Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: September 2016 (Page 1 of 2)


Benjamin hurried down the narrow street toward home as dusk fell over Thessalonica.  It wasn’t safe for a Christian Jew alone.  Suddenly he sensed he wasn’t.  A glance behind was met with fists assaulting his face and back.  Kicks to his legs felled him.  On the ground the punching persisted.  He couldn’t defend himself against four men.  “Blasphemer!  Traitor!  Jesus is not Messiah!”   Then, as suddenly as it had started, it stopped.  Benjamin was left on his back, bleeding and alone, his money-purse gone.  The cost of believing in Jesus Messiah had intensified in the last months.

Why does pain come with following his Son?  Why do the “bad guys” win and the “good guys” lose?  Should we just throw up our hands in defeat and admit “life is unfair”?  Makes you want to “get even”, to pay back the perps pain-for-pain.

Of course, I don’t suffer like Benjamin.  My enemy is a chronic illness, a disability.  It, like Benjamin’s beaters, tests my faith.  Life isn’t fair.  I want to take revenge.  But on whom?

One way or other many of us occasionally feel a burning desire to “get even”.   Yet, the Lord forbids us:  “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord”  (Romans 12:19).

But Paul has more to say.  In today’s text, he announces a coming “payback” day . . .

“Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.  This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,  when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.  To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:4-12).

Evidence of God’s Payback

“This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God . . . ”  What’s the evidence?  Paul presents two pieces of proof.  #1— The Thessalonians’ steadfast faith in the face of persecution cries out for justice to the righteous God.  #2—“God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you and to grant relief to you who are afflicted”.    The evidence supports the promise:  God will judge with justice.  Which brings us to the . . .

Ground of God’s Payback

God is righteous. Twice Paul reminds us.  “This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God . . . ”  and “God considers it just . . . ” Both words translate the Greek dikaiosunay—“morally right, upright, just, fair”.  Payback day’s ground is rock solid.  The solid rock is not changing circumstances.  Not fallen man’s idea of justice.  But the righteous nature of God himself that demands judgment.

Anticipation of God’s Payback

For what are these Christians suffering persecution?  Why has Benjamin been beaten and bloodied on an empty street?  ” . . .that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God for which you are suffering . . . “.  They are suffering “for the kingdom of God”.  They are suffering so when Jesus returns and consummates his kingdom, they may be considered worthy of it.

“Worthy” translates the Greek kataxio-o—“to be considered worthy or deserving.”  This is not worth-by-sinlessness but worth-by-faithfulness.  If they faithfully endure the persecution, they will reign with Christ (2 Timothy 2:12).  “To those who win the victory I will give the right to sit beside me on my throne, just as I have been victorious and now sit by my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3:21). 

Christians, then, are a people looking forward to Christ’s kingdom while being beaten down in the kingdoms of this world.

Two Parts to God’s Payback

Part One.

” . . .repay with affliction those who afflict you.”   “Repay” is the Greek antapodidomai, “to give back as an equivalent, repay, return.”  As the persecutors have afflicted Christians, so they will likewise be afflicted.  The bullies don’t win in the end.  Yet worse will come for them . . .

” . . .inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might . . . ”   Not just the persecutors will be judged.  Those disobedient to the gospel and who, therefore, do not know God (this will include the persecutors, of course) will be driven from the Lord’s presence and his glorious power.  Justice will be served and the punishment will be more than the guilty can bear.

Part Two.

” . . .to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us . . . ” “Relief” is the Greek anesis—literally, “mitigation, freedom”; figuratively, “rest, relaxation, relief.”  To the afflicted the Lord will give freedom and rest from all affliction.  A permanent oasis in the desert.  A secure fortress in war never to be breached.

” . . . to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.”  The Lord Jesus will come with all his holy ones; that is, the sinner’s justified and sanctified.  ” . . . may [he] establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:13).  “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God” (1 Thessalonians 4:16).  ” . . . provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17).  Christ will be glorified in us and we in him!

The Time of God’s Payback

God will repay “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire and when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed”.  When that will be no one knows but the Father (Matthew 24:36).  But it will come!

* * * * *

So, bleeding Benjamin lying broken in the street, guilty of nothing but acknowledging Jesus as Messiah, silence that rising roar for revenge.  Vengeance is the Lord’s.  He will repay.  Remember Jesus:  crucified for no guilt of his own.  But vindicated on the third day.  Raised to reign.

He’s coming again.  And he will raise you up, Benjamin.  He will take vengeance on your enemies, who are, in fact, his enemies, because you are his.   Then, justice will reign forever.  Wrongs will be righted.  Because our God is a God of righteousness and justice!

Jesus is coming!







“Afflict” translates the Greek thibo—literally, “press hard, rub together”; figuratively, “oppress, cause trouble to”.  “Affliction” is trying to stand on a mobbed subway car, hanging on to the strap for dear life, while the jostling of the train slams people into you and you into people from every direction.   “Affliction” in persecution is a mob threatening your life because of your faith.


