Waiting for the Harvest

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

Habakkuk 3:17-18 NIV

This has always been one of my favorite verses. During the hardest seasons of my life I would look to this verse and try to draw some sort of solace from the words of this prophet.

Habakkuk was written by a man who was desperate to see his situation change. He and his people had suffered at the hands of ruthless armies. Now a new army had risen up, one that would lay siege to the Holy City. A new army that would light a fire which couldn’t be snuffed out. A fire that would engulf the temple where he once had worshipped. It’s embers still glowing as his people are carried, enslaved and exiled, away from their home. This was a desperate man praying desperate prayers. Hoping, longing, and waiting for His God to respond and save his people from this desolation.

His prayers would resonate with my spirit. Even now, his words take me back to my own time of waiting. It was these words that resonated most…

“Though the fig tree does not bud…yet I will rejoice in the Lord…”

I remember being encouraged that this man, desperate like myself, would still rejoice even if God didn’t come through. My mind would picture the three young Jewish scholars, hands bound as they were pushed in the fiery furnace. “Even if you don’t,” I would whisper to myself…

If only I knew that I had missed the point.

That point I missed is found in verse 18-19.

“…yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.”

Habakkuk 3:18-19 NIV

My interpretation stripped Habakkuk’s statement of the incredible faith that it displays. I thought that this desperate prophet was prepared to worship God despite God not answering his call, but the truth is quite the opposite. Habakkuk was prepared to worship God, even if he saw no evidence of God moving, because he ultimately believed that God would come through.

He is able to make this statement because he is confident in two things:

  • He was confident in who God is. Habakkuk describes God as savior, sovereign and strength. He believes in God’s identity as his savior. As one who would rescue him from the calamity that faced him. As one who would snatch him from the mouth of the lion and carry him to safety. He believed in God’s identity as sovereign, meaning that God was in total control his life and situation. That his fate was in the hands of the Almighty. And he believed in God’s identity as his strength. As the source that was able to sustain him until his salvation.
  • He was confident in what God could do. He believed that God could “enable him to tread on the heights.” He knew that God was able; able to deliver him from his enemies. To equip him with what he needed to walk over the mountain that stood before him.

Maybe the desperate words of the prophet resonate with your spirit. Maybe they remind you of the desperate situation you face today. Let me encourage you.

God is able. More than able. Be confident in God’s identity as a sovereign savior. Trust in the strength that he is able to supply you and he will equip and enable you to overcome.

I write this final devotional of our prayer week from incredible heights. Literally speaking, I am 22,000 feet in the air, flying to Colorado to climb the 2nd largest mountain in the lower 48 states. Spiritually speaking, I write as someone who stood in front of a mountain, begging it to move, until I finally allowed God to equip and enable my feet to walk over the mountain in my way. If you find yourself in the valley be confident that God will lead you up and over your circumstance.

The power in Habakkuk’s statement of faith is his belief without seeing. The time of harvest is coming. These incredibly difficult situations that you have been laboring through will produce fruit. Even if you haven’t seen the signs, trust that it’s coming and you will truly see God’s goodness in the land of the living.

Father, today we declare the words of Habakkuk.

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior

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Who Sows the Harvest?

“I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”” John 4:38 NIV

It’s harvest time. That means its time for cooler nights and pumpkin spiced everything. One of the popular activities in my household during this harvest time is apple picking. I have to be honest, I’m not a fan. I would much rather just buy my apples at the grocery store, but my wife loves it so I acquiesce. Every year we go and I watch the faces in the orchard. Moms, dads, boys and girls running through the rows of trees; faces gleaming with joy when they find fruit worthy of placing in their baskets. All these faces, all these people, filled with joy as they reap a harvest that someone else sowed.

In John 4, Jesus has just finished telling the Samaritan woman, “everything she ever did” and He sits at the well waiting for harvest that he knows is coming. He knows its coming because he planted the seed. He did the work and now he waits to see the fruit of his labor. The disciples are oblivious. Their concern is tied up in getting Jesus to eat something. After all, they did just run all the way into town to get him the food. Now, Jesus is uninterested. His focus is on something else. Unaware of his reasonings and eager to make their trip worthwhile they push Jesus further. Jesus reveals where is focus is…

““My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” John 4:34 NIV

You see, Jesus had all the sustenance he needed. It wasn’t found in figs, bread, or fish; It was found in doing the will of him who sent (Jesus) and finishing his work. Jesus was literally on a mission from God. His job was to finish the work the Father started way back in Eden. A work of repairing the divide that separated man from his Creator. A work that Christ completed when he bore our sins upon the cross and uttered the words, “It is finished.”

Now, it’s harvest time.

And just like the faces I see every year in the orchard, our faces should light up with joy as we eagerly look for the fruit of God’s handiwork. The souls, once lost, who are now making their way back to the arms of the Father. As we see them, we become tools used in the reaping process. Paul describes this role as ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5). The work has been completed, the seeds have been sowed, the vine has been tended to, but now the fields are ripe for harvest. It’s time for us to reap the benefits of Christ’s labor.

Are you ready to gather the harvest for Christ?

Are you willing to be a minister of reconciliation, leading people back into the loving kindness that the Father has waiting for them?

Lord, today I pray that you would prepare us to participate in your harvest. Let us be joyful as we seek out the fruit for which you labored. Let us be slow to speak and quick to listen to your instruction during this time. Let us share in your ministry of leading the lost back home into your loving arms.

