has evolved over the years as the ministry at Grace Church has grown and changed. I am now an assistant on the Next Steps Team, working closely with Pastor Steve Kern. I still find myself amazed that God can use my love of organization and detail to accomplish His work. In 1 Corinthians 12:12 we are told,  “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” I feel blessed to use the gifts that God has given me to help our church and our Next Steps Team be as effective as possible. I’m all in!

Someone who enjoys breaking a project down into the tasks that need to be done and THEN seeing that those get completed could easily get lost in the details. However, it is the PEOPLE who make this job so exciting. Interacting with someone who is taking the next step in their faith brings a smile to my face – being baptized, joining a group, reading their Bible, or even taking that step of faith in accepting Christ as their savior. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 tells us to “encourage one another and build each other up,” This interaction allows me to encourage people and point them to Jesus.

As a part of the Body of Christ, God has uniquely gifted you to serve Him and to encourage others on their faith journey as well. How are you using those gifts to help others take their next steps? Is there someone you need to invite to your small group? Can you encourage a friend to take the step of baptism?   Maybe God is prompting you to share your story of life change? Join me as we influence those around us to take their next steps!

Sharon Karhan

September 20: Open Letters – Dear Human Approval

Read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

Dear Human Approval,

You are a hard task master. In our desire for your applause, we have pushed ourselves to the limits and then listened for your response:

  • … At times, you seemed to offer only criticism rather than compliments. The only thing people seemed to notice was how we could have done better. Don’t you know how important your “thumbs up” is to us?
  • …Sometimes, you said nothing. There was only silence instead of recognition. No one voiced anything, good or bad. Didn’t you see how hard we worked and how noteworthy the outcome was?
  • …Yes, there were times when you acknowledged our efforts and praised our efforts. Still, we often yearned for more than you delivered. And even what approval you offered felt like pressure from you that we had to deliver even more and better next time.

You have exhausted and disappointed us!

So, we are trading you in. Like the apostle Paul in today’s reading, we are choosing God’s approval rather than yours (v. 4). We have so often found that our motives get all messed up when we perform for the wrong audience (v. 3). So, we are intentionally deciding to pursue His praise and not that of people (v. 6). Even when the human opposition and criticism seem most threatening, we refuse to change our message or our response (v. 2).

Instead, today and from this day forward, we are playing to an audience of one – the God of heaven. Although we don’t always sense His immediate response, we know that it is ultimately before Him and before Him alone that we will one day stand (2 Cor. 5:10). It is His approval we seek. It is His “Well done, good and faithful servant!” we long to hear. He is the One who calls us to give our best while also recognizing that our inherent abilities may differ from those with whom we have so often compared ourselves (Matt. 25:14-30).

My prayer: Father, forgive me of my insecurity that has caused me to pursue the applause of people. I give myself from this day forward to pleasing you and you alone.

Steve Kern

July 31: Don’t Steal Emotionally

Read 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

A new home was being constructed in my neighborhood recently. The builder brought in heavy equipment to prepare the land. Next he poured the basement, and soon the home was framed. In 1 Thessalonians 5:11, the author, Paul, tells us to “encourage one another and build each other up…” The term he uses is the same for “building up” a home. It wasn’t until the builder in my neighborhood “built up” the walls that I could see how the homeowner had planned the space. It took time and steps to get the home to that point.

ConstructionMuch like a construction project isn’t dreamt of, designed, constructed, and certainly not paid for in one day, we believers are in process too! The book of 1 Thessalonians was written to a group of believers. Paul challenged these people to further growth in their faith by reminding them of how to treat others. It wasn’t just their personal growth, or even their relationship with the Lord that Paul focused on in these verses… it was their treatment of each other.

The eighth commandment—“You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15)—reminds us to give to others rather than take away. So what are some things we might be “taking away” from others? Confidence? Joy? Are the words we are using building up or tearing down? Are we even aware of how and what we say, and how those statements affect others? Are we careful with our comparisons and self-controlled to stop gossip?

We can obey God in this commandment by being a part of other believers’ building processes! What is one brick of “building up” that we can lay today? Let somebody know when you see them following God’s will and way. Share a kind word. Prepare a meal or help a friend with childcare. Find a way to encourage someone, rather than tear them down. Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica was written to believers to build them up and keep them faithful. Maybe a good, old-fashioned letter would do the same for a  friend or family member in your life.

