Death & Hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

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“We don’t like to think about death; yet, worldwide, 3 people die every second, 180 every minute, and nearly 11 000 every hour…As human beings, we have a terminal disease called mortality. The current death rate is 100%” – (R.Alcorn)

Many cultures in the world shun speaking about death for superstitious reasons. However, it is ludicrous to think that we can avoid thinking our mortality since it is both personally inevitable and also impossible to avoid since people die every day and in time, people close to us will die.

Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, death has been the normal experience of all of humankind; however, that doesn’t make it natural! Death is unnatural since God created Adam and Eve for eternal life in the Garden. And because it is unnatural, we wrestle with this horrible intrusion into our human experience which tears beloved people apart and brings great sadness and loneliness.

 We need to talk more about death, not less. Not talking about death is non-sensical. No one would approach a monumental moment or an epic life-changing trip to an unknown place without some thoughts of preparation. It is normal for travellers to do some fact-finding and engage in discussions with others to find out more about the experiences they are about to have when planning a trip. We all have a date with death. It’s a date we can’t change, can’t be late or early for and one that we cannot change or reschedule! Therefore, surely it is normal to talk about death with others, to ask our questions and to find the answers in Scripture.

Because Paul’s time in Thessalonica was rushed & was brought to a premature end as he had to leave for his safety. It seems as though he hadn’t managed to get to teach the new believers at Thessalonica about death and what will happen when we die. So when some of their congregation died, they naturally had questions about what happens to those who die. And so now as we read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 we get to listen in as Paul assures them by teaching them what will happen when we die as believers.

1. Don’t be uninformed about those who have died are ‘asleep’ (vs13)

Being naive about life and death and eternal life is very unwise. It will leave you either unprepared or unnecessarily worried about things you don’t need to be concerned about. Those who have died are in a state of waiting what theologians sometimes call the ‘intermediate state’ a transition between this life & eternal life. Here, Paul describes them as being ‘asleep’ waiting for a new dawn, the day when Jesus will return in glory.

2. We don’t grieve as others do, who have no hope (vs13)

Because of what we know (which will be expanded on in the verses that follow), we do not grieve in the same way as those who have no hope because they have not believed in Jesus. What we know gives us peace and hope both for ourselves and for those we love. Note, however, how Paul does not say; ‘don’t grieve’! We do grieve as believers. We grieve because death is a terrible, unnatural, intrusion in our lives and relationships. Death is our enemy that Jesus came to destroy and overcome, but that victory will be only fully realised at Jesus’ second coming. So in this life, we do grieve, we suffer the pain of separation, but we do so with that pain limited by hope!

3. Our hope is rooted in our belief that Jesus died and rose again (vs14)

Jesus rose again victorious from the dead, and so we know that we too will rise with Him (Romans 6:4). As Rick Warren said; “Death is therefore not your termination, but your transition into eternity.” Famously DL Moody supposedly said; “Soon you will read in the newspaper that I am dead. Don’t believe it for a moment. I will be more alive than ever before.” And as PJ Smyth says; “Do you best death – all you do is promote us!” This is why we do not grieve as those with no hope do.

4. The Great Reunion! (vs14-17a)

We know that at his glorious second coming Jesus is going to bring with Him all those believers who had fallen asleep before that moment. They will rise from their state of sleep and will meet with us in the air with Christ! What a day, what a reunion! I am sitting writing this in an airport. I love airports and watching some people both crying and as they hug good-bye, aching for the moment they will be reunited and then also others crying with the joy of home-comings, reunions of loved one. Imagine for a moment all the married couples being reunited, parents and children, best friends. Can you hear the excited chatter? Can you feel the relief and the intensity of the hugs, can you see the Father’s joy?

5. Together Forever (vs17b-18)

Paul goes on to complete this thought with the words; “and so we will always be with the Lord”. This reunion of believers never ends; the joy will never subside or be replaced by a new sadness. This is the era of unhindered & unending proximity to Jesus and one another. The best you’ve ever experienced of the joy of relationships in this life is the worst you could imagine in the new heaven and the new earth because even best things are tainted by sin in some way or end through our mortality. The best is yet to come! So, encourage one another with these words (vs18), speak about our glorious future and allow that certain future to shape today.  

Lastly, maybe contemplating these things will also cause you to have the courage to reach out to someone who doesn’t yet believe in Jesus Christ so that they could be with you in eternity – share your life with them, share the good news of Christ with them, bring them to church.

“It ought to be the business of every day to prepare for our final day” (Matthew Henry)

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Surprised? (1 Thessalonians 3:1-13)

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In 1 Thessalonians 3:3-5, we discover that Paul desired deeply that no one in the church in Thessalonica would be moved/shaken/unsettled by the afflictions/pressures that faced them. Because of this, Paul sent a person, Timothy to encourage them, to help them think clearly. In addition to this through his letter, Paul also reminded them of truth. He did so because it’s the truth that undergirds us, reinforces us so that we can face trials, stand firm when pressure situations hit.

So what truth did Paul seek to reinforce them with?

