Are We Looking Up To Jesus?

Are We Looking Up To Jesus?

 
 

Good Morning Friends,

 
 

The Book of Hebrews is all about Jesus. From chapter one all the way through even in the puzzling parts of chapter thirteen there is ultimately a focus on Jesus. Hebrews is a study of Jesus. And one of the key messages is that when we invite Jesus to be in our field of vison, in worship, work and witness, some amazing things will happen. Things like receiving new insights and knowledge and emotions. It is all about this wisdom but also commitment, sacrifice and submission to God and their related return for us individually and collectively. Friends, today with this thought in mind we look at scripture about casting out unclean spirits and of the dream of a woman to have a child set aside for a holy purpose. And we are motivated given the scripture to think about God’s authority and redemption as a means of helping us to set our sights on the important things in life. And so, we ask, Are We Looking Up To Jesus?

 
 

Scripture: After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. She made this vow: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.” As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your sight.” Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer. They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.”

 
 

1 Samuel 1:9-20 (NRSV)

 
 

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

 
 

Mark 1:21-28 (NRSV)

 

Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. But someone has testified somewhere, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them? You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor, subjecting all things under their feet.” Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”

 

Hebrews 2:5-12 (NRSV)

 

Message: Today we look at Jesus teaching in the synagogue and showing authority over demons and Hannah in desperation praying so that the restriction on her spirit and body might be lifted. This is about all in worship. It is about the importance of commitment but also having the right perspective. You see, looking up to Jesus means leaning on God’s word and the Power of the Holy Spirit. Looking up to Jesus means focusing and fixing our eyes with a gaze of confidence while looking away from other distractions. Looking up to Jesus means loving in a way where the joy and reward of the vison is of a finish line with Jesus as the goal. Looking up to Jesus mean being all in. Hannan had such an all-in focus when she goes to the LORD and says in effect, “Lord, I want a child. In fact, Lord I want a son to honor you. I want you to use me.” This prayer led to surrender and sacrifice. And that surrender, and sacrifice led to celebration. The connection with the child Jesus and Mary is clear. Though Samuel was the child asked for by Hannah. The destiny of the faithful was wrapped up in the birth of another child that would grow up to set the captives free as Hannah’s spirit was set free. When Hannah was used by God for the purposes of God it allowed her to rejoice. So too when Jesus uses us and takes away the demons of sin we too can be used for a purpose greater than ourselves that glorifies God. Man is out of control, but we see Jesus. We see Him, who became a little lower than the angels, just like us! We see that Man crowned with glory and honor. So if you want to find any real significance in life, then don’t look to yourself… Look up to Jesus who became a man. Pay attention to Christ, who became fully human. Focus on the Lord, who became lower than the angels for a little while, so He could be our Sovereign Savior. Jesus became one of us, so He could become the Crowned Sovereign of the world. He became one of us, so He could regain control where we lost control. Humankind’s war against God started in the garden but needs to end if we are ever to have peace. Thankfully, as a human, Jesus never submitted to Satan like Adam and Eve and as we do. Thankfully Jesus never lost control. So as a man, Jesus elevates all people who align themselves with Him with a declaration of peace and a freeing of the captives of sin. You see, when you submit to Christ, we regain our position, because we are no longer slaves to Satan. Instead, we are under Christ’s rule, who conquered Satan on the cross for us.

 

Pray we find God’s favor. Pray
we are ready for God to save, sanctify, heal and free us. Pray we believe that the LORD wants to give us our deepest and purest desires. Pray we believe that God wants to bring new life into our lives. Pray we realize that it might take surrender and sacrifice to succeed. Pray we celebrate the casting out of demons. Pray we do something definite about those dark areas in our lives. Pray we let Jesus into our homes and hearts. Pray we have a continual, deliberate, and intimate experience of God. Pray that when we seek to see God we also realize this means to inspect, protect, feel, understand, enjoy, discover attend to, investigate and learn. Pray Jesus enable us to continue in faith, to carry on despite suffering. Pray we finish strong. Pray we look up to Jesus believing the war with God has ended.

 
 

Blessings,

 
 

John Lawson

How Does God Challenge Our Assumptions?

How Does God Challenge Our Assumptions?

 
 

Good Morning Friends,

 
 

Today we follow up on the story of the baptism of Jesus and of God being with us in the workings of the Holy Spirit. And as we consider the story it becomes clear that we each have certain notions about how God is. A friend of mine pointed out to me that grace is a form of judgement and so too the work of the Holy Spirit. This should humble us a bit if we have been blessed to experience more of the lamb than the lion of God. But the more I think about it the more I am convicted that if Jesus were here today few would recognize him and even if they did recognize him, people would not necessarily heed the word he provided. That is the way the story played out in the Bible and aside from the prophecy that eventually every knee will bow, and tongue confess, I am not particular hopeful that if Jesus were here today he would approve of much of what is going on in his name. The point is that 2000 years ago Jesus deliberately sought to shake people out of their rigid and comfortable approach to religion so that more people could benefit from the salvation he offered. And if he were here today I think Jesus would continue to confront us as a Jew to Gentiles. So, How Does God Challenge Our Assumptions?

 
 

Scripture: Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching. I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.

 
 

Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7 (NRSV)

 
 

Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

 
 

Acts 10:34-38 (NRSV)

 
 

O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill? Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors; in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the Lord; who stand by their oath even to their hurt; who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be moved.

