New Series: Children of Light (1 Thessalonians) Thessalonica was a bustling seaport city of 200,000, and the capital of the Macedonian Province. Paul came here from Philippa during his second missionary journey about 51 AD. He spoke at the synagogue and convinced some Jews, many God-fearing Greeks, and quite a few prominent women that Jesus was the Messiah. A church was born. Resistance broke out. The church blessed Paul and Silas on their way to Berea, (but persecutors chased after them). Paul went on to Athens, and then to Corinth, where he wrote one of his earliest letters recorded in the Bible to these brand new Thessalonian Christians -- trying to encourage them to stay strong against the resistance, and to ground them in their faith by acquainting them with basic instructions on how to live as “children of the day” (1 Th 5:5) in a world of darkness.
Welcome to worship, we are glad you are here. Today we begin a new series. Paul writes to the Thessalonians to clarify Christian teachings, but in light of religious and political resistance, he especially wants to ground them in their hope, and build their faith on the foundational Cornerstone of Christ, so that the good news of Christ’s transformational work will continue to spread to the four corners of the earth.
Hymn # 529 How Firm a Foundation
Message “Modeling how the power of faith flows” 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
SUPPORT IN THE STRUGGLES
Deep waters, fiery trials, life striking out at us, evil forces trying to strike us down -- But Jesus is with us, holding us up by his strength, and he is a foundation that cannot be destroyed.
And yet, it is easy for some of us to become discouraged. Even after a victory, it seems like we are (if you are like me at least) fearing the next foot to fall, or as most people like to say – the shoe to drop. High feelings at the moment of conversion of other successes in our faith journey or life in general may quickly fade into dreamy illusions. Miracles become coincidences, doubts about God, his provision, his love, his salvation can creep in and we search for those special feelings again.
Robert and Rory sat in a duck blind. They passed the time with quiet conversation as they waited for birds to take flight. Rory had just accepted Christ, but he was struggling because people were trying to pull him out of his new life and drag him back into the old one. And so, he asked his friend, “Why is it that I am having so much more trouble since I became a Christian? Everything seems to go wrong. I’m facing pressures I’ve never faced before.”
Sometimes we mislead people into thinking that if they accept Christ that their life will instantly and automatically become a stress free, pre-weeded rose garden without the thorns. And when that doesn’t happen, they feel let down and they struggle. It is like a balloon that is puffed up and then Phbbbbt, away it goes, deflated. But Jesus and others in the Bible said that we should expect difficulties. (See Matthew 5:22, 1 Peter 4:12, 1 John 3:13) Life becomes more difficult because -- before, our lives were living us and we were just going along with the flow of culture, and everything else that we wanted and thought; but now we are trying to buck cultural norms and live right and productive lives. And that is harder to do than to go with the flow.
So, Robert answered Rory, "Somewhere out there are a whole lot of ducks and they are waddling around in the dark and the mud and the muck. They are making no difference and attracting no one’s attention. But when one decides to take flight, everyone notices, and that’s the one people try to take down. Evil doesn’t like it when someone begins to soar for the heavens, escaping the dark muddy dirt and showing others what can be possible for what ducks are designed to do – to take flight.
So, Paul founded this new church in Thessalonica. It was beginning to take flight. Others saw and were jealous, rounded up some bad people and created a riot. They rushed to Jason’s house (that’s where they expected the church was meeting) and they were there to find Paul and Silas and deliver them to this mob that they had created. They filed to find Paul and Silas there, so they dragged Jason and some other new Christians before the city officials and accused them of this: “These people have welcomed people who are known all over the world for causing trouble by saying that there is another king besides Caesar. That scared the officials. But more importantly, this is not an encouraging start for brand new Christians in a brand-new church – dragged before the city officials, and in trouble. So Paul writes to encourage them and ground them so that Christ can carry them through this shaky, scary time.
