When people gather in groups, they often stir up emotions. Unfortunately, they often stir up fear and hatred. But church is different, right? Church gatherings are a great place to stir up peace and love, faith and hope, security and serenity, courage and resolve. In fact, the writer of Hebrews writes of the need to think about how to spur one another to “love and good deeds.” Are you thinking about it? How are you going to encourage today?

Looking for a blessing?

Are you looking for a blessing?

Let me clarify. I’m not talking about a blessing for you to keep for yourself, but a blessing for you to give to others.

Still interested?

Let me suggest that Paul’s blessings to the Thessalonians may provide you just the blessing you are looking for.

Check out these blessings.

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones” (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13).

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

“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).

“May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance” (2 Thessalonians 3:5).

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:16).

Now you have checked out these blessings, what are you waiting for?  Pass them on!

The 100 Pound Phone

Romans 12:18 NLT
“Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.”

Years ago I picked up an expression I first heard from a friend of mine. “Pick up that 100 pound phone and call me if you need something.”

What is “the 100 pound phone?” Some of you may be thinking about those early-edition cell phones that you needed a suitcase to carry around. But this expression is not about a phone that literally weighs 100 pounds. It’s about how hard it is to pick up a phone and call someone when you need help. It really is like the phone is so heavy we can’t begin to pick it up.

So have you ever needed to pick up a 100 pound phone?

  • To ask someone to pray for you?
  • To clear up a minunderstanding?
  • To clarify something you didn’t understand?
  • To confess a sin?
  • To express hurt?
  • To tell someone you are sorry?
  • To get immediate help to fight temptation?
  • To speak a word of encouragement?
  • To arrange a meeting to work out a conflict?

What are you waiting for? Pick up that 100 pound phone and make the call!

You Left Out Someone

Our sister congregations in Panama are always looking for ways to enhance their Bible teaching for the children. They recently discovered how flannel boards could be used to teach the children. Flannel board lessons might not hold the attention of an over stimulated child growing up in the United States, but the children raised in the jungle are mesmerized by the felt cutouts of Noah, Moses, and Jesus sticking to the flannel board. Recently a sister at Skyline coordinated a ministry team who worked for hours and hours cutting out felt figures so several sets of lesson material covering the entire Bible could be shipped to Panama.

This scissor-wielding ministry team did a great job sitting in a room for hours, concentrating on cutting out the felt animals, people, and scenery. I helped the team in the best possible way – by trying to be a cheerleader while refusing to pick up a pair of scissors. The team leader was so happy that the work was getting done and that the members of the team were enjoying themselves so much in the process. At the conclusion of the project, she provided me with a spread sheet she had used to record all the names of those involved on the team.

The team leader was glad when I told her I wanted to write a note in the church newsletter thanking all those who had prepared these teaching materials for the children of the jungle. So using the spread sheet she provided and some photos I had taken, I sat down and prepared a note informing the congregation of the project results and thanking all the team members for their hours of devoted service. This was fun for me for a number of reasons. I admired the group’s abilities because I cannot cut a straight line with scissors, much less accurately cut around the shapes they had to cut. I have seen the church classrooms in Panama. I have talked to the ladies who so want to teach but have little in the way of resources. And what a great job they did! I was eager to share the joy of this ministry teams’ success with the entire church family through this thank you note.

The day after we sent out the church newsletters, the ministry team leader stopped by the church office to prepare some additional teaching materials to be sent to Panama. She kindly spoke some words to me that stopped me in my tracks, words I always fear hearing after I have written a thank you for the church newsletter. “You left someone off the list.” Immediately I asked, “Who did I leave out?” And in the moments between my question and her answer I feared hurting someone’s feelings, discouraging someone by my words that were meant to encourage, or even making someone angry.

My anxiety was relieved instantly when she revealed the name of the sister I had accidentally overlooked. I breathed a sigh of relief because the sister she named is one of the most humble servants of Jesus I have ever met. She is the last person in the world who would be offended by my gaffe.