Amen.

Labor

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”Matthew 11:28

Prayer week is coming to a close. From this point, we go off into the new year and attempt to bear fruit. We try and take this attitude of prayer and make it a daily part of our life. Everything we’ve discussed this week: the seed, soil, source, climate; everything that goes into growth becomes more than ideas. They become functional parts of our 2019 life. These ideas become work. They become labor.

It’s fitting that the final factor of growth is labor. Without labor, there will be no fruit. Without someone to pull the spiritual weeds and prune the dead branches the vine will die. The work of the laborer belongs to the Father in John 15. He is the gardener. That doesn’t leave us without labor. Instead, it means that we are not alone in our struggle. We have a strength unlike any other that flows through us and bears our burdens.

This year as you try to bear fruit in your life. As you plant the seed of truth in the fertile soil of your heart; as you plant yourself by the source that never runs dry and you become an influencer of your climate, remember that you are not alone. You don’t have to labor by your own strength. You have a God who empowers you. Without whom, we would be barren. But by the power of God, the same power that raised Christ from the grave, we persevere, we grow, and we bear fruit.

Climate

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” – Psalm 1:1-3

I live in the suburbs of Chicago, IL. Here in the midwest, we often brag about how we get to experience all four seasons. Those California folks must suffer every day with their constant sunny, 70-degree weather. 😉 In all seriousness, I really do love experiencing the crisp fall, frigid winter, rainy spring, and hot and humid summer. I embrace that. But that comes with certain expectations. For example, there are trees, plants, fruits, and vegetables that I will never get to see, smell, taste or grow. The reality is the climate of my home makes it impossible for some of those things to grow.

The same is true for our spiritual growth. We can plant the right seeds, in the right soil, and provide all the water and nutrients we can, but if the climate is not right for growth, we will not bear fruit. Our climate is what we surround ourselves with; the mediums that have an impact on our daily life. I’m talking about our friends, family, work, podcasts, music, blogs, television, social media, or movies. Those things influence our thoughts, words, and actions.

Some of those can be changed by merely making a choice not to indulge in them. If the movies/television that you watch cause you to stumble, turn them off. If the music you listen to fills your mind with immoral thoughts, turn it off. If your podcasts or blogs distract you from the place God has you in, choose a different blog that feeds your spirit. If social media causes you to judge others, be envious or your friends, or argue with strangers, do whatever it takes to remove that influence.

This isn’t a commercial for KLove or Christian Movies. If the things you watch, read, or listen to do not influence you negatively then there is no need to change. But before you write it off, take a good hard look, and you might be surprised how much they do impact your life.

Remember, the branch that doesn’t produce fruit gets cut off. There can be no stragglers in the Kingdom. There are no fruitless branches on the vine. So if the climate of your life does not promote growth, change your climate.

Now there are factors that you cannot change. Your friends, family, and workplace are not as easy to cut off. Those are relationships. They are an essential part of being a human. But they can still negatively influence you. So how do we change that climate? Well, we change it by introducing Jesus to that climate. Jesus brings light to the dark places. He takes filth and makes it clean. We become the agent of change. We become the influencer.

During your prayer time today, think about your climate. Does it promote growth? If it doesn’t, maybe 2019 is a year of change.

Source.

“But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8

To bear fruit, you first need a seed. That seed then needs to be planted in fertile soil. However,  that alone will not bring you a harvest. Without water, plants do not grow. Without a source of life, trees and vines cannot bear fruit. The same is true for us believers. We need a source that will continue to feed us until we bear fruit. Jeremiah says that source is the Lord. 

Trees draw water up from their roots and use some of the water, combined with sunlight and carbon dioxide to create plant food and oxygen. That’s called photosynthesis. The rest of the water is used in a process called transpiration. Essentially this means the water flows through the tree, ignoring pesky things like gravity, and hydrates its branches and leaves. Finally, the remaining water is released as moisture back into the atmosphere, where it becomes rain and restarts the cycle. Why am I giving you a science lesson? Because it can help us understand what happens when we draw from our source, God. 

The “water” that we draw from God is faith. Jeremiah said the one who trusts in the Lord is like a tree who spreads out its roots to the stream. When we pull that faith from the stream of living water multiple things happen at once.

  • Faith begins to rise in our life despite circumstance that should keep it down — the same way the water defies the laws of gravity during transpiration. 
  • That faith is a refreshment to our soul that brings us peace and confidence during the drought. The same way trees use that water to hydrate their leaves and branches.
  • Photosynthesis takes two essential elements of life (sunlight + water) and poisonous gas (carbon dioxide)  and turns it into food for the plant and oxygen which is used by all life around it. In the same way, when the water of our faith and the light of God’s grace mix with the toxic circumstances of this life, there is a hope that is created that feeds our soul and breathes life into a world that is gasping for air.

Without water there is no photosynthesis, there is no transpiration. Without those things, there will be no fruit. We need living water. That only comes from one source. Where are you drawing your faith from today? Is it in the world, yourself, or the Everlasting Stream?

Soil.

This past spring my wife really wanted sunflowers in our backyard. So I set out to make her vision a reality. I went to the garden center and bought some seeds. I mapped out the garden and determined the best place to put them. There was a spot in my yard where they would get ample sunlight and would have an opportunity to thrive. So I dug up some holes and planted the seeds. I watered and waited; nothing happened. Not one of the seeds turned into a sunflower. What did I do wrong? Well, the one thing that I didn’t take into account was the soil. I planted my seeds in an area of my yard that was too close to a big tree. It was also too close to a patch of ground covering ivy. My seeds never stood a chance. From the beginning, they were in a constant struggle for water and resources. It was a battle they, unfortunately, couldn’t win. 

