2nd Thessalonians – Yes, God Really is Going to Judge the World!

2nd Thessalonians

Someday the LORD will pay back…. judge…. the unrighteous for their unbelief and their sin, and for everything they have done to the righteous.

That has to raise three questions in our minds:

What do we mean by “judge”?

How could a loving God do that?

Am I unrighteous or righteous in God’s eyes?

1st Thessalonians – “The Birth of a Church”

1st Thessalonians

Have you ever been a part of the birth of a church?  It is way more fun than about anything else in the world.

My husband, Ken and I have had the privilege of being part of 5 such births in our lives – and we can’t think of anything we would rather do than do it again and again and again.

The “hard” parts of church planting are nothing compared to the joys.  We have said often that If we were given the opportunity from the Lord, we would do it all again, in a nano-second.

As we study 1st Thessalonians, a letter written to a newly planted church in the city of Thessalonica, I’d like to share some of our “church-planting” stories with you.

I think you’ll see that church “births” are pretty much the same today as they were 2,000 years ago.

What Good is the Church?

I love Romans chapter 16.  It’s one of my favorite chapters in the Bible.

It’s primarily a list of names…all of them fellow-servants with the Apostle Paul.  People he valued highly.   Some of them he greets, because they are in Rome, and some of them he sends greetings from, because they are with him.   What does he say besides “greetings”?  Be good to each other.  Teach one another.  Be united.

They were all just like us, of course.  They had different personalities, different dreams, different ways of doing things.  But Paul wanted the church at Rome to come to a place of unity based on the highest purpose known to man – the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Their differences would only strengthen them if they would grasp their unity and cling tenaciously to it.

The only “difference” they were not to tolerate was the ones who wanted to cause division, didn’t care if they offended, and turned people away from truth. Paul says to “avoid” these people.  Not hate them…but definitely don’t be friends with them.  Avoid them.

Each local church was chosen by God to be united and then touch the lives around them with the Gospel. 

I’ve had an interest in church history over the last few years, and I’ve been puzzled to notice that there were sometimes long stretches of time when it seemed there was no solid Gospel witness anywhere in the world.

For instance, when Constantine declared Christianity the state religion and therefore persecution of Christians became a thing of the past, I’m sure it was a welcome relief for weary believers.  But it didn’t take long before the truth of the Gospel was so easy to proclaim that people just didn’t fight that hard to proclaim it any more.  Going to church became the law of the land…and was regulated more and more by authorities who cared little for the Bible…and church got farther and farther away from proclaiming the truth.   In fact, after many years, the message of the church was exactly the opposite of the true Gospel – the church’s message became: “here are the many things you have to do to be saved…Jesus’ death on the cross was not enough…you must also be baptized, take communion, attend church regularly, give money, etc.”

So I’ve been asking myself – “Why did this happen?  Where was the ‘true’ church?  Where were the real believers?  They didn’t just die out, did they?  Weren’t there any true believers anywhere who were still courageous enough to proclaim the simple Gospel?”

And I’ve wondered if the explanation for this dark, dark time of hardly any Gospel witness was that churches simply stopped acting like churches.  They stopped being united in their love for Christ and their desire to glorify Him, and started being united in their common government or their common lifestyles or their common comforts.  And they slowly, slowly decayed and died.

So…you might say…our differences, which frustrate us so…keep us focused on Jesus….which means health and future for the church.

But….even in the darkest of times, the Lord never left Himself without a group of people who were determined to live for Him and be united for the right reasons.  I’m not sure where all of those “true” churches were, but I did read the other day that the Gospel made it all the way to the capital of China in the year 800 a.d., and that there is evidence that several high-ranking politicians counted themselves amongst the believers in Jesus.

That was encouraging to me.  I can imagine that so many years ago, there were a few true believers in Jesus in China….and a few in the middle-east….and a few in even dark, dark Europe….and that God preserved them and gave them unity within their local tiny congregations and empowered them to keep passing on the Gospel…until He again was able to miraculously multiply the truth to huge numbers of people.

