Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Gospel

I haven't posted in quite some time. My mind is still on God's sovereignty, though. In particular, I've been focused on the Gospel.

What is the Gospel? The word is used many ways. I am thinking about Paul's use of the word in the New Testament.
"I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it s the power of God for the salvation for everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed , a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.'." -Romans 1:16-17 NIV

Paul tells us that the gospel is "the power of God for salvation." This tells me that the gospel is a message, but it is more! It is POWER! What does that mean? The gospel message is:
"that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures..." 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 NIV

So what about this message saves or has power to save? Think this through. Does the fact that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again automatically save a person? No. As Paul stated above, "it is the power of God for the salvation for everyone who believes."   So what happens when a person believes? Here's what doesn't happen: a person does not make himself or herself righteous. The righteousness is FROM GOD. When a person believes the gospel, God does not count his sins against him. What happens to a person's sin? "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." 2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV  God performs an exchange. The Great Exchange! When YOU believe the gospel message, God treats YOU like you had never sinned, but had lived a perfectly righteous life! How can He do this? By His own righteousness. In this Great Exchange God treats the Lord Jesus Christ as if He had lived MY sinful life and punishes Jesus Christ for MY SIN!!! It's absolutely incredible! Jesus got MY punishment, but I get HIS reward! If God had NOT performed this on my behalf, I would be damned.

This is why this message is such great news! Romans 1:18 tells us that "the wrath of God is being revealed..."  This should TERRIFY anyone who is not included in the Great Exchange I mentioned above! The gospel is the power of God to save everyone who believes from the WRATH OF GOD! "God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day." Psalm 7:11 NIV Oh thank God that He sent His son Jesus! The work of Jesus Christ (His perfect life, His death, His resurrection) on behalf of all who BELIEVE is truly Good News (which is what the actual word "gospel" means.) In 1 Thessalonians 1:10 we are told of the Thessalonians that they turned from their idols and learned to serve God "and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath." [By the way, I need to get back to my study in 1 Thessalonians!] Jesus saves us from God's coming wrath.

Friends, do everything you can to understand the GOSPEL! Let the gospel saturate everything about you: your thoughts, your work, your relationships, your every breath! "For it is the power of God for salvation..."  Remember, God is all sovereign....

Friday, July 29, 2011

Idols- A Closer Look at 1 Thessalonians 1:9

" how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God."1Thess 1:9b  ESV

We learned that the Thessalonians had turned TO God from idols in our last study. But what IS an IDOL? Perhaps you think of some African native bowing to a carved statue- you would be correct to identify such as a form of idolatry. What would have been an idol to the Thessalonians? Let's think about this. WHEN did Paul write this letter to the Thessalonians? It was in the First Century, approximately around 51 A.D. WHO did he write to? Yes, the Thessalonians, but WHAT empire was ruling at that time? The Roman Empire. Thessalonica was located in part of Greece. With the Roman and Greek gods being basically the same, the idols that would have been common to these people would have been the Greek/Roman gods of the time.  John Gill, in his exposition of this letter names the following:

" the great and chief gods of the Gentiles, were worshipped; as Jupiter and Bacchus, Ceres and Proserpina, Pluto and Mercury, Castor and Pollux, and Esculapius"

This tells us that many (most?) of the converts in Thessalonica were not Jewish, but Gentile. It would have been a big deal for them to STOP worshiping the popular idols of their day. And Paul certainly makes a big deal out of it in verse 9 of our current chapter, "you turned to God from idols." Jesus Christ began a major change in the lives of the Thessalonian believers!  So what? What does this do for us TODAY? Does this apply to us today?

Think about yourself. Have you ever worshiped an idol? Do we have idols today in 21st Century America? Maybe your first thought is  "NO! we don't have idols!" But would that be accurate? Does an idol have to be a statue? Can an idol be something more abstract like a boyfriend or a girlfriend or money or sex or sports? At first I was hesitant to think this way because I wanted to be sure of how the Bible defined idolatry. The Bible certainly includes worshiping statues, Greek gods, and those types of things in defining idolatry. But what about the abstract things I mentioned? Let's look at a couple of verses:

Eph 5:5-6 " For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience." ESV

Col 3:5-6 "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming." ESV

In these verses, the Apostle Paul identifies some behaviors that are considered IDOLATRY. Those behaviors include: sexual immorality, covetousness, impurity, evil desire. You see, friends, IDOLATRY EXISTS TODAY IN 21st CENTURY AMERICA! These behaviors and attitudes are rampant today in society! So if you are following after these things instead of God you have to ask yourself, "Am I guilty of idol worship?" Please think very seriously about this. I must do the same. If I allow lustful thoughts, coveting more wealth, coveting a bigger house, or any other sinful thing to become more important than God, then I have committed the sin of idolatry! These may not be your struggles- but what ARE your struggles?

