Tuesday, November 27, 2007

II Thessalonians 1:5-12


5 All this is evidence that God's judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. 6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.

11 With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. 12 We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The righteous will suffer and the wicked will seemingly get away with their wickedness. The trio makes it clear here that those who have chosen to be with the Lord will be with Him forever and those who have chosen not to be with the Lord will be shut out of His presence and glory forever--just as they have chosen.

It's interesting that the big issue given here is the "presence" of God. I contend that hell is best defined by the absence of God and heaven is defined as being in the presence of God.

Then they pray for the Thessalonians in this regard: FIRST--that our God may make you worthy of His calling. This is a constant prayer in the New Testament. We have been called by the God of gods and we want to walk worthy of that high calling. NOTE the prayer is that "God may make you worthy", not that you figure out how to become worthy. This is grace at its very best!

SECOND--that by His power He may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness. Now their prayer is that God may exert His power to bring about every good desire you have in your heart. I love this one. So much of the time we have great intentions, but are unable to produce it. They pray that this might be produced through the power of God, Himself.

THIRD--that by His power He may bring to fuition your every deed that is prompted by faith. And not only producing your good desires, but that every deed you endeavor that is motivated by faith will also become a reality.

All of this is so that the name of Jesus may be reflected in you and you in Him. Now that's the highest privilege of all time--that your life might be a reflection of the person of Jesus. This brings to mind a couple of verses in the letter to the believers in Philippi. It says there, "I want to know Christ-yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead."

To reflect Jesus fully is to reflect His suffering and the power of His resurrection.

II Thssalonians 1:1-4


1 Paul, Silas and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ; 2 Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing 4 Therefore, among God's churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.

Here we have the second letter from the trio to the followers of Jesus in Thessalonica. Their instructions and prayers in the first letter seem to be coming true of these new believers in Jesus.

NOTE "your faith is growing more and more" and "the love all of you have for one another is increasing". The gratefulness to the Lord has nothing to do with how much they have grown nor how much more they have learned. They are not enthused about their latest building project, their choir or their massive offerings. They were most grateful to God for their faith growing and their love for one another increasing.

Today we are all excited about the wrong things! We must learn something from this. We must focus our gratefulness and enthusiasm on growing our faith in Jesus and increasing our love for one another. THEN AND ONLY THEN do you have something to share with others in this world that is supernatural! The Lord is giving me the eyes to see this among the fellowship of Jesus with whom I hang out. I am seeing a growing faith and an increasing love that is thrilling me most. Each time we gather together I am sensing this "more and more" idea within the fellowship. Now that is what encourages me most.

Now NOTE the context in which the "more and more" takes place. For the Thessalonians it is in the midst of trials and persecutions in their lives. They found the key to growing faith and increasing love for one another. It is perseverance!

Perseverance has the idea of hanging in there. When you are in the position of hanging in there in the midst of great difficulty, you'll see your faith growing and your love increasing for one another. So, what are we to do? Pray for more trouble and problems? No, trouble and problems will be provided automatically. What we must do it TAKE THE TIME, no, MAKE THE TIME alone with the Lord to learn how to grow your faith and trust in Him. And, MAKE THE TIME to be with one another-log some hours together-in order to set the proper context of opportunity to learn to love one another. There is no substitute for investing yourself in growing your faith and increasing your love for one another.

So, where are you spending your time? Are you wasting it yourself or are you investing in your personal relationship with Jesus and your relationships with your brothers and sisters?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I Thessalonians 5:16-28


As we close this first letter from Paul, Silas and Timothy to the followers of Jesus in Thessalonica, there are some powerful words of challenge and encouragement to send us on our way. They begin with three commands.

FIRST-16 Rejoice always, This is amazing! NOTE how much we are to rejoice? ALWAYS! Choose to celebrate or rejoice in everything.

SECOND-17 pray continually, NOTE again, how much are we to pray? CONTINUALLY or as one translation says, "Pray without ceasing." When I first read this verse as a kid, I became a bit depressed. But now I understand what is meant by this. We are to be in an attitude of prayer as we meet with others, face the day and retire and night. Praying continually is an attitude of trust in His strength and wisdom and direction.

THIRD-18 give thanks in all circumstances; Give thanks where? IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES. Wow, this is where these guys go from preaching to meddling in my life. I am to give thanks or be grateful no matter what the circumstance or situation. Then NOTE, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

They previously gave instructions on how to live life most appropriately and effectively. Now, after listing out these 3 powerful commands which will serve you well as you walk the walk, they list a couple of things NOT to do.

FIRST-19 Do not put out the Spirit's fire. Don't quench the movement of the Spirit in your life. OR, don't say NO, when the Spirit of God within you is saying YES.

