Category: 1 Thessalonians (page 1 of 7)

The Bible is Your Story

In 1 Corinthians 10, the apostle Paul tells the old story of the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness and they way they complained and rebelled and how God faithfully provided. Paul says they were all baptized when they passed through the waters, just like us (10:2). They ate spiritual food and drank spiritual drink from Christ Jesus, just like us (10:3). These things are examples for us, Paul writes (10:6). He says these things were written down for us as warnings (10:11). What happened to them, he writes, is common to all people, it happens to all of us (10:13). And, he says, God is faithful in all of it (10:13).

You see what Paul’s doing. He’s telling our story. The Bible is our story.

Story doesn’t just tell us something and leave it there, it invites us to participate. A good story drags us in. We feel the emotions, we get caught up in the drama, we identify with the characters, doors and windows get flung open, and we the nooks and crannies of our lives and our world we had missed.

The Bible as our story brings us into the vast wonderful world God creates and saves and blesses and offers us a place in that world. It shows us where we are. Good stories show more than they tell. And the Bible is the greatest story of all time.

“From infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the child of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” ~2 Timothy 3:15-17.

The Bible is a story. If we read it and interpret it like a book of rules and regulations or like some kind of constitution, we won’t get it. We’ll respond to it in the wrong way. If you mistake a recipe for chicken enchiladas for a manual on putting a vacuum cleaner together, you’re going to wind up hungry in a very dirty house. If you misread a highway sign that says “Speed Limit 65” for a randomly posted bit of information and not the stern law of the land it is, a police officer is going to pull you over and give you a brief, but expensive, lesson in hermeneutics.

The Bible is not a moral code that says, “Live up to this.” It’s not a system of doctrines that says, “Think like this.” The Bible tells a story and invites us in. “Live into this.” This is what it looks like to be a human being in righteous relationship with God and others. This is what God wants. This is what God is doing. And here’s where you are. Now live into it.

“You accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the Word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” ~1 Thessalonians 2:13

Sometimes I am blind Bartimaeus on the side of the road near Jericho. Calling out to Jesus in my pain. Surrendering my life to the Lord. Yielding to his will. And he mercifully heals me.

Sometimes I am Naaman, covered with sores, dying of disease, and wanting to be saved, but on my terms. I try to dictate just how God needs to deal with me. He needs to do it my way. So arrogant. And he heals me anyway.

Always, I am Peter. Always shooting my mouth off, always wanting to be up front, always wanting to be the leader. One minute I pledge my allegiance to the Lord — Even if I have to die with you, I will never leave you! — and the next minute I’m a shrinking coward, warming myself at the world’s fire and denying that I even know who Jesus is. And then Jesus comes to me and asks, “Do you still love me? Then, come on, let’s keep going.”

Is that you? Where are you right now in the Bible’s beautiful story?

Are you Martha? So busy. Way too busy. Running around like a chicken with your head cut off, taking care of all the urgent stuff that needs to be done. Family. House. Chores. Neglecting your most important relationships. Maybe avoiding your relationship with Christ. And Jesus knows it. He’s sitting right there in the next room, waiting for you to slow down and pay attention to him. Even though you haven’t talked to him in months or even years, he keeps coming over. Have you noticed that about Jesus? He keeps coming over.

Are you Zacchaeus? You’ve got a great job, lots of money, wonderful benefits, more than enough security. But you’re alone. You’re not close to anybody. You’re just watching all the church people do all their church things and you don’t understand it at all. But here he comes. Here comes Jesus, walking right up to you. He pulls you down out of your tree and says, “I’m coming over. I’m coming to your house right now.”

Maybe you’re being torn apart by a terrible storm. The flood waters are rising, the things you love and the people you know are being destroyed. It’s dark and people are dying. It’s scary, this flood. And you know that God uses these times to cleanse and renew and recreate and make things right. But you don’t know if you’re in the ark with Noah or out in the water drowning. Listen as God’s Church reminds you, “You’re with us. You’re safe. You’re saved.”

Are you David? The King of Israel, the man after God’s own heart. What did God see when he looked at David that day and chose him and blessed him? David was just a kid, kind of an afterthought, just a boy hanging out with the sheep. Remember the story? What did God see in him that day? Did he see David’s fierce violence or his fierce loyalty? Did he see David as the great psalmist or as the notorious outlaw? Did he see David’s prayers and humility or the adultery and lying and murder and all the sin? God saw all of it. Every bit of it. And God still picked David. He chose David. And he chose you in Jesus Christ before the foundations of the earth.

