Gospel Transformation (1 Thess 1:1-5)

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The preaching of the Gospel always transforms! In Thessalonica the Gospel transformed people in the following ways;

  1. The Gospel formed relationships that had previously not existed. New relationships both within the church and also between those in the church and Paul’s apostolic team. Paul could write how they would regularly pray giving thanks to God for the Thessalonian believers and for what happened in the lives of those who believed there. (vs2)  They had previously not known each other, but now they were joined at a heart level.
  2. The Gospel resulted in inner-life transformation in the believers of Thessalonica.  Having believed the Gospel, they were described as those having faith, love & hope despite harsh opposition in their city. (vs3)  They were described as having faith, hope & love.  This triad (faith, hope, love) is used regularly in the New Testament to describe what the believer’s life becomes characterised by as a result of the Gospel’s transformative effect.
  3. The Gospel produced tangible external transformation.  Note how each of the three Gospel characteristics is paired with a practical observable outworking in their lives;
  • Faith results in work (action/deeds)
  • Love results in labour (toil/trouble/pains)
  • Hope results in steadfastness (cheerful endurance)

True faith in God is evidenced by actions that show that faith to be real.

True love received from God through the Gospel results in real committed love for others that’s robust.

True hope in Christ fortifies us in the midst of present trials and suffering enabling cheerful endurance.

When we believe the good news about Jesus, that truth doesn’t leave our lives unchanged but transforms our relationships, our experience, our thinking and our actions in very observable ways.

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Gospel priority & power (Acts 17:1-9)

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In the month of October we are going to be reading through Paul’s letters to the believers he left behind in Thessalonica, the church that was formed through his  brief preaching in that city.

We start, today by looking at the record the book of Acts has of the genesis moment of this church in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9).

Having been beaten, imprisoned then miraculous released from prison in Philippi for preaching the good news about Jesus, Paul & Silas are ejected from Philippi and move on to Thessalonica and within days they are preaching the Gospel again in the synagogue at Thessalonica;

And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” (Acts 17:2-3)

Don’t miss this.  Paul and Silas have just miraculously been released from jail and having been beaten for the Gospel by the authorities in Philippi and they don’t go into their shell, they don’t back-off their God-given mission, not even for a moment.

The Gospel was their priority and preoccupation.  They had good news about Jesus that the world around them needed to hear.

Can you say that sharing the Gospel is a priority in your life?

What small changes can you make to change this if change is needed?
Amazingly it appears as though Paul & Silas were only in Thessalonica for about a month or so.  They proclaim the Gospel in the Synagogue for only three weeks and then hostile opposition forces them out of the city…

And yet during that time it’s recorded that Gospel seeds had been sown;

4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. (Acts 17:4)

When the Gospel is preached, it’s power is released and new communities of faith are formed.  This brand new church community began to form in response to the Gospel message.  A new community of faith was formed, made up of God-fearing Greeks, some of the Jewish people from the Synagogue and a number of leading women in that city.  Paul recounts in 1 Thessalonians 1:1-9 how they were saved when they ‘turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.’

And this is the church that Paul writes his letters of 1 & 2 Thessalonians to.  He had only preached there for a month or so, and yet the Gospel is so powerful that lives are transformed, people who were previously not connected become a community of faith that endures despite significant threat and opposition and becomes a church of Jesus Christ.

Are you convinced of the power of the Gospel to transform lives and form community?

When we share the good news about Jesus, always remember it is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16) and so you can be confident that it will bring about transformation in people’s lives.  So keep sowing Gospel seed everyday, wherever God sends you in your everyday life.

 

Do you see the hand of your God? (Joshua 24)

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Do you see the hand of your God? In chapter 24, Joshua gathers the nation again and through him God speaks recounting the story of His people’s journey to the present and shot through the whole narrative God keeps pointing to Himself and what He did for His people.