SECOND-20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject whatever is harmful. Whether you like it or not, God does do things supernaturally today. I relied on this passage many years ago when some well-meaning, friends of mine began to send prophecies about me that they claimed were from God. Here they are saying not to have contempt on this kind of thing, but test them out. And, in this test, hold on to what is good and reject whatever is harmful. What I like about this is that you will know what is good or harmful.

Then, they close with a great prayer-23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. I love this! May God, Himself, sanctify you thoroughly. May God set you apart for Him and set you on a mission for Him. AND. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. The emphasis is more on the Lord making things happen rather than your great performance. THE ONE WHO CALLS YOU IS FAITHFUL AND HE WILL DO IT.

25 Brothers and sisters, pray for us. 26 Greet all God's people with a holy kiss. 27 I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters. 28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

This concludes the first letter written to the Thessalonians. Three men walking together were powerfully used of God to impact their lives so that they developed a work of faith, labor of love and steadfastness of hope. And, their transformation in Jesus echoed forth throughout much of Asia Minor. It's a great story that is being repeated over and over throughout the world today. I want to play more of this kind of role in my walk with Jesus and others. I want to be a revolutionary in the name of Jesus. How about you?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

I Thessalonians 5:12-15


12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.

There are two main issues here. FIRST--Those who work hard among you. This seems to be a reference about those who minister to them--those who care and admonish. They are to hold them in high esteem in love, because of their work among the fellowship.

SECOND--Those who aren't working well among you. This second group includes all those who are not doing that well. The trio lists out 4 groupings of people and what to do with each group. In a lot of ways, these 4 groups represent the major types of people within each fellowship.

1. Warn those who are idle and disruptive or exhort the unruly. Some need to be challenged and exhorted to get their act together. The only way to motivate this sort of person is to challenge them to action.

2. Encourage the disheartened. Some need a simple word of encouragement and affirmation. It's so easy to become discouraged, so look for those who have lost their courage and empower them to get back on track.

3. Help the weak. Still others are so weakened that they need someone to come alongside and carry them for awhile. Sometimes people will need to be held and coddled in their faith for a time, until they become strong enough to stand on their own.

4. Be patient with everyone. No matter what condition a person is in, making sure to be patient with everyone, where they are, is very appropriate.

This is a pretty good analysis of the four general problems you will face within every fellowship. No matter the variety of problems you may encounter within a fellowship, be sure to do what is good to each other . Don't allow anyone to get caught up in petty fighting.

This variety of people within a fellowship reminds me of how God molds each of us in our diversity into a unified body that is most attractive to the world. There is an interesting statement in this regard that I love: "Snow is an beautiful illustration of what God can do with a bunch of flakes!"

Monday, November 19, 2007

I Thessalonians 5:1-11


I have been asked over and over again, "Is this the end?" Well, here we have some insight given to us in this chapter.

1 Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, "Peace and safety," destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

NOTE the trio says that there is no need in talking about times and dates, because the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. What does that mean? It means that the end will come upon us suddenly and it is impossible to escape its inevitability.

4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.

This is interesting! Those believers in Jesus, the brothers and sisters, are children of the light and not the darkness. Since we are in the light, the end should not surprise us nor should we be shocked that this will all happen swiftly.

8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.

NOTE that God did not appoint for us to suffer wrath, but to receive salvation through Jesus. Since He died for us, whether dead or alive, we may live together in Him. How are we to respond as we approach what might be the end? We are to put on faith and love and hope in Jesus. Although this passage is used to say that believers won't go through the Great Tribulation, it seems more appropriate to see it as saying that in the midst of whatever level of tribulation we may encounter, we must embrace our salvation through Jesus.

11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

NOTE this is not saying to take these truths about the end of time and scare the hell out of those who may be listening on. Nor does it say that we must figure out the timing of the end and find our place in prophecy. What it is saying is that we are to use these truths to encourage one another and to build each other up in the midst of the world pressures and struggles that may come upon us.

You know what? I think the essence of what is being said in this section is, "There is only one way to get through this life and to get out of here alive and that is through Jesus."



THANKSGIVING-2007. Erma Bombeck made a fascinating observation about Thanksgiving. She said, "Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed in twelve minutes. Half-times take twelve minutes. This is not a coincidence." She may be on to something here.

Whatever the Thanksgiving season means to you, there is a most important direction for you to focus your thanks and that is to the God of gods. There is an interesting story where Jesus makes a point about being thankful.

The story is found in Luke 17:11-19: 11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!"

