Devotional # 174. 1 Thessalonians 1:2-5

Devotional # 174. 2/1/16. 1 Thessalonians 1:2-5.

Intro. Two weeks ago (Devotional #172) we started the book of 1 Thessalonians (pronounced “thess-uh-lone-ee-ans”) and we talked about how Paul wrote this letter to encourage the church there. In verse 1 we saw Paul’s multi-layered greeting and the significance between God being both “the Father” and “our Father.” And we saw the multi-layed title/name of “Lord Jesus Christ” as being very important.

Today we’ll have a lesson in two huge tenants of the faith: “thankfulness” and “prayer”. And we’ll also see the three attitudes of the Christian: faith, hope and love. Lastly, we’ll see four things that the gospel came “in.”

v. 2. Just in this one verse Paul gives us possibly the two most important rules to live by in the Christian faith: thankfulness and prayer. As was Paul’s custom, and we should make it our own also, the first thing that he does is to give “thanks to God“. By being thankful he puts his heart and mind in the right place. He knows that whatever he’s about to say, whatever he’s going to do and however he’s going to exhort them or correct them it is with thankfulness to God for providing the wisdom to do these things. If Paul recognizes how blessed he is and the church recognizes how blessed they are, their thankfulness will pour over onto non-Christians and they will have to seriously consider who God truly is. And so Paul is thankful to God “always for you all” which tells us that Paul is never not thankful for them (“always“). No matter how lackadaisical or frustrating or seemingly perfect our sisters and brothers in the faith are we should “always” be thankful for every single one of them (“all“).

And then Paul says that he, Silas, Timothy and others make “mention of you in our prayers.” What an encouragement to know that men like Paul and Silas and Timothy were praying for you! That they remembered you and your needs and brought them before God. This doesn’t just have to be a thing that we fantasize about, this should be something that we do in our own lives. For us to go out of our way and get to know little churches all over this country and all over the world will take some time but we have more than enough resources. When we start to recognize the names and families of people that we may have never met it starts to change her heart and that’s when God can use us. It may seem trivial but it will put a little more weight behind your prayers of “and God take care of the church around the world.”

From “thankfulness” and “prayer” will come everything that we need to know to do in the Christian faith. Think about it, if we’re not thankful for what God has done, is doing, and will do, why would we be willing to serve Him or help others or share Jesus with others? And if we’re not praying about it how will we know what is God’s will for us to do, who we should speak to and how we should love? It all comes down to “thankfulness” and “prayer”.

vv. 3-4. I like lists, or at least lists from the Bible, because it helps me clearly see what I’m supposed to do. Here Paul shows us three things the Thessalonians were doing: 1. “work of faith”, 2. “labor of love” and 3. “patience of hope.” The “work of faith” can be simply being used by God for anything He asks you to do. He’ll never leave you to do it alone, He’ll always have prepared you (even if you don’t know it) and He’ll have given you the spiritual gift(s) to accomplish it. We’re used to hearing the expression “it was a labor of love.” It generally means something was a lot of work but it wasn’t that bad because you enjoyed doing it. That’s exactly what God is saying here. He will give you a passion that you never had, to do work you never knew, to impact others you never cared for. This passion you have is not something you came up with on your own, often it’s the furthest thing from your mind, but once you’re saved His thoughts become your thoughts, His passion becomes your passion and His love becomes your love. Lastly, the “patience of hope” is an attitude only available to a Christian. Really, without Jesus no one has “hope” and so the believer has a comfort and “patience” in knowing that this world is not the end and there is always “hope” in Jesus. Each of these (the work, the love and the hope) were done “in Jesus” and with God the Father watching (“in the sight of“).

