Category: 1 Thessalonians (Page 2 of 7)

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

Preaching with Tucker

A text this morning from a friend wondered if I had developed some carpel tunnel issues. Yes, it’s been a while since I wrote in this space. No, it has nothing to do with the health of my fingers. I have been out of town three of the past four weeks — in Malibu for the Pepperdine Lectures, on a sabbatical in a nice apartment near the bottom of Ceta Canyon, and in Austin for the annual Sermon Seminar at Austin Grad. I even mixed in a weekend trip to Edmond for my nephew Asa’s high school graduation. So, I appreciate the concern for my physical well-being. Thank you. Consider me back in the groove.

Yesterday marked our summer kickoff here at Central when all our 5th graders are officially promoted into the student ministry. The day is highlighted by the gifting of Bibles and blessings, lunch and a slide show, swimming and bowling, and an all-in youth meeting. But, for me, the best part of my Sunday was preaching with Tucker Haynes.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re a multi-generational church at Central and we are continuously on the lookout for creative ways to experience intergenerational relationships. We want to model and practice church as family. Christian community. Doing life together in Christ. So Sunday we had all of our incoming 6th graders participating in the leading of our worship assembly. Noah Hartman helped Kevin lead our singing. Several of the students read Scripture. And Tucker helped me preach.

The text was 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12: “Now about brotherly love…” Tucker worked especially hard the past two weeks on the Greek word for brotherly love, philadelphia, and what exactly Paul means when he tells the Christians in Thessalonica that God has already taught them how to love. And he nailed it! He and I went back and forth — me, trying to remember my memorized manuscript while Tucker read his expertly crafted lines. Tucker had the whole congregation eating out of his hand when he confessed frankly that “brothers and sisters can be annoying.” Then he pulled the rug out from under us with his observation that “We don’t get to pick our brothers and sisters; they are a gift from God.”

Oh, yeah. Central ate him up with a spoon. He was excellent!

I really enjoyed my time with Tucker on Friday, finalizing together everything we were going to do.  I asked him questions about the text and about his relationships with his older brother and sisters.  I listened while he wrestled with using a personal illustration to both connect with the listeners and explain the text. We did a mic check together in the worship center early Sunday morning and prayed together in my office fifteen minutes before the assembly began — he was distracted by the 2011 World Series program on my table and couldn’t hardly pray for lamenting the Cardinals and Nelson Cruz.

Tucker, you were terrific, brother. I’m so blessed by God that you and I are adelphus. And I’d be honored to preach with you any day.

Peace,

Allan

 

Leadership: Love

“We were gentle among you , like a mother caring for her little children.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 2:7

Is it weird that Paul describes himself as a mother? What does a mother know about leadership? Well, dads, have you ever watched your wife with your kids? Generally speaking, they’ve got a gentleness and a sensitivity that we just don’t. I think children find the most comfort and security with their moms. I remember with our girls — I could play with them for hours, do fun things for them and with them all day long. But when they got hurt, where did they run? Straight to mom. Every time.

Actually, that word “caring” is more correctly translated “nursing.” “Nursing her children” gives us an image of Christian leaders actually feeding and giving nourishment to the congregation.

“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the Gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” ~1 Thessalonians 2:8

A mother teaches her children how to cross the street, how to eat at the table, and how to match pony tail holders with shirts. But she also pours her heart and her soul into her kids. Because she loves them so much. To lead with love is a lot more than just teaching. It means being intimately involved in people’s lives. And it takes time and effort and it leads to disappointment. But, like Paul, our love compels us to do it.

We’re in each other’s homes, we’re praying together, rejoicing and mourning together, genuinely and actively interested and involved in each other’s lives. That kind of love is sacrificial.

Bill Hybels says, “Tell me how to show love without spending time, money, or energy, and I’ll gladly sign up. Tell me that love means sacrifice, however, and I’m reluctant to commit.”

It’s basically following the model of Jesus who did it first and best. Christ’s priority was in giving, not getting; on serving, not being served; on loving, not necessarily being loved.

Peace,

Allan

Leadership: Integrity

“…does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you… We never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed.” ~1 Thess. 2:3-5

With Paul, Silas, and Timothy, what you see is what you get. Nobody had to try to figure them out. They hid nothing. They held nothing back. You always knew where Paul stood and you always knew where you stood with Paul (just ask Barnabas).

Integrity. Character. Living right. Doing right. Even when you know nobody’s watching. It’s what’s inside a person that causes her to act the way she does, and the things she does reveal what’s inside.

The manager of a Target store would never shop at Wal-Mart. No way. He doesn’t step inside a Wal-Mart no matter who’s watching — not if he believes in his company and he’s committed to doing everything in his power to help his company and grow his company and make his company better.