The Bible is our story. It’s got our God on every page. It reveals our God who loves us intensely and saves us faithfully and who will not be stopped or even slowed down in his determination to live with us eternally. The story’s got all that.

You’re in there, too. It’s got you, too.

Peace,

Allan

In All Circumstances

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” ~1 Thessalonians 5:18

There’s a difference between giving thanks FOR all circumstances and giving thanks IN all circumstances. You don’t give thanks for all the dirty dishes in the sink at the end of the day — unless you’re some kind of sicko; you do thank God for the food he gives you to dirty all those dishes. You don’t give thanks for the car accident; you do thank God that nobody was seriously injured. You don’t give thanks that Molly White is in the hospital; you do thank God for the opportunity to minister to Molly and her husband Pete and for deeming you somehow worthy to minister in the name of Jesus. You don’t give thanks that Vernon died; you do thank God that death is not the bottom line, death is not the last chapter. Thank you, Lord, that God in Christ is the ultimate power with the ultimate authority and he always writes the final word! Thank the Lord that resurrection and life belong to us in Jesus!

I always get a kick out of listening to little kids pray — I’m talking about little kids: three, four, five years old. They give thanks to God for everybody and every thing. If we’re at the table, they thank God for everybody around the table and every food item, the plates, the napkins, the silverware, the Kool-Aid, and what they hope is for dessert.

If we’re praying in the living room, they thank God for the couch and the fireplace and the TV and the remote. If we’re in the bedroom, they thank God for the bed, their pillow, their blanket, their clothes, their shoes, and they name every single stuffed animal and every doll and lift them each to God in praise. It’s everything.

Everything they see is a gift from God. Everything in the world, everything going on around them right now, at this moment, all of it is a blessing from God and he is to be thanked profusely.

Why do we lose that?

Joyful souls and prayerful spirits and grateful hearts — that is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.

Peace,

Allan

The Closing Prayer

Carter Karels was a cute little middle school kid in our youth group at Legacy when our family arrived in Northeast Tarrant County in 2007. He knew then he wanted to be a sportswriter. Now today, after a couple of key internships, a successful stint as the sports editor at Texas A&M’s Battalion, and a few medium-profile run-ins with SEC football coaches, Carter is a sports reporter for USA Today. His very first story, on the season-ending injury to the Dodgers’ top pitching prospect, can be found here. He’s also written a popular profile of Yankees star slugger Aaron Judge, which can be accessed here. Congratulations, Carter! I’m very proud of you, man. And I know your dad is probably impossible to live with now…

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“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. The One who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” ~1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

As a family formed by the future, it’s appropriate that Paul would end his letter to the Thessalonian church in Jason’s house by pointing them again to what is to come: the finished work of our God.

Sanctification, the continual process of being made holy, is both a gift from God and a goal. It is both experienced right now and still to be accomplished. Holiness is given to disciples of Jesus at the point of conversion, when we pass from death to life and become new creations in Christ. But it is also a goal that we strive to live out in our daily lives. This life of discipleship to our Lord is “between the times,” because he hasn’t finished yet what he began.

But he will.

During this short letter, Paul has talked a lot about himself and the church in Thessalonica. But his closing prayer reminds us that all of it is truly about our God. The last thing Paul wants on his hearers’ minds is our God, the One who has called us and saved us in Christ Jesus, the One who gives us his Spirit in power and holiness, and the One who will bring us into his Kingdom and glory when Jesus returns.

Paul wants to reassure us, he wants to remind us, that not only is God able to do all that he has promised, but because he is trustworthy and reliable, he will in fact do it. Our future rests entirely in the power and faithfulness of God. And that should inform and enable us to live lives of power and faithfulness ourselves as we wait for “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Peace,

Allan

Holy Spirit

Allow me to pick up where we left off yesterday and conclude this short conversation on holiness.

When you put on Christ in baptism, when you accept God’s will for your life to be holy and sanctified, everything becomes brand new. It’s panoramic. It’s all-inclusive. It’s rich and deep and it gets into every crack and crevice of your existence. It all belongs to God and he’s claiming it. You’ve got new desires, new interests, new instincts, new motivations. There’s no room for other gods, no place for selfish behavior, no time to waste in worldly pursuits. There’s only holiness. Holiness has to be pushed into the room and dominate what I do and say and think. “God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.”