NOTE that Jesus was on His way from Galilee to Jerusalem to offer Himself as a sacrifice for the world and He travels on the border of Samaria and Galilee. The Jews and Samaritans were arch enemies. They would have nothing to do with one another. The Jews viewed them as lesser than or half-breeds. They certainly would never view any Samaritan as a good or righteous person.

Jesus encounters 10 lepers along that border. And it's interesting to me that they didn't ask for Jesus to heal them. They asked of Him the same as they have been asking all others as they passed by. "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" "Jesus, just show us some pity and compassion and contribute to our needs the best you can."

14 When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed. This is such a different healing experience. Jesus didn't touch them nor did He pronounce them healed, but gave them something to do. Go to your priests and show yourself to them. You see, the only one who could pronounce these lepers clean was the priest. This was the requirement of the Law. What's interesting is that this was not a common occurrence that lepers were healed. In fact, the Jewish leadership had taught them that only the Messiah would be able to heal lepers.

These lepers listened to Jesus and did what He said. And then it literally says, "In the act of going, they were cleansed of their leprosy." When you do what Jesus says to do, you, too, will experience a healing of your "leprosy". Now NOTE what happens.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him-and he was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19 Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."

All of the lepers were cleansed or healed of their leprosy, yet only one came back to express his gratefulness. And, Jesus makes it clear that the only one who came back to give thanks was not a Jew, but a Samaritan.

NOTE something here: We live in the same way. Even though we experience His cleansing and healing in our lives, it's so easy to take it all for granted. Only one out of ten are thankful. I think this is about right!

But NOTE, the one who returns to be thankful is not only cleansed, but Jesus says, "Rise up and go; your faith has made you well." "Made you well" is the word for salvation. Your faith-your act of thankfulness-has saved you. All of the others were healed, but only this one was fully saved and made whole.

This reminds me of the passage in the first chapter of Romans. Paul says, "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools."

I think it comes down to this: GRATEFUL PEOPLE ARE THE ONLY ONES WHO CAN FULLY ENJOY ALL THAT GOD HAS FOR THEM. So today, are you thankful? Be sure to say so. Tell God and tell others you love how thankful you really are, then look out for God's fullness and wholeness in your life!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

I Thessalonians 4:13-18


13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.

NOTE the term for death is sleep. This is quite normal and leads me to believe that those who die are asleep and not running around heaven cooking for God or playing golf with the saints. And, then when Jesus returns and resurrects those who are dead, they will awake from what will seem like a nap. They are in the presence of the Lord, but asleep. This makes a whole lot of sense for me!

This is a message of hope concerning those who have already died. There is still hope for them and we will see how that will work.

14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord's word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

NOTE that someday Jesus will return to earth and will bring all those believers who have fallen asleep in Him. There will be a loud command, a shout, a trumpet and at that moment those who have already died will be resurrected first. (Some think this is because they have 6 feet farther to go!)

THEN, those believers who are still alive when Jesus returns will be caught up or snatched up together with Him and them in the clouds. There all will meet the Lord in the air. And, from then on, all believers will be with the Lord forever!

Some believe this will happen before we go through the Great Tribulation spoken by the prophets. Some believe it will happen just a few years after the Great Tribulation begins (about 3 1/2 years). Others believe this will happen at the end of the Great Tribulation. I have an unshakable position. I believe Jesus will come before the Tribulation, but if not I will move quickly to the 2nd position of waiting for 3 1/2 years. Then, after 3 1/2 years, if Jesus hasn't shown up yet, I move quickly to that final position of believing He will come at the very end of the Great Tribulation. AND THAT IS UNSHAKABLE! i call it the PAN-TRIBULATION THEORY. It will all pan out in the end, no matter what I believe.

18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. THEREFORE, since someday Jesus will return and take us to be with Him forever, we are to take comfort in this and encourage one another.

You know what's interesting? The Moslems are hoping Jesus returns to bring peace to the world. The Christians are looking for Jesus to come back and bring peace. And the Jews are looking for the Messiah, whoever He is, to come and bring peace to the world's struggles.

However it all works out, I have always liked that bumper sticker that says, "Jesus is coming back and boy, is He mad!"

I Thessalonians 4:9-12


9 Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, dear friends, to do so more and more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

The trio continues with the "instructions". Here the topic is to love one another. Earlier the Thessalonians were told that they were being given instructions on how to live well for God and they acknowledged that they were living well, and they were urging them to do so more and more. Now, here with respect to love the same wording is used: we urge you to do so more and more.

NOTE that they were given the instructions to love one another more and more. FIRST--Make your ambition to lead a quiet life. Loving one another is a very simple thing. It has little to do with show and hype and hoopla.

SECOND--Mind your own business. Loving one another begins with you taking care of yourself. Interdependence in a loving relationship requires that each person has his/her own "business" to mind.