The America We Once Knew

I’m old enough to remember at least vestiges of those Rockwell America days.  (TV’s “Leave It to Beaver”, “Ozzie and Harriet”, “I Love Lucy”.  Charles J. Johnson’s Chicago Tribune article below saddens me; it’s a reminder that those more “innocent” days are forever gone.

          I hope you at the not-yet-fifty mark find this article informative.  Indeed, I hope we all will.  We can’t recover “the good old days” (probably they weren’t as good as we recall); but as Jesus’ followers we should be aware of the far-reaching changes that have snuck up on us like an overnight fog.  They now define this country where we live.  I hope to soon read The End of White Christian America, a book whose title captures one aspect of the sea-change America is undergoing.
          These changes, of course, don’t change the Gospel.  But they should change how we contextualize it and understand the people who need it.  And they should better inform us of the kind of society in which we’re called to follow Jesus in the obedience of faith.

What millennials know: We can’t return to Rockwell’s America

Charles J. Johnson Chicago Tribune

One wants America to be a Norman Rockwell painting again. The other also wants a Rockwell painting, but with maybe a woman, or even two women, carving the turkey at the head of the table.

But Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton want to steer us away from where we find ourselves, to another time, a different America. On the stump, they both describe a rosier period when the middle class was stronger, the military more incisive and America’s elected leaders more in tune with the metaphorical farmers’ fields they left when taking up office.

Neither is describing an America that is familiar to me or to other millennials who share the same national signposts.

I’ve been an American citizen from birth, but my life as a political citizen began when I stepped off the school bus in seventh grade into the arms of my crying mother. At first, I was confused because she should have been at work that Tuesday in September. American flags were out on all the neighbor houses.

The day we first bombed Afghanistan, my mom had to drive me to the mall. When we invaded Iraq, I put down my French homework and watched television while the boy I was baby-sitting slept. When Lehman Brothers failed, I was starting to look for jobs, which was also when I noticed a lot of my classmates’ parents losing theirs.

I have lived my entire political life with my country in a state of war, my entire career in an economy that feels hollow and debt-burdened, in which anxiety and not future fortune is the overriding sentiment.

Over my lifetime, government dysfunction has become so commonplace it’s laughable. But Brooklyn and Baton Rouge, instead of laughing at Congress, now seem hard-wired just to laugh at each other without realizing the anchor of Washington’s incompetence is tied to all of our ankles.

Whatever Rockwellian time campaign speechwriters are selling, I’m not familiar enough to buy.

I’ve never known an America that didn’t speak Spanish — parents of friends who asked their children to translate sleepover pickup times; the kitchen crew that taught me Mexican curse words and brought me conchas on Fridays; immigrant classmates, including Ivy League-accepted ones, disappearing to live with other relatives.

These are not abstracts to me. This was high school.

I am told there was some other America before this, when ranchero music didn’t blast from construction sites and factory jobs could send kids to state colleges, but I don’t know it. The idea that yanking people off Glen Ellyn landscaping crews or from behind taqueria counters and plugging native-born Americans into their $11-an-hour jobs will restore some decades-past social contract strikes me as somewhere between naive and racist.

A taco truck on every corner doesn’t sound like a dystopia. It sounds like lunch in my America.

I’ve never known an America that wasn’t at war in the Middle East, often in more than one country.

I am told there was some other America before this, where U.S. military power could stop the slaughter of innocents and return yoked peoples their national sovereignty. The America I’ve known is the one that doesn’t win wars so much as sledge them into smaller pieces. Then it stands astride, picking through the sharp pieces to see what can be glued back together for something like a finished product.

Wars don’t really end in my America. They just become something else.

I’ve never known an America that wasn’t fighting a drug war. I sat through D.A.R.E. classes, part of the first generation of Nancy Reagan’s disciples to trudge off from middle school imbued with the notion that street drugs were a cancer, that trying them put you on track for addiction, and that those who bought them were criminals. All this despite the fact that I could go to any pharmacy in America with a busted leg and walk out with orally administered heroin.

This was considered good medicine, as long as it could be afforded. As long as the employer-provided health insurance lasted.

I am told there was some other America when lawmakers stepped in to prevent dangerous products from making their way to public markets. That Congress was a check on corporate America’s at-times inhuman profit motive, the kind of thing that could upend a world economy or turn a nation of football players and aging steelworkers into junkies.

I am told these same people will now devote themselves to reining in the cash that floats their political careers — muscled, if need be, by a president whose political and personal fortunes also have been quietly nurtured by bankers and pharmaceutical executives.

I’ve heard of other things about this different America: how 26-year-olds could routinely afford to buy houses, and how a mass murder at a movie theater or school wasn’t an every-other-month part of life. I am told there was a time when the fundamental failure of our bedrock institutions was the exception, rather than a rule.

I have little confidence in those who say they can return us to a time they and their generation undid.

Neither major party candidate seems to grasp that the country and the world have changed. America is different for us who don’t know what it was like before this reality.

Our institutions’ abilities aren’t what they were. Neither candidate seems like a good option to lead the America we have now — the one I grew up in — the one whose reality is very different from the nation I hear described at campaign events in high school gymnasiums in Florida, Ohio and Iowa.

