13.8.17 – Why Those Prayer Requests? – Peter Cheyne

Read 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5

Paul began to wrap this letter up with a few final comments, the first of which was to ask for prayer.

  1. What were his prayer requests?
  2. What do they say about Paul?

You might have noticed that this prayer request kind of morphs into more reassurance for the Thessalonians which perhaps says something about the character of Paul. He knew he needed prayer and he was not ashamed to ask for it but he was always thinking of other people and always building up disciples of Jesus Christ.

But when asking for prayer, what was his request? What was top priority for him? Again, he wasn’t really thinking about himself. He said, “pray for us” but it wasn’t a selfish prayer. “Pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly. And be honoured just as it was with you.”

  1. So, who was he praying for?

He was praying for himself and for his team (It was “us” not “me”) because they were called to spread the gospel. The prayer was “May we be effective. May we be able to make huge progress. May we be able spread this message far and wide. May we have opportunities and open doors.

Then he asked for prayer that the gospel “be honoured, just as it was with you”. He asked for prayer for those who would share the gospel – for himself and his team – but he also asked for prayer for those who would receive it. When it is heard, may it be honoured. May it be received and taken seriously and understood. May people respond.

So, who is on Paul’s mind? Himself? Is he wanting to be successful and receive the glory? I don’t think so. That is not Paul’s heart. His heart is that people come to know Jesus.

For example, look at Colossians 1:27-28 where Paul sums up his purpose and his priorities.

Col 1:27-18         We proclaim Him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.

Paul said that all his energy – no, all the energy that Jesus gave him – was focused on presenting everyone fully mature in Christ. That is what disciple-making is all about – bring people to faith in Jesus then bringing them to maturity in Jesus.

That is his heart; that is what prompted him to ask first and foremost for success in spreading the gospel. So, who is he really praying for?

He is praying for the lost. He wants to see people saved. Put that in context.

  1. Can you think of anything we have seen in this letter already that makes this particularly relevant?

In the previous chapter, when he was exhorting the Thessalonians to stand firm amidst persecution, he had talked about how people were perishing. People did not love the truth but instead delighted in sin. People were not honouring the gospel. They were hearing it and dismissing it. Light came into the world but they preferred the darkness. They treated the gospel as of no value – something to be discarded and maybe even mocked. These were the people who were persecuting the Christians.

In chapter 1 he had also talked about God’s judgement and said that God would punish those who did not know Him and did not obey the gospel of the Lord Jesus.

2 Thess 1:9          They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might…

There has been quite a lot about judgement.

  1. Is judgement something Christians delight in?

Paul does not say these things with any glee. He was not delighting in the fact that people would be judged. He is certainly realistic about it. It is true: if people ignore the salvation God offers because they want to continue living their lives the way they want to, then it is true that a day of reckoning is coming and it will not be pretty. That is the realism but it is not what Christians want; it is not even what God wants. The Bible says that God wants everyone to be saved. That was Paul’s heart too and the reason his priority prayer request is about the gospel spreading and being honoured.

But he wasn’t only praying for the lost. If people treated the gospel as being of no value then, by implication, they were saying that Jesus was of no value. You might remember that the answer to the first question in the Westminster Shorter Confession. What is the chief end of man? Why do we exist? To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

Paul wanted people to be saved but he also wanted God to be glorified. If Jesus was treated with contempt, Paul grieved because he was all about God receiving the glory that is rightfully His.

2 Thess 1:12        We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you…

His passion for the gospel and for the spreading of the gospel arose out of love for God and love for others. Those two commands that Jesus said were the most important and the second most important, must lead us to evangelism. If we love God, we want God to receive glory; we want more and more people honouring and worshipping God. And if we love people, we do not want them punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of God.

Would this have been your priority prayer? Pray for me that I might be effective in rapidly spreading the message about Jesus?

Paul said to the Thessalonians, may the gospel be honoured as it was with you. It is interesting, I think, to see what happened when Paul preached in Thessalonica. READ 1 Thessalonians 1:4-10 and 2:13.

When the gospel came, it was not simply words. It came with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. God moved powerfully. They recognised it as the word of God not just human words and they welcomed it with joy even in the midst of severe suffering. They repented. Hey turned from idols to serve the living and true God. They then set about learning how to live as Christians, becoming imitators of Paul and of Jesus Himself. Then the gospel message rang out from them throughout two whole provinces – Macedonia and Achaia. Everybody knew about their conversion and their faith. They proclaimed it.

The early Christians knew that their God-given task was to tell others about Jesus but mission is not often at the core of today’s churches.