This happens in our lives too. In order to grow, the seeds that Jesus is planting in our lives need to be planted in good soil. Jesus talked about this in Luke 8 in the Parable of the Sower. He talks about three different types of soil. The first is rocky soil. Jesus says that these are people who hear the word and receive it with joy but fall away when the time of testing comes because they have no root. The second is among the thorns. These are the people who hear the word but are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they never mature. Last is the good soil. These are the people who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

We obviously all want to be the good soil. Our goal is to abide in Jesus, stay attached to the vine,  persevere and bear fruit.  But unfortunately, not all of us have good healthy soil. If we remain the same, the seed that Jesus is planting will either dry up or be choked out. The good news is that we don’t have to remain the same. God desires for all to come to a knowledge of Him. That means that we all can have good soil, with a little work. God wants to work with you to clean up your soil this year. 2019 will be the year that we stop getting distracted by worries and things of this world. Our focus will be on God, our all in all. What are the distractions in your life that are keeping you from producing fruit? If you don’t know then take some time today and ask God to reveal to you what your soil looks like. He will be faithful to respond.

Seeds.

At the center of every fruit is a seed. Go ahead, bust open that apple, banana, or orange you brought for lunch. At its center, there will be a seed. As believers, it’s our job to bear fruit; similar to real fruit, it starts with a seed. You won’t exactly find these seeds in an aisle of your local garden center, so what do we do? Well, Jesus tells us the answer in John 15:3.

“You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” – John 15:3

The seed at the center of our fruit is the word of God. Our lives will be barren without the word of God. A couple of quick things to note:

  • First, Jesus is the one who plants the seed. This takes a lot of weight off of our shoulders. To bear fruit worthy of a holy God, we need a seed that is holy. By our own merit, we could never plant that seed. Thankfully, Jesus takes that responsibility for us. He plants a word of life, that can produce fruit that is pleasing to God. His blood is speaking a “better word” in our lives, that purifies us and makes us clean.
  • Second, Jesus has already planted the seed. Which means we’ve already been given what is necessary to produce fruit. We cannot earn it or work for it. Jesus has freely spoken that word in our lives, that we would be made clean.

There are a couple of ways we can apply this as we pursue fruitful lives in 2019. (1) If we want to be actively producing fruit, we must be actively seeking out the word of God. Let’s dig deeper (pardon the pun) in the word this year. Let’s seek Him while he may be found and watch as we reap a harvest in our life that is one hundred fold. (2) In our life, we are meant to bear fruit but we aren’t meant to do it alone. That means that we must help each other. The only way we can do that is by keeping the word of God at the center. The word of God must be at the center of teachings, encouragement, rebukes, and corrections. If we can do that, we will establish ourselves as a church that bears fruit. Then we will experience an outpouring of God’s spirit like never before.

Bear Fruit.

2019 Theme

Our theme for 2019 is Bear Fruit. It is a commonly used phrase in both the secular world and the church. It comes from a passage in John 15:1-8, in which Jesus gives us an illustration of the relational roles that belong to us believers, Jesus, and the Father. Jesus says, “I am the vine, my Father is the gardener….you are the branches.” (v. 1; v.5 NIV). His illustration creates an incredible picture of a vineyard. Have you ever visited a farm or property where everything, as far as you can see, belongs to the farmer? You look out and see fields of corn, or beans, that stretch across what seems like thousands of acres. This is what I picture in my mind. A vineyard that is never-ending, and in that vineyard there is one vine from which all things grow. One vine that connects every branch; one vine, intertwined with the foundations designed by the farmer.

In Jesus’ illustration, Jesus is the vine whose job is to grow.  The Father is the gardener, his job is to prune and maintain the vineyard. We are the branches, our job is to bear fruit. Both the Farmer and the Vine will do their jobs. They will never fail. However, the branches can fail. Not every branch on the vine will bear fruit, which leaves the branches with two possible outcomes. (1) Bear fruit and be pruned back for more growth or (2) fail to bear fruit and be cut down from the vine. If we are the branches, that leaves us with two possible results for our lives. We can bear fruit and stay within the fold of God or fail to bear fruit and be separated from the presence of God for eternity. The reason our theme for 2019 is Bear Fruit, is because nothing could be of greater importance. Our goal,as believers and as a church, is to stay connected to the vine. To do that we must do one thing and one thing alone: Bear Fruit.

During this Week of Prayer, our focus is on the factors that contribute to fruit bearing. In order for a tree or plant to bear fruit, all of the conditions must be right. Anybody with a garden will tell you that. If one element is off, it could result in a barren tree. Our devotional this week will highlight a couple of key factors for a fruit-bearing life. During your prayer time this week, take an inward look at your life and determine if you are, indeed, bearing fruit. Then, follow along with us as we study the essentials of a fruitful life.

Final Instructions

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We’ve all seen that scene in a tv show or movie. Its not an important scene. It is usually just added in as fluff or as an opportunity to provide comic relief.

The scene: Parents are getting ready to leave for a date night, a work event, or a vacation, and they linger around the house giving the babysitter extra instructions.