The America they hope to lead? I’ve only seen it in paintings.


[email protected]

Copyright © 2016, Chicago Tribune

Growing Faith, Increasing Love

 In what kind of soil does faith grow best and love increase most?

The question isn’t academic.  For years I’ve endured my life’s toughest faith-test.  Some days my faith feels as weak as my body.  I need growing faith.  Immersed in my own needs, my love for others shrinks.  I need increasing love.

After greeting the Thessalonians  (1:1,2—, Paul gives thanks to God for them . . .

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.  Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. (2 Thessalonians 1:3,4)

“Ought” (Greek, ophaylo) makes Paul’s thanks seem obligatory.  “Right” (Greek, axios—worthy, fit, in keeping with what should be done) reminds us thanks is a moral obligation before God for what he’s done.  Thus, even though thanks is an “ought”, it’s in keeping with how we should respond to God for his goodness.  These brothers believed the Lord’s message because it came empowered by God the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 1:5).  Consequently, they had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:9b,10).

Are you a believer?  Thank God!

Paul, however, thanks God for the Thessalonians’ “faith [that] is growing abundantly” and “love . . . for one another [that] is increasing”.

 Abundantly Growing Faith.

The concept of  growing faith raises a question:  How to measure faith?  Jesus did when he spoke of faith’s size.  ” . . . if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:21).   Again, “When Jesus heard [the man’s reply], he was astonished and said to those following him, “‘I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith'” (Matthew 8:10).  Faith, therefore, can be “small” or “great”—and still accomplish astounding results.

On the other hand, Hebrews 11:36-38 commends the faith of those who suffered.  No sensational miracles there!  Or were there?

In any case, faith is challenging to measure.  But one thing is clearly true:  abundantly growing faith is a virtue for which to always thank God.

Increasing Love.

As faith is God’s gift (Ephesians 2:8,9), so love is the Spirit’s fruit (Galatians 5:22,23).  Love is also the expression of faith.  “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6).  This is why Paul thanks God for the Thessalonians’ increasing mutual love:  it is the Spirit’s fruit and the expression of God-given faith.  We should also note Paul speaks of love, not as a feeling, but an action.  It’s an observable virtue seen in how the believers treat one another.

Growing & Increasing.

Is God the only actor in growing faith and increasing love?  Do we play no role?  Listen again to Paul:  “Therefore [because of your growing faith and increasing love] we  ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.”  Paul doesn’t say, “We boast about God”, but “We boast about you for your steadfastness of faith . . . ” Implication:  Christians have a part to play in growing faith and increasing love.  The part to which Paul refers here may be surprising.

The Soil.

I’d prefer my faith  growing and love increasing sitting comfortably at my desk prayerfully pouring over God’s Word.  Probably that would have been the Thessalonians’ preference too.  But see the soil where the Thessalonians’ faith grew and love increased:  “we ourselves boast about you . . . for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and afflictions that you are enduring.” 

What kind of faith were they growing in?  Steadfast.  The Greek is hupomonay—used of steadfast adherence to a course of action in spite of difficulties and testings; “patient endurance, perseverance.”  Jews who disbelieved in Jesus Messiah abused the believing Jews (and probably the believing Gentile “dogs” too).  But the believers clung to Jesus in faith.  They chose to keep trusting him no matter the cost.  So like weathered trees high up on the tree-line, their faith grew tough.  There’s a world of difference between faith grown only in the soil of Scripture’s pages and faith grown in the soil of affliction!

A Dilemma.

In affliction I feel faithless, not as if my faith’s growing.  I quote Jesus:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  I ask, “Why me?  Why this?  But heaven’s silent.  I’m left with God’s Word on printed page reminding me he’s at work for good.  But I see no good no matter how I strain my eyes.

Yet it’s precisely at this point I face a choice:  keep trusting despite not knowing or shipwreck my faith once and for all.  And it’s then a still, small voice whispers:  where will you go if you turn from trusting Jesus?




Grace and Peace to You

Hello . . . good morning . . . hi . . . what’s happenin’, dude? . . . wazz-up, brotha? . . . grace and peace to you.  Common greetings.  Even that last one that makes this look like one of those what-term-doesn’t-belong-in-this-group test.  But the one we’d chuck out is the one Paul began all of his 13 New Testament letters with (in some form).  Here it is in his second letter to the Thessalonians . . .

Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:  Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:1,2).

Silas and Timothy have returned to Paul at Corinth after delivering his first letter to the Thessalonians.  In response to their report, Paul pens 2 Thessalonians.  He begins with his typical greeting, the second part of which we’ll look closely at.

First, an important question:  Is “Grace and peace to you” similar to our “Good Morning”, just a common greeting?  Or does it carry weighty theological content?  From a practical standpoint, if  “Grace and peace to
you” is similar to our “Good Morning”, we can continue to gloss over it as we normally do.  But if these are weighty words, we should pause and ponder them.  I think they’re weighty.  I think Paul used them to speak a “greeting/blessing” over the church because the Holy Spirit inspired Paul, and he doesn’t mumble to a passer-by “Grace and peace” out of compelled politeness.   So let’s look more closely at those weighty words . . .