Next we see the Thessalonians “election” was evident to Paul by their unceasing “work of faith” their “labor of love” and “patience of hope.” God had “elected” them to salvation and to do these things while still on earth. This is a great thing and still applies to us to this day! But I must make a warning: if you’re like me you like lists because they clearly tell you the expectation of what’s due. In other words I don’t like “to do” lists but if I have to do stuff I like it clearly stated and separated. The mistake we can make here is to look at this as a “to do” list and think that we’re working ourselves into getting “elected” to go to heaven. But that’s wrong. All signs here (and elsewhere in the Bible) point to the opposite. Let’s look at it again. Their “work of faith” was in who? Faith in themselves and their abilities or Jesus’? Their “love” came from themselves or Jesus? Their “patience of hope” was a hope in themselves and how great they were, or in Jesus? It clearly states here it was “in our Lord Jesus Christ.” So it is only after we have been saved by Jesus that we have the power to do any of the things that God works into us. Let’s look into that power in the next verse…

v. 5. When Paul says “our gospel” he’s not saying that it’s his and Silas and Timothy’s. He’s saying “our” as in it is something shared by all Christians, including the Thessalonians. They should be proud of their spiritual heritage and the blessing of being “elected” and hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Here we see four things that the gospel came in 1. “word” (not in word only, implies that it did come in “word”), 2. “power“, 3. “the Holy Spirit“, and 4. “much assurance“:

It would be amazing in and of itself that the good news of Jesus came in “word” only but if that word didn’t include “power” then at best it would be just another religious writing. But it did come with “power” – the power to heal people’s physical bodies, to heal their minds and to heal their spirits. The gospel also comes with the power of the “Holy Spirit”, one member of the Trinity, God Himself! And the power of the Holy Spirit “will convict the world of it sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment” (John 16:8). Amazingly it is both the Holy Spirit that convicts us of our sin and comes to live in our heart when we accept this gospel of Jesus. And lastly the gospel came “in much assurance” which just means that the people prior to this were assured by God that this good news was true and for them.

Conclusion. We have received much today. Keep in mind the reminder to be “pray” and be “thankful.” Practice the three attitudes of the believer: faith, hope and love. Treasure how the gospel came: in “word”, in “power“, in “the Holy Spirit“, and in “much assurance“. Have a blessed day!

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Devotional # 173. 1/25/16

Devotional # 173. 1/25/16.

I was blessed with a conversation at church yesterday (yet another reason every Christian should be going to a physical church!) where I was challenged to really think about my devotional life. This last week I read my Bible every day as a checklist instead of looking at what God wanted to teach me through it. Today I read Proverbs 2:3-5:
Yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God” (ESV).
I think this really stresses the importance of praying that God will reveal Himself to us even before we pick up the Bible. Today’s devotional is short because I want to give you some time for homework. Pick up your Bible and put it in front of you, now before you pray I have a challenge: attempt to spend at least the first 30 seconds of your prayer without using words like “I” or “me” or “we”. See how difficult it is to get your mind and your words off of yourself and just to focus on how great God is, what He has done and what He will do. I pray that your prayer is a blessing to God and what He reveals to you and His word today is a blessing to you and those that you share it with!

Devotional # 172. 1 Thessalonians 1:1

Devotional # 172. 1/14/16. 1 Thessalonians 1:1.

Intro. Today we start the book of 1 Thessalonians! We have had a break from studying through just one book with the Christmas and New Year’s Devotionals. But now we continue on, having gone through Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians we come to the book of 1 Thessalonians (pronounced “thess-uh-lone-ee-ans”). As with many of the books in the New Testament we call them books but they started off as letters. This is the first letter (that’s why we call it “First Thessalonians”) that we have from Paul to the church in Thessalonica. Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy were with Paul on his “second missionary journey when [this] church was founded (Acts 17:1-9)” (Source 1) so although Paul is the primary author, he still acknowledges that his traveling companions also greet the church.

Thessalonica is modern day Salonica (see map below) and became the capital of Macedonia around 168 BC (Source 1).

250px-Salonica_Eyalet,_Ottoman_Balkans_1850s.png

It’s important for us to understand why Paul wrote this letter, and without breaking it down section by section, he simply had gotten a good report from Timothy’s last visit (Acts 18:5) and wanted to encourage them. This is a nice change of pace for us when so often we are reading something from Paul because Christians have screwed up!

v. 1. As mentioned above this letter is from Paul and he wrote it to one of their fellow, God-fearing churches. Just here in verse 1 we see the phrase “Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” twice. The first time Paul notes that he is writing “in” as in “through” God. The second time he notes he is writing “from” God. So God is both inspiring him to write and it is therefore true and important but it is also from God so it shows His heart towards them and the things they are doing well and things which will strengthen their walk with the Lord.