There are usually some jokes, some sarcasm from the sitter, and the father is usually nagging the mother about being late. It can be funny, but its mostly forgettable. It is however, relatable. Because just about every young (or old) parent has been there. You are leaving the most important things in your life in the hands of someone else. To make matters more nerve wrecking, you’re probably leaving them in the hands of a young, immature teenager because its the best you could afford (I feel ya…). It is your last chance to communicate your instructions before you leave for the night. You hit the highlights and briefly cover the important things that you most likely already exhaustively explained in written form via text or a piece of paper on the kitchen table. Sound familiar?

I have to be honest. I am a new parent to the most amazing little boy in the world. Here’s a cute picture…

archie 3

Anyway…being a new parent, my wife and I are huge babies and we’re not quite ready to leave this little dude yet. So I don’t fully understand this concept. But, I can only imagine the ridiculous list we will leave for the poor babysitter (currently accepting applications, btw). Plus, I’ve seen it in a movie…

The point here is that, in the final moments before leaving, we parents try to stress important instructions to the babysitter. Why? Because they are important. Allergies, medicine instructions, bed time routines; these are important rules for a babysitter to follow. We need them to know the important things and so the scene begins.

This is the last message in the 1 Thessalonians series. We are looking at the final instructions that the Apostle Paul gives to the church of Thessalonica. This entire letter has centered around the theme of living a life that is holy and set apart; living a life that is different from the world; living as “imitators of God”. These final verses are no different. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 is Paul’s last chance to communicate important instructions for taking care of one of the most important things in the world to him, his church! So he stresses a couple important details that the church needs to focus on until the next time he encounters them. 16 important details to be exact. The way that I see it, those 16 points can be broken down into three main points (because I’m an evangelical preacher, and that’s what we do. 😉 ). The points are: Strive to do good to each other, Don’t quench the spirit, and to remember that the one who is called us is faithful. Let’s dive in.

Strive to do good to each other.

The majority of Paul’s final instructions are in regards to being good to each other. This is a simple concept. Every one of us was taught as a kid to do good to others. To treat others how you would like to be treated. It’s funny though, for as much as that novel concept is taught, we adults at some point shifted our focus to doing good to ourselves. But a healthy Christian body can only survive when we live not for ourselves, but for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul spends a significant amount of this letter on this topic, and in chapter 5 he gives the church 7 ways they can “strive to do good by each other”.

  • Acknowledgement – Paul’s command to “acknowledge those who work hard among you” can be easily over looked, but in the body we must encourage those that are working hard. Whether they are working hard at their jobs, working hard on their relationships, working hard in the service or ministries, or working hard on their character, we must be intentional about encouraging that work ethic. Barnabas was known as the “son of encouragement” because he was quick to support his brothers and sisters in the ministry. Without Barnabas, we don’t get Paul. Without Paul, we don’t get this letter. You never know the power that lies behind your word of encouragement. So we must acknowledge and honor those who display a pattern of hard work in their life.
  • Live in peace – The next command is to “live in peace with each other”. This is a command repeated by multiple people through out the New Testament. Jesus said “blessed are the peace makers, for they will be called the children of God.” (Matt. 5:9).  “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy;” (Hebrews 12:14). “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” (Col. 3:15). These are just a few. Clearly, promoting peace is important to a Christ-centered life.
  • Warn those that are idle – In the same way that we must be quick to acknowledge those who are hard at work, we must also be quick to warn those who are idle. Proverbs 16:27 says, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop; idles lips are his mouth piece.” Our love for one another must include warnings and rebukes when we see each other headed down the wrong way.
  • Encourage the disheartened – Back to encouragement. Encouragement is important for not only those who are doing right, but also for those who are having a hard time. Again, I think of Barnabas. In Acts 15:36-39, we read about a disagreement between Barnabas and Paul that leads to them splitting up. The argument was over John Mark, who at one point was working with them, but left (or deserted them). Paul had no patience for this young kid who couldn’t keep up. Barnabas saw potential in John Mark, and left his mission with Paul to disciple and encourage John Mark. John Mark would go on to write one of the Gospels, and Paul would later describe him as a “very helpful to me in my ministry”. Thank God for the “son of encouragement”. The person who is down or has lost their way needs their church family to come along side them in encouragement.
  • Help the weak – Thomas Aquinas called “charity” one of the Theological Virtues. Not in the “tossing spare change to a guy dressed like Santa Claus” way but in a way that accepts the calling to be the “hands and feet” of God. Aquinas took his virtues from 1 Corinthians 13, where we read faith, hope, and (charity). We translate that word as love now. We use the word love in a lot of different ways.  I love tacos. I love my dogs. I love my wife and son. There are different levels of love. To capture that, Aquinas used the translation “charity” as a means to communicate a love that is moved to action. The resurrected Jesus asked Peter for this same type of love in John 21. Jesus asked for “agape” love, and then commanded “feed my sheep”. Love that breeds response. That is what Paul is commanding here. Help the weak. Help those who are not as strong as you are. The “help” is an expression of the love that Christ demands.
  • Be patient with everyone – I don’t think he really meant this one so lets just gloss over it…jk. I wish I could just skip this one because, honestly, patience is just hard. I’m not talking about patiently waiting to receive answered prayer (that can be hard too). I’m talking about being patient with other people. Paul in other letters referred to this patience as forbearance.  Dealing with people. Putting up with each others. Bearing with each other. We all have our “unique qualities” and those “qualities” are bound to rub someone the wrong way. When we’re impacted by other peoples character, quirks, or even mistakes, we have to deal with those people with patience. This ties in a little bit with being a peacemaker as well as with our next point.
  • Do not pay back wrong for wrong – I love the way the Paul puts this. He just assumes that people are being wronged by others in the church. This is a terrible reality, but it is a reality none the less. The fact is, people in the church will offend you and wrong you because they are human. And where two or three humans are gathered, someone will be offended (I think that’s how that goes). What is important here is that Paul is teaching us how deal with that offense. Don’t repay wrong for wrong. This goes against our natural inclination for payback, as all of Jesus’ teachings do. Once I was playing soccer with my nephew. He was probably five or six. Were playing with some other kids and he’s uber competitive. Anyway, one of the other kids scratched him and his response was, “If you scratch me again, I’ll scratch you even harder!” My initial reaction was to laugh. That was also my secondary reaction. Thinking about it though. He didn’t learn payback from anyone. His natural reaction to being wronged was to wrong the person back. This isn’t a surprise. It is the base reaction we all have when we’re wronged. Paul was calling us to a high standard. Even when you’re wronged, strive to be good to each other.