THIRD--Work with your hands, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. Pure dependence on another in a supportive relationship requires the ability to be independent.

I like this emphasis. You can love one another best, if you take care of yourself. Years ago I heard a teacher call this kind of thing a "value-for-value relationship." Here's what's interesting to me. We are "instructed" elsewhere in the Scripture that the Spirit of God places each believer in relationship with one another just as He desires us to be. The purpose for this dynamic is to build us all up together into a portrait of love. Now, the Thessalonians hadn't been taught this yet, however they were experiencing it in their walk with one another. I love this. They weren't loving one another because they were taught to do so. What they were experiencing together wasn't something that was "taught", but "caught." This is what is meant in the Bible as experiential knowledge. The love the Thessalonians were experiencing was not given to them by people, but they were "taught" by God to love each other. That's what I mean by "caught".

I have a question for you. Do you know what it means to really love one another or do you just know a lot about it? Have you learned it through books or teachings or have you been taught by God?

Friday, November 16, 2007

I Thessalonians 4:3-8


3 It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; 6 and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. 7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.

In the day of the apostle Paul, the believers in Thessalonica, as well as in Corinth and Philippi, lived in the Greek/Roman culture which not only practiced every form of sexual immorality, but deified it, made it a God. You see, not only was fornication, pornography, and all uncleanness readily available in the city of Thessalonica, but, for the non-believers, it was considered a sacred duty, it was considered an act of worship for their gods. The Greek and Roman temples were staffed with prostitutes. Whenever they got a religious urge to worship, they went to the temples to have sex with these temple prostitutes. The trio instructs the Thessalonians not to go the way of the crowd of the Gentiles who don't know God. Imagine the temptation and the pressure upon the young followers of Jesus. The trio speaks bluntly to young people, to men and women of their day, and they say, "This is the will of God, not that you be conformed to this world, but that you be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Rom. 12:2). This is the will of God: your sexual purity.

"For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication" (v. 3). The will of God is clear here. We are to be HOLY, that's sanctification! To be holy is to be set apart unto God for His mission.

One essential element of our holiness is to “abstain from fornication.” The Greek word translated “fornication” is porneia from which we get “pornography.” It’s narrowest meaning is “prostitution,” although it has a broader meaning of sexual impurity in general. It was not considered wrong, for example, for a Greek husband to see a prostitute for sexual pleasure, as long as he didn't parade this fact in front of his wife. So, when it came to sexual practices, the Thessalonians needed very clear instruction so that they might live according to God's desires. Followers of Jesus are to be set apart from this sort of behavior and not indulge in these lustful passions.

NOTE that no one is to wrong or exploit a brother or sister in this matter, by being selfish enough to satisfy your own lusts. This is underlined by, “For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness.” We are to stand apart from the crowd in these matters in order to be attractive.

This is painfully relevant to us today. We are living in a sexually impure world on nearly every level of life. Pornography may be the greatest and most destructive epidemic we have ever experienced in the world. Sexual purity is not an option for those who follow Jesus.

According to this paragraph, if you want to do the will of God, you can begin right here. Don’t go along with the spirit of the culture. You are not only violating your relationship with your significant others; you are rejecting God Himself. Sexual purity begins with a choice—to be holy.

I Thessalonians 4:1-2


1 As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.

This is an interesting peek into the relational dynamic between the leadership trio and the Thessalonians. After they have affirmed their work of faith, labor of love and steadfastness of hope, they turn the corner a bit. They start out with "as for other matters, brothers and sisters", then they refer to a certain set of instructions they had given the Thessalonians.

What are these instructions? Well, we'll see some of them set forth specifically in the next paragraph. So, what kind of instructions might they be?

FIRST--These instructions are practical. They have to do with how to live their lives.

SECOND--These instructions are relevant. They have to do with their specific life situation. We'll see this next as a couple of instructions are given that are most appropriate to the Thessalonian situation and circumstances.

THIRD--These instructions are a work in progress. This is why they say that we beg you and urge you to do these things more and more.

FOURTH--These instructions rest in the authority of the Lord Jesus.

In fact, as you will see, not only in the letters to the Thessalonians, that all instructions can be boiled down being Jesus--living, loving, talking, thinking and walking like Jesus. Being Jesus is a lifestyle that we are continually work on.

You see, this is right at the core of what making disciples is all about. It is not simply a body of knowledge to be remembered, but an experiential knowledge to be lived. I like the statement: Your faith in Jesus doesn't need proof; it needs practice. It's so much easier to demonstrate for Jesus through some outward show or activity rather than to simply demonstrate Jesus in your life.