 
 

Psalm 15 (NRSV)

 
 

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.

 
 

Matthew 5:17-18 (NRSV)

 
 

Message: Man’s answer to help people live with one another is the enforcement of laws. The hope of laws is to help people live orderly and civil lives. You see this in scripture. Moses’ teaching was outlined in six hundred thirteen laws to build community among the Hebrews. The number grew a hedge around potentially undesirable behavior. About four hundred years later, David, in the fifteenth psalm, attempted to reduce them and later Isaiah did the same. Micah, in chapter 6 verse 8 narrowed the laws down to three: “To do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before your God.” Then a religious professional asked Jesus which was the greatest law. His intent was to get Jesus into trouble with the political and religious leaders who controlled social and religious practices by imposing dozens and dozens of new laws. Jesus’ answer was a surprise. He did not reduce the laws to one, though he could have. Instead, he reduced them to two. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.” Friends, Jesus is still challenging us today and leading us to the conclusion that our core assumptions about life control us more than we would like to think. Some traditions are good, and some traditions may have been extended beyond their original purpose. We make more and more laws in the attempt of making sure we abide. And so, it follows that we need to be careful what assumptions we are making about God and about others. Clinging to the wrong assumptions and the wrong laws can stunt our growth. Challenging traditions is sure to raise the ire of those who cling to them. Jesus changed the rules on the cross, but the world still clings to its rules and that may not change until he returns.

 
 

Pray we realize that God’s love is not prejudiced but that there is still prejudice in the world. Pray we realize that when we identify with Christ we can begin to overcome our own prejudices. Pray we appreciate the good news that everyone matters to God. Pray we understand that God’s love knows no bounds. Pray we begin to understand that some of our assumptions about God may need to change. Pray we realize that Christ became one of us to show us the way. Pray we realize that Jesus came to the Jews first and that his love for them is not replaced by Gentiles being loved by Jesus. Pray we listen and understand before we automatically judge something to be wrong. Pray we put ourselves in other’s shoes and understand why they believe the way they do. Pray we remember that all truth is God’s truth.  Pray we really know what the Bible says and the various ways of interpretation. Pray we engage others in conversation about the challenges of assumptions. Pray we seek lifelong learning. Pray we realize that God does not fit nicely into a box. Pray we keep surrounded by followers of Jesus seeking common ground for spiritual growth even as we explore the diversity of the world. Pray we be willing to challenge each other’s assumptions while holding to our core beliefs. Pray we not take grace for granted. Pray we not just learn about what Jesus and the Holy Spirit do but experience who God is.

 
 

 
 

Blessings,

 
 

John Lawson

What Prejudice Do You Have About The Holy Spirit at Jesus’ Baptism?

What Prejudice Do You Have About The Holy Spirit at Jesus’ Baptism?

 
 

Good Morning Friends,

 
 

We are never alone. We always have our thoughts and prejudices and sometimes they comfort us and sometimes convict us. Words rarely do justice to the topic of the Holy Spirit in this regard and like a spider in an isolated part of the attic our thoughts become problems that tempt us to avoid the truth if we decide before being informed. That is why describing our relationship with God the Father, the Body of the church, Jesus and the Spirit that binds us together is difficult at best. For the frozen chosen I think the common experience of the Holy Spirit is of the spirit of grace conceived at our baptism and birthed as our fruits mature and we witness to our faith. But our faith is not always expressed in a positive way of thinking. Sometimes our discrimination takes a negative stance and that is not good. But people experience the Holy Spirit in a variety of ways along this spectrum but thankfully mostly in the positive. Because God meets us where we are, how we experience the Spirit might be and should be in some ways different than how I do. The hope is that however we experience this love, the person of the Holy Spirit, that this gift, this miracle might produce in us something that builds up others as well. It is though grace not judgment, transformation not information, joy not fears, through inclusion not isolation that we experience the best of this universal love. Therefore, today’s devotional is a joyful testimony to and celebration of the reality of The Holy Spirit at Jesus’ Baptism but also a witness to the importance of the Holy Spirit in helping us to address our bias. And so we ask: What Prejudice Do You Have About The Holy Spirit at Jesus’ Baptism?

 
 

Scripture: See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.

 
 

Malachi 3:1 (NRSV)

 
 

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

 
 

Isaiah 40:3 (NRSV)

 
 

and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

 
 

Romans 5:5 (NRSV)

 

Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

 
 

John 1:46 (NRSV)

 

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

 
 

Mark 1: 4-8 (NRSV)

 
 

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.