Do not quench the Spirit.

The second main point of Paul’s final instructions is to not “quench the Spirit”. This is an interesting phraseology. In this context the word quench doesn’t mean to satisfy as in “quench my thirst”. It means to extinguish. Another translation puts it this way, “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.” What incredible imagery. The Spirit of God is often referred to as a fire or flame. Paul told timothy to “fan the flame”, Hebrews 12:29 calls God an “all consuming fire”, and in the Old Testament Ezekiel had a vision of the glory of God and in it, he saw a great cloud of fire. Paul’s word creates the image of the Spirit’s fire burning, and we, the church, pouring a bucket of water onto it. Yikes. Paul is warning us against this and he gives 5 ways we can make sure the Spirit’s fire never goes out. (Lev. 6:13).

  • Rejoice always – The best way to put out the fire is to be a grump. The doom and gloom personality has no place in the body of Christ because of the “hope which we profess”. If we break down the word rejoice we get the prefix “re” and the root word joice (from the french word “joiss” meaning “joy”). The prefix “re” indicates repetition. So to rejoice would involve involve expressing joy again. In old english the word rejoice was actually used as a verb meaning, “cause joy to”. In this sense the command to “rejoice always” would mean to continuous cause yourself to feel joy. It is tempting in the world we live in, to have no hope. But we, as Christians, have a blessed hope and because of that we must bring ourselves to joy.
  • Pray continually – This one is pretty straight forward. Prayer is our one means of communication to God. That means that it is the one way we can truly draw close to the Father. We see this in the life of Jesus on earth. Repeatedly, he would retreat to prayer to speak and draw close to the Father. When we pray, we usher in the presence of God. God promised in Jeremiah 33:3 and in James 4:8 that if we draw near to him, He would draw near to us. If we forsake prayer, we are forsaking our only way into the Presence of God.
  • Do not treat prophecies with contempt – I tend to be a more logical thinker. I also firmly believe in Peter’s proclamation in 1 Peter 2:9 that we are a “royal priesthood”. Meaning that we all (all Christians, that is) have to right to bring our prayers and petitions before God and we all have the ability to hear from God. So prophecies are something I always struggled with. I believe in them, but I found them problematic in that certain people would only come to church when a “prophet” was there, as if it was the only time they could hear from God. But they are real and I have watched men and women work in the prophetic in ways that I wouldn’t have believed if I wasn’t there to see it myself. I think about a Misty Edwards song that came out while I was in college. The song itself was pretty prophetic, but it had one line in it that always stuck with me. “I don’t want to be offended when it’s all coming down.” Those lyrics hit me when I first heard them. I don’t want to be the person in the room that stands in the corner judging when the Spirit of God is moving. I want to be in the middle of the movement. I believe that is what Paul is trying to say here. Don’t treat prophecies with contempt. Don’t reject a word from God just because it may be hard to hear or hard to believe.
  • Test all things – On the flip side, don’t believe every word just because someone starts or ends it with ‘thus saith the Lord”. Test all things. Test every word. Sometime the person may truly believe they are hearing from God and they just aren’t. It’s not shocking that we fallible creatures sometimes confuse our own voice for Gods. That is why it is important to test what we’ve heard by what we know to be true. The Bible is our constant, our Truth. So we must run everything through the filter of scripture. Filters, particularly water filters have an incredible ability now. We have filters that will take sewage water and purify it so that it is safe to drink. The filters job is to separate what is bad from what is good. That is the command that Paul gives us. “Hold on to what its good, reject every kind of evil.” We have to remember to filter every word, spirit, circumstance, and pretty much everything else under the sun. We must trust in the Word of God and the Spirit’s ability to discern to help us as we wade through the mirky waters here on earth.

He who calls is faithful.

The last point Paul makes is about God’s faithfulness. Paul mentions two ways that God will be faithful.