What is “grace”?

The Greek charis can be translated “grace, kindness, goodwill, mercy, favor, gift.”  Luke uses it of the Jerusalem population’s attitude toward the new believers—“[the church was] praising God and having favor (charis) with all the people” (Acts 2:47). The citizens were treating the church with kindness and good will.

Paul uses it in the familiar text of Ephesians 2:8,9—“For by grace (charis) you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  Here grace is God’s “gift”—God showing mercy to sinners in the sacrificial death of Christ.

Paul also uses charis in 2 Corinthians 12:9 when he records the Lord’s answer to his prayer to be rid of his “thorn in the flesh”:  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.  Here’s a dimension to grace we easily miss.  When God is grace-giver, grace is more than an undeserved gift; grace is power that gives strength in human weakness.

What is “peace”?

The Greek eiraynay is translated “peace, harmony, order.”  Corresponding to the Hebrew shalom it means “health, welfare.”  (Eiraynay is so used especially in greetings.)  In Romans 15:13 Paul uses it of a state of inner rest and harmony with God—“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace . . . ”

Luke records the angel and a multitude of the heavenly host saying in announcement of Jesus’ birth, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Luke 2:14).  Here eiraynay is used of the last days’ salvation in which sinners are reconciled to God.

Who is the source ?

God, of course.   “Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  That is, God the Father is the ultimate source with grace and peace being mediated through him to those who believe.  Paul’s not writing of the church being gracious to one another so they can enjoy peaceful relationships.  He’s writing about supernatural grace and peace coming from God the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ.

He makes it more personal by writing, “To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  The church is in God, meaning at least in union with God.  And the God grace and peace are received from is not just the Father, but “our” Father.

Knowing this of Paul’s blessing/prayer would likely have greatly encouraged the Thessalonians.  They first had “received the word in much affliction” (1 Thessalonians 1:6).  Since then, persecution has grown.  Paul refers to
” , , , the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering” (2 Thessalonians 1:5)
and “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you” (1:6).

Did Paul expect the Thessalonians to actually receive “grace and peace”?

Yes.  Paul expected, through both the proceeding words of his letter and the working of the Holy Spirit, God would give a measure of grace and peace to the Thessalonians.  If not, his blessing/prayer was nothing more than “May all your dreams come true”.

How can we use this blessing/prayer in our lives?

As a benediction.  The pastor can use it in a worship service.  A father could recite it over his family at the dinner table.  (It’d take courage.  Teenagers would moan something about sounding like Puritans!)  But worth it, right, if we enjoyed more “grace and peace from God”?

As a prayer.  “God our Father, please give us your grace for these difficult days.  And may we then be able to rest in the peace that the world cannot give.  In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.”  Reflect on this Scripture while listening to the Youtube video in this post.

As a greeting.  Not as an empty mantra.  But as a sincere greeting to everyone on Sunday morning.  A hug or handshake and, “Grace and peace to you, my friend.”  Certainly more meaningful than “wazz-up, brotha?”


Preach It Again, Paul

Early in my pastoral ministry, I assumed if I preached on 1 Thessalonians 4 (or any other passage) the congregation “got it”.  They heard it, right?  Certainly they “got it”.  (How naive!)

We’re ready to embark on a journey through 2 Thessalonians.  We’ll discover Paul addressing some of the same issues he did in 1 Thessalonians.  Granted that he wrote 2 Thessalonians in 51 or 52 A.D., a mere six months after writing his first letter to them.  Not a lot of time to reflect and practice.  Nevertheless, it would appear the Thessalonian believers didn’t quite “get it” all the first time through.

Example One. 

In 1 Thessalonians 1:6, Paul wrote, “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.  They “received the word in much affliction,” he wrote.

Now in 2 Thessalonians 1:4,5 he writes, “Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.  This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering.”

The Thessalonians suffered persecution in a hostile environment from the start.  Now, six months later Silas and Timothy have returned from delivering Paul’s first letter.  They report to Paul in Corinth of increased persecution in Thessalonica.  So, inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul again encourages them to remain steadfast in the faith and adds additional thoughts in view of additional persecution.

Repetition remains a key means of our learning God’s Word.  We may hear our pastor preach another time from the same text or on the same theme from a different text.  That’s because we didn’t “get it” all the first time.  And it’s also because God uses what he’s taught us before as a foundation for more he wants to teach us.

Building on the persecution theme, Paul writes, “This (your enduring all your persecution and afflictions with steadfastness and faith) is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God . . . ” (2 Thessalonians 1:5).  In 1 Thessalonians Paul said that receiving the word in much affliction with Holy Spirit joy made them examples to others believers.  In 2 Thessalonians Paul tells them their steadfastness and faith in afflictions is evidence of God’s righteous judgment that they may be considered worthy of God’s kingdom.

Our suffering while holding on to faith makes us an example and, taking it one step further, proves God’s righteous judgment to come when, if we hold on to the end, that suffering marks us as worthy of God’s eternal kingdom.  In a suffering world, such truth deserves repetition and building upon.