If you have not yet believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, but find yourself guilty of committing Idolatry, Paul tells you that you need to be concerned: "because of these things the wrath of God is coming." Yet you are not without hope! You can be like the Thessalonians and TURN AWAY from those idols. You can TURN TO THE LIVING GOD!! Those who have trusted in Christ for salvation and forgiveness of sins have done just that. We have turned away from those enslaving idols and turned to the One who deserves our worship-Jesus Christ. If you want more information, please CONTACT me!!
Remember, God is all sovereign...

Saturday, July 23, 2011

1 Thessalonians 1:9-10

"9For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and 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 delivers us from the wrath to come."
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10

 Last time we saw that the reputation of the Thessalonians had spread to the region beyond Thessalonica itself.  They had become an example to all of the believers in Macedonia and Achaia (v.7-8). Now Paul adds more to the story of these believers  by telling what he had heard from others. The Thessalonians had given Paul and his fellow missionaries a warm reception and much more. In fact, it was evident to all who knew these believers that something had happened to them. There was a change in them.

But what exactly did they notice? There were three things in particular:  they had turned away from idols, they turned to God, and were now eagerly awaiting Christ's return. Is there anything that WE can learn from their example? Absolutely:
1)When Christ truly saves a person, others will notice a change. You can't stay in your sinful lifestyle. You won't want to. I'm not saying that Christians never stumble into sin that they never wrestle with temptation- we most certainly DO stumble and wrestle!!! But the overriding desire is to leave those things behind.
2)Not only do we begin to hate our sin, but we also begin to love God! Before we were saved, we did NOT love God. After He saved us, we find ourselves turning to Him more and more every day. We grow closer to Him through prayer and studying the Bible and spending time with other believers regularly.
3)As part of this turning away from sin and turning toward all things that please God, believers begin to long for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. He said he would return and we believe Him. We can't wait to see Him face-to-face!

Are these things true of you? If you have believed in the Lord Jesus, they should be. They should be true of ME. I won't pretend that I don't struggle with sin. Those who know me best would probably laugh at me if I tried. Yet, He still loves me. He will never reject me. I never want Him to. Brothers and Sisters in Christ, don't give up. You will struggle with temptation and sin for the rest of your lives. But He still loves you. He will never reject you. Hebrews 13:5-6 reminds us:

"Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content
with what you have, for he has said, 'I will never leave you nor
forsake you.' So we can confidently say,   'The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear; what can man do to me?' "

So Christ changes us from the inside out and draws us closer to Himself. Paul also emphasises that Jesus, God's son, was raised from the dead. This is part of the message that we believe. Jesus died. Jesus was buried. Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus is alive NOW. We await His return from heaven.

Paul highlights another important facet of Christ's work on our behalf: He rescues us from the wrath to come. What does that mean? Remember, all humans are born as "children of wrath"(Eph 2:3). We sin because we were born sinners. And once we are able to choose it,  we also sin because we want to. We deserve God's judgement, anger, and wrath. As we saw in an earlier post, He chose to save some of us and now we do not need to fear this wrath! What GOOD NEWS!!! Jesus, the One who rose from the dead rescues us from the wrath to come! And do not be deceived, God's wrath is coming. Christians hold many views regarding what will happen before Christ returns, but all agree that He is returning and that there will be a final judgment of both the righteous and the unrighteous- the righteous will enter eternal life and the unrighteous will enter eternal punishment.

To sum up: When a person  believes in the Gospel of God, that person is changed. Others notice this change. The believer desires to put away sinful living and desires to put on Godly living. The believer longs for the return of Christ, who rescues us from His coming wrath.

If you want more information on the work of Jesus and how He changes lives, please contact me!!
Remember, God is all Sovereign and stuff...