  • To sanctify us through and through – In the previous chapter we read about God’s plan for us to be “sanctified”. Sanctification means the process of being made holy. Here Paul is reminding them once more of the calling to sanctification that they have received. But he includes this encouraging word that “the one would called us (to be sanctified) is faithful to do it. God has given us a promise that when we submit to Him, that He would make us holy. Thank you Jesus. We are not left here alone trying to reach some goal that is completely unattainable. We have the help of the Spirit, who is constantly at work in us, bringing us to holiness.
  • To keep our whole spirit blameless – Paul divides our “spirit” into two parts, body and soul. This is to help us understand that their are ways that we can corrupt our “spirit” that are both in the physical (body) and in the spiritual (soul). The promise that we are given here is that God will be faithful to keep our “whole spirit” blameless until the coming of the Lord. This presents an interesting question. Can a person on earth truly remain blameless before God? We read about people that were “blameless” before God in the scripture. People like Job, Encoch, even David tried to refer to himself as “blameless before God”. But were those people truly blameless? We know Job questioned God’s judgment, that certain was right before God. We know a whole lot about Enoch, but he couldn’t have been perfect. Maybe he was and thats why God removed him from the earth. David certainly wasn’t blameless and I crack up every time I read Psalm 18. We, however, have been given the power of the Holy Spirit of God. Yet, even with the Spirit dwelling within me, I make mistakes all the time (just ask my wife). So how do we justify this promise from God that we will be kept blameless until Jesus comes back? Well, there are two things we have to understand. First, God is able to keep us from stumbling (Jude 1:24). When we surrender our lives to God, by the power of his spirit we will walk away from temptation that we would have jumped at in our own flesh. We unfortunately don’t always operate under the power of the spirit, and sometimes we let our flesh creep in. Its for this reason that we must understand the second thing. We have to recognize that God is not promising that we won’t make mistakes. He is promising that we will be “blameless” before him. We are blameless before God, not because our own actions, but because of Christ’s actions. We are covered by the blood of the Lamb, and therefore we are no longer held to our sin. Christ’s blood has separated us from our sin and made us holy. Christ’s blood makes us blameless.

Gods promise in verses 23-24 is that God is faithful to bring us to the holiness that we have been called to. He is faithful to help us resist temptation, He is faithful to keep us from stumbling, and when we fall short, He is faithful to cover us with the blood of the Lamb and present us before God as blameless. He is truly a wonderful Savior.

1 Thessalonians is rich with theology, instruction, and encouragement. It lays out a calling for us follower of Christ to be imitators of God. It instructs us on how we can live a life that is holy and set apart from this world. And it encourages us that we have a God who is doing this work in our life and is faithful to complete it. I pray that we can all take the instruction we received from 1 Thessalonians and we can live lives that please God. That, unlike the babysitters in our movie scene, the instructions we have received will be taken to heart. That we would apply them. That we would be good to one another and not quench the spirit. That we would remember who it is that has called us. Thank you Lord for your faithfulness. Amen.

Annnnnnnnnnnd scene.

Ps: Yes, I did not talk about the holy kiss thing. 😉

Instructions.

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There is a familiar pattern that happens in my home. My wife will order some kind of large item that requires assembly. She will ask if I want to pay to have the item assembled. I will firmly and categorically refuse to pay money to have something put together. Fast forward, I am now at home. I open the box and am immediately overwhelmed by all of the tiny parts. I then begin to try and figure out how to put it together without ever looking at the provided instructions. It never fails. I always try and figure it out myself. Not because I think I’m smart, or clever, or even good at putting things together. I just naturally try and do it on my own before I look at the instructions. Maybe its my pride, or because I’m a dude; whatever the reason, it always ends with me turning to the instructions to fix everything I messed up. Instructions are there for a purpose. They are meant to lay out a plan for accomplishing a goal. Most of all, they are meant to help the user. Yet, I ignore them.

Instructions come in many forms nowadays. A paper pamphlet inside the box, a link to a website; sometimes it’s just a Youtube video. The first century church received their instructions by letters. One particular set of instructions that catches my eye is in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12. In this passage Paul reminds the church of Thessalonica of the instructions he gave them on how to live in order to please God. 

1 As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.

If there were ever a set of instructions that were important not to ignore, its these. After all pleasing God with our life should be the aspiration of every follower of Christ. If that isn’t important to us then why do we go to church, or tithe, or deal with people that are hard to get along with? If its not to please God then I don’t know what its for. It certainly isn’t because its easy or convenient. We are supposed to be “dying to ourselves” everyday.  Placing God and his purposes at the top of our priority list. That is our goal as Christians. And if that is our goal, than why wouldn’t we jump at the chance to view God’s plan for accomplishing that goal. That is what the church of Thessalonica was given. Lucky for us we get to peak in on those instructions as well.

God’s Plan.

3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified

Before it was a Drake song, God’s plan actually meant something. It wasn’t about the bad things “they” were wishin, and wishin, and wishin on (Drake). It also had nothing to do with Drake meeting his “broskis”. God’s plan, his will, was for mankind, his creation, to be reunited and reconciled back into his presence. That only can come through sanctification. Its easy to confuse Biblical terms. Look at the biblical meanings of justification, salvation, sanctification, reconciliation, and basically anything other biblical term that ends in “tion”. They all mean similar things but there are intricacies that separate them. Sanctification at it’s simplest definition means to be made holy. More than that though, it is the process of being made holy. Hebrews 10 gives us a good picture of how this works.