He said;

“YOU YOURSELVES KNOW that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.” (vs3-4)  

He expected these believers in Jesus to know that pressure, suffering, persecution are not abnormal for the believer in Jesus but rather part of our normal experience.

We often say we are ‘followers of Jesus’, but did we forget that Jesus suffered from almost continual opposition during his 3yrs of ministry on earth and ultimately that Jesus died on a cross at the hands of His enemies!

Did we forget that Jesus said things like; “then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers” (Matthew 24:9 NLT) & “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Mark 13:13)

Jesus knew Paul knew that we are living through wartime, not peacetime this side of Jesus’ return. Having a biblical perspective and expectation regarding suffering, trials, persecution and pressure will help you massively when such things do come. So let’s not be naive, but rather let’s KNOW that we are destined for such things but also KNOW that greater is He that is within us than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4) and let us KNOW that ;

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose…35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:28&35-39)

Are you surprised when suffering or pressure comes? Does it knock you sideways?

Be strengthened by knowing what Scripture teaches in these verses & knowing that God has promised amazing things concerning His ever-present help to you IN what you are going through.

Walk in a manner worthy of God (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12)

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shutterstock_774641692_1078_375_s_c1“For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”

Spend time contemplating this phrase; ‘walk in a manner worthy of God’. The Christian life is a journey; it’s a road we walk. And according to this passage, how we walk really matters.

So spend some time now and ask God whether there is anything in the way you’re walking, in how you’re living that is not honouring to God. David used to do this by praying these words; 

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (Psalms 139:23-24 in NLT)

Why not spend some time reflecting and praying that prayer and if God shows you anything in your walk that is not worthy of God, then just repent of it, turn away from it, stop it and ask God to forgive you and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9) and then walk free, and keep walking to honour God with your whole life.

Salesperson? (1 Thessalonians 2:4)

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In this section of the letter (1 Thessalonians 2), Paul is reminding these believers how he and his team acted amongst them. He is building the platform from which he will later give some instruction to these believers.  

What he writes describes brilliantly what Godly leadership ought to be like and is well worth deep consideration.  

However, for today’s devotion, I want to focus on just one aspect of Paul’s life and leadership that has life application for all believers.

“We speak, not to please man, but God who tests our hearts.” (1 Thessalonians 2:4)

What motivates your actions & words?  

We live in a self-conscious age. We are constantly attempting to manage the perceived perception of others regarding ourselves.

And so we do things, say things, post things because of what we believe that will portray to others about us. It is all too easy to get sucked into living for affirmation, likes, followers. We are salespeople!

Paul, however, could declare that he was free from such pressure. He lived and spoke with his eyes, not on the opinion of others but rather firmly fixed on pleasing God alone.

Our age loves the notion of freedom, and yet we so readily enslave ourselves to the fickle opinions of others, or even worse, our perception of what the opinion of others might be!

I believe that the apostle Paul was genuinely free. He lived for the audience & the approval of ONE – God the Father in Heaven. He lived to please God in all he did and said. This was the motivation in his heart, the guidance for his life.

Paul knew that it was futile to try to do a sales job on the all-knowing, all-seeing God. After-all it is God alone who can test our hearts and truly know the motivation for all our actions.

So, Paul knew the glorious freedom, confidence and security that flowed from knowing that He was loved and accepted by God because He had believed the good news about Jesus. Therefore, he proclaimed the gospel fearlessly in spite of great danger and also lead courageously.

What a relief! There is no need to be a salesperson anymore. If you KNOW that you are loved and accepted by God because of your faith in Jesus, then you can live truly free from the endless tyranny of the opinions of others.  

Live your whole life for the audience of the ONE who loved you enough to save you for Himself. And when you live for Him and not yourself (2 Corinthians 5:14-15) – you will end up glorifying Him with your life.  

Authentic Faith (1 Thessalonians 1:6-10)

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Paul and his companions were convinced that the Thessalonians were true believers because:

  1. The Gospel proclamation was accompanied by signs and wonders & by the power of the Holy Spirit displayed (vs5).
  2. The Thessalonian believers received the good news about Jesus with full conviction. They weren’t uncertain about what they had heard & believed (vs5).
  3. These believers also began to imitate the faith and the life-example of Paul and his ministry companions; they learnt his ways and changed theirs (vs6).
  4. So much so, that they became an example to other believers elsewhere as the testimony of their faith spread (vs7-9).

True believers in Jesus, turn from worshipping anything else to worshipping and serving the one true God. More than this, they live then with eager expectation for the return of Jesus Christ the Son. The one whom God raised from the dead, the one who alone can deliver those who believe in Him from the wrath to come (vs9-10).

The Gospel doesn’t just change our eternal address it transforms our lives, our thinking, our speech, our lifestyles, our rhythms, our habits, our community…

What an amazing clear testimony these believers in Jesus had. The evidence of their changed lives testified loudly to the authenticity of their faith. People were speaking about the changes that had occurred in them.

When we truly make God the centre of our lives, everything begins to revolve around Him and find it’s proper perspective or orientation to Him.  

Is your faith crystal clear like that of the Thessalonians? Is it evident to others that you have forsaken any other “gods”? And that in their place you are passionately focussed on, worshipping and serving God with your whole life?