 

Psalm 119 Intro Week – “This is a Piece of Art!”

Are you studying with us through Psalm 119?  Great!  This is our Intro Week.

Click on the Psalm Intro to the left, read it through, and then start working on your assignment for this next week…you’ll see it at the end of this Intro.  As you start studying Week #1 on your own this week – a verse or two a day…see what you can get out of it….what you can learn every day…and then next Monday I’ll post my comments on the Week#1 passage.   Next Monday we’ll start working on Week #2.

Whoever wrote this Psalm was of course inspired by God to write every word, but he was also a talented writer, philosopher, counselor, and artist. He honestly shows us his shortcomings, his fears, his enemies, his downfalls.  And he takes us with him as he soars to feelings of joy almost impossible to describe with words.  I think he is one of the first people I want to meet in heaven!

Jonah – “6.8 Billion and Counting…”

   Jonah Bible Study

The first person I ever witnessed to was my sister, Barbara.

I asked Jesus to be my Savior in the spring of 1965.  I remember sitting in a little Baptist church in Tucson, Arizona, realizing, for what seemed like the first time in my life, that Jesus had died for me.  Not just for the world, but actually for me.  My world was rocked.  The only response I could think of was to thank Him, and then offer Him back my life, telling Him He could do whatever He wanted to do with me for the rest of my life.  I was seventeen.

The very next thing I thought of was that I wasn’t sure whether or not my younger sister – she was sixteen –  knew this amazing thing about Jesus.  The Lord was very clearly giving me a huge urging to share the Gospel with her.

I was the perfect picture of conflicting emotions.   You see, Barb and I were not exactly good friends.  In fact, I had spent most of my life trying to make her feel unimportant because I was jealous of her.  She was blond; I was plain old brunette.  She was thin; I fought a losing battle with the bulge.  She was fun and carefree; I was serious.  She could whine and get what she wanted; I never asked for anything and wanted to depend only on myself.  We were different and I didn’t trust her…she probably didn’t trust me, either.

So – now I was a believer in Jesus Christ, and I was supposed to invite her to my new church?  Introduce her to my new friends?  Watch her be the life of the party in the middle of my new world?  Nope.  Didn’t want to do it.

The pressure from God was so great on me to share my faith with Barbara that I could actually feel it.  Even though I was just learning about knowing and following the will of the Lord I knew one thing – when God wants you to do something there is no avoiding it.

I grudgingly invited her to church, and, just as I feared, she was well-liked by all my new friends.  The jealousy in me was growing.  I watched her laugh and make jokes with my youth group and I despaired.  Why, Jesus, would you give me this wonderful new life and then yank it away from me?

I drove and she didn’t, so I was her transportation to and from church.  One Sunday night as we pulled into our driveway I knew this was the time to talk to her about Jesus.  I still didn’t want to…but I knew I just had to.  I asked her if she wanted to ask Jesus to be her Savior, knowing that once I got this over with I could stop feeling guilty and could get on with life.

I still remember her answer.  I can still see the dashboard of our car and the blackness of the night outside.  I can still feel the shock to my body as she whispered “yes”.  In an instant of time I became someone else.  I looked at Barb and realized I loved her.  I bowed my head and prayed with her as she gave her life to Jesus, and I sensed an unusual feeling inside of me where all that hate and jealousy had been.  The jealousy and distrust were simply gone.  In their place was a desire to protect and love her which has not faded in over fifty years.

Why was the book of Jonah given to us by God?  I think it was just so we would know there have always been weak and selfish people like us, given impossible jobs to do by God.

Joel – When Disaster Strikes

Joel – “When Disaster Strikes”.