First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law.Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:

16 “This is the covenant I will make with them
    after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
    and I will write them on their minds.”[a]

17 Then he adds:

“Their sins and lawless acts
    I will remember no more.”[b]

18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

There are a couple key things to notice here. The phrase “by that will” tells us that what ever is about to follow happened because it was God’s plan. Essentially God desired that we be made holy, that we be sanctified. This matches up pretty well with our 1 Thess 4 verse. The next thing is that we were already made holy through Jesus’ bodily sacrifice. God desired that mankind be made holy, so Jesus came and accomplished the Father’s will and with his one time sacrifice, he made mankind holy. Verse 14 adds a bit of confusion when it adds that we “who have been made perfect” are “being made holy”. Jesus’ one time, all sufficient, perfect, sacrifice was enough to make us perfect and holy. However, being made holy is a process. In this sense, Christ sacrifice was enough to cover your sin so that you can stand before God, holy and perfect. Your sins are forgiven. And yet, you yourself are still be made perfect.

Maybe this will help explain it a little better. I have a bad habit of spilling things on my shirts. I have ruined a lot of shirts because of grease stains or paint or literally anything else. It drives my wife nuts. My wife will always buy me knew shirts and tell me I need to be more careful; still I’ll end up with some thing on my shirt. But what if my wife came to me with a new shirt and said, “this is your new shirt, its perfectly clean. As you wear this shirt its going to help you get better with not spilling things. If you take this shirt off, and stop getting better, you are going to ruin all you shirts. But if you continue to wear this shirt, you will become less and less of a slob, and I promise you that at the end of the week, I’ll wash it and it will be like new.” I need that shirt. This is essentially Hebrews 10’s explanation of sanctification. We are made perfect and holy; we’re given an clean slate. Not only that, but we are being worked on and given the tools so that we can grow towards perfection. Even more than that, we have a promise that so long as we allow ourselves to be made perfect, we can rest assured that our holiness will be made complete when we stand before God.  The author of Hebrews goes on to clarify this by quoting a Jeremiah prophesy, “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”

In 1 Thessalonians 4, we are told that God desires that we be sanctified. God desires to see us embrace the process of perfection that began in us at salvation. He desires to see that process come to completion. Paul tells us that part of that perfection comes from avoiding sexual immorality. Specifically, Paul tells us that we must learn to control our own bodies in a way that is holy and honorable. Natural desires can become sinful desires very easily. That is because natural desires come from God. They feel right to us and yet if approached the wrong way they can become the darkest pits of sin. We have a natural desire to eat, but if food becomes our idol than we become gluttons. We have natural desire for safety, but if our desire to be safe overshadows our respect of others safety, now we are murderers. We have a desire for sex and pleasure but if we approach this in “passionate lust” we become fornicators, adulterers, or even sexual predators.

The biblical view of sex has no room for selfishness. This is where we differ from the world. The world says that sex is about satisfaction. So it doesn’t matter how you go about getting satisfied as long as you leave satisfied. This is why pornography was created, this is why the majority of sexual relationships portrayed in tv or movies are with multiple partners or one night stands. That isn’t how God intended sexual relationships. Its not about lust, its about love. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians that a man and wife’s bodies belong to each other. True love is about sacrifice. That should be reflected in a biblical sexual relationship.

Paul then goes on to say that in the same way, we should not take advantage of our brother or sister. This is addressing brothers or sisters in Christ not siblings. This could be talking about one of two things. First, it is most likely talking about having extra marital affairs with people in the church.  You’d think that this would go without saying, but a lot of affairs start in the church between people who are supposed to be serving God with each other. Spiritual feelings and emotional feelings can get tangled very easily. People who are praying together are sharing a very intimate part of their lives together. Not that kind of intimate, but its easy to get those confused. Especially when there is an enemy whose sole purpose is to tempt and accuse the brethren. It could also be talking about taking advantage of brothers or sisters when it comes to business. Thessalonica was a port city and there was a massive amount of trade that came and went through the city. The people Paul was writing to undoubtedly worked in the city and so business deals were sure to happen between people in the church. Paul could absolutely be speaking to the church about ethical business methods. As christians we are called to give every part of our lives over to God. That includes our business life. So we can’t lie, cheat, and steal our way to the top like the rest of the world. We have to live our lives honorably and holy  because we are being made holy. Either translation is biblical, so while he is mostly likely talking about be honorable and holy with each other’s spouses, the other lesson is important too.

Paul’s entire first instruction is about sanctification. You must continue to be made holy in your relationships. Whether that is a sexual relationship with your spouse or a regular relationship with someone in the church. Holiness should mark every aspect of your life.

What They Were Good At.

Paul’s second instruction was something that the church of Thessalonica was already doing.

9 Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other

Clearly, these people loved each other. Its an amazing thing for a pastor to look at his congregation and see them be successful in a faith application. Paul is proud of these Thessalonians. It’s important to note, however, that as much as they loved each other, Paul still felt the need to encourage them to love more. An important lesson for us to learn is that no matter how good we become at a faith application, there is always more room to grow. These people’s love was so great that Paul says they were “taught by God” to love each other, yet still there was room to grow. Everything in God is a process. Just like sanctification. God is constantly working on us; pushing us to grow closer to perfection.

Another important observation is that the people are admonished for “loving all of God’s family in Macedonia”. Christian cliques are everywhere. It’s actually pretty normal. The people you pray with, worship with, hold accountable, share personal information, confess sin, live life with are bound to be the closest people to you. But the family of God extends to every one that shares your faith in God. It’s important for Christians to realize, the only thing you need to have in common with someone you love, is Christ.

Lets dig a bit deeper in this instruction to love. Why is love so important to Jesus? I believe the answer can be found in 1 John 4:15-20.