 
 

Galatians. 5:22–23 (NRSV)

 
 

Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 
 

Acts 2:38 (NRSV)

  
 

Message: Today there is not much controversy about it, but in the early church there was some debate about why Jesus was baptized. He after all did not need if for the repentance of sins. Some say it was to fulfill the prophecy and that probably is the best answer. But an equally good answer I think is that the person of the Holy Spirit sets the stage for the anointing and identifying of the Messiah, the beloved Jesus, in the act of baptismIsaiah and Malachi
promise something very special and new in the life of Jesus that is unlike any other who has come before. The Magi who came from the East and gave gifts to the Christ child knew it, the religious leaders and political figures knew it. After 400 years of prophetic silence there is growing anticipation in the land among the people that the Messiah is coming. The stage is set for the appearance of the Messiah and people are coming to be purified in the ritual of baptism as they await the Messiah and the Jewish leaders feel the energy among the people. And the leaders of the day know the scriptures and know what John baptizing people means. God is preparing the hearts of His people to receive the Messiah and that moment of unveiling is at hand. All the righteousness that is of the law and the prophets is to be fulfilled in Christ. All the covenants are to be fulfilled. And Jesus’ baptism is part of that fulfillment for the gift of the Holy Spirit that conceived Jesus is the same gift of the Holy Spirit that descended on Jesus at His baptism and is woven together at the Transfiguration. And friends, this is the same Holy Spirit that was shared at Pentecost and is experienced by believers today when the Spirit’s purpose is served in acts of faith and hope and love and unity. Friends, we should give more thought to baptism of Jesus but even more to our own baptism by Jesus. Remember that Jesus baptizes too but not with water but with the Holy Spirit and with fire. So let us end today’s devotional with a little truth telling. First, we are all prejudiced and even about God. Second history tells us that our Christian faith is not as influential as it should be simply because we do not follow Jesus and his teachings to not prejudge and yet we do. Third and this is perhaps the most important insight, prejudice is a sin because it is essentially being negative about what we do not understand. Nathanael exhibited his prejudice against Jesus and all those from Nazareth. We need to confess our problem for the sake of civilization for at one point in our history we could avoid those with whom we had differences but today the world is smaller than ever and really, we can no longer avoid people by living in our own world. Friends, we are living in one world and we had better hang together for if not we will hang separately. And this is especially true for those privileged who once in a smaller sense were a majority but now live in a world in which they are more and more a minority. Maybe we are predisposed to a certain prejudice because of the experiences we have had. But we are not to generalize. If we are to exact a cure for prejudice we need to ascertain the facts and accentuate the positive. Friends we are sinners but also potential saints. We are all children of God.

 

Pray we seek to fulfill a righteous relationship with God as did Jesus at his baptism. Pray we identify with the Messiah. Pray we are baptized by him with the Holy Spirit. Pray we are thankful the Jesus has become one with us, so that in him through the gift of the Holy Spirit we might become one with God. Pray the Holy Spirit descend on us like a dove into our hardships and pain and give us peace. Pray we not be so isolated in our thoughts and behaviors that we forget to extend the love and light of Christ. Pray we realize that the only cure for prejudice is love. Pray we realize that the future of our faith hinges on this very Holy Spirit gift that spills over into the lives of others so that we might be in unity.

  
 

Blessings,
 

Who Will Be Saved?

Who Will Be Saved?

 

Good Morning Friends,

 

Today we come to the end of our chapter by chapter devotionals on the two letters to the Thessalonians. We have had a look inward and a look outward as we joined with Paul in realistically evaluating the status of the faith. And here is the deal. The faith is not for everyone. Oh, it should be but free will is a tremendous responsibility that opens some hearts and shuts others. I say this as Paul did not cynically but sorrowfully. Friends, we as Christians need to work at rescuing ourselves but also realize that we have not been very good at carrying on the faith entrusted to us. We need to look in the mirror and ask, Who Will Be Saved?

 

Scripture: Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified everywhere, just as it is among you, and that we may be rescued from wicked and evil people; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will go on doing the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right. Take note of those who do not obey what we say in this letter; have nothing to do with them, so that they may be ashamed. Do not regard them as enemies, but warn them as believers. Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways. The Lord be with all of you. I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the mark in every letter of mine; it is the way I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you.

 

2 Thessalonians 3:1-18 (NRSV)

 

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

 

Matthew 5:13-16 (NRSV)

 

Message: There are lots of bad role models in this world. But Jesus called us to be role models of His way of life for others including those who are not Christians. We are to become the kind of role models God wants me to be and to make a difference in the lives of others so that they might be saved. And so, we need to pray for the unsaved as well as the saved. You see, it is very difficult to dislike a person one prays for. And we really should be praying for the salvation of even our enemies as well as avoiding making enemies by not emotionally blackmail those that need a little discipline. And that is why we need much grace. And as we work and hopefully find joy in this work, we need to know that people may be watching to see how we let our little light shine. And what is clear is that it is easier to gossip than to give and minister to the need of those who are hurting, lonely, desperate, or lost. But if we are going to make a difference in the world, no matter how small we need words of encouragement instead of words and actions that tear down people and organizations. We can all make a difference in people’s lives if we are givers instead of takers. So, friends, spend less time worrying about who is right and more time deciding what is right. Refrain from criticizing anybody for anything. Do not use your time or your words carelessly. We can all make a difference in our lives and the lives of others if we never tire of doing what is good. We are to be givers instead of takers. We are to be role models who just love Jesus. And when we look in the mirror or when others look to us they are to think, that is what Jesus looks like on a regular everyday person. We are not just to set examples but be examples. We need each other on the journey. We need to be vulnerable in a way that allows us to feed off others love and devotion to Christ. Friends, God saved us so that we could be examples for the rest of the world. We are to be a light to the world not hidden but raised up, so everyone might see better. Whether you want to be or not you are a role model in how you live your life for Christ. But also know this, you will fail for all fall short of the Glory of God. We all make mistakes as role models. But God does not call us to be a paragon of virtue. This side of heaven we will never be totally unflawed and seamless in our faith. This is unattainable. But what is attainable is to be a people who begin of the very moment that God lit that light in us, that we are gradually shining more light into the world showing others what it is like to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus…glory unto glory…step by step.