In just 2012 alone:

A mass murder, killing 7, at Oikos University in Oakland, California

March 2–3, 2012, a deadly tornado outbreak occurred over a large section of the Southern United States into the Ohio Valley region. The storms resulted in 40 tornado-related fatalities, 22 of which occurred in Kentucky Tornado-related deaths also occurred in Alabama, Indiana, and Ohio

Another major tornado outbreak in April, 6 fatalities

The 2012 Colorado wildfires are an ongoing unusually devastating series of Colorado wildfires and include several separate fires in June and July 2012. At least 34,500 residents were evacuated in June.

The 2012 North American Drought includes most of the US, parts of Mexico, and central and Eastern Canada. It is affecting a similarly large areas as droughts in the 1930s and 1950s but it is not yet been in place as long. The drought has inflicted, and is expected to continue to inflict, catastrophic economic ramifications for the affected states.

The summer 2012 North American heat wave is a heat wave which has led to more than 82 heat-related deaths across the United States and Canada

A mass murder in a movie theatre in Aurora Colorado

How are we supposed to react to all these life-altering disasters?  I think Joel is going to help us figure that out.

Take Good Care of Your Pastor

 “Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.  Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. “

(I Thessalonians 5:12, 13a)

I’m writing this with a smile on my face, because maybe a Pastor’s wife is not the best person in the world to teach on how to take care of the Pastor…but…here we are in  I Thessalonians with some very good verses to challenge us to take care of our Pastors…so…with your indulgence, I will plunge right in….

Did you know that everyone needs a Pastor?  In this age of “I don’t answer to anyone.”…  “I am my own boss”…“I don’t need anyone leaning over my shoulder telling me what to do”…“I don’t trust anyone with power”…“I want someone to meet my needs, but I don’t intend to do anything in return.”…in this age of entitlement on the one hand and fear of control on the other…It may be a hard fact to put your arms around, but the truth is…everyone needs a Pastor.

Think about it:  Everyone needs a group of friends who are committed to the God of the Universe – Jesus Christ.  And that group of friends needs to meet together weekly to worship and learn and fellowship with each other.  That group of friends needs to give to one another when they have needs, baptize one another when they come to a saving knowledge of Jesus, take communion together every so often to remember what Jesus did for them, surround one another’s families with respect and love and education about the things of God.  That group of friends needs to reach out to the world around them with the message of Jesus, and then welcome new believers into their midst.

That group of friends is a church…and every church needs a Pastor.

Look at the description Peter, a Pastor, gives us of churches and Pastors:  “To the elders (Pastors) among you, I appeal as a fellow elder (Pastor), a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed:  Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.  And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the Crown of Glory that will never fade away.”  (I Peter 5:1-4)

Everyone needs one of these.  Someone who knows your name and prays for you out of a heart filled with tender compassion.  Someone who will confront you when you are making stupid decisions – not as one who can force you to do anything, but as one who knows his own weakness as well as yours, and does not want to see you suffer.  Someone who will laugh at your jokes.  Someone who will ask how your grandchildren are doing.  Someone who will kneel by your bed in the hospital and plead for your healing.  Someone who will fight for your right to make your own decisions.  Someone who will baptize you when you know it is time to raise your flag.  Someone who will at your funeral speak kind and true words about you.   Someone who will teach you the truth about God, and teach you to use your Bible well, so that you can find out God’s truths for yourself.  Everyone needs one.

I challenge you that if you don’t have a Pastor…ask God to give you one.  Be willing to go find one.  Be willing to lay aside your independence long enough to find a man who will honorably lead you, walk beside you, cry with you…as you seek to live for Christ in a dark, dark world.

“Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.  Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. “ (I Thessalonians 5:12, 13a)

They don’t come free.  You must hold them in high regard.  Sometimes that costs.  You can’t mock them when you are with friends who have no respect for them.  You can’t ignore them when you are being confronted with truth about yourself.  You can’t be mean to them or their families even though sometimes they may hurt your feelings.  You can’t be unforgiving when you have been misunderstood.  You can’t lash out in anger at them – you can’t gossip about them – you can’t try to hurt them.  You must hold them in high regard.