After I calmed down and processed the blunder and my fear, I was pretty sure none of the team members would have become angry as a result of my blunder. But I started thinking about my instant relief when I heard the name of the sister I had omitted. The more I thought about it the more I began to reflect on my responses to other people and their actions. If someone else similarly had overlooked a name, would they be relieved to find out it was me? Or would they be fearful that they had overlooked an easily offended person? What about you? Are you the easily offended type that causes everyone to walk on egg-shells around you?

“A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.”
Proverbs 19:11

According to the Teaching

“In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right. If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother” (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15).

Idle Christians can do tremendous damage to the church and in the community. They do not work. They do not pay for their own food. They are not busy. They are busybodies. The problem is so serious that Paul uses some strong language to warn the church about the problem of idle busybodies. These strong words need to be read in context. They are written to address the problem of idleness (some treat these words as though they were directed at people who did not hold to “sound doctrine” or more accurately, the accepted traditions of the church). Read them in context.

  • The church is commanded to keep away from the idle (3:6)
  • The rule is: if a man will not work, he shall not eat (3:10)
  • The idle are commanded to settle down and earn their bread (3:12)
  • Do not associate with those who refuse the instruction (3:14)
  • The church is to warn the idle one as a brother (3:15)

But Paul did more than use strong language to address the situation. Paul and his team confronted the situation by setting an example of hard work. They were busy laboring and toiling. They did not seek to burden anyone by eating food when they were not working. Paul makes it clear they had every right to expect support from the church, but they gave up that right because the situation with idle busybodies demanded it.

The church has always had to face difficult problems involving the behavior of members and the effects that behavior can have on the church and the community. Imagine the courage it must have taken to look a fellow Christian in the eye and say, “If you are not going to work, you are not going to eat.” Who wants to sign up to be the deacon in charge of that program?

Are we willing to address dangerous situations with strong words? Are we willing to back up our words with an exemplary lifestyle? Would ministers be willing to give up their God-given right to pay if the situation demanded it? Perhaps the first step for paid ministers to take in order to live an exemplary life would be to work honestly for their food at their job. Labor and toil. Night and day. Not looking to take advantage of people for financial gain. Not becoming a burden to the church. Not expecting a level of dedication from “volunteer ministry helpers” beyond what they are willing to give of themselves even though they are “paid staff.” Truth is, I have seen some paid ministers who were less dedicated to their ministry than the volunteers who helped them. Is that the example Paul is looking for?

People are to work to earn a living. Ministers are to be an example of industry. The church is to address the serious problem of idle busybodies. This is the teaching of the church. Are we living according to the teaching?

Easily Unsettled

“Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come.” 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2

Jesus is coming and when He does, His people will be gathered to meet Him. God wants His people to be encouraged and comforted by this basic Christian teaching.

God does not want us to be a fearful, troubled people. And what better to settle us down than to let our minds rest on the end-times scene of the sky cracking open, Jesus being revealed, and our being gathered to Him.

This coming of and gathering by Jesus brings peace of mind to hearts troubled by illness, grief, poverty, spiritual struggles, and personality clashes. Whatever trials we may be going through, we can rest on God’s promise of Jesus’ return. What a blessing to be a sheep in the flock of the Good Shepherd — green pastures. quiet waters, and the assuring presence of the shepherd’s rod and staff.

Yet sometimes the peaceful flock is excited, shaken, even troubled by people claiming to have a message from God.

A rumor here.

A report there.

You begin to feel the wool standing on the back of your neck as you grow alarmed at the claims you are hearing.

“Listen to this.”

“Read that.”

“You have missed out on what God is doing.”

“This is not my opinion, I have a word from God.”

While it’s hard to believe there are people who would do this to a peaceful flock at Thessalonica – upset their tranquility by trying to convince them they were going to miss out on the joy of Jesus coming and gathering His people — it’s even harder to believe they justify their actions by claiming authority from God.

The apostle Paul calms the flock with words of reassurance. He asks them to slow down and not jump to conclusions. Not every vision, prophecy, or “breathless report” (MSG) is to be accepted. Simply put, some people who loudly and boldly claim to have a message from God, in reality, do not.