 

Pray we are authentic Christians. Pray we see the importance of connections with others as we endure the journey. Pray we engage in mutual prayer one for another. Pray we are ready for Christ’s return. Pray we are too busy with the work we have been given to worry about the Second Coming. Pray the presence of the most powerful being in the universe is in our work and lives. Pray we work conscientiously. Pray we not gossip but instead speak the truth with love.
Pray
we belong to Jesus. Pray we believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God. Pray we repent of our sins. Pray we confess that Jesus is our Lord and Savior. Pray we bury our old self and rise as a new creature in Christ. Pray we engage with others in the work of Christ in the world. Pray we recognize what God is doing in the world and find a way to shine a light into the darkness. Pray others watching us act in faith see something worth imitating in their lives.

 

Blessings,

 

John Lawson

What is the Parousia And Why Did The People Of Thessaloniki Panic At The Thought Of It?

What is the Parousia And Why Did The People Of Thessaloniki Panic At The Thought Of It?

 

Good Morning Friends,

 

Today we look at the Church of God in Thessaloniki almost 2000 years ago. The place is also known as Salonika or Saloniki. Interestingly this place has given Greece some of its greatest musicians, artists, poets and thinkers. It has some of the most beautiful beaches and has some of the finest hotels and best restaurants in northern Greece. Today it is home to the Thessaloniki Film Festival and the International Trade Fair. But something difficult to understand was going on in this birthplace of the early church. To give us guidance we are going to consider part of the Olivet Discourse from the lips of Jesus to give us understanding not only to events that were taking place in this part of the world 2000 years ago, but also to those stretching far into the future beyond even today. Specifically, three momentous occurrences are intertwined in today’s scripture, the role of Rome in the judgement upon Jerusalem, the challenge of the saints in the church of God and the final judgement at the close of the world’s history when Jesus returns. Friends, I have read but not counted myself that are over 2,000 references to the second coming of Jesus in the Bible. For every prophecy concerning the first coming of Christ, that means that there are about eight that look forward to His second. It is that important. And it is presented as a certainty that Jesus will come back and when this happens the final judgment at the close of the world’s history will occur. But there is much to be done in advance to build up the called-out assembly of God. There is much to be revealed. Part of the problem is understanding the one word which we focus on in today’s question. What is the Parousia And Why Did The People Of Thessaloniki Panic At The Thought Of It?

 

Scripture: As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? And you know what is now restraining him, so that he may be revealed when his time comes. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned. But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.

 

2 Thessalonians 2:1-17 (NRSV)

 

for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will result in my deliverance. It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith,

 

Philippians 1:19-25 (NRSV)

 

Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. “Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

 
 

Matthew 24:42-51 (NRSV)

 

Message: Today we read some of the most difficult passages in the whole New Testament because the images used as a way of communicating, though familiar to those to whom Paul was writing, are not all that familiar to most people today. The general picture especially in the passage from Thessalonians is that Paul is telling the people there to not be so shaken up about the thought of the Second Coming. What is clear is that the Thessalonian believers were deeply agitated and disturbed and as such were not much good at doing the work assigned to believers. How the words Paul uses are translated will go far toward determining what position one takes regarding the end times and there are about five different positions that people take on this subject and I am not going to address them here, except to mention that they exist. The cause of the agitation though is a bit puzzling. Something had started them into thinking that the terrible “Day of the Lord” had already begun and that they were already going through it. Kind of like the stories in Left Behind. Maybe the Thessalonians thought the Parousia, the Second Coming had already happened. But much was to come before that Day of the Lord. First there would be rebellion against God and the incarnation of evil as Jesus was the incarnation of good. Paul writes about the lawless one, the Son of Perdition who was to come when the power restraining him would be removed. Maybe Paul was writing about the gift of the Holy Spirit being removed. But I have a little trouble in parsing God. When we remember that the word Parousia means “presence,” as well as “coming” it suggests a series of events during the whole of which time Jesus is present and especially when we pray. If we look at it that way, then this word refers to the Coming of the Lord Jesus and either His second coming at the end of the tribulation period or to His coming in the work to raise His Church prior to the period known as the tribulation. So, the Parousia is the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and we must look at the context to determine whether it refers to His appearing in the air to rapture or catch away the Church, or whether it refers to His second coming to Earth to setup His millennial kingdom. But the restraining power Paul writes about might well have been also the justice of Rome in the face of angry mobs in the context of today’s scripture and not so much about the end of time. Perhaps that is why the Thessalonians felt as they did. Maybe they thought the rapture had occurred and they had somehow missed it and now the Day of the Lord had arrived or perhaps they thought the order of Rome was going to be removed and the mobs rule. Paul is very careful not to risk giving them a false sense of assurance by glibly saying, “If you believe in Christ then you are safe.” There are many people who believe themselves to be Christians, but they really are not. They have gone along with the outward appearances of Christianity, but they have never surrendered their inner will to the Lord. If Paul had said to such nominal Christians in what is today Thessaloniki that they would certainly have been raptured, he would have sealed them in a false view of their security. So, with that thought we look at the difference between acknowledging the validity of the end times and being preoccupied with them. Today we look at the reality that an urgency in action for the faith is one thing but an undue concern over the end times can be destructive in carrying out our assignments as Christians. In the first letter, Paul had described that day as one of sudden destruction, with no escape possible, as with a woman in travail. The Old Testament prophets had described it as a day of distress and anguish, ruin and devastation. But even Paul’s view on this subject changed over the course of time. In 1 Thessalonians 4:15 Paul is certain it is going to happen in his life time. In 1 Corinthians 7:26-31 he expects Parousia soon but is less certain he will see it happen. In Romans 13 he indicates a postponement of the Second Coming and in Philippians 1:19-25 Paul does not expect to live to see the Parousia. Then, in our Gospel, Jesus reminds us that what is important as we wait for Christ’s return is to be faithful. As usual, anything less than full commitment to God not enough. The power of love must be linked inextricably to the mystery and purpose of the Father manifested in the Son in our experience and God’s gift to us of growth and life in the Holy Spirit. We must realize that no matter how remote this image of the second coming may be from us that it holds nevertheless a certain permanent truth in the reality that despite evil there will be an ultimate triumph of God because God is in control.