Friday, July 8, 2011

1 Thessalonians 1:4-8

4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because
 our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy
Spirit and withfull conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to
be you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord,
for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,
7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in
Achaia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in
Macedonia and Achaia but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere,
so that we need not say anything. (ESV)

      I previously wrote about how the Thessalonian adelphoi were loved by God and a little about what it meant that they were chosen by God. Paul now tells them how they knew this.

                5 "because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and withfull conviction. You know what kind of men
we proved to be you for your sake."

    Paul's first point is that he knew the trustworthiness of the messengers of the Gospel. True believers had delivered the Gospel message. Their message came with power and conviction. This may be a reference to miracles or it may simply be a reference to the clear preaching of the Gospel. We should never underestimate the power of preaching the Gospel clearly! Paul wrote elsewhere:

           "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who
                                            believes..."   Romans 1:16ESV
     Paul continues in 1 Thessalonians,

"And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you recieved the word
in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an
example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. For not only has the
word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your
faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything."

    His second point has to do with the response of the Thessalonians to the Gospel message. In 6a, we see that they "became imitators" of the Apostles and of the Lord. This certainly implies a change in the way they were living. In 6b, they received the word "in much affliction" and they received it "with joy of the Holy Spirit." They received  the word under stressful circumstances and did not reject it! Not only did they accept it, but they joyfully accepted it! Accepting the Gospel in spite of fierce opposition is evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit. Think about the circumstances in which you heard, and received the Gospel. Was your life in danger? Mine was not. Yet, I did experience some hardship. NOTHING compared to what the Thessalonians experienced, I'm sure, but some family members and friends disapproved and clearly told me so. And if you live your life according to Gospel principles, you will eventually face hardship and affliction. We must "consider it all joy" (James 1:2) whenever this happens.
   In v. 7, Paul tells them that they became examples of faithful disciples to the larger region- to the churches in Macedonia and Achaia. And in v.8 they are told that their faith has become known even beyond their region! They cannont take credit for this. It was due to the Holy Spirit's transforming power in their lives.
  So how does this affect US (you and me)? Think about it. How do WE know that WE are loved by God and chosen for this salvation?  Was the message that we received the true Gospel contained in the Scriptures? Did you (and did I) believe the message? Did our lives change? (i.e. did we become "imitators of the Lord?")
     Now, not all believers will be known for their faith throughout their entire city or state, but people will notice a change in them. If you've received the Biblical message and been changed by it, KNOW that YOU TOO were chosen by God and are loved by Him! What precious truth to behold!
Remember, God is all Sovereign and stuff...

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Life, Death, and the Sovereignty of God (R.I.P. Amber Fields)

I just got back from the funeral of a 26 year old mother and wife. She was killed in a car accident less than a week ago. I knew her because she used to work for me in Louisville. Amber Fields truly was all of those nice things they said about her in the funeral service. One of my fondest memories of her is the way she spoke. She spoke with a sweet, country accent. She always had a smile. She was kind to everyone. Now, truth be told, I hadn't seen Amber much during these past couple of years. She had worked in our restaurant in Louisville for a year or so. Then she worked at our Lexington restaurant, so I had less contact with her. But, working for the same company still, we would occasionally see each other at company events. And she always had a big hug and smile for me when she saw me. She always made me feel welcomed and respected.

Because we hadn't been in contact as much, I was surprised by how hard the news of her death hit me. I am genuinely sad. I feel a sense of loss. This tells me how much of an impact she had on me. And by the two overflowing rooms of mourners at the funeral, she had that same kind of impact on many others.

I went into the viewing and service feeling rather numb. After seeing her and greeting her husband, I felt extremely sorrowful and could only cry. But during the service, the pastor quoted a Bible verse that changed my sorrow into something different. The verse:  Revelation 14:13,

And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, "Write,
'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!'"
"Yes," says the Spirit, "that they may rest from their labors,
for their deeds follow with them." (NIV)

The pastor explained that Amber believed in the Lord Jesus and was therefore "in the Lord." She died "in the Lord" and was blessed. This verse and short explanation reminded me that even though Amber's death seems only tragic, the truth is not only tragic. There is HOPE! Yes, we mourn the loss of a truly wonderful person, but we have hope because Amber is BLESSED! We mourn, but she is worshiping God Almighty before His holy throne!    Now, I won't try to pretend that this truth will make Amber's husband and son feel no pain. Of course they will. But that is not the end of the story! Her husband and son can someday have hope knowing that their loved one IS BLESSED.

