I don’t know anyone who doesn’t feel like they should be doing more…or that they could be doing better than they are…at least part of the time.
For many, they feel this way much of the time…maybe all the time.
My mom told me she regretted not sharing the gospel more…I reminded her of several women…who become followers of Christ…in a large part, because my mom served them sacrificially.
Yet, she felt like she should be doing more.
I have friends and family members who are almost continually haunted by things that they regret.
I have a few friends who are virtually immobilized by guilt and regret…it so difficult to live with this.
Guilt and regret are terrible things…we all know that from experience.
There is, of course, a time for correction…we all need it on occasion.
But for the most part, we are pretty good at feeling guilty all by ourselves, without any outside help.
The greater need, I think…is not for more rebuke but for more encouragement.
Today we begin Paul’s letters to the church at Thessaloniki, Greece.
His two letters to that church are the earliest correspondence we have from Paul.
The backstory is found in Acts 17
Paul and Silas were proclaiming the gospel and a lot of folks became Christians.
This stirred up opposition from the Jews in the city who formed a mob and said that these believers were defying Caesar by proclaiming Jesus as the true King.
Paul had to sneak away at night to safety.
Now, he is writing these letters…to reconnect with them after hearing, to his great joy, that they were doing really well.
Paul really likes this church…it clearly makes his heart happy to think of them.
In this first letter he celebrates their faithfulness, and he challenges them to keep going.
That’s a great model, I think, for how we should regularly interact with one another.
Offering a combination of celebration and challenge.
“Good job…keep going!”
Let’s read, starting in verse 2
2 We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. 3 We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul is not just giving a token “I thank God for you.”…he is actually very thankful for them.
We can see this proven true in that he omits this kind of greeting to the Galatians…because he was not happy about what was going on there…he wasn’t going to pretend that he was.
I am certainly not Paul’s peer by any stretch…but I do feel it is appropriate to apply his expression of thanksgiving and joy to our church.
I continually thank God for you…
- For your work produced by faith.
-I thank God for your work of giving to the ministry.
We have paid for all the work done on the building to date…we have not had to take any loan.
We may not have…I’ll give the final numbers when we have them.
But you…we have given together generously…to build this together.
But would you give money to support the ministry when you could spend it elsewhere…except that your work of giving is produced by your faith.
-Likewise, the work of investing in the lives of others…nursery, super church, next, worship team, security, serving coffee, group leaders, mentoring at YH, loving foster children…all this work produced by faith.
-And then the countless organic acts of service…meals, encouragement, friendship…all that goes on in your lives…more work produced by your faith.
I thank God for your faith revealed in your actions.
- I thank God for your Labor prompted by love.
-This word “Labor” he uses here means “toil”…unceasing hardship for love’s sake.
-I spent some time recently…recalling some of the ways I have seen you give sacrificially of your life…out of love for God and others.
-Adults who have given up years of Sunday nights to love and serve the next generation…our students.
-Others, like Kelly, who have served literally for decades our younger children…and he has not lost his joy and passion in this work…long term work, unceasing service.
-Still others investing…in the early mornings, or in the evenings after a long day of work in the lives of men and women…off the radar, yet in costly fashion.
*This word for love “Agape” was not used much before Christians took it up and made it their flagship word for love.
It was essentially a redefinition of love in that culture…that culture’s main word for love was “eros”…we get erotic from it.
Eros was defined by two things:
-A love of the worthy
-A love that desires to possess
Agape, rooted in the life and death of Christ is the opposite:
-It is love without regard to merit, or earning
-It is love that seeks to give
On occasion the past couple of years people out in the community have had negative things to say about “The church” to me…not ours specifically (some of that), but often “Church” in general.
I have been, hopefully, for the most part respectful in my response…but I have not just “taken it”
My response has been… “Well, that is far from my experience…my experience is of love, sacrificial service, and friendship, and restoration and life together in my church.”
I don’t participate in church bashing…I don’t just nod approvingly when others do it.
I understand that there have been bad things done by people in churches…of course that is going to be the tragic case…whenever people are involved.
But the church is the body of Christ in the world…and the good it has done and is doing is unmatched in human history.
I am not blind to our imperfections…but I refuse to remain silent about our love in action to each other and to the Wichita Community and to the larger world.
- Your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Endurance is maybe my favorite NT word…it is not a passive stoicism…
-Suck it up, take it on the chin, keep buggering on (as Churchill liked to say)
It is not the Buddhist idea of “resignation to suffering”…the idea that that suffering is caused by desire, so to eliminate suffering you must eliminate desire.