Example. Two. 

In 1 Thessalonians 2:3,4 Paul wrote, “For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak not to please man but to please God who tests our hearts.”  In short, Paul wanted the Thessalonians to be sure they could trust what he wrote, especially about Christ’s Second Coming. With that in mind he wrote, “Now concerning the times and seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you.  For your yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:1,2).

But now, something has happened demanding a “refresher sermon” with some new information thrown in.  So in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, Paul writes,Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.  Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?”  

Someone had sent the church a letter purporting to be from Paul.  It whispered that the day of the Lord had come, and they’d missed it.  Paul reminds them it was counterfeit (Paul would never talk out of both sides of his mouth!).  Then he reminds them what he had told them in person:  namely, that the day of the Lord would come only after “the man of lawlessness is revealed.”

Like the Thessalonians, even without a deliberately-deceptive letter, we need the Second Coming message reinforced.  First, because we easily get bogged down in confusing details about it and consequently pay little attention to the core message—that Jesus is coming again.  Second, because day-to-day living in this “real” world makes Jesus’ coming seem unreal.  So it gets shoved to our mind’s back-burner.  Rather than a boring rerun this is great news about a most momentous event!

Example Three.

In1 Thessalonians Paul had mildly and briefly rebuked believers who refused to work because Jesus was coming soon.  “But we urge you, brothers . . . to aspire to live quietly and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on nobody” (1 Thessalonians 4:10,11).  And again, “admonish the idle” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

We now discover in 2 Thessalonians that the “idle” didn’t “get it” at all.  Now Paul’s rebuke is lengthier and stronger.  “Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.  For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.  As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.  Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother” (2 Thessalonians 3:5-15).

If a believer is able to work, he must.  No sponging off a sympathetic church or soft-hearted believer.  Not signing up for a welfare check if you can find a job.  The church is to rebuke and even shun a fellow Christian “who is walking in idleness.”  Paul’s letters twice reminds us.

* * *

Maybe you’ve read the Bible from cover to cover.  Maybe more than once.  Think you “got it” all?  Maybe you’ve heard several sermons from 2 Thessalonians.  It’s a short letter.  Surely you “got it”, right?  I’ve read it often, too.  And preached from it several times over the years.  But I’m expecting to learn more from traveling through its three short chapters in days ahead.  I hope you are too.  Our Father, in his graciousness, patiently teaches us again and again.  Not only because we’re slow learners, but because his lessons call for diligent study over and over again.  With a child’s humble attitude let’s learn life’s deepest lessons!

God Will Change Us

God wants to change us.  Not our first choice.  God’s blessing on our life, yes.  But not our whole person transformed.  Sounds uncomfortable.  Yet that’s what God wants.  Here’s how Paul put it . . .

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification . . . “
(1 Thessalonians 4:3a)

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely,
and may your whole spirit and soul and body
be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
(1 Thessalonians 5:23)

That’s the change:   sanctification.  Here in his benediction to the Thessalonian church, Paul uses the verb “sanctify” and the noun “sanctification.”  The Greek verb is hagiasai—“to set apart, make holy.”  What does that kind of change look like?

Here’s a picture.  When the LORD instructed the Israelites to make a sanctuary in the desert (Exodus 25:8), his blueprint included this directive: “Hang the curtain from the clasps and place the ark of the Testimony behind the curtain. The curtain will separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place” (Exodus 26:33).  Two chambers.  A “Holy Place” and a “Most Holy Place.”  Same old desert ground.  No somber, mystical music mysteriously drifting through.  In themselves, ordinary places.   But both were set apart for the Lord’s use only.  That’s what “holy” means—“set apart from the ordinary for the Lord.” 

This is God’s will:  our being “set apart from the ordinary for the Lord.”  This is Paul’s benediction for the church:  ” . . . may the God of peace himself set you apart completely for himself . . . “

The scope of sanctification is “completely”:  “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely.”  We see the same scope again:  ” . . . and may your whole spirit and  soul and body be kept blameless . . . ”  The Greek word for “completely” is holotelays—“wholly, entirely, through and through.”

Commentators tend to get stuck discussing what Paul means by “spirit and soul and body.”  Does he mean man’s being is three parts?  If so, “spirit” would be that part of our being that perceives the spiritual God.  “Soul” is the sphere of our will and emotions.  “Body” is obviously our physical being.  However, I don’t think Paul is dissecting humans.  Rather, he’s stressing the state of being completely “kept” (tayreo) “blameless”  (holoklayros) “at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  The goal of sanctification is blamelessness when we stand before the Lord at his coming.

How in the world can we pull that off?  With David I have to admit, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (Psalm 51:3).  How, then, can I possibly be “blameless at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ”?

Look closely at Paul’s benediction . . .

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely,
and may your whole spirit and soul and body
be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

May God sanctify you.  May God himself sanctify you.  If that blessing isn’t enough, Paul adds this promise . . .

He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it (5:24).