Sixteen times God says; “I….” in only 12 verses of chapter 24! God is taking a highlighter as it were and pointing out a myriad of times and ways that it was God Himself who was acting lovingly, protectively, providing, caring, always faithful to His promises to His people. Joshua points out to God’s people;

  • How God called Abraham out of God’s own sovereign free will
  • How God gave Abraham a miracle promised son to his barren wife
  • How God gave that son a line of sons to fulfill God’s covenant promise to Abraham
  • How God provided land for those sons
  • How God sent Moses to deliver His people from Egypt
  • How God delivered His people by dealing with the super power Egypt
  • How God miraculously divided the Red Sea for His people’s deliverance
  • How God answered the panicked cry of His people when Egypt pursued them
  • How God showed who He really was through His powerful dealings with Egypt
  • How God brought His people through the Wilderness protecting & providing for them
  • How God gave victory to His people over the Amorites
  • How God destroyed their enemies before them, God was their protection
  • How God delivered them from the hand of Balaam
  • How God took His people into the Promised Land & gave them victory over all people
  • How God fought their battles for them in miraculous ways (using hornets one time)
  • How God gave His people a land they hadn’t laboured for, cities they didn’t build, farms full of produce they didn’t plant or cultivate…

Pause.
Do you see the hand of your God in your life?

God is good, all the time, God is good. You might not always see it, understand it, feel it, but it is true. God is at work in your life in a myriad of ways, always has been and always will be. God is faithful, even when we are unfaithful, He cannot be unfaithful, its just not possible, it’s not who He is.

Brother, sister; if you don’t recognise how your life is saturated with the activity of God, then you won’t thank God, and you won’t respond to His love for you with love for Him and worship of Him…

So pause.

Consider daily, thank God daily for small things worship Him and devote yourself again and again to loving Him & serving Him only in all of life.

God renews the covenant with His people in chapter 24, calls them to respond to His goodness towards them, urging them to love Him only and to forsake anything that would seek to rob them of their faith and love for God.

Joshua warns the people of the sinfulness of the human heart to wander away from God, to be unfaithful, and yet declares that for Him and His household they will serve God (Joshua 24:15).

And Israel served God all the days of Joshua (great leader!) and all the days of the other elders of Israel who served alongside Joshua and outlived him and who knew, who remembered all that God had done for His people. Remembering, recognising God’s hand in our lives is so vital to a life that honours God. So, pause, recognise, remember…

We need reminding… (Joshua 23)

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After a long time had passed, as Joshua is close to the end of his life he gathers all of Israel and speaks to the leadership of the nation in a way that is very reminiscent of Moses’s Deuteronomy sermon in the last moments of his leadership (see the whole book of Deuteronomy but especially chapters 29-33.

Joshua re-iterates very similar words to those of Moses, as their leader he calls them to remember three things;

  1. To remember what God has done for them (vs3,9-10, especially vs14)
  2. To remember what God requires of them (vs6-8, 11-13) to do and not do
  3. To remember the warning of God’s jealous wrath should they turn away from God in compromise and idolatry (vs15-16)

The call to remember is a repeated refrain in the Old Testament, passage after passage points back to the covenant with Abraham, the actions of God for His people to deliver them from Egypt, the covenant and commandments given to Moses, the sin and unbelief in the wilderness, God’s punishment on that generation, God’s faithfulness to ‘every word’ of His promises to His people in giving them the Promised Land and fighting for them…… As you read on in the OT, the refrain goes on and on, through the prophets and God’s various mouthpieces and even into the NT with books like Hebrews having a definite call to remember in them.

Why?

Well we so easily forget. More than this, remembering God’s faithfulness to us in the past (past faith) is the foundation we need to have faith in the present with all its challenges and its the foundation we need to have faith for the future we can not yet see.

Remembering, recounting, telling and re-telling the ‘God-stories’ of our lives, reading the ‘God-stories’ of Scripture are so vital to our faith.

I want to urge you to remember how God has worked in your life (starting with what Jesus did on the cross for you) and spend time thanking God again.

Remember things you can and have thanked God for and let the memory of those God-stories fuel your faith again for the present and the future.

Lastly, remember that warnings are no good to us unless we are warned by them. God promises to deal with the compromise and sin of Israel, the breaking of covenant (vs15-16). We live under a new covenant of grace but sin is still an offence to our Holy Father. We will never be punished for our sin because Jesus was crushed for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:4-6) but we can miss the life and the nearness and blessing of God that He wanted us to experience.

Is there any ongoing sin in your life that you know you need to repent of?
I urge you to repent & to turn from it, to seek out help if you need help.

 

Assumptions, heart motives & wrong conclusions (Joshua 22)

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Way back in Deuteronomy 3 it’s recorded that Moses gave the Reubenites, Gadites & the half-tribe of Manasseh the inheritance they had asked for East of the Jordan river on condition that they would help the other tribes to take possession of the Promised Land.

Now in Joshua 22, these tribes go to Joshua and request that since they have upheld their part of the agreement, they ask Joshua to allow them to go and take possession the land allotted to them East of the Jordan river.