This is not dull, heartless…trudging.
It is the endurance inspired by hope…it is a larger desire that empowers us to endure in suffering.
It is not unfounded optimism “Things will turn out, they always do.”
“Not they don’t…they often don’t…at least not in this life.”
But this is endurance now because this life is not all there is, not by a long shot.
*I have seen, many times now in 31 years…members of our church family…endure all the way to physical death with enduring hope.
When we started in 1990, I had hardly known anyone who had died…now I have many friends and family in heaven.
I have watched, up close and personal…endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
I have seen endurance inspired by hope in the Lord Jesus in some slow marches to death…
…and in the long endurance of the loss of loved ones
…in faithfulness in difficult job and health conditions, endurance with wayward children.
AND I have watched, a number of times…in my work outside the church…the tragedy of death without enduring hope…the contrast has been striking to me.
Let’s go on…
4 For we know, brothers (and sisters) loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. 6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
Paul, the Jew, called these Gentile Christians…brothers…they were that to him…and sisters…family.
Barriers insurmountable to mere human relationships were now gone through their shared relationship with Christ.
You are my brothers and sisters.
Differences that apart from the gospel might divide us…have not counted as much as our family ties of faith.
Our family relationship is grounded in the fact that we are loved by God, and he has chosen us to be his kids.
This “loved” and “chosen” Paul writes about…indicates that God has pursued us…what God has done among us, we cannot take credit for.
How did Paul know, how do I know, that God has loved and chosen you?
Because of the operational power of the gospel in your lives…you don’t merely talk the talk you walk the walk…you live like God’s kids.
The gospel is not just one idea among many…one religion among many…it is the power of God to save those who believe…to change those who believe.
When we tell the gospel to someone, we are not just presenting an idea we are releasing a power.
How do I know God has chosen you?
You became and are becoming “imitators” of Christ…often in the midst of difficulty…you have embraced the truth of God with joy.
This is an indication of the work of the Spirit in your lives.
You have become a model to all the believers in Wichita and the surrounding areas.
How can I say this? Because it is true.
I heard it from a man three weeks ago whom I had never met before.
A man who has never been to our church…but he told me in a phone conversation what he had heard of your faith and love.
It happens to me frequently when people find out I am a part of this church family.
Terry, you are bragging
About what?…about how others have told me that you have a reputation of following Christ?
Paul, thought it was appropriate to point out to the believers in first century Greece that their reputation was Christ honoring…I think it remains appropriate in 21st century Wichita to point this out to you.
Look again at those last two verses:
9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
Paul points out three main things here:
- They had turned to God from idols.
These believers were mostly Gentile, non-Jews…and turning from idols was a super important form of evidence of a true commitment to Christ.
It remains the most important evidence of life transformation.
*I have seen you turn to God from idols:
-The pursuit of money
-The pursuit of physical pleasure
-Deep and powerful addictions
-The love of the applause of others
-Self-righteousness revealed in anger and pride…giving way to patience and humility.
*I’ve seen people turn down job offers with more money because of a call to remain where they are and continue to serve in the ministry here.
*Of course, it is not wrong to take a new job or move to a different city..
*Hopefully my point is clear…I’ve seen people make choices of obedience to God out of love for God…that most would consider foolish.
And I have individual stories…31 years of them…behind every single one of those points.
When I typed these words, real people, actual faces…flashed through my minds-eye.
- They had come to serve the living and true God
It is not just in the negative that this transformation is revealed…not just in “turning from idols”…but in a whole new posture of life orientation to God.
“Serve” is a word that means a slave…a bond servant.
Paul called himself, many times…a “slave of Jesus Christ.”
You, likewise have become “whole-hearted” servants, willingly giving your lives to the living and true God.
Every human will serve someone or something…our hearts will wrap around something…it is how they are designed.
Idols enslave our hearts…Christ sets our hearts free.
I have a book about Paul that is called “Paul, the Apostle of the Heart Set Free.”
What a well-titled book.
“Living God” is in contrast to “dead idols.”
And “True” is in contrast to “false gods”
You are experiencing new life…because you have and are continually giving yourself to the true and living God.
And God is setting your heart free.
- You wait for the Lord’s return
The word Paul uses here for “Wait” means “wait with expectancy”
If you have small children…then on Christmas Eve you saw this word in action.
This is a healthy…active waiting…there is joy in it…anticipation.
It is not a waiting that makes us weird…it should make us more sane, resilient…hopeful.