15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen,cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

God is love. This is one of the most quoted verses. It works great because its short, easy to remember, and looks great in a meme or on a coffee mug (both things equally adored by the Christian consumer). But there is great truth in this verse. God is love. Think about that word love for second. Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 13 a list of descriptions about love.

Patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, does not dishonor others, is not self seeking, is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil but delights in truth, always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

That is a description of God. Every single one of those things describes, not the act of love, but Love himself.

To live out a love like this, is to live in God. To have a love that reflects this description is to be made perfect in God. So to answer my own question. Why is love so important to Jesus? Because it is the sure fire way to see himself in his children. Love is key to pleasing God because without love, you cannot belong to God. So if we love God, if we belong to God, than we must show it in our love for our brothers and sisters.

Just like the Thessalonians.

The Simple Life.

The last instruction Paul gives for please God is a doozy.

11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

Leading a quiet life. A simple life. That is pretty contrary to what were are used to. 1/3rd of the population of the world has a webpage dedicated to themselves. Where they post pictures about themselves and post their thoughts and everything they do. You don’t do that for the heck of it, you do it for attention. Lets all just admit it. We’re attention seeking. That is exactly what this scripture is saying we shouldn’t be. Now I’ll be honest I am using a little bit of hyperbole. I’m not saying social media is a bad thing. It can be a very good thing, it can healthy, it treated right. But it can also lead to a constant need for attention. I think about an episode of The Office. Michael Scott is a accused of marking all memos URGENT. Michael explains that people weren’t paying attention to his memos so he marks memos “Urgent A, Urgent B, Urgent C, Urgent D. Urgent A is the most important. Urgent D you don’t even really have to worry about.” That is kind of the world that Social Media has created. Its a pretty stark contrast from the quiet life in 1 Thess. 4. As Paul puts it, we need to mind our own business. This doesn’t mean we are to only be focused on ourselves. Instead we need to look at it from the scope of Matthew 7:5. Before we can tell someone to remove the spec from their own eye, we must first remove the logs from our eye. After all the point our life is to “win the respect of outsiders”. Not so that we can feel important or popular, but so that our witness can be affective.

The second thing he says is to “work with your hands”.

Much like love, work is important for God to see in his children because God himself is a worker. Our first picture of God we see in the Bible is God as Creator. He crafted the entire universe with his word. He made man in his own image, and then he immediately gives man work to do.

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. – Genesis 2:15

Before the Fall of Man, before sin entered into the world, God told man to work. Eden was perfection. Eden was God’s perfect creation, and in God’s perfect world, you still have a job. Uh oh, I hope I didn’t ruin your day. Work is from God. Because God is a worker. A hard worker at that. He never stops working. He works as a warrior, a counselor, a creator, a high priest, an interceder, a mountain mover, a promise keeper. God is constantly at work both in the world and in our lives.

So if God is a worker, than it makes sense that to please God you must also be a worker.

The problem is we look at work all wrong. Work is hard. There is no getting around that. It’s hard because of the fall. That’s the good news by that way. You will have a job in heaven but you will enjoy and it won’t be painful. Ok, hopefully that un-ruined your day. But work is not just a way to make ends meet. Work is a way to grow closer to God. Any time you emulate a characteristic of God you grow closer to the person of God. What I mean by this is that the more you love like God the more you’ll understand God’s love. The more you forgive like God, the more you’ll understand God’s forgiveness. The more you create things like God, the more you’ll understand God’s creativity. The more you speak truth like God, the more you’ll understand God’s truth. Likewise, the more you work like God, the more you’ll understand God and his work.

The key phrase here is “work like God”. Working like the world may earn you a bigger paycheck, or help you climb the corporate ladder, but it won’t make you closer to God. To work like God you must understand a few things about Godly work:

  1. God gives the jobs (Gen. 2:15) – Godly work is a calling from God. It doesn’t mean the work has to be of the highest grandeur, but it does mean that “meaningless” work is no long meaningless.
  2. God doesn’t micro manage your work (Gen. 2:19) – God brings the animals to Adam and lets him do the naming. Godly workers take ownership of their work. God likes that.
  3. Godly workers are honest (Titus 2:9-10) – God is a God of Truth. Truth must always be priority in Godly work.
  4. Godly workers work without complaining (Phil. 2:14) – ’nuff said.
  5. Godly workers do everything as if it were for God ( Col. 3:17) – No matter how trivial the task may seem, Godly workers work like they are going to answer to God. (Hint** They will.)
  6. Godly workers follow the rules (2 Tim. 2:5) – There is no “crown of life” for the person that cheats to win.
  7. Finally, the Godly worker rests when the work is done (Gen. 2:2-3) – Rest is important. But let me emphasize resting after the work is done.

Pleasing God.

The instructions that Paul gives for pleasing God are actually pretty simple. Be what God is and do what God does. Be holy, because God is holy. Love, because God is love. Work, because God works. To please God you must try to make your life emulate the characteristics of God. Every father loves to see a little bit of himself in his kids. Well they at least like to see the good stuff. It make you feel like you made an impact in their life. Similarly, with God, when we start to apply the faith and instruction that he’s been “writing on our hearts”, we are displaying the change that He already knows has happened inside. The good news is that this is a process and God understands that. He doesn’t expect you to get it all in one day, one month, one year, heck even ten years. We are works in progress. Thankfully, we have a God who is faithful to complete the good work he started in us.