 

Pray we believe that God has prepared a place for us through the work of Christ and engineered in our experience of sanctification the preparation to enter the presence of the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of life. Pray in this process that we can be holy and wholly useful to our Lord in building up the Kingdom of God. Pray we realize that we have a purpose before the end comes in sharing the Gospel of the Kingdom to both our neighbors and the nations. Pray we respond to God’s call. Pray we realize that we have not been called to dream only but to fight as well. Pray we realize that the collective work we do is designed to produce consecration on earth and salvation in heaven.

 

Blessings,

 

John Lawson

Are You Worthy of God’s Call On Your Life?

Are You Worthy of God’s Call On Your Life?

 

Good Morning Friends,

 

Today’s scripture is in response to the self doubts of the Thessalonians, for they were afraid that their faith would not stand the test. Their pessimism was turned around with wise praise so that they might fight for the desire to do better. Here ultimately the glory of Christ is in those who have learned to endure and to conquer and the shine a light in dark places. We have been given the tremendous privilege and responsibility that Christ’s glory can live in us. Are You Worthy of God’s Call On Your Life?

 

Scripture: Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, and is intended to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering. For it is indeed just of God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to the afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes to be glorified by his saints and to be marveled at on that day among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, 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.

 

2 Thessalonians 1:1-12 (NRSV)

 

Message: A few months after writing his first letter to them, Paul, or at least some think it was Paul, writes a second letter to the Christians at Thessalonica. But why so soon and how is all this related to the calling of these people and how they were measuring up to the challenge of the faith? The easy answer is that the persecution had intensified. People were confused about false communications being sent to them and some had even quit their jobs to wait for Jesus. And because of the persecution and confusion they felt that God was displeased with them. Friends, let us face this reality, when bad things happen to good people our feeling are often confused. But our emotions and religious myths of about pleased and displeased deities can be misleading. Even Christians, when things go wrong, sometimes feel like God is punishing us, but that is not what is happening even though we might feel it is so. We, as the Thessalonians, carry this learned emotion into or faith expression. We may think that our suffering is a sign of a displeased God and our good behavior is to earn us reward and bad behavior is to earn us pain, but it is not always so. Such was the situation for the Thessalonians. The truth is that we can be pleasing God while everything around us seems to be going wrong. But the message here is that we can and must live up to the challenge in these situations and that our lives, in times of trials, will be an encouragement to others if they see that God is faithful when times get tough. Suffering is to be seen here as manifest evidence that God was working in the lives of Christians. Really would God love us very much if we were never given any challenges in our lives? I think not. So, welcome the challenges of life for in them is a hidden reward designed to bring us into a closer relationship with God and the plan of salvation. Know that we became targets for Satan when we were saved. Know that only when our faith is tried, our worth will be revealed. Know that in the end God is just and will be righteous and that our challenges are not unfair at all.

 

Pray life strengthens us to prepare us for what is to come. Pray we realize that a problem-free, trouble-free, care-free Christian life is impossible. Pray we are worthy of the high calling of being Christians. Pray we know that our trials and tribulations are blessings in disguise. Pray we hold fast to the truth. Pray we keep steady and remain faithful. Pray we resolve that the desire given to us by the Spirit to do good be revealed to others. Pray the God of Abraham, Jacob and Joseph dwell in us, as well as the promise given to them. Pray we join Jesus in the glory of the divine plan of salvation.

 

Blessings,

 

John Lawson

Are You Worthy of God’s Call On Your Life?

Are You Worthy of God’s Call On Your Life?

 

Good Morning Friends,

 

Are You Worthy of God’s Call On Your Life?

 

Scripture: Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, and is intended to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering. For it is indeed just of God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to the afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes to be glorified by his saints and to be marveled at on that day among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, 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.