Sure there are Pastors out there who don’t deserve the title.  Sure there are Pastors who don’t work hard, who don’t really like the people they are pastoring, whom you really shouldn’t be trusting.   But you don’t choose a Pastor with your eyes closed.  Choose carefully.  Compare the man to what the LORD has said he should be like.  (see Paul’s description of a good Pastor as he writes to Timothy:  II Timothy 2:1-7)

And when you find him, hold him in high regard.  Take good care of him.

Would You Like to Join Me in a 22-Week Study of Psalm 119?

I remember being told that my grandfather worked, for a short time, in a copper mine in Bisbee, Arizona.  I heard the story of the time he lost his hat while working underground in the mine.  It was a miner’s hat – the kind with a light (in his case, probably a torch) built into the hat.  I remember hearing that he had never known darkness could be so dark as when his hat fell off, and his light went out hundreds of feet underground.  He was terrified as he suddenly realized there was no way to even take a step, because the darkness was so complete.  Would He fall off a precipice?  Would he take a turn down a corridor, never to return to his original place?  Was there a wall of rock right smack in front of him?   The air suddenly felt thicker.  Fear began to rule his thoughts.  No way to see.  No light at all.  Total blackness.   I heard,  too, of the indescribable relief he felt when he brushed up against that hat, lit it, and put it back on his head.  For the rest of his life, all future feelings paled in comparison to the joy – the pure happiness – of finding his light.

Sometimes we are fooled into thinking our world isn’t really very dark.  But it is.  It’s black and dark and terrifying.  If you haven’t believed in Jesus, you are like my grandfather, hundreds of feet under the earth in Arizona…you have no idea where you came from, where you’re going, or what horrible event might surprise you as you take your next step.

But if you have believed in Jesus, you have the Light living within you.  The question, then, for you, is:  are you walking in the Light?  While Jesus was on earth He told His disciples that He was the Light.  And He warned them, and all of His other followers:  “Yet a little while is the light with you.  Walk while you have the light, lest darkness come upon you; for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth.”  (John 12:35)

You see, a relationship with Jesus isn’t just a one-time experience.  It’s a day-by-day growing, vibrant thing – which is either getting brighter because you are walking with Him, or getting dimmer because you aren’t.  Once Jesus lives within you, you can’t ever “lose” His light,  but if “dimmer” describes your relationship better than “brighter”, you aren’t walking in the light.

Ken and I have been married for over 40 years.  We were  two kids who first met in Arizona, fell in love, married, and took off to Illinois to Ken’s job as a Youth Pastor.  Wow.  Did we ever have fun together!  No adventure was too ridiculous for us.  When we got to Illinois we found out that the church which had called Ken to be their Youth Pastor had neglected to be sure the Senior Pastor agreed with the decision.  He didn’t.  So Ken resigned his first day on the job.  We had to make a living, so we decided painting houses didn’t sound so hard.  Our first house was a three-story older home with lots of windows and gables.  We somehow found two aluminum ladders, tied them together, and I stood at the bottom of the ladder making sure no neighborhood kids ran into it and knocked it over, and Ken stood at the top, painting.

We found an apartment, which was really a butler’s quarters of an old, beautiful home, bought our first puppy, and went on our first grocery shopping trip together.  I had no idea how to cook, so we just grabbed everything that looked like it might make a meal, and brought it home.  We ate ham for a long time.

Then Ken got a job as a night-watchman at a factory, and I got a job as an office clerk in a nearby university.  We passed each other in the morning as he came home and I went to work.  We entertained friends with iced tea and popcorn.  If we didn’t have time to get the dishes done before friends arrived, we just boxed them up and took them down to the basement.