Jesus is coming and when He does, His people will be gathered to meet Him.

Settle on this promise.

Among God’s Churches

“We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you” (2 Thessalonians 1:3-6).

Too often life among God’s churches is far removed from the home on the range, you know, “where seldom is heard a discouraging word.” To hear some tell it, anytime you see a church that is thriving, the reason must be they have abandoned the truth. The idea of there being a church where faith is growing more and more, and where love is increasing, is to them, just foreign. To hear others tell it, anytime you see a church suffering, the reason must be because they haven’t embraced the truth. The idea of there being a faithful church having to hold on through tough times of trial is to them, just foreign.

Too often when a church is going through a great time of spiritual growth the word circulating among the churches is negative. Perhaps there is a root problem of jealousy or bitterness. Maybe there is an unhealthy sense of competition spawning fear that another congregation’s successes somehow put us in a bad light. So to make ourselves look better, we throw out as many filthy rumors as we can about the other church and hope some of it sticks. And who knows, if some of it sticks maybe some of their members will come place membership with us since we are the only faithful and true congregation.

Too often when a church is going through a time of great persecution the word circulating among the churches is negative. Perhaps there again is a problem rooted in an unhealthy sense of competition. Maybe if we tell everybody what a rough time the other congregation is having we will look better. Why would anyone want to stay at a congregation facing all those problems? Maybe some of their members will get discouraged enough to come place membership with us.

Paul’s approach in the message he spread among the churches was different from what we sometimes experience. When a congregation experienced growth in love and faith Paul circulated a word of thanksgiving among the churches. Look at what God is doing through this church! Be thankful! And when a congregation experienced trials and suffering Paul circulated a word of encouragement among the churches. Look at their endurance! See how God is empowering them! And when Paul saw the church at Thessalonica enduring persecution and growing all the while he circulated a positive word among the churches.

“Therefore among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance. . . .(NIV)”

“We proudly tell God’s other churches about your endurance. . . .(NLT)”

“We tell everybody we meet in the churches all about you (MSG).”

Paul boasted about the congregation to other congregations assuming they would be overjoyed at what was happening. Paul did not spend his time here lashing out at those who troubled the churches. After all, he knew God as a just God, able to take care of those who stir up the trouble. Instead, Paul spent his time praising God for the wonderful things God was doing among His churches.

So let’s open our eyes to see God’s working among the churches. May the word that we spread among the churches be words of thanksgiving and praise for all God is doing.

Real Church

“And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

So what kinds of people are in your church? Wherever your church home, I bet I can give you a pretty accurate guess. How? Because the church is a collection of people and every collection of people includes a cross section of personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. So wherever your home church — Thessalonica, Jackson, or somewhere in between – you probably have the same kind of people in the membership.

Some will be idle. Do you know anybody at your church who just can’t seem to get his life in gear? Maybe she seems to lack purpose and motivation. As a result, these folks, while brothers and sisters in Christ, may appear to be “lazy” (NLT) or “freeloaders” (The Message).

Some will be timid. Do you know anybody at your church who just seems hesitant or fearful about her life, even her faith? Maybe he seems tentative about using his gifts or apprehensive about opening up his life enough to experience real fellowship. As a result, these people, while brothers and sisters in Christ, may appear to be “fainthearted” (NRSV) or “stragglers” (The Message).

Some will be weak. Do you know anybody at your church who just seems both physically and spiritually frail or drained? Maybe she is so anemic that she comes across as fragile or delicate. As a result, these individuals, while brothers and sisters in Christ, may appear to be “exhausted” (The Message) or ineffective to the point of being more trouble than they are worth.

The idle, the timid, and the weak are everywhere! So how does the church respond?

Warn the idle. The church has a responsibility to do more than provide handouts for those in need due to their idleness. Throwing money at their situation, while the much easier option, will not bring improvement. Words of warning are sometimes required and that means hard work. While idlers love handouts, they often are less than receptive to counsel.