NOTE one more thing here: Jesus is most effectively demonstrated in community with others. It's very difficult to see Jesus clearly in and through just one person, all alone. Jesus shows up when two or three are gathered together in His name. This is why I keep saying that these New Testament writers seem to be southerners, because they keep using terms like "Ya'll do this!" or "Ya'll do that!" "Let the word of Christ dwell among ya'll." So, what are you doing standing there all by yourself? Ya'll need to get together!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

I Thessalonians 3


1 So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. 2 We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God's service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, 3 so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we are destined for them. 4 In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. 5 For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain.

6 But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. 7 Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. 8 For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. 9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

Who is a brother and co-worker in God's service in spreading the gospel of Christ? I want to point out to you that brothers and sisters, who are co-workers, could apply to any and all disciples. It seems that each of us has a different walk with Jesus and others as we stand before the world in which we live.

Then, NOTE their anticipation of trials. They warned the Thessalonians that they would be persecuted and this actually happened. Again, what kind of trials were these and where were they coming from? As we have pointed out frequently, the trials and persecution spoken of here is pressure from the religious community. It is not from the "secular" world. It is from the spiritual or religious community. Even in the 8th Beatitude Jesus speaks of being persecuted as primarily a verbal offense. Although the verbal attacks did grow into some physical persecution, the vast majority of it is all verbal pressure--either talking badly toward you or about you.

I've experienced this a bit since we have been stubbornly following Jesus more closely. The rejection comes in the forms of saying, "Well, that's fine, but living this kind of lifestyle just can't be practiced within the structure of the church." Or, "It all sounds too simple." "You're ignoring the doctrinal teachings and even much of the Bible." At one point, when I mentioned JESUS PLUS NOTHING, a comment was made, "You've got to be kidding. You can't live like that. There's more to Christianity than Jesus plus nothing."

I'm reminded once again of the words in the 11th chapter of II Corinthians: But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. In another translation this is "to be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ."

Every time we feel the need to add-on something to Jesus, then we have added too much. In fact, add-ons too easily become the primary focus. And then the add-ons are received as "the truth" that is equal to or greater than Christ or instead of Christ. This is precisely what is meant by the biblical term, ANTI-CHRIST--all that is "instead of" Christ. The spirit of anti-Christ or "instead of" Christ is not something we're waiting for; it is already here. I beg you...hang on to JESUS PLUS NOTHING. He is the only One Who can get you out of this world alive!

I Thessalonians 2:17-20


17 But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. 18 For we wanted to come to you-certainly I, Paul, did, again and again-but Satan blocked our way. 19 For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 20 Indeed, you are our glory and joy.

Over the past few years this dynamic is becoming more and more real to me than ever before. It's the dynamic of being thrilled by the lives and testimonies of those you have invested in. NOTE Paul says here that he views the Thessalonians in a very special way. They are his hope, his joy and his crown in which they all will celebrate, when in the presence of the Lord Jesus upon His return. He uses a couple of interesting terms, when he says, "You are our glory and joy."

"Glory" is literally a reflection of something. When we glorify Jesus in our lives, we are positively reflecting Him in our lives. In this case, the trio is saying that the Thessalonians are reflections of them--in what they say and how they say it, their emphasis upon Jesus plus nothing and the kingdom of God. And, because of this positive reflection, the Thessalonians are also their "joy".

Here's how it works: WHO HAS GOD BROUGHT TO YOU? Who has the Lord brought into your life for you to invest yours into them? You see, this is the kingdom principle that coincides with the "power of the few"--the power of multiplication through hanging out with two or three in the name of Jesus.

What's becoming more and more fascinating to me is how simple this approach is. Well, on the one hand, it's simple, but sometimes the stumbling block to people is that what we're talking about IS so simple. Just in the past couple of weeks we have had some interesting, brief sessions with pastors, doctors, corporate executives, non-religious neighbors and a variety of turned-off people and in these sessions we simply shared our experience, strength and hope in walking with Jesus and with others. The message of the simple good news of Jesus is so easily caught and embraced. It just doesn't take long at all. So, the trio walked into Thessalonica and walked out nearly three weeks later with a powerful impact. This is because it is easily caught. In fact, this walk with Jesus and with one another is more effectively caught than taught.

So, who has God brought into your life? And, are you investing in them? Well, when you do, you will find that the joy of seeing others grow and develop spiritually is the most thrilling thing you'll ever know. I love speaking before a group of thousands of people. It is definitely a thrill for me to take on the challenge of moving the audience to some sort of action. HOWEVER, the most thrilling thing I do today is investing my life in a few, and sometimes it's more than a few. But seeing the light bulbs come on in the mind and heart of a person, when he really "gets it" about Jesus Plus Nothing is the most thrilling experience ever. I glory and find great joy in seeing others grow and develop in their walk with Jesus and with others. There is no greater satisfaction. When I hear that a person--man or woman--has actually shared with someone that he or she is doing the most difficult thing ever and that is following the principles and teachings of Jesus. Now that is a simple thing, but that is also most remarkable and life-changing.

