Month: September 2019

Confidence! (Philippians 1:1-11)

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What are you confident in? What are you relying on when it comes to faith and the continuation of that faith? Life is filled with unexpected complexity and challenge – so what anchors you and your faith?

Paul prayed for these Philippian believers, thanking God with great joy and certainty for their faith because he had great confidence that was anchored in God alone.

The early converts of this church were a successful businesswoman, a redeemed fortune teller & a converted jailer (see Acts 16 for the full story of this churches inception). This diverse bunch of newly saved ones must have faced many challenges to their faith. Challenges that came from both from within & from outside the church. 

To this group of believers in Jesus Paul could write;

“I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (vs6)

He wasn’t there to hold their hands! But he was confident that they would make genuine progress in spiritual growth. So what was Paul’s confidence anchored in?

1. That salvation is a work of God

No doubt Lydia, the Slave-girl & the Jailer could all remember the day that they put their faith in Jesus. But this is not Paul’s confidence; it is not that they ‘really’ believed. His confidence is that God started it all! Acts 16:14 says of Lydia’s salvation moment; “the LORD opened her heart”. God was at the bottom of it all as Charles Spurgeon said;

One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher’s sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me; How did you come to be a Christian? I sought the Lord. But how did you come to seek the Lord? The truth flashed across my mind in a moment—I should not have sought him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. 

How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so?  Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all and that he was the Author of my faith, and so the doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, “I ascribe my change wholly to God.” — Charles Spurgeon 

Friend, your faith is sure and secure only if God is at the bottom of it all.   

2. God will bring what He started to completion.

‘So my faith had a good start, but will I be able to keep it going?’ – I hear you wondering.  

Friend, Philippians 1:6 says that not only was God the originator of your faith in Him, more than that it is God Himself who will bring to completion what He started in you.

God doesn’t do half-jobs. God doesn’t get distracted or dejected because of slow progress. The writer to the Hebrews says it like this; “Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (Hebrews 7:25 in NIV).

It would make no sense; it would not honour Jesus’ life, death & resurrection in our place for our sin for God to start and not bring to fullness our salvation. Friend, God is supremely invested in, God is behind not just the origination of your faith but the sustenance and progress of your faith. For some more verses on this theme check out: 1 Corinthians 1:8-9 & 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 & Colossians 1:21-22.

3. The Outcome and the Day are Guaranteed

There is a timeline when this completion will be fully realised. It is not today or tomorrow or in 1years time, but it is on THE DAY of Jesus Christ – the day Jesus returns in glory. 

Sometimes spiritual progress in our own lives or in the lives of those we love or lead can feel like three steps forward and two backwards! Don’t despair, don’t give in during the long dark nights when you feel like you have to hold on to what faith you still have.

There is a day coming. And you can be confident that God who inaugurated your faith will bring it to complete fullness by the time of the return of Jesus Christ. That day on which you will see Him face to face, and you will be transformed & raised in glory (1 Corinthians 15:42-43 & 51-55).

If you have believed in Jesus, you can know with absolute certainty that you have believed because God is at work within your life, and you can rest assured that what God has started in you He Himself will continue until it is fully complete at the Day of Jesus Christ. Be secure, be full of praise and thanks!

A Prayer for a life that’s worthy (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12)

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Paul prayed for the Thessalonian believers; he prayed that God would enable them to live a life that would be worthy of the call of God on their lives, worthy of the Gospel.

He prayed that God would give them the power that they would need to accomplish all the good works God had planned for them to do (Ephesians 2:10), good deeds that would be prompted by their faith in God (2 Thessalonians 1:11).

Paul knew that these believers needed; 

  1. God’s enabling power to live holy lives worthy of God
  2. God’s enabling power to live purposefully fulfilling the call of God on their lives

And so he prayed continually for them so that the name of Jesus would be glorified in the way that they lived their lives.

Amazingly, God has connected our lives and His glory! What this means is that how we live our lives whether we waste our lives on self-centred trivialities or focus on weighty eternal things matters.  

And because our lived-out response to the Gospel matters, Paul continually prays for these believers that they would live out a response that would glorify God.