In vs10 of chapter 22 we learn that on returning to this land God had given them, they built a large altar. This action enraged all the other tribes and caused them to gather the whole army of Israel to make war against them. They felt that this was idolatry, worshipping in a wrong way, worshipping false God’s even and so jumped into action to stop them!

The crux of the matter is expressed in vs16-18. The rest of Israel felt this was a breach of the covenant with God (vs16), a turning away from God (vs18) and a rebellion that would cause God’s wrath to burn against the whole people of Israel (vs18).

In vs21 the 2.5 Eastern tribes speak and essentially say; “No, no. no….that’s not it, you’ve not understood our motives!” I paraphrase but they go on essentially saying; “We serve God alone, there is no rebellion here, we did this so that our children would know our heritage, know that although this river divides us we are one people, God’s people!”

Phineas the priest and the leadership of Israel are appeased, they saw their motive and believed the what they had heard and the crisis was averted.

One moment they were sure this was blasphemy and ready to strike them down, the next they now see these actions as worship and there is peace and harmony.

What happened?

It is all too easy to see someone else’s actions and assume their heart motives.
It is almost impossible to turn off as we are all “meaning makers” but it can get us to totally misread a situation, a person or a group thinking if we assume we know what the heart motives are/have been.

Praise God that in Joshua 22 they spoke before they fought in battle! Otherwise the outcome might have been so different. Let’s learn from this and be slow to attribute to others what we assume their motives are when we see something perplexing, let’s rather ask, let’s invest in our relationships to check what the motives are and let’s believe one another when we share our intentions/motives.

Not one word… (Joshua 21:43-45)

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Caleb’s request to allow him to go and take possession of the land (Joshua 14) allotted to him sets off a succession whereby all of the tribes enter into their God-apportioned inheritance over an extended period of time (this is covered in Joshua 15-21).

The summary statement at the end of this section reads as follows;

Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. 44 And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. (Joshua 21:43-45)

God was faithful to every word, to every promise He had made, everyone of them came to pass.  These people entered into the land God promised, God did fight for them, protect them and now provided for them with this good land.  Scripture says, ‘God gave them rest on every side’ (vs44).

God’s word is clear, God is faithful, God can be trusted, God will do what God has promised to do.  When God utters promises/commands – the words God speaks will accomplish what God intended for them to do (see Isaiah 55:10-11).

What can you and I learn from this summary about how God treated Israel?

What significance can this have on your life?

Is there anything you know God has promised to you personally?  

Are you still trusting God?

God is worthy of our trust.

 

Faith & Patience Inherits Promises (Joshua 14)

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Caleb is one of the true heroes of the faith. His story is recorded mostly in Numbers 13-14, the moment in Israel’s history where God promised to give them the Promised Land and Moses sent 12 spies into the land to survey it and 10 came back with a bad report, a fear-filled report that made the ‘heart of the people melt’ in faith eroding fear. On that day two of the spies had a different spirit, they believed God at His word and were willing to follow God fully (Numbers 14:24 & 32:12). Their names were Joshua & Caleb.

Because of their faith, God promised that they would be the only two of that whole generation who would actually enter the Promised Land and that they would receive the inheritance God had always planned to bless them with. Here now in Joshua 14, Caleb approaches Joshua and asks that he be given his inheritance that God promised to him.

Caleb has waited patiently for 45yrs for this moment! Caleb, held on to to his faith, remained steadfast in his belief in God even when circumstances must have caused him to wonder and doubt. His whole generation passed away in the Wilderness – they never entered into all that God has planned to give them. But Caleb remained full of faith and he says to Joshua in this moment as an 85yr old man;

“And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. 11 I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. 12 So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.” (Joshua 14:10-12)

What an inspiring burst of faith and confidence in God. The book of Hebrews urges us to imitate people like Caleb;

“And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (Hebrews 6:11)

Is there something God has promised to you which is seemingly not happening, seems delayed, you know God said it, but you don’t see any evidence of it on the horizon?

Friend, I assure you, if God truly said it to you, promised it in His word, you might have to wait half your life, but God is faithful, never doubt that. Psalm 22:4-5 in the NIV translation says this of David’s ancestors;

In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. 5 They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.

God will not change, God cannot be unfaithful (2 Timothy 2:13), let’s be like Caleb, let’s patiently wait trusting in God because we believe that He is faithful to His promises.