We live in a context where we find it increasingly difficult to talk about Jesus. There is more antagonism and apathy. We also might not have experienced a context where the church has been strongly missional. We haven’t had it modelled for us. Or, even if we have, the world is changing so rapidly that those methods do not seem to work anymore. We start at a disadvantage. The question is: What do we want the future to look like? Could we go on a journey with the desire to reflect the heart of Paul so that our priority prayer request is also that God might use us to rapidly spread the gospel? Could we go on a journey towards loving God with all our hearts, minds and souls so that we want to see Him receive more and more glory, and loving others enough that we don’t want to see them punished with everlasting destruction? That journey might start with just looking to build relationships and serve in the name of Jesus. And then becoming better at knowing how to offer the good news of Jesus Christ.

The second part of Paul’s prayer request was “and pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith”. Paul was not asking to be able to retire from evangelism – “Lord, please give me an easy and comfortable life far from the dangers of wicked and evil people”. On the contrary, he knew he was going right back into the battle and so he sought prayer for God’s deliverance.

There are people out there who will oppose the gospel. He does not mention it here but there are also spiritual forces violently opposed to anyone hearing the gospel of Jesus. As Paul said to the Ephesians, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the power of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12).

Our world seems to have gone crazy with all sorts of bizarre ideas that are accepted as normal, huge secularisation meaning that people ignore God, immorality on a large scale and a justifying of that, huge social problems, etc. In a crazy world, God needs people whose first thought is spreading the good news of Jesus Christ and who are willing to suffer for that. People are perishing in large numbers all around us. God is not honoured. The world is being misled and sleep-walking to destruction. God needs people who love Him and love others and whose focus is that people need to hear about Jesus. Is that you?

Paul knew he was putting himself into danger. He knew he needed the Thessalonians’ prayer. But notice his very next statement: “Not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful.” That is where His confidence is. And that is where the prayer requests morph back into encouragement for the Thessalonians. Paul forgets about his own situation and assures them that God will be faithful to them in their situation. “but the Lord is faithful and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one… May He direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.”

We can have confidence that God is faithful and will strengthen us and protect us.

  1. What do we need to pray in our context that picks up Paul’s prayer concerns?
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6.8.17 – Who Is The Man Of Lawlessness? – Peter Cheyne

Read 2 Thessalonians 2

I was a little surprised to read that this passage is considered to be one of the most obscure and difficult to interpret, of all of Paul’s writings. Well, that’s encouraging; let’s give it a go.

How much do you know about Jesus’ return? Some people are preoccupied with it and they study all the details and make up me other details. Others ignore it altogether thinking that it is too complicated and too dependent on different people’s speculation. Maybe we think this is a topic for nutcases only. Sane, level-headed Presbyterians don’t get into this stuff!

I want you to notice something. Look at:

2 Thess 2:5          Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things?

Paul had been in Thessalonica for only a few months. The gospel came with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction (1 Thess 1:5). A number of people were converted. But persecution was never far away. In the few months that he was there, Paul instructed and trained the new converts and then he was forced to leave. He knew that they would be persecuted. He had to build into them as much Christian maturity as he possibly could. He had to do as much as he could, in just a few months, to grow them towards Christ-likeness. He didn’t really have time for idle speculation about unimportant topics, and yet he used to tell them about Jesus return. Apparently, this was part of Paul’s discipling for new Christians. This was foundational. This is what you teach new Christians. Why is this important?

Last week, we looked at what this chapter says about false teaching but we didn’t look at this particular example of false teaching. Somebody was teaching – and attributing it to Paul – that Jesus had already returned. Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to not be led astray and unsettled but to hold onto the truth. To help them, he repeated some of the teaching that he had already given them.

It wasn’t possible that Jesus had already come because there was a sequence of events that had to happen first, and they hadn’t.

2 Thess 2:3          …that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed…

This seems to be the sequence:

  1. The secret power of lawlessness is already at work (v.7)

That would have been no surprise to the Thessalonians. They knew there was rebellion and lawlessness abroad. They were already experiencing persecution from people opposed to the gospel. Clearly, there was a spirit of rebellion; a spirit of defiance against God.

We would say the same, wouldn’t we? There is an anti-God spirit at work in the world. People mock God. There is a force of evil that causes people to disobey God and to rebel against God.

  1. But it is currently being held back. (v.6)
  2. At the proper time, that restraint will be removed (v.6, 7)

Think about that. It seems pretty bad now but a day is coming when evil will be unleashed. Can you imagine living in a world where the powers of evil are set free to do their terrible work? Imagine evil being rampant in our community.

And are you not grateful that God, at the moment, anyway, is holding back those forces? But how far away is it?

  1. The man of lawlessness will be revealed (v.3, 8)

The spirit of lawlessness is already at work in the world but, one day, it will be manifested in an evil person. How evil?

  1. He will oppose and exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped. (v.4)

He will not be a false Messiah claiming to be the way to salvation; he will claim to be God Himself. He will exalt Himself over God and urge people to worship him. In fact,.