NOTE one other thing. The trio believed that Satan was most interested in thwarting them from getting together. Now, if you were the devil, what would you do that would be most effective in stunting the movement of Jesus in this world? You would do everything you could do to discourage followers of Jesus from getting together. So, remember this, investing your life in others will give you great joy, but there is always someone who will be coming around the corner to rob you of your joy.

This reminds me of the words of James, when he said, "Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you." Make certain that you are spending your time doing the best things, mentoring or discipling others, investing your life in them. One of the greatest struggles in your life will be discerning between the good and the best. it's the GOOD that always seems to take precedence over the BEST.

I Thessalonians 2:13-16


So far in this chapter we have found two of the three universal dynamics for effective persuasion. FIRST--ETHOS or ethical appeal which answers the question, "Can I trust you?" The trio of Paul, Silas and Timothy demonstrated a great ETHOS in front of the Thessalonians. They proved to many that they could be trusted and came without any hidden agenda.

SECOND--PATHOS or emotional appeal which answers the question, "Do you care for me?" The trio also demonstrated a powerful PATHOS as they came alongside the Thessalonians. They proved they cared for them as a nursing mother or an encouraging father would do. They demonstrated an unconditional love toward them.

Now, look what happens when they present the message. This is the LOGOS or logical appeal which answers the question, "Do you know what you're talking about?"

13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.

NOTE they heard the word of God and because of the ETHOS and the PATHOS, they were persuaded that this is not just another man-made, religious twist. This actually is the supernatural word of God. This is the word that is not only heard, but is dynamically at work in those who are believers.

This is true persuasion at its best! When we approach people in this way, the message of Jesus is more readily received--more than that, it is embraced by those who believe as their own.

Then the trio goes on to encourage the Thessalonians to hang in there and keep it up: 14 For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God's churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your fellow citizens the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, 15 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone 16 in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.

This is such a desperate need in our world today. Instead of pushing people or trying to convert people, it's vital that we simply share our experience, strength and hope that we have found in our walk with Jesus and with one another.

This walk we are walking requires that you be a planter of seed and not a peddler, a sharer and not a deal-closer. It requires that you see what Jesus did and said and do the same. It requires that you BE JESUS to all who come your way.

I Thessalonians 2:7-12


Yesterday we discussed the first of the three universal ingredients of persuasion, to move people to action with proper reflection, so that they embrace it and own it for themselves. These were the three dynamics that Paul, Silas and Timothy employed to most effectively touch the hearts of the Thessalonians. The first was ETHOS or ethical appeal. It answers the question, "Can I trust you?"

The second ingredient was PATHOS or emotional appeal. The first one had to do with personal qualities, but PATHOS has to do with relational sensitivity. This one answers the question, "Do you care for me?" Once the trio demonstrated that they could be trusted and had pure hearts with no hidden agenda, they then demonstrated that they cared for these Thessalonians. They give two illustrations as to how they showed their care.

First, as a nursing mother. Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, 8 so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.

They cared for the Thessalonians as a mother cares for her children. I like this. "Because we loved you so much." The primary purpose of our lives is twofold: to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. This they did! Then they point out that this love was so great that they were very happy to not only share the gospel of God, but their own lives. This is the dynamic of love that you give yourself. This is what a mother does and this is what the trio did toward the followers of Jesus in Thessalonica.

Now, in between these two illustrations the trio returns to the ETHOS theme. Check it out in verse 9: 9 Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.

This is most impressive to me. The trio didn't hold meetings or mass crusades in order to fill their coffers or to even pay their bills. They worked on the side in order not to be a burden to the Thessalonians in any way. This took away one of the most common barriers that seems to block people's acceptance of God's message to man. This is a great illustration for us today.

So, they showed how much they cared for the Thessalonians as a nursing mother would do. Then, second, as a father: 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

Just as a father's encouragement, comfort and gentle push toward living a life that counts, so did the trio relate to the Thessalonians. The interesting thing about a mother and a father is that they do CARE FOR and give themselves up for their children. This is a terrific image regarding the trio's relationship with these believers.

Years ago, when speaking at the university campuses around the country, I discovered that speaking to a large group of students was somewhat limited with respect to true persuasion. I spoke on a given message and then I opened it up for questions. This candid interchange of questions, answers and ideas was much warmer and it was easy to communicate how much I cared for them as people. And again, the smaller the crowd, the warmer the atmosphere.