Pistos is “trustworthy, faithful, dependable.”  Because it is God’s nature to be faithful, “he will surely sanctify us  completely and keep us blameless at the coming of our Lord.  Another word here is significant—“calls.”  God initiates our relationship with him.  He calls us to save us from sin and death.   And that relationship (in which we are being sanctified) continues, not by our merit, but by his grace and faithfulness.

This is what Paul wants to be ringing in the Thessalonians’ ears (and ours) as we reach the end of his letter.  Jesus is coming again.  We must be found blameless at his coming.  God will sanctify us and keep us blameless so we are ready for Jesus.

Paul then closes his letter with four remarks . . .

Brothers, pray for us.  Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.
I put you under oath before the Lord
to have
this letter read to all the brothers.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Knowing the missionaries will face more opposition as they continue to preach the gospel, Paul asks the brothers to pray for them.  He asks them to “greet all the brothers with a holy kiss”—this kiss being like that between members of the same family.  It’s important everyone hear his letter’s content, so he puts the recipients “under oath before the Lord” to be sure it’s read to all.  Finally, he blesses them with “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Two “take-aways” from 1 Thessalonians stand out to me today.  One, Jesus is coming again.  Human history will end, not with an all-destructive war or Planet Earth run out of resources or the seas flooding the continents from global warming.  It will end with the triumphant return of the Lord Jesus Christ for his followers.

Two, God is progressively sanctifying us now and will keep us blameless for the day of Christ’s coming.  “He is faithful; and he will surely do it.”  With that in mind, we can turn Paul’s benediction into a prayer that expresses God’s will for us living in this fallen world . . .

O God of peace,
you yourself, please sanctify us through and through,
to preserve our whole spirit, soul and body
blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In his name we pray, Amen.

WE Pay for Abortions!

Our tax dollars help pay for one abortion every 97 seconds, despite the Hyde Amendment Congress passed in 1976 and the Supreme Court upheld in 1980.   The Hyde Amendment prohibits federal funds from being used for abortions except in the cases of rape, incest or danger to the mother’s life. Nevertheless, Planned Parenthood slaughters pre-born babies with money from our tax payments.

Read this informative, distressing post from “The Daily Signal” . . .

The Numbers That Show Planned Parenthood About Abortion, Not Women’s Health

Lila Rose / September 14, 2016

As Planned Parenthood looks to spend a record $30 million this fall to influence the November elections and keep its taxpayer funding flowing, Live Action has released a new online tool pro-lifers can use to help counter the kind of propaganda $30 million can buy.

Live Action’s new “3 Percent Abortion Myth” video dispels one of Planned Parenthood’s greatest myths—that abortion only makes up 3 percent of its services.

In order to justify its half-billion dollars in annual taxpayer funding, Planned Parenthood downplays its abortion numbers by falsely claiming that abortion only makes up three percent of its business—and instead plays up its cancer screenings and so-called “women’s health care.” 

However, Planned Parenthood’s own numbers prove that it’s an abortion corporation, focused on abortion, not on women’s health care. The fact is, Planned Parenthood doesn’t perform a single mammogram and performs less than 2 percent of all women’s cancer screenings in the United States. Yet, as America’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood commits over 30 percent of America’s abortions—887 abortions a day, one abortion every 97 seconds, and over 320,000 abortions last year alone.

>>> Read More: “Disentangling the Data on Planned Parenthood Affiliates’ Abortion Services and Receipt of Taxpayer Funding

In fact, Planned Parenthood is so focused on abortion that it aborts 160 children for every one child it refers out for adoption (it doesn’t do adoptions itself). If a woman with an unwanted pregnancy goes to Planned Parenthood, that child is 160 times more likely to be poisoned or dismembered than to be put up for adoption to a waiting family.

Live Action’s new motion graphics video not only shows that Planned Parenthood’s market share of abortions dwarfs its share of cancer screenings, it also illustrates how Planned Parenthood calculates its ridiculous 3 percent statistic to deliberately mislead the public and downplay its abortion business.  The figure is derived by dividing the number of abortions it does by the total number of services it provides, counting a $10 pregnancy test or a pack of condoms the same as a $500 abortion. 



Even The Washington Post and Slate have called out the abortion corporation for its deception.

Three percent is a hugely important figure to understand, because Planned Parenthood and its allies in Washington, Hollywood, and the media often use it to dismiss its critics as well as taxpayers who object to being forced to support the abortion chain with hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Three percent is not a real number, but over 320,000 abortions a year and a 30 percent market share of all U.S. abortions are.

Planned Parenthood is spending more than it ever has — and double what it spent in 2012 – to influence this November’s election. Citizens have a right to know the truth about the media often use it to dismiss its critics as well as taxpayers who object to being forced to support the abortion chain with hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Three percent is not a real number, but over 320,000 abortions a year and a 30 percent market share of all U.S. abortions are.