Assurance - Prayers
He assures them by his prayers -- We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. (v 2)
Assurance - Chosen For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you. (v 4)
He reminds them that they know that these Thessalonians are dearly loved and chosen by God. The clear confidence that we can have – it is not based on us, on our flight (our actions), or on our feelings; but on God’s love and choice and promise.
Someone once asked Martin Luther, "Do you feel that you have been forgiven? Luther responded. answered. "No, but I'm confident, I’m sure [I am saved] as [I am sure that] there's a God in heaven. For feelings come and feelings go, and feelings [can be] deceiving. My [confidence] is the Word of God. Though all my heart should feel condemned… there is One greater than my heart whose word cannot be broken.”
Or to put it in a simple story, a woman went with her little boy to a meeting where she accepted Christ. She was given a verse of assurance about that (Isaiah 53:6) and was told to take God as his word. She went home rejoicing. She was on a great emotional high. But over the night the feeling faded away. She woke up in the morning distressed because she didn’t feel what she felt the night before. She was so upset that when she came downstairs, her son noticed and asked what was wrong. She said, "Last night, I felt I was saved. But now it seems like a dream. I fear I’ve been deceived.”
The boy said, "Mama, get your bible.” She did. “Turn to Isaiah 53:6.”
She did so, and read it, "The Lord has laid on Him the sin of us all."
Assurance – Empowered our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. (v 5a)
The son said, "Mama, is the verse still there?" She said, "Yes." "Then your sins were laid on Jesus." She took God's word to heart, without regard to her lack of feelings, she accepted it and God's peace returned.
Paul says that you can know; regardless of feelings, that you have been loved and chosen to fly because they didn’t just hear the words of the gospel, it deeply impacted their lives. It came to them with power, and the Holy Spirit and with conviction.
John Wesley was, at one point of his life, basically kicked out of every church he tried to preach in. So he went to the open fields and street corners and preached wherever he could gather a crowd. In one of those, what they called “open air meetings”, he was preaching in a bad place of London. And two – today we would call them gang members or bullies, back then in England they called them ruffians – a couple of those kids were “unhappy” that this preacher had come to their part of town taking up their space and keeping them from their fun.
So, they picked up a couple stones and elbowed their way through the crowd until they came within throwing distance of the preacher. As the positioned themselves to throw and began to aim, Wesley was talking about the power of Christ to change people’s lives, and as they beheld Wesley, it was like his face was transformed and began to glow, and one of the bullies, frozen, basically, turned to the other one, “Billy, he ain't a man! He’s not a man!”
They continued to listen and soon the rocks from their hands, and they accepted Christ. Wesley finished his sermon. And as he began to leave, the crowd parted to make room for him to move, and these two boys were at the edge of that and one reached out to him. Wesley noticed, put his hands on their heads and said, "God bless you, my boys." and continued on. And the same one said to the other one, "He is a man, Bill; he is a man. "He's a man like God."
It wasn't Wesley. it wasn't the person, it was the gospel that came on those boys with power, and with conviction, and with the Spirit.
Assurance – Examples/models We lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord… And so you became a model to all the believers… The Lord’s message rang out from you … your faith in God has become known everywhere. (From vv 5b-8a)
And these opportunities come because someone was modeling Christ with their life. The result of the assurance of salvation is that we become models, we become examples to others. The fact that we can be that kind of example is yet another assurance of God’s empowering call on our life.
The mature in faith imitate Christ, we imitate the mature in faith (and therefore imitate Christ), then we are a model for others of what it means to have faith; and maybe they will imitate us.... and be imitating Christ.
Captain Bickel was concerned about a certain man. He asked Christian friend of his to bring that him a Bible.
The man replied, "Captain, for now, you are his bible. He is watching you. As you fail, Christ fails. As you live Christ, so Christ is revealed to him."