This is another dynamic that is sorely missing in most of our Christian settings. This is why there is such an emphasis placed on getting people in smaller groups. Growth just doesn't happen in a vacuum, but in the nurture and support of a few...a few who really care.

I Thessalonians 2:1-7


We have observed the world-wide blueprint for revolution in chapter one. It all revolves around the power of the few, where Jesus will show up. Now, our attention is turned toward the 3 most vital approaches they used with respect to the followers of Jesus in Thessalonica. These 3 ingredients are universal principles for true persuasion versus propaganda. True persuasion is moving a person toward making a decision with proper reflection. Propaganda is moving people to making a decision without proper reflection. When a person is persuaded, he owns it and embraces a truth for himself. When propaganda is used, the person just goes through the motions without embracing it for himself. What does this sound like? It's Christianity and churchianity at its best! One person standing before the many. This one participator and the many spectators gather together to hear only from one person. There is no interaction, little time for reflection, so, people walk away being propagandized at best.

True persuasion has 3 dimensions to it... 1. ETHOS--ethical appeal, which poses the question of personal trust and and must answer the question, "Can I trust you?" before persuasion will take place.

2. PATHOS--emotional appeal, which poses the question, "Do you care for me?"

3. LOGOS--logical appeal, which poses the question, "Do you know what you're talking about?"

True persuasion occurs when the communicator is able to demonstrate personal trust, genuine compassion and make sense to others. This first one is what i call the ethical appeal. It has to do with the ETHOS of these three men--Paul, Silas and Timothy. Can they be trusted? Are they good men? What was their agenda--really? Listen to how this is described here:

1 You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. 2 We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. 3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. 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. 5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed-God is our witness. 6 We were not looking for praise from any human being, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our prerogatives. 7 Instead, we were like young children among you.

Of the three persuasive appeals, this one is the strongest. It's the demonstration of authenticity and genuineness. In my experience everyone, young and old, is looking for authentic, for the real thing. God's trio demonstrated their goodness and authenticity in six ways:

1. They didn't come across like they were trying to trick them and clearly had pure motives in what they did.

2. They were entrusted by God with the Gospel--this message of good news that was so supernaturally attractive.

3. They didn't try to be people-pleasers, but God.

4. They never used flattery nor did they put on a mask covering any hidden agendas.

5. They were not looking for praise from the people.

6. They approached them with the simplicity of being child-like.

Now, tell me something. How is it possible to trust someone when you are unable to see them up close and personal? How is it possible for you to trust a person you don't know? This takes us back to the power of the few. Within the smaller context is where persuasion is most effective. There is nothing wrong with the large masses who gather for worship and teaching by gifted leaders. It's just not the most effective in persuading people to come along. This is why Jesus used the power of the few as His primary method to turn the world upside down.

Your ETHOS or ethical appeal is the foundation of any ministry. This reminds me of Jesus' illustration of building your house on a rock or building your house on the sand. Without a strong ethical appeal, the only thing you can build is a sandcastle. A sandcastle ministry and lifestyle is sure to fall flat!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

I Thessalonians 1:6-10


6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia-your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what happened when we visited you. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead-Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

NOTE, you became imitators of US and the Lord. What was it that they imitated? What did they see in Paul, Silas and Timothy that they embraced as a lifestyle for themselves? I can think of a few things:

1. They imitated what they heard them say and began to talk like them. So, the Thessalonians began talking like the trio and thinking like the trio. These were the things regarding Jesus being the Messiah and the kingdom of God principles. It was all about the simplicity and purity of devotion to Jesus--JESUS PLUS NOTHING.

2. They imitated what they saw them do together. So, the Thessalonians saw the trio loving one another and being sensitive to others.

3. They imitated the little team effect of the three of them--the attractiveness and the dynamic of the fellowship. So, they began hanging out in small groupings and began to envision themselves as a team like the trio who brought the Good News (Jesus) to them.

4. They imitated the love they felt. So, the Thessalonians felt so loved and cared for that they began spreading this same sort of dynamic toward others.

In essence, the Thessalonians became imitators of Jesus--talking, thinking, walking and loving like Jesus.

NOTE the results of imitating the trio of Paul, Silas and Timothy and the Lord.

First--The Thessalonians became model disciples to all those who lived in Macedonia and Achaia.

Second--The message of the Lord rang out...echoed forth all over their world.

Third--The Thessalonian story experienced a viral marketing explosion. The story was how the trio had shown up in Thessalonica and those who believed their message of Jesus turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven.