Because Paul prays continually for them, he prays that they would live out a response to the Gospel that is worthy of the Gospel. Because he prays this way, we know therefore that it is quite possible for our lives not to be worthy of the call we have received.

So, what would such a life look like in a believer?

  • God and God’s glory not being at the centre but rather self-centredness & worldly thinking dominating their thoughts.
  • A lack of a pattern of daily worship and devotion to God (prayer, God’s word, listening to the Holy Spirit)
  • God’s church and God’s purposes not being at the centre of their lives, their rhythms and decisions
  • Compromise and sin

Paul kept on praying for these new believers in Thessalonica because he didn’t want their lives to look like this list above. He was diligent, even urgent in praying for them no doubt because it was a real threat that they could potentially drift away into lukewarmness and compromise and so he contended for them in prayer.

Having accepted Jesus as our Saviour, we know that we will enter into eternal life with Jesus because we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

However, what is not guaranteed is how we will live out our response to the Gospel! Hence Paul’s continual prayers for these believers.

Brothers and sisters, it is not guaranteed whether or not we will live a life worthy of the call we have received. What is needed is intentionality, devotion, continually choosing to make Jesus the centre of our lives, our thinking, our priorities & decisions. What is required is a continual reliance on and obedience to the Holy Spirit so that our lives will glorify God and fulfil His plans for us.

And then, when our lives do glorify God, somehow this passage says that we will be honoured together with Jesus in some way (see vs12).

“All of this is made possible because of the grace of our God and LORD, Jesus Christ.” (Vs12 in NLT)

May we, may I live lives worthy of You Jesus! Fill me, fill us with your enabling power, help me, help us Holy Spirit to listen and obey You always so that You would be glorified and we would be honoured to along with You. Amen.

The Day of Jesus’ Return (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10)

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Writing to believers enduring persecution for their faith and wanting to encourage and fortify them the apostle Paul lifts their gaze to the future horizon – the great Day of Jesus Christ’s return.

Right thinking or understanding about the impending return of Jesus will help one to know how to live today and tomorrow. A biblical and eternal perspective focusses us on what’s truly important and fortifies us in the present realities which might be hard.

‘God considers it just to repay…’

Have you ever questioned the revealed will of God or the revelation of God’s ways in Scripture? I am astounded how commonplace this is these days. People read something in Scripture only to then react with statements like;

  • ‘Well I’m not happy with that!’ or
    ‘I don’t think that’s fair/right/loving.’
  • And yet Scripture never apologizes for God, never tries to defend God. Here in our passage, it says that;

“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.”(1 Thessalonians 1:6-7)

A passage like this calls one to decide whether or not Scripture has authority over our thoughts and questions over our preferences.

Someone once said to me; “Well my Jesus would never…” To speak like this is tantamount to making your own god (idol).  But then the god you made is not the God of Scripture!

God considers it just to repay evil for the evil done to His beloved children and therefore, it is just.

Are you wrongfully accused or mistreated in some way? God will repay that person. You don’t have to try to take revenge or fight back or defend yourself; God will do it, He will repay that person for their wrong.

And when will this happen? At the Day of Jesus’ second coming. You might not see the wrong being righted in your lifetime, but you can know God will vindicate you.

Only Two Groups of People

It is human nature to want to belong to a group of people to identify with others. The world is full of a myriad of tiny groups of people who all hold on to their differentiated sense of identities.

And yet according to our passage, on the Day that King Jesus returns there will only be two distinct groups of people;

  1. Those who did know God, who did obey and accept the Gospel about Jesus
    And those who did not
  2. On that Day, all other identities will be worthless & irrelevant. All that will matter is whether or not you believed the good news about Jesus Christ or not prior to that Day’s sudden arrival.

Two different experiences

And depending on whether you believed in Jesus and knew Him as your Saviour and LORD or not, there will be two very different experiences on that Day and into eternity.

  1. You will be in the great crowd of ‘saints’ (vs10) to whom God will grant relief from their suffering (vs7) and who will glorify Jesus as they marvel at His majesty (vs10).
  2. Or you will experience the judgement and the vengeance of God (vs8) and ‘suffer the punishment of eternal destruction’ being shut out from the presence of God forever (vs9) – terrifyingly bad news.