And guess what? This little verse reminds me that I have HOPE for other loved ones who have "died in the Lord!" It is less than a month from the 28th anniversary of my own mother's death. She was a young mom, too. She was 32. My mother loved the Lord Jesus and served Him the best she knew how... She died "in the Lord" and I am wonderfully reminded that she IS BLESSED!

The Lord is sovereign over all of the affairs of men. Even the events that seem to make no sense, like Amber's death. But in the midst of these dark Providences, we have hope. God, who brings darkness out of light, life out of death, order out of chaos- God gives us hope. He's the only One who can give us hope in life's seemingly hopeless events.
Remember, God's all sovereign and stuff....

Monday, June 20, 2011

Excursus: God Chose Some

"For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you ..."  1 Thess. 1:4 ESV

In my last post, I mentioned that God's choice of some and not others for salvation, the doctrine of election, is a "can of worms." If you are familiar with the doctrine, I do not need to explain WHY it is controversial. If you are not familiar with it, the following discussion will most likely reveal to you why it would be a touchy subject.

Paul has written elsewhere about the doctrines of election, predestination, and God's sovereignty in these matters. We will touch on some of these passages as well as what other Biblical writers have to say.

In order to be clear, let me state the doctrine first, and then we can look in the Bible to see what Jesus, Luke, and Paul have to say about it.

 By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels
 are predestinated, or foreordained to eternal life through Jesus Christ, to the praise
 of his glorious grace; others being left to act in their sin to their just condemnation,
 to the praise of his glorious justice.
-from the 1689 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chp 3.

So basically, when it comes to salvation, people are saved because God chose them to be saved. God made his choice long before he even created the world. His choice was never based on Him looking into the future and choosing those whom He saw would choose Him. Rather, God chose WHO WOULD CHOOSE HIM. If someone never believes the Gospel, it is because God did not choose that person to do so. Most people who hear this for the first time do not like it and will often respond by saying it's not fair, or the Bible doesn't teach such a thing. I had a similar response the first time I ever heard this teaching. But let me show you from the Bible why I now believe it...

Jesus taught it:

"Jesus said to them,'I am the bread of life;whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.'" John 6"35-40

Jesus says that ALL that the Father gives him will come to him (v.37). This loudly implies that those who "are not given" will not come.

"So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, 'I am the bread that came down from heaven.' They said, 'Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, "I have come down from heaven"?' Jesus answered them, 'Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. '"
John 6:41-44

The Jews are complaining that Jesus is claiming to be from Heaven. Jesus tells them to stop grumbling and that (v44) "No one can come to me unless the Father...draws him." Jesus is saying no one CAN come to him. That is, no one IS ABLE to come to him unless something first happens. No one can come to him unless the Father DRAWS HIM. God the Father must first DRAW a person to the Son in order for a person to have the ability to come to the Son.

But why would people NOT have the ability to come to God/Jesus?
Romans 5 gives us some insight. There Paul tells us that through one man's sin (Adam's sin), "many died" v 15, "death reigned" v.17, "death spread to all men" v.12. And also in Romans 3, he tells us, "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God..." v.10-11esv.  Paul paints an unflattering picture of mankind. We are dead in sin, we do NOT seek after God and in chapter 8 of this same book, Paul tells us that those who do not belong to Christ have "a mind set on the flesh" and this mind "that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot" v.6-8esv.

Taking what both Jesus and Paul said, we see that mankind is dead in sin and CANNOT submit to God's law! I would paraphrase this: people in their natural, unconverted state, do not seek to be made right with God and they do not have the ability come to him anyway!

I may or may not write more about this. Let me know if you have questions. I would LOVE to interact with you over what the Bible teaches.

For now, when Paul says that "we know...[God] has chosen you," he's saying to the Thessalonians that they know God had chosen them for salvation and that this choice of them is the reason they are saved, not any desire or ability in themselves...

Remember, God is all Sovereign!

Friday, April 15, 2011

1 Thessalonians1:4

4 "For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,..."