I had a friend whose focus on the Lord’s return was border line unhealthy.
He watched the newspapers (remember those) for headlines that he would then try to tie to Scripture…thus he often misread Scripture
He was sometimes…strange and detached in the way he spoke and related to others.
As we will see as we progress in these letters…Paul’s approach to “anticipation” of the future return of Christ is very different from what we might think.
Here is what he will tell us in chapter 4…
11 Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
This is written to a church that was living in anticipation of the Lord’s return…here we find a key to understanding what it means to live with a future hope anticipation…
Be faithful today…don’t sell everything and stand on a mountain looking at the sky…or on a street corner crying “the end is near”
Get after a faithful life, that looks…one the one hand unusually normal…and on the other hand…strangely like you from another world…but one that is compelling not weird.
We are called, in Scripture…strangers and aliens…but aliens from a world that transforms how we live in this one.
There are plenty of movies about someone who finds out they have a short time to live…and they dramatically change what they do with their lives.
The appropriate approach to the reality of the end…either THE END, or the end…is to be faithful with what God has called us to today.
We really ought not to have to change much of anything…if we got an email from God telling us this is our last week…that is how we ought to be living.
And you are…living faithful lives in the mundane…looking for the end that is really the beginning.
“Terry, I hate to disappoint you but I can tell you a few things about this church that will disappoint and disillusion you.”
Paul did not insinuate that this church in Greece was perfect or without its share of flaws.
Think of the many things these Christians, freshly out of a pagan background, would have to feel guilty about.
Think about the many things their neighbors could say to them… “I saw you do that, in that place…just a year ago…I remember who you were…you aren’t fooling me.”
Yes…but now they are changed…forgiven.
Of course, they didn’t automatically lose every habit of their old lives…yet, Paul was generous with his encouragement of them…rightly so.
Their direction was just so good…it was not perfection…but it was a Christ-like direction.
I am simply passing on what I believe to be appropriate application of this letter to you.
I am aware of our lack of perfection…individually and collectively.
None the less…perfection is not the standard for “well done” is it?
It would be a rare situation indeed to say as the Brits do… “Well done you”…if perfection were required.
But it’s not, is it ?
So…I’ll say it again in summary… “Well done”
Now…to our challenge…keep going.
Invite others into your life… and into your church family life.
Welcome them into your home and heart.
Why? Because you will be inviting them into a life and into church where they can meet Christ…he is here.
Invite others to join us here at worship and at groups and at parties.
It’s important to note
When you invite your friends here to join us as we gather as family, we are gathered as a family.
So ,we try to make our family meetings visitor friendly…but they cannot become visitor centric…or we will fail thrive as a family.
There are three main approaches to gathered worship that churches can take:
-Seeker unfriendly: insider talk, hard to figure out what is going on.
-That’s not helpful, that’s not kind.
-Seeker driven: completely geared towards the unchurched. So much so that it is difficult for followers of Christ to grow in their faith.
-Like a family meal that is completely centered around non-family…how does the family thrive?
-Seeker friendly/Family driven: Aware of and open to the unchurched who are welcome here…but centered around the development of believers.
-We want to be built up in worship and sent out in mission.
So, by all means invite unchurched friends to join us…but it’s okay if you have to unpack some of what happens here…they are not going to understand all that happens here until they come to faith and grow up in that faith a bit.
And more importantly invite them into your life.
We want more people to experience a thriving life in community…in relationship with Christ.
I want more people…to become part of God’s family.
Give you a simple model for living missionally…taking the thriving life of Christ we experience together…with you.
A personal, portable ministry: three things that are you and go with you.
- Build Trust Relationships: no strings attached friendships.
- Look for opportunities to have gospel conversations
-Not weird, misplaced statements…but since the gospel is true, and since it is shaping who you are…naturally, the gospel will come out in your conversations.
- Invite them into your wider circle of Christian friends
Do this as a normal part of your everyday life.
Pray for these three things as you move through life.
Happy New Year…well done…keep going.
Please leave your guilt and regret with Christ…I know this is easier said than done…but it simply must done and it can be done….do it many times a day or an hour if necessary.
To try and carry our guilt and regrets…makes it very difficult to move forward with endurance and to reach out to others with confidence and love.
I know, you know yourself…you know your flaws…
But fortunately we don’t proclaim ourselves…our own goodness…our own wisdom….our own strength.
We proclaim Christ…and that we are his and he is ours.
TRISH: FIRST SERVICE