-Sacha Kauffman

 

 

July 27: Resist Sin

Read 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5

This past week, we have looked a little closer at God’s commandment of “You should not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). One principle to always remember and live by that can help protect us from this, is setting Godly boundaries. God instructs us in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 to avoid sexual immorality, that we should control our body in a way that is holy and set apart.

When I was a teenager, I always heard those wiser and deeper in faith say to “set boundaries that will honor the Lord” and now as an adult, I find myself telling close friends to set boundaries in order to not give the enemy a foot hold, as Ephesians 4:27 states.

I look at today’s culture and I am saddened by how accessible everything is. Most of today’s youth are using social media to explore sexuality, one in three women and 72% of men are watching pornography. It is available everywhere and when looking with a spiritual eye, I am confident it is the enemy at work. His goal is not for you to turn your back on God but for you to forget Him and when we give into sin, we do just that; we forget the cross.

God’s word clearly states that it is within His will or His desire, for our lives to not look like the world around us. What is that to you? Your world may look different than mine. I may not struggle with pornography, or experiencing sexuality with someone else, outside of marriage, but I know that some do, and it can be a struggle that leads us down a sinful path and can ultimately kill us. James 1 states “but each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (NASB).

God’s instruction in 1 Thessalonians 3 is not to cause us to think we cannot have fun or enjoy life, but to protect us from spiritual death. When we give into sin and allow it to take us down a path, we find ourselves putting a wall between the Lord and ourselves, and though He loves us still, He wants to protect us from building that wall of separation. Even for a moment. So take God’s instructions and set boundaries that will sustain holiness.

KL

December 10: The Coming of the Lord

Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11

I missed a bus once.  I was at college in Cleveland and decided to come home on the Greyhound on a Friday night.  That all went well enough.  It was the return trip that was problematic.  I went to the bus station and sat in the car with Celeste, expecting to hear some kind of major announcement audible to me in the parking lot…an announcement kind of like you hear at the gate at the airport:  “Bus #347 to Cleveland is now boarding.”  Unfortunately, as Celeste and I chatted, a bus…my bus…pulled away.

Believers in the first-century city of Thessalonica were fearful that some of their friends had also “missed the bus.”  Apparently, they were familiar with the promise Jesus had given in the Upper Room before the crucifixion:  “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”  They understood that Jesus would one day return to take His followers to be with Him.  In fact, even 2000 years ago, they even viewed that event as imminent.  What messed with their minds, however, was the grievous reality that some from their number had died.  To them it was clear.  Their loved ones had missed the bus.  They would not be taken to be with Christ, right?

Into that context of grief, Paul wrote words of hope in 1 Thessalonians 4.  He assured them (and us) that there was no reason to grieve hopelessly over those who, as followers of Jesus, had passed away.  They would indeed be participants in this event that we now refer to as “the rapture.”  The fact is that their transformed and glorified bodies will be the first to rise, followed by those who are alive at His coming.  Neither those believers who are living nor those who have passed will miss out on His return!

While grief is a natural part of a loved one’s passing, there is joyous, encouraging, and comforting hope in the face of the death of a follower of Christ.  That hope is the anticipation of the resurrection of a whole, healthy, and glorified body at Christ’s return at the rapture.

sbk

June 20: The Rapture

Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:4

One of the most intriguing book series I have ever read was Left Behind. It was so fascinating to read about the end times through the perspective of the people left on earth. While it keeps your attention throughout, it kind of causes your heart to sink knowing they are going through the Great Tribulation; the fear they must be facing!

Matthew 24 tells us that Jesus will come back like a thief in the night; we don’t know the date or time and some people will be un-prepared unprepared. First Thessalonians 4 takes us through what’s called the Rapture. We are told that those who have “fallen asleep” will be taken up first. Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus often referred to death as “falling asleep” which only alludes to them awakening. The ones that have died will rise to meet Jesus in the clouds and then the rest of us on earth will be taken up as well. We don’t know how this is going to look, all we know is that it will come when we least expect it.

Although death is often feared, we, as believers, should not fear because we know what our future holds. Paul even tells the church of Thessalonica in verse 18 that,  after this account, they should comfort one another with these words. Death should be a celebration because we will be absent from our earthly bodies and present with the Lord and that is a most joyous feeling!

Are you ready? If the Rapture were to happen today, would you be left behind? Are you afraid of being left behind? Do you want these words pertaining to the Rapture to be an encouragement to you? You can do this by trusting in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. Having Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior will give you so much more assurance. Instead of fearing the end,  you can look forward to it, knowing that, in the blink of an eye, you will be face to face with your Savior.

jdl

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