Paul addresses the Thessalonian believers as brothers. Does this mean that he was only speaking to male recipients of his letter? Not at all. The Greek word used for brother (adelphoi) is used to refer to the brothers and sisters in a family. Since it is plural, there's no reason to doubt that Paul is addressing ALL of the believers in the Thessalonian church. But why call these people brothers or sisters? Were any of them actually related to Paul, Silas, or Timothy. I don't think we can know, but it is reasonable to assume that ALL of them were not their physical brothers and sisters. So what gives? Even though Paul is not teaching directly about God's family in this verse, it DOES tell us a little something about it. All who have trusted in Christ as the Lord of their lives are adelphoi  in the family of God. If God has saved YOU, then you are a brother or sister of EVERYONE He has saved! John 1:9-13ESV tells us,
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in this name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
All "who believed in his name" are now the children of God. My immediate family is relatively small. My extended family is huge (dad is one of 11 and mom is one of 9). Either way, I rejoice because the family I have as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ is as many as the sand on the seashore! (cf.Gen22:17) Even though I hail from sunny Southern California, and I have no physical siblings in the cities I've lived in outside of California, I have brothers and sisters in Christ from Louisville and Cincy who love me the same! We have the same Father! The same Savior and God! What a blessing God has given His children!

And Paul goes on to tell these brothers that they are "loved by God." I will most likely post on God's love in the future, but for now, it almost goes without saying that God loves people. Most Christians call Love His chief attribute. Just about everyone knows John 3:16, "For God so LOVED the world, that He gave His one and only Son...." So Paul is reminding the Thessalonian believers that they are the beloved children of God.

[sound of "can of worms" opening]

Again, verse 4 of 1 Thess. says, "For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,...."

In case I didn't mention it before, I have been quoting from the ESV. NASB says, "...his choice of you." HCSB says, "...knowing your election...." NKJV says, "Knowing, beloved brethren, your election...." NIV reads, "...he has chosen you...."   The Greek word is eklogen, and means choice, selection, election. So, why would this be opening a can of worms? What does it mean that God has chosen someone? Does God chose anyone? When the Bible speaks of election, it is speakning of God choosing people for salvation. The reason this becomes a "can of worms" is that God doesn't choose everyone for salvation.
 This may be very difficult for some to accept, but it IS taught in the Holy Bible. Look at Eph1, Rom 8 and 9, John 6, and many, many other passages. What I will do is finish some thoughts on 1 Thess 1:4 and then take a detour for the purpose of giving more explanation of God's election.

So Paul tells his readers that he and his co-authors know  that God has chosen them. The following verses tell us why this is so. For now, remember that if you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and have repented of your sin, YOU are a BROTHER or SISTER to everyone who has done the same! Know, also, that you are loved by God! And as we shall see in an upcoming post, God has chosen you for this great salvation!
Remember, God is all Sovereign and stuff...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

1 Thessalonians1:1-3

1 "Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
      To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace."

As we have already seen, Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy are listed first as the authors of this letter which is addressed to the Thessalonians. The church of the Thessalonians is said to be "in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." What does this mean? Are churches today "in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ?" There are countless churches and denominations that exist today. But only a body of believers who embrace the fullness of the Gospel and all that the Bible teaches can be said to truly be "in God" or "in Christ." As we continue reading in this letter, we will see some of the evidence that Paul bases this statement on. To believe the Gospel unites believers in a special way with God the Father and with the Lord Jesus Christ- and Paul tells us in v. 5 that the Holy Spirit is all part of this too. So believers have a special union with the Triune God. We are In God the Father, in the Lord Jesus Christ, all by the power of the Holy Spirit!
Then Paul gives one of his customary greetings: "Grace to you and peace." Both grace and peace are spiritual blessings from God. Paul is expressing his desire that God's unmerited favor (grace) and God's peace (not being at war with God) be with the recipients of his letter. If you have believed in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, then you have received God's grace! AND you are no longer at war with God (yes, apart from Christ, humans are at war with God- they are His enemies)- so as a believer you are at peace with God (Rom 8:1). This is all part of the Good News that we call the Gospel!

2 "We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ."