Now here's the most amazing thing. Paul, Silas and Timothy were only in the town of Thessalonica a little over three weeks and yet they were able to "imprint" these believers and started them on the road to discipleship. This is truly the blueprint for world-wide revolution! WHERE TWO OR THREE ARE GATHERED TOGETHER IN JESUS' NAME, HE WILL SHOW UP IN A MIGHTY WAY. Now I have a question for you. "If you knew where Jesus was going to show up, wouldn't you go there?"

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

I Thessalonians 1:2-5


2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; 3 constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, 4 knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you; 5 for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.

I love this part of the letter these guys wrote. It's clear that their love for these new followers of Jesus is deep and genuine.

NOTE the 3 characteristics of the Thessalonians' story. First--WORK OF FAITH or their faith that is characterized by their work. Second--LABOR OF LOVE or their love that is characterized by labor. Third--STEADFASTNESS OF HOPE or their hope that is characterized by steadfastness and steadiness. These 3 characteristics are powerful and certainly represent a balanced lifestyle.

Then they give some of the reason for how the disciples in Thessalonica came to be so faithful, loving and full of hope. NOTE that the "good news" they presented to the Thessalonians was not just a system of doctrines or a listing of beliefs only, but was presented in power, in the Spirit and with full conviction. Then it is pointed out, "you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake."

This is the point of any sort of ministry with people. It is producing a faith that works, a love that labors and a hope that is steadfast. It is the message of the good news of Jesus which always comes in power, in the Spirit and with a full conviction. Jesus is the only message that is transformational. This is the message of revolution. In Acts 17, the leaders who opposed this Jesus movement said that these are the people who have "turned the world upside down."

Have you been watching the news lately? Have you read your newspaper this week? The world is in great turmoil and is in desperate need of being transformed for good. Some are saying this is the beginning of WWIII. Many others are asking, "Is this the end of the world?" The world is imploding and exploding at most every level. Just take the Muslim extremists, for instance, let's say there is a small percentage of them that are motivated by evil. Well, that sounds pretty good to say it that way, but it's easy to miss the point. There are 1.6 billion Muslims. Let's say that 10% is the small percentage of extremists that want all infidels dead--that's you and me. If my math is correct, that comes to about 160 million who are the bad guys who are causing all the trouble. Now, add to that number the extremists from all the other major religious systems and you have a huge boiling cauldron, full of hate and destruction.

Unless the message of Jesus is turned loose in our world in a revolutionary way, we are all in a heap of trouble. I believe the only strategy that has a chance is to make disciples, a few at a time. When you make disciples in this way, they really get it. And when a person catches the truth of Jesus, the spreading movement cannot be stopped! On the other hand, if you continue to gather people together in our mega-churches that are filled with spectators, there will be no Jesus movement--just a monument built in Jesus' name.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

I Thessalonians 1:1


In Acts 17 Paul and his friends entered the city of Thessalonica. 1Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ." 4And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women. 5But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and attacking the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people. 6When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, "These men who have upset the world have come here also; 7and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus." 8They stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things. 9And when they had received a pledge from Jason and the others, they released them.

Not a good reception, for sure! However, the long-term response turned out to be amazing and we will examine this as we walk through the two letters written to the followers of Jesus who were gathering together in Thessalonica. A few years ago I was asked the question, "Who wrote I Thssalonians?" I gave the typical answer that is even written at the heading of most Bibles--"Paul." But I was quickly corrected and told to read the first verse of this book.

So, I read the verse and discovered who the authors were. Check out this verse. 1Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.

There it is! It was not Paul only, but Sivanus or Silas and Timothy are also named. These three men wrote these letters. It was a natural thing, since these three men in agreement with one another, walking together and ministering together, had a miraculous impact among those who believed in Jesus. We soon will see the exact nature of this impact and the extent of it all around the known world. But what is most important for our thinking today is the power of the few. This is the perfect example of what Jesus taught the disciples, when He said, "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there I will be in their midst." Jesus will show up in person, when two or three are gathered in His name--where two or three are in agreement in His name.

This is not just for the early apostles and disciples, but also this same dynamic is true today! Whenever we do anything together in the name of Jesus, Jesus shows up in a wonderful way. So, I have determined to discipline myself to never do anything all alone, if possible. Whenever we are called into visit someone in need, in the hospital or be in counsel with someone, we are now making every endeavor to include others in the activity. Even this morning we went to visit a family going through a battle with cancer, we brought along another couple with us. It was a terrific time! We didn't go to church this morning; we were the church. In fact, we took the church to our friends in their home and it was one of the most meaningful "church services" I've attended in quite some time. Now, it just happened to be a Sunday, but our little "church service" could have occurred on any day of the week. It's an interesting experience. Each one participates by giving and receiving from one another and all walk away feeling a touch from God, Himself. Try it out for yourself. Don't just go to church; BE THE CHURCH OF JESUS.