Now Bickel was kind of a rough character. He had been called in public and private: a thief, a liar, a foreign spy, a traitor, and a devil, and he had never flinched. But these words haunted him: 'As you live, so Christ may live — in that man's soul; in that house, in that village... and as we fail to live Christ… we empty the gospel of its power.
We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (v 3)
All of us are being watched by someone. We are the models! the examples to someone. We are the only Bible some people may ever see.
Paul says these Thessalonians modeled (1) work produced by faith (2) labor prompted by love (3) and an endurance inspired by hope in Christ.
A long, long time ago, (and not to mention a bridge that is around here) I’ll talk about a different one -- the world's longest bridge (at least at the time) the Golden Gate Bridge was being completed in San Francisco at the cost of 75 million dollars, which in those days was a boatload of money (no pun intended). During the construction of the first part of the bridge, they didn’t have OSHA working like it did later one, so no safety devices were used and 23 men fell to their death in the waters. In the construction of the 2nd part it was decided to install the greatest safety net in the world, even though it would cost $100,000. But it saved the lives of at least 10 men who fell into it with not injury. And in addition to that, the ones who did not fall worked 15 to 25 percent faster because they were no longer afraid of falling and they could focus on the work they needed to do.
The Bible assures us that our spirits are safe ...we do not be afraid of those who kill the body (because that is all they can do) (Luke 12:4) If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31-32) The LORD is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life — of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)
Confidence to fly
To not be afraid of that next shoe that is going to fall sets us free to serve with joyful eagerness. We can be confident to fly, to become better and better examples of Christ. The result is that the Lord’s message rings out and is known everywhere. (See 1 Thessalonians 1:8)
Converting from idols to God
What is known everywhere about the Thessalonians is how they changed from idols to God. What are the idols of our day? What keeps us from serving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength? What keeps us from loving our neighbor as our self? These are our idols which prevent us from being all God would have us be, to soar like he would want us to soar. We need to have a conversion away from these things and to the living and true God.
See the bowl? Pretend my hands are a table. See the bowl upside down on the table? What’s inside? [Air.] Sitting on the table: emptiness, darkness, nothingness (besides air). Useless. Convert the bowl (turn it right side up). Now, what do you have? Filled with light and ready to used for some sort of purpose. What kind of a bowl are we? Inverted? (Not introverted, that is a whole different thing!) Inverted? empty, dark, helpless? Convert to Christ. His light will fill us and prepare us and use us for the purposes for which he has designed us — because by God's grace, we can turn from darkness to light, from idols to God. A poem:
A builder built a temple,
He made it with grace and skill,
Pillars and groins and arches,
All fashioned to work his will.
Men said as they saw its beauty,
"It shall never know decay.
Great is thy skill, O builder,
your fame shall endure for aye. (forever).
A teacher built a temple
with love and infinite care,
planning each arch with patience,
laying each stone with prayer.
None praised his unceasing efforts,
None knew of His wondrous plan,
For the temple the teacher built
was unseen by the eyes of man.
Gone is the builder's temple,
crumbled into the dust;
Low lies each stately pillar,
food for consuming rust.
But the temple the teacher built
will last while the ages roll,
for that beautiful unseen temple
is a child's immortal soul. (source unknown)
We have an immense task we have as models and examples. We cannot count on our culture to help us. They will try to shoot us down at every turn. They will want to take our flight away. On the other side of that, we have to be grounded in an assurance, a hope, a foundation; a fearlessness that allows us to fly -- fly to the service of God’s love, teaching and modeling the powerful gospel in our lives for the sake of others. We started the service by singing about that hope -- let’s end it by reminding ourselves about that hope -- that it is all about him and what he has done and we can rely on him.
Closing Hymn #368 My Hope is Built
Support in the Struggles
* In Others' Prayers
* Being Chosen by God
* Being Empowered by the Gospel and Spirit
* Ability to be Examples-Models
These assurances give us
Confidence to fly, and help us in our daily process of
Converting from idols to God
Bible quotes are from the (NIV)