Encourage the timid. The church has a responsibility to provide more than sweet talk to those paralyzed by fear. Just throwing compliments at the person, while the easier option, will not bring improvement. Useful words of encouragement cannot be empty. They must be full of truth to effectively inform or motivate.

Help the weak. The church has a responsibility to do more than offer criticism or provide excuses for those who are worn out to the point of being useless. Throwing either words of condemnation or justification in their general direction, while the much easier option, will not bring improvement. Helping the weak can’t be accomplished by taking a hands-off approach. “Pulling them to their feet” (The Message) usually means getting your hands dirty.

These needy people — the idle, timid, and weak– are everywhere. The church must not fall into the temptation of taking the easy road of hand-outs, flattery, or judgment. Rather the church must get involved in the real lives of real Christians with all of their real problems. This is a difficult path. It’s a good thing that Paul reminds us when we do get involved; we must remember to be patient with all of them.

Build Up One another

“Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11).

The second-coming of Jesus was important to the church at Thessalonica. Even so, Paul did not provide them a timetable as to when it would all begin to unfold. In fact, he suggests that while they may have been ignorant about some doctrinal matters, they were well-aware that the specific schedule for the end times was revealed on a need-to-know basis and they didn’t need-to-know.

Jesus’ return would be as unexpected as a thief’s arrival but as inevitable as the onset of labor. Jesus is coming – count on it! But don’t concern yourself with when the return will take place. Instead, be ready now and always.

The timing of Jesus’ return might be a well-guarded secret, but that should not keep us from being prepared. We Christians need to steadily live our lives in a manner consistent with our commitment to Jesus: living in light as opposed to darkness, being alert and self-controlled rather than unprepared, undisciplined, and drunk.

Since we are God’s people, our lives ought to be characterized by faith, hope, and love. We need to remember the most basic of doctrines: Jesus died for us. Because we know Jesus died for us we have a new identity as God’s children, “sons of the day.” Jesus died for us so that we would not have to endure the wrath of God. Jesus died for us so that we could live with Him forever. That promise of being with Him in the end is good no matter if you are dead or alive when He comes again.

The church needs to be a people like no other who encourage each other and build up one another. When we see a brother drifting off, losing his alertness, we need to speak a word of encouragement. “Wake up, you belong to the day!” When we see a sister living carelessly without self-control we need to build her up. “Jesus died so we would be prepared for His return!”

The timing of second-coming will be a surprise. But don’t be unprepared.

From Ignorant to Encouraged

“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 NIV).

Our faith needs to be informed and that information applied to our life situation. Sometimes we suffer needlessly because either we just don’t know facts we need to know or we have the facts but do not apply them to what we are going through. Such was the case with the Thessalonians. They were Christians, but when they experienced the death of a loved one, they grieved just like the rest of people of do not know God.

Paul did not want them to remain uninformed, so he reminded them of some basic Christian doctrine:

  • Jesus died and rose again
  • Jesus is coming back
  • Jesus will gather Christians both dead and alive
  • Jesus will meet his people in the air
  • Jesus will be there with us forever

The teaching of Jesus Christ changes everything. Yes, He died, but now He is alive. He is coming back for all His people whether dead or alive. The trumpet will blow, graves will crack open, and Christians will rise to meet the Lord in the air where we will remain with Him forever. Those who die before you will not be forgotten by God. Sometime we get caught up in the speculative sensationalism of end-time theories and miss the most important point of the second coming – we will be with the Lord!

The teaching of Jesus Christ changes the way Christians view death, whether our own or that of a loved one. Sure, we may still grieve at the prospect of our own death but not without hope of what is to come. Yes, we may weep at the graveside of a loved one, but not without hope that our brother or sister will be with the Lord forever.

And so we need to encourage each other with these words. We cannot let our fellow Christians remain ignorant of the basic doctrine of Christ and fear death in the same way as those outside of Jesus. Encourage them. Tell them the teaching of Jesus Christ changes everything.