Who would not want to be in the first group? And who would not do everything in their power to urge all those they know and love to do the same by believing in Jesus Christ?

Help as you Change (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)

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“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.  He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24) 

Spend some time marinating in these two verses!

What is being promised here that will produce godly hope and assurance in us? Who is doing the heavy lifting here? What is our role in our own sanctification (our continual changing more and more into the likeness of Jesus)?

Don’t rush, read these verses again and again. Let the truth in them assure you of God’s commitment to your holiness. You are not on your own as you seek to please God by growing in Christlikeness (see 1 Thessalonians 4:3).

Pray now and ask for the Holy Spirit to fill you afresh, and rest in the knowledge that your personal growth in godliness is something God is totally committed to according to these verses – you are not alone!

Eat the Fish and Spit Out the Bones (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21)

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Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. 20 Do not scoff at prophecies, 21 but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. 22 Stay away from every kind of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 in the NLT Translation)

Paul’s instruction here to the believers is rooted in his desire that they and we too, do not inadvertently stifle the activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in church when it is gathered.

The fact that he has to warn them and us means that it is possible to do, so we should take heed of this warning.

Paul goes on to explain HOW we might stifle the work of the Spirit – by ‘scoffing at prophecies’ (vs20), treating them as nothing important.

Prophecy in the NT era is most simply hearing from God for someone else. Someone who brings a prophecy is allowing God to use them to bless, build-up, correct, direct or encourage people as they hear God’s voice through their actions and words.

Prophecy can be corporate or personal in nature and prophecy can take different forms such as a word for someone, a picture or an impression or a Scripture.

For Paul, prophecy was an essential part of biblical church life and community and so was not to be scoffed at, stifled or quenched.

The balance here is that every prophetic utterance is to be ‘tested’ or examined. We need to ask whether what has been shared lines up with Scripture? (vs21) We also need to remember that this side of heaven, all prophesy is ‘in-part’ (1 Corinthians 13:12), meaning that all prophetic contributions will be fallible to some degree.

So, don’t stifle prophecy & don’t blindly accept everything that is spoken in the name of God. Rather, eagerly desire prophecy in your life and in the life of the church (1 Corinthians 14:1) but test all prophetic utterances against the plumbline of Scripture. So, eat the fish and spit out the bones!

 

Dynamite Comes in Small Packages (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

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Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

A two-word verse followed by a three-word verse followed by a slightly longer one. Such short verses with such challenge!

In vs16, it’s the ‘always’ that ramps up the challenge factor! Who would have a problem with rejoicing in good things? Our problem is rejoicing in all things, in those hard situations and or rejoicing still when things have not gone the way we would like them to go.

And yet this is God’s will for us, so it is possible to do. But how can it be possible to rejoice always or in all circumstances?

I believe that this is possible for the Christ Follower when we consider Jesus, who He is, and what He has done for us. We can always thank God for Jesus, for loving us when we were unlovely when we were His enemies.

No matter what is happening in our lives, if we have put our faith in Jesus, we have been forgiven of our sin, set free from the wrath of God’s righteous judgement and have been granted eternal life with God. We have been given the privilege of being called the children of God! As believers we know that whatever we might be facing is going to be swallowed up by the glory to come for us; “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

So, we can always rejoice. I am not saying this is easy to do, but it is God’s will for us, according to vs18. And so it is possible, and it is for our very best.

Pray without ceasing (vs17). One more word than the previous verse and yet no less challenging. Praying without ceasing is the opposite of living a worldly life, living life as though God doesn’t exist.

To pray in this way is to practice God’s presence amid your everyday life. To pray in this way is to master the art of always being in two places at once. Being wherever you find yourself at any given moment and being with God, aware of His presence in that place or situation.

How amazing it would be to be in continual conversation with God, accessing His Help and wisdom, knowing His love, affirmation & His guidance! This is not some onerous command; this is an invitation to live a life on a whole new level.

Lastly, ‘give thanks in all circumstances’ (vs18) is not an instruction to give thanks for all circumstances. Rather, it is to be aware of God in everything and to be mindful of what you can thank your Father for. Growing in gratitude cultivates a heart of worship and breathes life-giving perspective into all of life.

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)