Now Paul starts his encouragement of the Thessalonian believers. He and Silas (Silvanus) and Timothy give thanks to God for them. They tell them that they have kept them in their prayers and that they remember their work of faith, labor of love, and their steadfastness of hope in the Lord. Do you remember hearing these three attributes listed together anywhere else? It's in another of the New Testament letters written by Paul. Yes, 1 Corinthians 13! Paul spoke to the Corinthian believers of the great way of love in this chapter and he ends by saying, "So now faith, hope and love abide (remain), these three; but the greatest of these is love" (v.13). Basically, Paul is encouraging the Thessalonians that he has seen in them the greatest gifts/attributes that Christians can have. Now I will ask myself this as I ask you: can others say this of you (me)? That is, do you (do I) excel at loving God and others? Do you (do I) have faith in God by believing all that He has revealed to us in the Scriptures and do you and I have faith in Him that he lovingly controls every aspect of our lives? Do you (do I) have a certainty that God will bring all things to their appointed end in order to bring glory to Himself and His Son, Jesus Christ? That last question is a question about hope; is your (my) hope in God?
Please don't gloss over these questions lightly. I must not gloss over them either. These are godly attributes that Paul and his companions saw working powerfully in the lives of the Thessalonians. These are godly attributes that Paul had challenged the Corinthians to excel in. And by extension, these are godly attributes that WE must excel in. These qualities are cultivated in us as God sanctifies us (as He makes us more and more like His Son, Jesus). When Jesus prayed for believers (and all who would become believers -you and me) in John17, He asked the Father, "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth" (v.17).

So how can we begin to even scratch the surface of becoming godly in the way that Paul describes here? We must immerse ourselves in the Word of God! His word is truth. In it, we have all that we need for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3). Paul tells us in Colossians 3:16, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly...."

As we begin our study of 1 Thessalonians, let us be encouraged to live lives of holiness to God. As Paul instructs his readers, let us be instructed as well. In this, we will be spending time in the Truth that God uses to sanctify us.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Introduction to 1 Thessalonians

I have begun a study on First Thessalonians for personal growth. I'm not promising any new insights or even anything particularly deep; I just plan on thinking and studying through this book in a public forum.

So who wrote this letter? The first line of the letter tells us, "Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy." Simple enough. Paul wrote much of the New Testament and Silvanus (or Silas) and Timothy were his close associates. All were servants or disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Timothy was like a son to Paul and is included as a co-author of sorts in other letters (Philippians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians) and there are two letters addressed to him that bear his name (1 & 2 Timothy). Silas was a close companion of Paul and traveled with him on his missionary journeys. He is also included as co-author of 2 Thessalonians.  But why would Paul include Silvanus and Timothy as co-authors of 1 & 2 Thessalonians?

Timothy had been a frequent travelling companion of Paul and may have been with Paul and Silas when they ministered in Thessalonica. Acts 16 tells us that Timothy joined Paul in Lystra. Shortly after this, Paul received a vision from the Holy Spirit to minister in Macedonia (Acts 16:6-10). Soon, Paul and Silas spent time in a Philippian Jail. After their release, they made their way through many cities and found themselves in Thessalonica. Although Timothy is not mentioned as part of their group, it is possible that he was with them. Acts 17 tells us that Paul and Silas reasoned with the Jews in the city for "three Sabbath days." Some Jews believed in Jesus as well as "a great many of the devout Greeks." God blessed their ministry there as many people began to follow the Lord. The Jews who did not believe opposed them there and stirred up trouble for them so that Paul and Silas were "sent away" by the believers, most likely to protect them. In answer to my question, Paul most likely included Timothy and Silas as co-authors because the Thessalonian believers would have known them and the two may have contributed in some way to the writing of the letter (and Paul often wrote using a scribe).

Why did Paul write to this group of believers? We will see as we journey through this letter that Paul wanted to encourage them in the faith. He had sent Timothy to visit and strengthen them in the faith (1 Thess 3:1-6) and to find out how they were doing. He thanks God for them and instructs them in many matters. A major theme in this letter is the coming of the Lord.

With this brief introduction, let's start digging into God's word! Feel free to post comments if something seems unclear or if you think I haven't addressed something. I may not be able to respond right away, but I'll always make an effort to answer any questions.

Oh, just so you know- I have a couple of sources for my study: cross references in my Bible (using Scripture to interpret Scripture); the ESV Study Bible; the New Geneva Study Bible; Matthew Henry's Commentary; the Bible Knowledge Commentary; various online resources...

I pray that God will draw me closer to Himself as I study His holy word. As you read and study along, may He do the same for you.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

God Working in our Lives

 Have you ever made plans in life and things not turn out the way you think they should have? Silly question, I know. We've all had this experience. Sometimes the things we plan for our lives are huge desires that we think would make everything just perfect. So why do these plans so often fail? Doesn't God tell us, "Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart." (Ps. 37:4 NAS)?? If I had a dollar for every time MY DESIRES were NOT given to me!!