Planned Parenthood by the numbers:

  • Planned Parenthood’s U.S. market share for Pap tests is 0.97 percent. It performed 271,539 tests in fiscal year 2014-15, out of 28.1 million tests nationwide. (Source)
  • Planned Parenthood’s U.S. market share for clinical breast exams is 1.8 percent. It performed 363,803 exams in fiscal year 2014-15, out of 20 million exams nationwide. (Source and note:  These are physical exams, not mammograms.  Planned Parenthood does not perform mammograms.)
  • Planned Parenthood’s U.S. market share for abortions is 30.6 percent. It committed 323,999 abortions in fiscal year 2014-15, out of approximately 1.06 million abortions nationwide. (Source )
  • Planned Parenthood aborts 160 children for every one child it refers out for adoption. (Source)

Planned Parenthood is spending more than it ever has — and double what it spent in 2012 – to influence this November’s election. Citizens have a right to know the truth about an organization that has a hold on the media, our elected leaders, and our wallets.

You can share this video to help counter one of Planned Parenthood’s biggest lies and help educate other voters. Planned Parenthood’s millions of dollars are no match for the millions of voices speaking up for the most vulnerable among us — our precious pre-born children.






100 Pray-ers

The headache was fierce and unrelenting.  Dizziness unfocused everything I looked at.  I could hardly move, literally.  It continued for 36 hours.  Our daughter, Meridith, posted a Facebook prayer request.  One hundred friends responded.  So let me tell you what the Lord has done.

When Lois called my primary doctor for help, she found he was away.  His covering doctor called back with a prescription for a new medication.  The next day both headache and dizziness were gone.  Neither returned.  Perhaps my primary would have prescribed the same; I don’t know.  But I choose to believe the Lord used the covering doctor for just what I needed.

While Lois was speaking with my primary’s nurse about in-home help, she “happened” to mention a Hospice program called “Failure to Thrive.”  It’s designed, not for the terminally ill, but with special-needs planning to be around for a while.  That Beverly should “just happen” to mention that program seems more than just happenstance.

Ah, but one must qualify for this program.  The intake administrator visited.  I fell on the floor and flopped like a fish.  I cried.  She took all pertinent information and phoned the deciding doctor.  We got a thumb-up.  (Review in three months.)  We took that approval as God’s gracious answer.  (I really didn’t flop.)

Then the Hospice nurse visited.  She was most knowledgeable and genuinely caring.   And she’s quite familiar with Primary Lateral Sclerosis, which is almost miraculous since apparently there are only 500 cases of PLS in the U.S.!

Hospice is a wonderful organization, as some of you know.  I’ll have, at this point, biweekly visits from the nurse and monthly from the doctor.  They’re available by phone 24/7. Lois and I both view that as the Lord telling us, “I know sometimes you feel forsaken.  You’re not.  I’m with you.”

We both look at this as an answer to 100 pray-ers.  Now when you read Meridith’s request, you probably didn’t fast and pray for three days.  (I wouldn’t have.)   Most of you probably breathed a sincere, but brief prayer.  I’ve said often I don’t know how prayer works.  (Would answers have come from only 50 pray-ers?)  But, you see, our Father who not only sees what we pray in secret, also hears what we whisper briefly.  And in his time and way, he answers.  He has.

So thank you every one of you hundred pray-ers from the bottom of my heart.  Your prayers won this battle and I’m grateful.  Praise the Lord!

Christian Community

The plan:  our three-year-old church would buy one of our town’s big old houses (we were renting from an Episcopal church then), three or four couples (including us) would live on the top two floors and we’d make the ground floor our worship “sanctuary.”  We wanted a church built around Christian community.

It never happened.  (The Lord had better plans.) But that planned community comes to mind as I read Paul’s closing exhortations in 1 Thessalonians . . .

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.  Be at peace among yourselves (5:12,13).

Communities need leadership.  Not the impersonal, put-in-my-time-for-my-check kind or the autocratic, professional CEO kind.  “Over you in the Lord” implies leading modeled after a father managing his children or a shepherd caring for his flock.  Therefore, Paul calls the church to “respect” or “acknowledge” the church’s leaders as “those who labor among you.”  These men work hard at their calling.  Part of their labor is to “admonish you.”  The original Greek is nouthetoo.  Generally it means “to instruct”, specifically “to call back to biblical behavior.”  The church is “to esteem them very highly in love.  Thus the relationship between the led and the leaders is to be one of “peace.”

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all (5:14).

Paul appeals to the church with four exhortations, the fourth “be patient with them all” summarizes the first three.  ” . . . admonish the idle.”  These are those who won’t work (because Jesus is coming soon?), so their behavior must be brought back to biblical norms (“he who won’t work shouldn’t eat”–2 Thessalonians 3:10).

Those who tend to fall by the wayside when hardship hits must be spurred on to persevere in the faith.  The “fainthearted” are not inferior Christians allowed to be forgotten by the bold-faith members.

The spiritually “weak” must be given “help”.  The Greek word literally means “cling to, hold fast to someone” and then “to pay attention to.”  Paul uses it here in the sense of paying attention to the weak and holding fast to them in order to help them along in their faith-walk.

Our natural tendency is to ignore the idle, to leave the fainthearted behind, and overlook the weak.  People like that need patient assistance.  It’s easier for the strong to go on alone than to bear the burden of the hurting.  But the church is a Christian community.  And a community moves ahead together, albeit slowly because we’re ministering to one another on the way.  Besides, one way the Lord teaches us patience (a fruit of the Spirit) is by putting us with people who require it.