But, I can’t.

I find myself on a holiness roller coaster, some days great, some days awful, some weeks in tune with God and his will, some weeks or months living for my goals instead of his. I want to be holy, I want to live a pure life all the time. But, I can’t.

I know. Neither can I.

Which makes 1 Thessalonians 4:8 sound scary: “He who rejects this instruction does not reject man, but God.”

But, I can’t.

I know. Neither can I.

Which makes the rest of the verse a word of divine grace: “…God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.”

Being holy is powered by God’s Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit living inside each one of us that works in us to make us holy. The Spirit is given to us to root out the sin in our lives and lead us in this process of sanctification. Yes, we’re called to be holy; but, praise God, we’re also equipped to be holy! It IS possible, only by the power of the Holy Spirit, to live in holiness. God is the one who makes it happen — not you, not me. God does it through his Son and by the power of his Spirit living in us.

God doesn’t merely provide the holy standard we’re to live by based on his character and holiness. He also provides us with the power and the resources to live that way.

I am the LORD who makes you holy! ~Exodus 31
I am the LORD who makes you holy! ~Leviticus 20
God in Christ makes us holy – Hebrews 2
Christ Jesus is our holiness – 1 Corinthians 1
We’re made holy through Jesus – Hebrews 10

The Christian life is not about working to become something you’re not; it’s about being what you already are. God’s Spirit is in us, working to sanctify us, working to make us holy — if we’ll just stop fighting it.

Paul doesn’t tell the Thessalonians to start loving each other and acting right. They already are. He acknowledges how well they’re doing in their walk with Christ. He just encourages them to do more. Take it further. Be so completely wrapped up in God’s claim on your life. Be so totally dependent on Jesus Christ for your salvation. Be so thoroughly led by the Spirit inside you to holiness and sanctification. Ride it, don’t fight it. It’s God’s will, let him do it.

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified. It’s what he wants to do. Let him do it.

“God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.”

Peace,

Allan

Holy Life

“God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” ~1 Thessalonians 4:7

Can we take Paul’s instructions regarding our sexuality and sexual expressions and apply them to every part of our lives? The way you handle your money? The way you deal with jobs and career? How you treat your parents? What you do when nobody’s watching? Paul is telling the Christians in Thessalonica to think about their sexual conduct, not as a separate part of their lives, but within the larger framework of their walk with Christ.

Everything you do, everything you say, everything you think, from the moment you wake up until the minute you go to sleep — God claims all of it! His will is that all of it be holy. We don’t belong to ourselves. Every second, every square inch — we belong to the Holy Creator of the Universe. We need to change the way we look at things. It’s bigger than we think.

Christianity is not, “Hey, God does exist and he makes some demands on me through Jesus.” The Gospel is not a systematic approach to ethics, it’s not a rational understanding of morality. Jesus does not bring a new teaching or a new ethic or a new set of morals. He brings a brand new reality!

If anyone is in Christ: New Creation! Everything’s new. All of creation is brand new. Everything looks new. Everything’s re-interpreted. Jesus is not an add-on to the story; he IS the story! Jesus is not the missing piece to the puzzle; he IS the puzzle and the box it came in! And the card table and chairs and bag of chips and whatever else is in the room! That’s our reality. Our conduct is attached to how we see the world. We act according to our understanding of reality.

Think about what happened to your conduct the day you learned you were pregnant with your first child. Everything you know as reality shifted dramatically. And your priorities change. You spend money differently. You start saving money differently. The things you look at in the store are different. You’re checking consumer reports on baby strollers and car seats. There’s a baby coming! You’re painting your study or your workout room in warm pastels because you want the baby to feel welcomed. You’re buying little things to stick in the plugs and latches for the kitchen cabinets because you want the baby to be safe. Your wife starts eating differently and you can’t find Dr Pepper in the house anymore. The things you talk about and think about are different. Everything’s a little more serious. Your outlook on life becomes a little more big picture.

Why?

Most of this stuff had never occurred to you before. But now you’ve got a brand new reality. New creation. You’re seeing things you’ve never seen before. And your behavior changes to reflect it.