Why am I telling you all this?  Because we kept facing life together….communicating with each other…laughing or crying  or praying together.  We grew closer and closer and closer.   His thoughts became my thoughts.  My thoughts became his.  We couldn’t help it.  Living life together….walking life together….made us grow together.

That’s what Jesus has in store for you when you give your heart to Him.  When you ask Him to be your Savior, He fully intends to walk, laugh, cry and talk with you through every minute of your life.

Is that what’s happening?

Or are you too busy?  Did you drift away from Him, but not sure when?  Do you have other interests which grab your attention?  Too wrapped up in the things you must have?  Too focused on yourself?   Too unsure of where to start?  Too surrounded by responsibilities?

If you are honestly not experiencing that walk-laugh-cry-talk relationship with Jesus, you are only a step away from being there.  It doesn’t  take weeks, days, or even hours of trying to make it happen.  It just takes starting to read His Word…and then keeping it up every day of your life.

So….Let’s Start a 22-Week Study Of Psalm 119.

1.  Here’s what I’ll do:

Every Monday I’ll Post my comments on a new section of Psalm 119. 

2.  Here’s what you can do:

  1. Each day of the week, read one verse from that week’s assigned 8-verse portion of Psalm 119 (go in order, so that on Day 1 you read verse 1, and on Day 2 you read verse 2, etc.)…some days you will read 2 verses…so that at the end of a week you will have read 8 verses.
  • Read each day’s verse in the morning.
  • Pray that the Lord will teach you something from that verse, and use the Discussion Questions for each 8-verse section to help you think through what the verse means.
  • Think about that verse often during the day.
  • Write down anything you learn from the verse, or any thoughts you have about it.
  • End your day with prayer (pray about anything you want to), repeating that day’s verse to the Lord as you talk to Him.
  • Take the time sometime during the week to read the Answer Key for that 8-verse section.
  1. It will take us 22 weeks to finish Psalm 119.
  • At the end of 22 weeks you will have established a habit of being in the Word every day.
  • At the end of 22 weeks you will have experienced answers to prayer.
  • At the end of 22 weeks you will have many of your questions about God answered
  • At the end of 22 weeks you will be anxious to do the same thing with another part of scripture.

Here’s my Goal:

That each person will, at the end of 22 weeks, have a daily, consistent, “I-wouldn’t-dream-of-missing-a-day”, walk with Jesus Christ.

…or…said a different way….

That each person will be reading their Bibles and talking to Jesus every single day, fighting hard to never miss a day.

If that already describes you, then you are going to enjoy sitting back, soaking up this delightful Psalm, and growing more joyful every week.

If that doesn’t describe you, then I am praying that this Psalm, which God designed especially for you, will shape your walk with the Lord as you have never experienced before.

Your Assignment until next week:   Read Psalm 119 all the way through.  (It’s long!)

 

Malachi – “Looking for His Coming”

Malachi.    Questions are a great way to start a conversation.   When the right question is asked, everyone in the conversation is given an open door to say what they are thinking…and to learn in the process.

The Old Testament prophet, Malachi, knew the art of conversation.  He presents his messages to God’s people in the form of questions…some from God….some from His people, the Jews.  We are given an armchair seat, as we read through Malachi, to view this conversation with God, and to ask ourselves how we would answer.

Hebrews – “Jump Off the Fence!!!”

Hebrews.

As born-again believers we are tempted to say we love and trust Jesus, but are really  trusting other things and people to lead us and guide our decisions.

The writer to the Hebrews is speaking to a group of people so very much like us.  Many of them, whether believers or still unbelievers, are hesitantly balancing on top of a fence, so to speak.  They know Jesus spoke the truth.  They know He said He is God…and many of them have actually believed that He is, indeed, God.  But they are conflicted.  Going forward with Him will ask for so much personal sacrifice….and sliding back into the old superstitions of Judaism, the old comfortable ways of doing religion, the ways which don’t make everyone mad at them, the ways which won’t ask for a walk of faith….just seems so attractive…..so tempting….

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