See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone (5:15).

Our sinful nature demands pay-back.  That revenge-drive is especially strong when it’s a fellow-believer who does us wrong. (We expected better.)  But the Christian community is to be a bunch of good-doers, even to evil-doers.

Christian author Robert Thomas writes . . .

Diokete (‘seek’) is immeasurably more than halfhearted efforts.  Eager expenditure of all one’s energies is none too much in seeking . . . “the good”.  In place of wrong, injury or harm dictated by a vengeful spirit, Christians must diligently endeavor to produce what is intrinsically beneficial to others, whether other Christians . . . or unbelievers.  The seriousness of the abuse suffered is no issue.  Some Thessalonians doubtless had been victims of unjustified harsh treatment, but regardless of this, a positive Christian response is the only suitable recourse.  The welfare of the offender must be the prime objective.”

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (5:16-18).

This exhortation-triplet is personal (I must rejoice, pray, give thanks), but also communal.  If Christian community members “rejoice always”, their rejoicing in the Lord will be contagious, their ceaseless praying will motivate others to pray, and their thanksgiving regardless of circumstances will change grumbling lips to lips of gratitude.  This is God’s gracious design (“will”)—little communities of Christians that reveal an alternative lifestyle.

Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.  Abstain from every form of evil (5:19-22).

“Quench” (sbennute) is used literally of putting out a fire.  Here Paul uses it of “putting out” manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit, in particular “prophecies” which they are not to despise.  Prophecies were a spontaneous utterance among the gathered community, taken as a word from the Lord, but not absolute since they had to be tested (though Paul here doesn’t explain how).  What is found to be “good” (that is, the building up of the Christian community—1 Corinthians 14:3) they are to “hold fast” to.  What is judged “evil” (that is, inconsistent with God’s word and with apostolic teaching and does not build up the community, they must stay away from.  The correction for spiritual gifts abuse is not cessation but regulation.  In the Christian community, for the upbuilding of the community, the Spirit must be free to manifest himself.  For Christian community to flourish, the Spirit must impart the presence of the living Christ.

* * * * *

We often gauge the health of the church by numbers; but though numbers matter, health isn’t measured by how many bodies sit in the seats.  We often gauge the church’s health by its music; but though making music to the Lord is vital, health isn’t gauged by how much like a Christian concert we can be.  And often we gauge the church’s health by its preaching; devoted preaching of God’s word fuels the church’s life, but the health isn’t gauged by how like a theological classroom we can be.

Paul’s exhortations here strongly suggest that we should gauge our church’s health by its community.  According to Merriam-Webster, “community” is “a unified body of individuals” and “a group of people with a common characteristic or interest within a larger society.”

Community:  “a group of people with a common interest in Jesus
within a larger society”.

It’s up to all of us to make the church that community!






Holding Up Weak and Weary Arms

I don’t normally do this, but to all my praying friends please, please, please pray for my dad.  He has had tremendously rough 24 plus hours with his health condition and needs our prayers.  Thank you a million times!”

My younger daughter posted that yesterday on her Facebook page.  Beneath ran a scroll of 50 (50!) replies promising prayers (plus 77 “likes”).  Staggered.  Overwhelmed.  Grateful.  I showed Lois and remarked with tears streaming down my cheeks, “Look how many there are!”

Regular readers have heard ad nauseum  about my primary lateral sclerosis—a neurological disease that weakens legs, then progresses upwards, carrying with it other loathsome symptoms,  It’s not fatal, but feels as if it is.  My last 24 hours i’ve developed unrelenting headaches and dizziness.  I hit bottom.  That’s why my daughter’s posting and all those pray-ers unleashed grateful tears.

I thought of Moses . . .

The Amelakites came and attacked the Israelites as Rephidim.  Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amelakites.  Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands,”  So Joshua fought the Amerlakites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill.  As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were wining.  When Moses’ hands grew tired, they ook a stone put it under him and he sait on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—-so that his hands remained steady till sunset.  So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword (Exodus 17:8-13).

I couldn’t pray yesterday.  Beaten down, I had no strength (or faith?) to ask God for anything.  I was, in fact, depressingly angry with God.  But I couldn’t lash out at him.  Could plead with him.  I needed someone to come and “hold up my weak and weary arms.”  And came they did

Thankfulness for my daughter overflows my heart—and thankfulness for her friends and their prayers.  I’m marginally better today, but healed in my heart by their awesome love.

A lesson:  when someone asks for prayer, I’ve got to pray a prayer from my heart—then write a quick reply so the one in need knows I’m “holding up” his/her arms.  Then I become a channel of God’s grace for someone I might not even know.

I’ve been prayed for often, especially in the last several years.  But no prayers touched my heart like those yesterday.  How our Father will respond to them, I can’t be sure.  But I know this:  he answered in a way probably no one intended when a lovely daughter and many unknown believers held up my weak and weary arms.

« Older posts

© 2024 The Old Preacher

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑


Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)