 

2 Thessalonians 1:1-12 (NRSV)

 

Message: A few months after writing his first letter to them, Paul, or at least some think it was Paul, writes a second letter to the Christians at Thessalonica. But why so soon and how is all this related to the calling of these people and how they were measuring up to the challenge of the faith? The easy answer is that the persecution had intensified. People were confused about false communications being sent to them and some had even quit their jobs to wait for Jesus. And because of the persecution and confusion they felt that God was displeased with them. Friends, let us face this reality, when bad things happen to good people our feeling are often confused. But our emotions and religious myths of about pleased and displeased deities can be misleading. Even Christians, when things go wrong, sometimes feel like God is punishing us, but that is not what is happening even though we might feel it is so. We, as the Thessalonians, carry this learned emotion into or faith expression. We may think that our suffering is a sign of a displeased God and our good behavior is to earn us reward and bad behavior is to earn us pain, but it is not always so. Such was the situation for the Thessalonians. The truth is that we can be pleasing God while everything around us seems to be going wrong. But the message here is that we can and must live up to the challenge in these situations and that our lives, in times of trials, will be an encouragement to others if they see that God is faithful when times get tough. Suffering is to be seen here as manifest evidence that God was working in the lives of Christians. Really would God love us very much if we were never given any challenges in our lives? I think not. So, welcome the challenges of life for in them is a hidden reward designed to bring us into a closer relationship with God and the plan of salvation. Know that we became targets for Satan when we were saved. Know that only when our faith is tried, our worth will be revealed. Know that in the end God is just and will be righteous and that our challenges are not unfair at all.

 

Pray life strengthens us to prepare us for what is to come. Pray we realize that a problem-free, trouble-free, care-free Christian life is impossible. Pray we are worthy of the high calling of being Christians. Pray we know that our trials and tribulations are blessings in disguise. Pray we hold fast to the truth. Pray we keep steady and remain faithful. Pray we resolve that the desire given to us by the Spirit to do good be revealed to others. Pray the God of Abraham, Jacob and Joseph dwell in us, as well as the promise given to them. Pray we join Jesus in the glory of the divine plan of salvation.

 

Blessings,

 

John Lawson

Are You Awake To The Power of Peace, Prayer And Praise?

Are You Awake To The Power of Peace, Prayer And Praise?

 

Good Morning Friends,

 

In Chapter 5 of 1 Thessalonians we have an exhortation desperately needed by the church today. Indeed, we are to be on watch with wisdom of what is to come. But maybe we are not to think about it in terms of terror and destruction but in terms of the incredible bounty of an abundance that has more time and resources than ever in all of history. Are You Awake To The Power of Peace, Prayer And Praise?

 

Scripture: Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing. But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil. May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. Beloved, pray for us. Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss. I solemnly command you by the Lord that this letter be read to all of them. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

 

1 Thessalonians 5:1-28 (NRSV)

 

Message: We may understand the times and seasons but miss the relevance of the Old Testament message of the Day of the Lord as it relates to the Second Coming. The story in the Old Testament divides time in two parts, the present age which is bad and is going to be replaced following a period of terrible judgement with a very good Golden Age of God. The New Testament tells us that Jesus’ Second Coming will be with the stealth of a thief in the night but that first the treasure of the Holy Spirit of God is taken away. And that is when hell breaks loose. And it will happen at a time when “peace and security” seem to prevail. It has been compared to a woman going into labor, for at this point she cannot change her mind. It is too late for anything but to go through with childbirth. Perhaps also for some who do not have Jesus in their heart it will be like Satan entering Judas before his betrayal of Christ. Such will be the shattering of one world and the birth of another. It will be a time of sudden judgement but not such that we should be kept unaware of what is happening. If we are watchful and sober we can be ready. For if we are already living with Christ, and Christ is in us, God need not find us unprepared for what is to come. That is what Paul has been writing about in this letter. It is a sobering thought that the world cannot escape the terrible judgments of God. And there is a bit of trepidation but also hope in the reality that the way we can manage the situation is to find the means of escape provided in Jesus Christ our Lord. C. S. Lewis describes with a sense of urgency the Second Coming in this way:

 

God is going to invade this earth in force, but what is the good of saying you are on his side then when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else, something it never entered your head to conceive, comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing. It will be the time when we discover which side we have really chosen whether we realized it before or not. Now, today, this moment is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last forever. We must take it or leave it.

 

Friends, it is very important that we understand that God’s delay of this event is to give people a chance to see what is happening in their lives and to choose the redemption that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. But despite this terrible picture of gloom and darkness, there will be some who will not go through this time of trouble. There is a way of escape. For true believers the good news is that they will not go through the tribulation. We are to obtain salvation though Jesus Christ.

 

Pray we are children of the light. Pray we ponder the good advice to the called-out assembly of God given by Paul. Pray we not leave our assignment. Pray we use the time we have been given well. Pray we rejoice in our spiritual gifts. Pray we be joyful even in the face of suffering. Pray we encourage and build one another up. Pray our praying be without ceasing. Pray we give thanks in everything. Pray we not quench the Spirit. Pray we not despise prophetic utterances. Pray we examine everything carefully. Pray we hold fast to that which is good. Pray we abstain from every form of evil. Pray we be at peace on with another in the power of praise. Pray we fight the good Spiritual fight against evil. Pray for each other that we not only believe but are filled with the presence of Jesus in our lives to overflowing.

 

 

Blessings,

 

John Lawson

 

What Does It Mean To Be A Member Of The Body?

What Does It Mean To Be A Member Of The Body?