This is the only “reasonable response” (see the NIV or ESV footnote of Romans 12:1) if you have grasped the wonder of who Jesus is and what He has done for you.  

May you, may we live lives that are radically focussed on Jesus, worshipping and serving Him for His glory, while we wait for His glorious return!

Gospel Fruit (1 Thessalonians 1:1-6)

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As believers, we have an ancient faith with a modern face! Even though this letter is nearly 2000yrs old, the contents of it still apply today, and the practices and problems of these early Christ Followers are still essentially the same for us today in 2019.

So, what can we learn about our ancient faith from these 6verses? And what is God speaking to you about from them today for your life?

In vs2 we read that Paul and his team were constantly in prayer for these believers. He had shared the Gospel with them but then after only 2-3 weeks had to leave Thessalonica.

So now, separated from them, he continued with what he could do – Paul kept on praying for them. An incredible amount of impact can be made simply through being on our knees in prayer!

Paul knew that he could not assist these believers physically, but he knew that prayer was not just some blessed thoughts but essential for their growth in God and their protection in what was a hostile situation.

Paul was, therefore, constant in prayer for them. How about your life? Is prayer a constant in your life? Prayer is ‘weakness leaning on omnipotence’ – WS Boyd. Are you leaning on God through prayer for others who’s life situations vitally need you praying for them?

“Prayer is an ordinary means to accomplish supernatural ends.” – Mark Dever

Paul goes on to recount how these believers in Thessalonica responded to the Gospel (vs3-5)

The Gospel didn’t leave them unchanged; rather it resulted in three things;

  1. Work/effort that resulted from their faith in Jesus
  2. Labour motivated by love for God & people
  3. And steadfastness inspired by their hope in Jesus

When we are genuinely saved, we are not left unchanged. Thorough changes begin from deep within us but in time become evident to ourselves and to others.

Our energy is diverted & directed towards the things of God. Our efforts become motivated by the new central love in our hearts – love for God. And our lives become secure and stable because our eyes are fixed on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

Think about the Gospel’s impact on your life. How has the Gospel redirected your life’s energy? How has your life-motivation changed? And how has your vision of the future been impacted because of what you know about Jesus?

Lastly, (vs5) Paul knew that these believers were truly saved because of the way that the power of God broke out amongst them when they believed. As Christ followers they were filled with the Holy Spirit and also filled with conviction.

Pray for greater demonstrations of the power of God in your life and in the life of your church. And pray for a real sense of conviction regarding the truth of the Gospel.

Crises (Numbers 20)

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These were not easy times amongst the people of God. Moses was leading a generation destined to wander the desert until they all died. They were now paving the way for their children to inherit what was supposed to have been theirs.

It’s not easy leading 1-1.5million people in a desert on the best of days! But leading a generation that you know will die and will not fulfil any of their dreams can not have been easy.

Then crisis hits. The Wilderness of Zin had no water in it. This very real crisis precipitates a fresh round of complaints and the people quarrel with Moses and grumble! (vs3-5)

Moses is caught between a real crisis, a monumental problem and a discontented people who’s unbelief had blinded them to the magnificence of their God.

So, Moses and Aaron take the situation and the people’s complaint to God (vs6) falling down in His presence. What a great response!

God in His faithfulness responds to their prayer, and God intervenes – “the glory of the Lord appeared” (vs6). God then spoke to them (vs7) and provided a miraculous solution to their need; (vs8) “tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water”.

Moses and Aaron do some of what God told them to do. They gather the congregation, but Moses then goes rogue and doesn’t obey God specifically!

When they gather before him, he scolds them in his anger and frustration that has probably built up over the past year since he started leading them; “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” (vs10)

His unprocessed hurt and frustration boils over and spills out in a moment in a very public way. More than this, Moses did not do what God told him when he struck the rock twice (vs11) rather than speak to it like God had instructed him (see vs8).

We don’t have the time to unpack the reasons that caused Moses to do this thoroughly. However, what we do know is that once before, about a year prior God had provided water from a similar rock and on that day God told Moses to strike the rock once (see Exodus 17:5).

Regardless of Moses, God in his love for the people solves the very real crisis and provides for the people – so water gushes out of the rock abundantly (vs11) so that the original crisis is solved, but a new personal crisis for Moses has just begun.

God was angry with Moses and said;

Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” (vs12)

It seems to me that Moses’ anger at the people blinded him. It caused him not to trust God when God had told him to “tell the rock” to provide its water? God was displeased with the way Moses had not honoured Him before the people, and so that day, Moses lost something. That day Moses missed the Promised Land.

Crises have a way of revealing what’s really in our hearts. People are a little like oranges. When the pressures of life put their squeeze on us, eventually what’s inside comes out.

Undealt with emotions that have subsided with time from our consciousness but have not been dealt with through prayers of lament and forgiveness are a time-bomb waiting to be triggered.

Crises will come; it’s only a matter of time. And when we are faced with crises, God wants us to come to Him in prayer. But when we do, let’s commit to then do what He tells us to do. Not to do more, not less, but to do now what He tells us to do.