When you put on Christ Jesus in baptism, when you accept God’s will for your life to be holy and sanctified and like his, everything’s new. It’s panoramic. It’s all inclusive. It’s rich and deep and it gets into every crack and crevice of your existence. It all belongs to God and he’s claiming it. New desires, new interests, new instincts, new motivations. There’s no place for selfish behavior. There’s no time to waste in worldly pursuits. There’s only holiness.

God’s claim on my life in Jesus has to be pushed into the room and dominate everything I do and say and think about. It has to. It must be at the very core of my being and the very reason for everything I do.

Peace,

Allan

Holy Sex

“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” ~1 Thessalonians 4:3-7

Of the many ways that holiness or sanctification impacts us, Paul focuses on sex. Why? In this particular context, with this specific group of Christians, as far as the apostle is concerned, this is the definition of holiness: Avoid sexual immorality. Why?

Think with me about this first century Hellenistic society in Thessalonica. There’s no real connection between religion and morality. The culture was such that as long as you provided for your wife and you didn’t abuse her physically, it didn’t really matter who you had sex with. No big deal. In this culture, as long as nobody got hurt, anything goes — wherever, whenever, whoever. Culturally, socially, mistresses, concubines, even religiously. Consider what was happening down the street at First Aphrodite Church: Naked priestesses and temple prostitutes — pagan worship rituals were based on and drenched in sex.

Now these brand new Christians are meeting in Jason’s house in Thessalonica for songs and prayers, words of encouragement and a meal. And these new converts to Christ have no understanding of a right or wrong way to behave sexually. This was the main issue for Christians back then.

And it’s the main issue for Christians in the United States today.

We live in a completely sexualized culture. I don’t have to tell you, I don’t have to point it out. It’s everywhere. And don’t think for a minute it’s not a problem in your church. In this country, three out of every four 4-year-olds has his or her own iPad or some kind of device with a search engine. We’re throwing our youngest into the line of fire and calling it good. In middle school, what they’re nonchalantly sharing with each other on Instagram and Snapchat is disturbing. The clothes we let our daughters wear — it’s a problem.

If the statistics are even close — recent surveys of church-going Christians in the U.S. — 77% of the men in your church are looking at pornography at least once a month. Thirty-five percent of the married men in your church have had an extra-marital sexual affair. Christians! Us! I’m not telling you this to point fingers, I’m telling you this so maybe we can get a better grip on the scope of the problem. We live in a hook-up culture where cohabitation before marriage and casual sex outside marriage are normal and we’re carrying easy and ready access to pornography in our pockets. That’s a problem.

How we behave sexually has everything to do with our Christianity. The two are very much connected. Paul shows us that “holy and honorable” are the opposite of “passionate lust.” He points out that “passionate lust” is self-centered and concerned only with my needs and my desires. “Holy and honorable” is concerned with what’s best for others.

Look at the contrast. The heathen don’t know God and they’re sexually immoral. They don’t control their bodies. If you do know God, you don’t act that way.

We know God. And that obligates us to honor him. With all of ourselves. With our bodies.

God’s will for us — to be holy, to be sanctified — is to enjoy sex only within the confines of holy marriage. Anything else — anyone else, anywhere else, anywhen else — is driven by passionate lust and self-seeking desires and it’s not holy.

But, look, my girlfriend and I are having sex. We’re going to get married in a couple of years but, yeah, we’re having sex right now. I have to have sex. We can’t wait that long. I’m a 21-year-old red-blooded American male. What am I supposed to do? If we don’t have sex, I’ll be forced to use pornography to relieve the situation. We either have sex before marriage or I have to go to porn. I’ve got to do one of the two. I don’t have a choice.

Yes, you do have a choice! In the name of Jesus and by the power of his Holy Spirit, you have lots of choices! How about abstaining? How about bringing your personal urges and personal desires into subjection to the lordship of Jesus? How about you and your girlfriend declaring together that Jesus is Lord over your sexuality, over every square inch of your bodies that he created and saved for his holy purposes?

We don’t talk about sex anymore in church because our culture tells us it’s nobody’s business. Sex is personal and private. No! Wrong answer! Sex is not personal or private! Every single sexual thing you do impacts our families, impacts our community, impacts our relationships with God, and impacts his Church. Holy sexual conduct honors and glorifies God and our relationships with each other and our community and our families and the Church. Unholy sexual conduct dishonors all that. It wrongs our brothers and sisters and takes advantage of other people.

God did not call you and save you and come to live inside you so you could live an impure life. We are redeemed and called by our loving Creator to be holy.

Peace,

Allan

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