  1. He will work in accordance with how Satan works. (v.9)

He is not Satan. He is a separate being from Satan himself but he certainly will work in a satanic way. He will be Satan’s agent.

  1. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie. (v.9)

The lie is that he is to be worshipped; that he is exalted above God; that he is God.

V.9 talks about his “coming”, his “parousia”, the same word that is used of Jesus’ “coming” in v.8.

He uses signs and wonders, great displays of power – just like Jesus. One scholar has said, “Christ worked miracles by God’s power and the Jews attributed them to Satan; Antichrist will work miracles by satanic power; and many will worship him as God.” (Hubbard in Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, p.56)

That quote used the term “Antichrist” to refer to this same person. 2 Thessalonians is the only place where he is called “the man of lawlessness” or “the man of sin” but many other passages talk about this same person – in Daniel, in John’s letters, in Revelation, in particular. It is John who refers to this person as “Antichrist”. Same person; different titles.

v.10 also says that he will use all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing.

  1. Many people will be fooled by the miracles and the claim to be God. (vv.10-12)

They will perish because, as we saw last week, they refused to love the truth, instead delighting in wickedness.

  1. Jesus will return. (v.3, 8)
  2. The Antichrist (the man of lawlessness) will be overthrown by the breath of Jesus’ mouth and destroyed by the splendour of His coming. (v.8)

This evil imposter will have his day of glory, leading many astray but then he will be utterly destroyed. He is no god. He is only an arrogant opponent of God. When the real Son of God comes on the clouds accompanied by all His angels, this man of lawlessness will be overthrown and destroyed. In v.3, Paul had talked about him being doomed to destruction.

Why is all this important? Why did Paul include this in his discipling 101 course? And should we? Do young Christians in our age also need to know about this?

In a crazy, up-side-down, confusing world, like the Thessalonians’ and like ours, there are two reasons why all Christians need to know this?

Firstly, we need to be forewarned.

When this happens, many people are going to be deceived. Jesus once said, “…false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See I have told you ahead of time.” (Mt 24:24-26) He was talking about multiple false messiahs and false prophets, not this one antichrist but if they could deceive even the elect – even God’s chosen people – how much more powerful will be the deception of the antichrist? Even Christians will be in danger of being deceived.

If you doubt that, ask yourself if you are ever tempted by evil – and ever give in to temptation – now. Sometimes I love wickedness more than I love the truth. If I can fail now, when the power of lawlessness is being held back, how can I possibly be confident that I will be strong when evil is at its peak?

One safeguard is to be forewarned so that when it happens I recognise it. Jesus’ comment “See, I have told you ahead of time” seems to suggest, “You have been warned. Be alert; be watchful.” I don’t know when this is going to happen but if it was in your lifetime would you recognise it and stand firm?

But we also need to note what Paul said next. People will perish because they choose sin, but… See how v.13 starts with “but”. There is a contrast. People will perish but… we give thanks because God loves you and has chosen you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. They had believed the gospel; they had been born again by the power of God. God had redeemed them and called them so that they might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God’s plan was that they be saved but they had to stand firm and hold fast to the truth and God would encourage them and strengthen them. Christians do need to be alert and do need to stand firm but we are not on our own and we will not be buffeted by forces too great for us to withstand. God loves us. If we are Christians – and that is the crucial question – God has chosen us; God’s plan is that we be saved and we share in Christ’s glory. He will encourage our hearts and strengthen us in every good deed and word.

With this unleashing of evil there is bound to be persecution of Christians. Someone who declares himself to be God and demands worship is not going to tolerate Christians worshipping Jesus. Rampant evil is going to oppose good. It will be a tough time for Christians – the time the Bible calls the Tribulation – a time of suffering and testing. But God… But God loves us; He has called us to be part of His Kingdom; He will not abandon us; He will be our strength. And, if we persevere, we will be saved. Forewarned is forearmed. When Jesus talked about the end of the world, His message was invariably, be alert.

The second reason for teaching this is that Christians need to know that God wins. The Thessalonian Christians were already suffering and, one day, even worse is to come. It might look hopeless. Do we look at our crazy world and wonder where on earth it is heading, and why doesn’t God intervene and do something? How long, O Lord?

But we know the end of the story: God wins! The man of lawlessness swill be destroyed. Satan will be cast into the fire. Christians need to know that. It is worth holding on – it is worth suffering for a period – because God wins. And doesn’t it sound like a magnificent and dramatic victory. Jesus overcomes this man of lawlessness by the breath of His mouth and destroys him by the splendour of His coming. I am not quite sure what it means to say that Jesus overcomes him by the breath of His mouth. Maybe it means that Jesus just has to speak. This man of great satanic power is defeated by a word from Jesus. In Revelation 1:16, Jesus is described as having a 2-edged sword coming out of His mouth. I don’t know.