 

Good Morning Friends,

 

New believers have lots of questions and issues and so it was for the Thessalonians. And part of their problems revolved around their concerns for their marriage relationships, the eternal fate of their ancestors and the work they were to do as they awaited what they thought was the imminent return of Jesus. And Paul’s answers in Chapter 4 responds with the importance of purity in marriage, the necessity of daily work and clarity on what happens to all those who were in Sheol. They were freed from their captivity by the way. But to understand all this and any application for us today we need to put the responses into context of the culture then but also the role of the Ecclesia, the called our assembly of God and the assigned tasks of members in what we often today call church. There is an important message here if we can discern it. And so we ask, What Does It Mean To Be A Member Of The Body?

 

Scripture: Finally, brothers and sisters, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus that, as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God (as, in fact, you are doing), you should do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication; that each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness and honor, not with lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one wrong or exploit a brother or sister in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, just as we have already told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. Therefore whoever rejects this rejects not human authority but God, who also gives his Holy Spirit to you. Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one. But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

 

1Thessalonians 4:1-18 (NRSV)

 

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. That is not the way you learned Christ! For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

 

Ephesians 4:1-32 (NRSV)

 

Message: Indeed, membership has its benefits but it may not always be what we expect as Gentiles to be part of a Jewish heritage. For example, today we see a clash of culture in the storyline for the Thessalonians, for they came from a place where chastity was an unknown virtue. The Jews theoretically held marriage in the highest esteem, but divorce for a man was tragically as easy as repeating the decree three times and the Greeks in the surrounding area of Thessalonica worshipped a fertility cult. Thankfully they had learned to love one another in a holy way. And undoubtedly despite this agape love, the spiritual and emotional challenge of focusing on the Second Coming was formidable for this young church, for they were convinced that Jesus would be returning soon and very soon. Given that this was the first of the letters written by Paul there is a transparency in the communication as a working document in what is essentially a demand on them to deal with monumental changes all around them and to do so with skill and moreover an altered behavior. So here is the deal. If the Thessalonians were called out by God to be something of importance and had been empowered by the Holy Spirit to carry out an assignment it is important to understand what that assignment was going to be. Undoubtedly part of this was preserving the heritage of their spiritual roots even if it meant transforming it. Knowing the will a God in these times of transition is difficult. It is no different today. For we also live in a time of major social change. Somewhat understandably confusion abounded for the early church, in the face of the assignments to be apostles, evangelists, teachers, pastors or prophets as a means of forming the Body of Christ in the church. We have the same problem today. Of course, the history of Israel is filled with examples of apostles, evangelists, teachers and prophets, but there is only one mention of Pastors…the one assignment we are perhaps most familiar with in the modern-day faith communities. Interestingly only the life of Jesus, combines all these assignments into one person. It seems reasonable that the Ecclesia would challenge us to unite these assignments into the church as a witness to the living presence of Jesus still at work. So, the question for the church today is how our gifts and assignments and calling converge for the benefit of the whole. So, Paul in the 4th chapters of two separate letters helps us to interpret what we are reading and what might well be foreign to many who have been raised in but never matured in the faith. Friends, we are to maintain our own independence through our own labor but must give thought and energy to the work of being the called-out body of believers to equip the saints for the work of Christ in the world. And that means connecting to our Spiritual and Hebrew roots but also responding to the culture in which we live. And so, we need to learn how to control our individual body but also in structure and order to bring substance and some degree of consecrated control to our collective existence with holiness, honor and wholeness as well. Friends, God wants us to build communities of people whose lives are under control and kept so by the Holy Spirit so that they might be more beautiful and loving. We are to unify a people who will constitute an island of refuge and resource for the drifting multitudes. We are to help the slaves of sin and addiction and the followers of lies so that they not damage and wreck their own lives and the lives of those around them.

 

Pray we keep working and grow in love. Pray we know our assignments and take up the challenge of being equipped to carry them out effectively. Pray we forgive others. Pray we live this day the best we can for the benefit of the communities we love. Pray that though we face trouble in the uncertainty of life that we embrace the very practical advice of Paul to keep working today even though we do not fully understand the circumstances we are going to face tomorrow. Pray for a love…a perfect love that castes out fear. Pray we become generative and transformative agents for God. Pray we not take anyone or anything for granted. Pray we seek Christ in all we do. Pray we have unity in all things essential and liberty and love in those things that are not. Pray we use our strengths in balance with others and our weaknesses binding us together in a harmony of a love for life. Pray we answer the call with gentleness, humility, love, wisdom and patience in the Spirit worthy of being called a Child of God. Pray we experience the positive power and peace of God. Pray we are ultimately recognized by others as One Body because we share a faith in The One True God. Pray we not have a haughty spirit. Pray we walk in soberness, godliness and humility. Pray we not be arrogant or angry. Pray we not be short tempered. Pray we never run out of patience. Pray we function as one body, believing in Christ and believing in one another and always, always seeking to be unified as we honor Christ together.

 

 

Blessings,

 

John Lawson

Where Will We Find Our Ultimate Safety?

Where Will We Find Our Ultimate Safety?

 

Good Morning Friends,

 

There is always a bit of anxiety in our egos until we realize that God’s affection for us is designed to create in us a joy that stands the test of time and becomes an ongoing and consistent prayer that validates the reality that everything is of God. We are to realize that God designed us to fulfil the law of love, not just in overpowering emergencies and crises, but in our daily lives as an assembly of believers with a holy purpose. Friends, the only way to properly prepare for the coming of God into our lives is to experience a purposeful life daily with God and for God. This is a long journey in the same direction. Thankfully, in today’s text from the third chapter of 1 Thessalonians, Paul as the good pastor, points the way to a reality that helps us to answer today’s question in the face of final judgment. Here we get a hint of the confusion addressed in the second letter to the Thessalonians regarding the second coming, even as we now ask. Where Will We Find Our Ultimate Safety?