 So WHY doesn't God give us all of our desires? Based on the above verse, there is a prerequisite to God giving us the desires of our hearts: "DELIGHT yourself in the LORD." How many times can you say that you have truly DELIGHTED in God?? I can't count on one hand for myself. That is, most of the time I delight in things OTHER than GOD all the while wondering why I haven't been given my heart's desires. Don't misunderstand me. I am not saying that this verse contains a magical formula where all you have to do is "delight" in God and BAM! you've got a new car or a new job! The Apostle John said that if we ask according to His will, He hears us(1 Jn 5:14) But how do we know His will? Oh boy, I may have opened a can of worms here. Let me just say that YES, God has a plan. But it is not our job to KNOW every single detail of it. He has revealed much to us IN THE SCRIPTURES. But he has not made known to most of us what will happen tomorrow or next week in our particular situations. Moses told us in Deuteronomy 29:29 , "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever..." (NAS). Bottom line: What God has clearly revealed to us (i.e. THE BIBLE) is for us to know. Those things that have not been revealed to us (the secret things) are for the Lord to know and for HIM to work out.
 Friends, trust the Lord in all of your life. Especially when things aren't going the way you had hoped. Romans 8:28 says, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." Ephesians 1:11 says, "...we have obtained an inheritance having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will..." So even though your life may not seem to be going well, rest assured: God is working out His plan. If you love God and are called according to His purpose ( that is, you've believed and embraced the Gospel), then God is working all of the things in your life for good.

Remember, God is all Sovereign and stuff...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Just an SMS text test...

I'm playing with the SMS feature so I can post from my phone. Not sure how often I'll use this since I'm limited to 160 characters. But it's worth a try...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Kid with a big heart gives a lesson in Prayer

I was driving home from work last night listening to the radio. I listen to all kinds of stuff on the radio, but last night Iwas listening to CCM. The DJ played a call he got from a young listener. The boy must have been between 11 and 15 from the sound of his voice. He was by no means eloquent. Yet, his call revealed that he has a big heart. He called to ask for prayer for a friend. His friend is going through hard times. The friend's father is in the military deployed in combat. The mom just lost her job and now they are about to lose their house. The friend is distraught, and this boy cared enough to call a Christian radio station to ask for prayer. The DJ asked him if he'd like to pray for his friend and he did. So this young, caring, believing, non-eloquent young man prayed for his friend on-air. It really touched my heart.

It made me think about how many times my friends ask me for prayer and I tell them that I will gladly pray for them- and then I forget! God has told us to come to Him in prayer. Hebrews tells us that we can "approach the throne of grace with confidence." Jesus told us that our Heavenly Father knows what we need before we even ask Him. I share all of this to encourage you to be people of prayer. The Lord who made the heavens and the earth cares. He INVITES us to approach Him. If you have placed your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, He will hear you. No request is too insignificant. Remember, God is all Sovereign and stuff...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

God is all Sovereign...

I've always wanted to start a blog. But the main thing stopping me has always been the thought: "who cares what I think!!!"  Well, I'm still of the same mindset, but I've decided to blog anyways in order to publically think through life, God, and all things.

Why the name, "God is all Sovereign?" This is essentially my motto in life. As I've studied the Bible throughout the years, one truth keeps screaming at me- namely the truth that God is Sovereign over ALL things. That means that life,death, good, evil, happiness, sorrow, wealth, poverty, good times,  bad times, natural disasters,...EVERYTHING...all things happen according to the will of God. My random ramblings are all part of His plan. This does not excuse ANYONE from responsiblilty for their actions- certainly not me. I am a sinful man redeemed by God's amazing grace. I make mistakes and they are MY mistakes. I sin and it is MY sin. I call myself a "supralapsarian baptist." Those of you with a theological background shouldn't automatically assume that I am a hyper-calvinist. I am not. I share the gospel, and I know that the Bible commands me to share the gospel with Everyone. I know that I will post more on this topic in the future, so I will move on for now.

I'm planning to post things from every aspect of life on this blog, but because the Bible and Jesus Christ are so much a part of who I am, I wouldn't be surprised to see most of my posts centered on the Bible and Jesus Christ.

When you question what in the world is going on in this world, remember: God is all Sovereign and stuff...