When we go to a restaurant, I’ll order a Dr Pepper. If they don’t carry Dr Pepper, I’ll ask for water. I want that waitress to know that if they carried Dr Pepper, I’d pay the $2.89 for it and probably pay more for refills. But since they don’t carry Dr Pepper, she can bring me water. For free. See, I think that’s going to make a difference. I figure if I consistently do that in every restaurant for twenty or thirty years, the restaurants will eventually see the light and change their purchasing strategies. Carrie-Anne will sometimes settle for a Mr. Pibb in those situations. I tell her that’s a lack of integrity.

We all know there’s an integrity void in our society. A character crisis. A lack of integrity causes people to tell lies, to say one thing and mean another, to break commitments to a spouse. Without integrity, you can’t believe what a person’s saying or if they’ll do what they say. Their word begins to mean nothing.

Jesus taught the law that our “yes” should be “yes” and our “no” should be “no.” We tell the truth even when it’ll cost us. We do the right thing even when it’s not the easy thing.

“You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous, and blameless we were.” ~1 Thess. 2:10

Blameless has to do with their public reputation. Righteous is about their relationship with the people. Holy refers to their relationship with God. Paul, Silas, and Timothy deliberately avoided behavior and actions that might lead people to doubt the integrity of the message or to suspect the sincerity of their preaching. Their own personal integrity is so important because you can’t separate the message from the messenger. In many ways, the medium is the message.

You’ve heard this before: What you’re doing is so loud I can’t hear what you’re saying.

You can’t raise money to stamp out the exploitation of women by hosting a car wash at Hooter’s. A dentist can’t publish a brochure about dental health and hygiene with a Snicker’s ad in the back. And we can’t spread the good news of the Kingdom of God if we’re not living lives of integrity.

Peace,

Allan

Leadership: Pleasing God First

“We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.” ~1 Thessalonians 2:4

“We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else.” ~1 Thess. 2:6

Paul and Silas and Timothy tell the church in Thessalonica that they all ought to follow their model of Christian leadership: We “make ourselves a model for you to follow (2 Thess. 3:7, 9). A critical component of their leadership style is their commitment to pleasing God instead of people. Paul’s ministry — his whole life! — is characterized by this attitude.

“Am I trying to win the approval of people, or of God? Am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” ~Galatians 1:10

Paul is not one to take a vote or check the opinion polls before doing what he knows needs to be done in his capacity as a Christian leader. President Harry Truman had a similar disdain toward catering to the whims of the people:

“I wonder how far Moses would have gone if he’d taken a poll in Egypt? What would Jesus Christ have preached if he’d taken a poll in Israel? Where would the Reformation have gone if Martin Luther had taken a poll? It isn’t the polls or public opinion of the moment that counts. It’s right and wrong and leadership, men and women with fortitude, honesty, and a belief in what’s right that makes epochs in the history of the world.”

We’ve been entrusted with the Gospel (1 Thess. 2:4) as stewards of God’s Good News. So we are responsible to God, not people. We seek to please God first, not people. This was Peter’s leadership style, too. In Acts 5, Peter tells the Sanhedrin in the face of Jewish persecution, “We must obey God rather than people!”

But there’s such a strong temptation to please people. It’s human nature. We want to please people, not just to be popular, but because we don’t want to make anybody mad. We don’t want to make enemies. We don’t want to come across as mean. We want to keep the peace. Elders want to keep their members. Preachers want to keep their jobs.

Well, hold on. We don’t want to offend or upset our weaker brother. We’re responsible for our weaker brother.

You know, that passage in 1 Corinthians 8 is one of the most grossly misapplied passages in all of Scripture. The weaker brother Paul’s talking about is a brand new Christian. He’s just been baptized. He’s still wet behind the ears, figuratively and literally. He’s from a pagan, idol-worshiping, bacon-loving background. He doesn’t know anything. He hasn’t had time. He’s just a baby. That’s the weaker brother of the Bible. But I’m afraid sometimes it’s the men and women who were born and raised in the faith, baptized 20, 30, or 40 years ago, who are using weaker brother arguments to thwart Christian leadership.

When I was interviewing here at Central almost six years ago, the leadership told me, “We’re a Church of Christ. We’re always going to be a Church of Christ. We’re proud of our Church of Christ heritage and we uphold our Church of Christ traditions. But when those traditions come into conflict with the Gospel, we’re going to go with the Gospel every time.”

Sold! I love that!

Strong Christian leaders keep their eyes on the goal, they’re focused on the big picture. They lead with courage in the will of God, to please him. What’s going to challenge us and mature us? What’s going to lead to Christ-likeness? What’s going to move us toward more sacrifice and service? What’s going to make us more accountable to God and one another?

Well, that makes me uncomfortable. I’m not comfortable with that.

Who said anything about comfortable? That’s why they put crosses up in church buildings, to give you a clue that this is not about being comfortable!

Leaders worth following don’t pay much attention to the polls or public opinion. Pleasing God, not people. Remember, Jesus was OK with letting the rich young ruler walk away.

Peace,

Allan

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