 

Scripture: For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, wanted to again and again—but Satan blocked our way. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? Yes, you are our glory and joy!

 

1 Thessalonian 2:18-20 (NRSV)

 

Therefore, when we could bear it no longer, we decided to be left alone in Athens; and we sent Timothy, our brother and co-worker for God in proclaiming the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you for the sake of your faith, so that no one would be shaken by these persecutions. Indeed, you yourselves know that this is what we are destined for. In fact, when we were with you, we told you beforehand that we were to suffer persecution; so it turned out, as you know. For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith; I was afraid that somehow the tempter had tempted you and that our labor had been in vain. But Timothy has just now come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love. He has told us also that you always remember us kindly and long to see us—just as we long to see you. For this reason, brothers and sisters, during all our distress and persecution we have been encouraged about you through your faith. For we now live, if you continue to stand firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith. Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

 

1 Thessalonians 3:1-13 (NRSV)

 

For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

 

Ephesians 6:12 (NRSV)

 

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV)

 

I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

 

Psalm 121 (NRSV)

 

Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.

 

1 Peter 5:8 (NRSV)

 

Message: As we read the third chapter of 1 Thessalonians the setting has some tension in the Spirit between Jews and Gentiles and clashing cultures. Paul, despite his desire to address the situation first hand has been stymied in returning to Thessalonica. He claims the Devil was at work to block his return. The battle and challenge apparently were more spiritual than physical. Indeed, one might say the Devil has been defeated but not yet destroyed and this was true for the called-out assembly of God in Thessalonica as well in what we call churches today. Anyway, Silas and Timothy had joined Paul in Athens and it is here that Paul decides to send Timothy back to the Thessalonians as more a helper than a leader. It is here with affection in the face of their anxiety and a very present help of joy and continuous prayer in the Spirt that the issue of suffering is raised. And so, the text focuses on the reality of and inevitability of suffering in the Christian faith and a solution for dealing with it that prepares us for the day when Christ does return. And make no mistake, this current suffering was fierce for the Jew who had to face the reality of the Cross that possessed such a stumbling block for many who did not embrace the thinking of Paul. To the Greeks Christ was foolishness, but they were blind to a deeper reality. To many Jews Christ was a reality that their egos would fight against. Therefore, Paul tells us, that we do not wrestle with flesh and blood, but with a spiritual darkness. Our passage from Ephesians, like no other book tells us that it is not people who are the problem, but rather the spiritual forces of evil that prevail in the world. And indeed, if one looks at history this time had a persistent and malevolent evil that many people struggled with. But perhaps not so much has changed. Thankfully the Bible gives us some insight as to the lies and violence we are up against. Paul suggests in his writings there are three things we need to know about this dark spiritual opposition. First, and perhaps most important, it is permitted by God. The book of Job says that Satan had to come before God and get permission from him to afflict Job’s body. This man lost everything — his family, home and wealth; and he suffered terribly from boils which covered his whole body. But God had allowed it. The end of the book reveals what was accomplished by that suffering, but it was all hidden for the moment from Job’s eyes. So, too, it is hidden from our eyes. But the Bible reveals there is a power of evil at work that puts obstacles in the path of the gospel. And God permits this, so the events might be used ultimately for a noble purpose. Opposition here is God’s method of training. God’s patience a strategy for our salvation. Here affliction, suffering, pain and heartache are God’s way of getting our attention. Many of you have gone through that. Unfortunately, we often pay little attention to God until our suffering becomes acute. Then we listen and begin to hear. You see, God uses opposition to train us, and not only that, to give us an opportunity to overcome trouble, to rise above it. Here we mature in the faith and grow whole with a value to the Kingdom that is to bring us joy and gifts for deployment. Here our ultimate safety is found in a relationship with God and Gospel in a victorious community of love that fights the good fight.

 

Pray we not grieve the Spirit. Pray
we learn how the called-out assembly of God can spread the Gospel in the face of opposition. Pray we, beyond evangelism, learn to serve both the Gospel and the body of believers.
Pray God lavish love on us so that it fills our lives and overflows to everyone around us. Pray our hearts be strong believing that God can and will use our suffering for good. Pray we stand fast in the face of oppression. Pray our love be large in a world where people’s faith is small. Pray we turn to God for guidance daily getting in the habit of experiencing God’s presence. Pray our security in the love of God is sincere and sure. Pray we find our ultimate safety in the knowledge of God affirmed in our actions. Pray we be recipients of a confidence that opens doors. Pray we be a people with a grateful heart that overflows in submission to the love we have received. Pray we turn to the way, truth, life and authority of the Good Shepherd. Pray we redirect our anger to constructive ends. Pray we relate to others with consistency, helpfulness and a value system that brings mutual satisfaction in our love of God. Pray we are more satisfied with giving than receiving. Pray we are free from the unhealthy tension of anxiety. Pray we adapt to change quickly. Pray we do not fool ourselves. Pray we learn to trust God. Pray we are infused with strength and purity and filled with confidence in the presence of God our Father when Jesus returns. Pray we live today in peace and joy!

 

 

Blessings,

 

John Lawson