I’ve been careful to leave out the words prior to “Father” both times it’s used here because I wanted to draw special attention to them. The first time the phrase is “God the Father” because He truly is the one and only Father God. But the second time the phrase is “God our Father” because He is relational and His heart towards His people is to know them and be known by them. God the Father is a distinct Person of the Trinity (separate from God the Son) and Mighty Creator of the Universe but He is also “our” Father where He knows the small things like each of us by name, knitting us together in our mother’s womb and loves us unconditionally.

Both times Jesus is referenced it’s the same: “Lord Jesus Christ“. This is a great phrase because we get:

 

 

-His title – “Lord” meaning Master.
-His personal, Human name – “Jesus” meaning “Yahweh is salvation” (See Devotional Christmas: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen for more).
-His purpose – “Christ” meaning Savior.

So what does our Master, God-who-is-salvation, our Savior, desire to make known to the Thessalonians and us today? It is: “grace to you and peace”! Do you remember how important this phrase is? “Grace” was a common greeting among Gentiles and “peace” was common among Hebrews so there is recognition of the diversity of the church while at the same time bringing unity! The importance of Christian unity cannot be understated in 2016. I’m serious. You may think the Christian church in the United States is probably as unified as it has been in the past but it’s never been more fragmented and disjointed. Read the book The Great Evangelical Recession by John S. Dickerson for both the sad statistics of how we’ve allowed ourselves to be divided and the encouraging solutions to fix it. Check out Devotional #142 for more on the importance of “grace and peace.”

Conclusion.

-Try picturing your “companions” in the faith when you read through sections like 1 Thessalonians 1:1. If you put yourself in Paul’s shoes it will come alive. Do you have a Silas and Timothy? If so be thankful and if not seek a few brothers and sisters that you can become close with in serving the Lord. You will hold each other accountable and “motivate each other in love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).

-Take encouragement in knowing that “the Father” who is “our Father” speaks “in” and “through” the Holy Spirit using average people like Paul. In the same way God will speak through you if you are willing.

-Meditate on the “Lord Jesus Christ” who is your Master, personal representative with the Father Yahweh and your Savior. However, He is not yours only but Savior of your next-door neighbors, of people such as Paul and Mary Magdalene 2,000 years ago and Abraham and Sarah 6,000 years ago. Do not try and hoard or hide Him, there is plenty to go around! Tell someone about Jesus their Savior.

-Pass along your “grace and peace” to others, whether they are your enemies or friends. And share the “grace and peace” that can only come from God the Father and God the Son.

 

References.

Source 1: John MacArthur, The John MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1841.

Devotional # 171. 1 Timothy 2:1-2. Political Prayer Preparation

Devotional # 171. 1/8/16. 1 Timothy 2:1-2. Political Prayer Preparation

It is exactly 10 months until the United States will vote in our new President. We’re being told what party to vote for, what candidate is best and who will bring the most impactful changes. But there is something you can do that is more powerful than a vote, a candidate or a party.

1 Timothy 2:1-2 tells us, “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.”

The truth is that we should be praying for our future leaders right now, not in 10 months but right this minute. If we truly believe that God can impact our nation for good, in a way that He’s never done before than we start now. Although I don’t fully dismiss petitions and picketing, I don’t see anywhere in the Bible where that is our best course of action. So often we let the “works” aspect become our foundation, the rock that we stand on because it feels good to make signs, or go door to door and collect signatures. And I believe these things have their place, in fact in 2013 I headed up our church’s effort on collecting signatures for Proposition 8 and the Co-ed bathroom bill. Specifically for AB 1266 (co-ed bathroom bill) we collected 620,000 signatures when only 504,760 were required. However, California’s election officials dismissed 131,857 signatures and drove the bill into law. It was never put on a petition where voters had the chance to agree or disagree. This, along with many other things, has shaken my faith in the men and women upholding what is right and lawful and best for our cities, states, countries and the world. But the thing that has never swayed is God. If I pray to God about these things He promises to answer my prayer. That doesn’t mean that it will go the way I want it to (which I’ve found to sometimes be a good thing since I have a finite mind that only sees a limited sphere). But He will answer in one of three ways: 1. Go (“Yes, that is My will”), No (“It is not my will”) or 3. Slow (“It is not My timing…YET”).

Today, I encourage you to pray for our leaders: present and future. Keep in mind the November 8, 2016 Presidential election coming up. Pray that God would raise up a man or woman that would do His will in leading our country and that they would appoint other godly women and men into offices that can impact not just the United States but the world for Jesus. I would also ask you to pray for spiritual leaders. Whether they head up a big church or small church, a local ministry or a global organization they need prayer. Pray that they rely on God in making decisions and that they hold to the tenants of the faith in these times of the Church being “tossed to and fro” (Ephesians 4:14). I encourage you to pray that these spiritual leaders would impact the political leaders on a personal scale, loving them to faith in the one true and just Judge and Ruler.

Devotional # 170. 1 Peter 3:8-17 (New Year’s Day 2016 Devotional)

Devotional 170. 1/1/16. New Year’s Day 2016 (Hope).

Happy New Years! Yesterday (Devotional #169) we talked about 2015 and had a reflective, maybe even sad, view of it. And it’s important to do that sometimes. However, “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, no one can discover anything about their future” (Ecclesiastes 7:14).

So now we turn with a hopeful, maybe even happy, view of 2016!

Yesterday I used verses from the book of Proverbs and mentioned that there are 31 chapters so you can read a chapter each day of each month. I challenge you to do this and you will grow in the Lord, in your faith and in your understanding of the responsibilities you have to the kingdom of God.

God is a God of hope. Let’s read 1 Peter 3:8-17. Peter has just finished telling husbands and wives how they should behave and now he moves to the whole church. If you are a Christian than this applies to you:

Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. For

“‘He who would love life
And see good days,
Let him refrain his tongue from evil,
And his lips from speaking deceit.
Let him turn away from evil and do good;
Let him seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
And His ears are open to their prayers;
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.
’”

That last part Peter was quoting from Psalm 34:12-16, which he uses to back up his prior statement. God wants believers to be unified (“love as brothers [and sisters]”). The non-believing world (who are angry and hurting) will see this and be drawn to it. Unity brings hope.

God also wants believers to “turn away from evil and do good.” Training up our self-control and developing a love for the Scriptures will help us fight evil temptations. This isn’t something we can do by ourselves but requires we pray and petition the Lord to help us. One person turning from evil and doing good gives hope to multitudes.

That prayer I just mentioned will be heard since God’s “ears are open to their prayers.” The Lord promises to listen and act on our prayers but it’s followed with a warning that He will be “against” us if we “do evil.” Our prayer and the Lord’s action brings hope.

Now let’s finish the section with 1 Peter 3:13-17…

And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. ‘And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.’ But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”

We are told it’s not rational for us to be hurt for doing good but if we are (since there are people in sin being used by Satan) then we will be “blessed.” We won’t be worried by “threats”, as we learned yesterday, the Lord is with us. The “hope that is in us” is a blessing.

If we separate and dedicate (“sanctify”) our heart to the Lord and are always ready to defend our “hope” then the sinful world will “be ashamed.” With some people it takes being put to shame in order for them to come to truth. God uses any means necessary to show a person how much He loves them. The “hope that is in us” may cause shame in others.

We are only responsible for how we behave. Isn’t it better to follow the “will of God” for our lives and “suffer for doing good” than to suffer for “doing evil”? For the Christian, this is a no brainer but sometimes we need it put like this for us to see the reality of our life. We are only responsible for how we behave. The “hope that is in us” may cause us pain.

As for me and my house, in 2016, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).

Lord, we know that 2016 will have its share of bad things that happen because there are people controlled by sin and Satan is constantly working. But we pray that You would give us hope. Help us to love our brothers and sisters in unity of hope. Help us to turn from evil and place our hope in You, doing good through us. Help us live a godly life for it is our hope that You hear and act on our prayers. Help us bless You in hope that You will be well pleased and bless us and others. Help others to receive Your hope even if that means they may be put to shame by their sin. Help us as we suffer for Your hope to live in others. Thank you for being a God of hope, sending Your Son to die for our sins so that the world might receive everlasting hope!