There are things in this passage that are difficult. What is holding the power of evil back currently. I have assumed it is God but we are not told that. Paul said that the Thessalonians already knew so, unfortunately, we are not told. If this man of lawlessness is going to set himself up in God’s temple, where is that temple? Is there going to be a new temple built in Jerusalem or does it actually mean the church? Might he be a church leader? Will he be an actual individual man? I don’t know.

But we do know that a time of rebellion is coming and we need to stand firm. And we do know that Jesus will return victorious and His people, who stay faithful, will be saved. That is why it needs to be taught to new Christians.

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30.7.17 – Love The Truth – Peter Cheyne

2 Thessalonians 2

What is the main issue in this chapter?

Jesus’ Second Coming is pretty exciting. What will happen at the end of the world? Who is this “man of lawlessness” who does signs and wonders and deceives people to worship him instead of God? Is he in the world now? How soon will these things happen?

But I want to suggest that that is not the main issue. It was the issue confusing the Thessalonians and it needed to be address. It is a very important issue. So we will look at it next week.

But the main issue here is truth. Some people were saying that Jesus had already returned. That was confusing because the Thessalonians hadn’t been gathered to Him; the Kingdom hadn’t come in its fullness. Had they missed out? Were they not really Christians? Had Paul’s teaching been wrong? How do you be Christians in a crazy world where there is conflicting and confusing teaching?

But it could have been another issue. There were all sorts of other false teachings circulating. The Galatians had been persuaded that salvation wasn’t by faith in Jesus but by obeying the Law. The Corinthians were being told that Jesus hadn’t been raised from the dead. Some people in Rome believed Christians could keep on sinning. The more sin the better, because you received more of God’s grace.

It is no different today. Look at the ideas promoted via social media, the internet, television, podcasts, etc.

To see the main concern of this chapter, look at the words and concepts repeated numerous times. “Truth” is mentioned in verses 10,12 and 13. Lying and deception are mentioned in verses 3, 9, 10 and 11. Verse 2 talks about “teaching allegedly from us… asserting that the day of the Lord has already come”. False teaching, not from Paul. Verse 15 talks about holding fast to the teachings that had come from Paul.

We are told we live in a post-modern world where there is no truth. Actually, I am not sure if we still do. Now people are reacting against alternative facts and fake news and people object to things that are demonstrably wrong. People are demanding truth. Maybe we do believe in truth again.

You might be thinking Donald Trump but think also Metiria Turei. Is it wrong to gain financial advantage by deception or do the circumstances justify it? Is it absolute or is it relative?

Post-modernism says there are no absolute truths. What is true for you might not be true for me. It is all relative. “Absolute” means it is true no matter what. It is always true. “Relative” means that it changes depending on the circumstances. What was true yesterday might not be true today. What is true in Dunedin might not be true in Mosgiel. It all depends. People might say, “Don’t claim to tell me the truth because I have a different truth.”

Which is true? Are there absolute truths or are there not?

As many people have pointed out, post-modernism contradicts itself. Post-modernism says, “There is no truth”. Is that true? If it is true that there is no truth, the statement is not true.

Paul would have laughed (or cried) at the idea that there is no truth. The whole passage is about truth and lies; truth and deception, false teaching versus the truth.

How important is truth? Look at the three verses that explicitly mention truth.

2 Thess 2:10        …They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.

2 Thess 2:12        …all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness

2 Thess 2:13        …God chose you… to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and through belief in the truth.

Our salvation, or our damnation, depend on what we do with the truth.

Verse 10 talks about loving the truth. Verse 12 and 13 talk about believing the truth. Verse 15 talks about holding fast to the teachings.

I guess we understand believing and holding fast to the truth but loving the truth is an interesting expression. Verse 10 is very strong: They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.

Do you love the truth? Here perhaps are some indicators that you do love the truth

  1. You love the word of God. You are drawn to reading it and studying it.
  2. You love comparing what God says with the attitudes of the world and you opt for what God says
  3. You love sorting out fact from fiction because you value facts.
  4. If you discover you are wrong, you change your views because truth is important.
  5. You stand up to defend the truth even if there is a cost for you. You cannot stand lies.
  6. You don’t flirt with all sorts of intriguing ideas that are contrary to the word of God.

Those who will perish refuse to love the truth (v.10). It is not that they don’t have enough information or the wrong information. They know what the truth is, but they refuse to love it. They don’t want to.

Many people who say they don’t believe in God, don’t want to believe in God because to admit that would mean they have to turn away from their sin, and they don’t want to. It is not that they cannot believe; it is that they will not. The choice is not truth versus error. It is truth versus sin.

John 3:19-20       19 This is the verdict: light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.

I’ve been listening to the Black Hands podcasts about the Bain murders and I have realised that, in my heart, I am hoping it shows that David is innocent. Why am I biased about that? I don’t know. Shouldn’t I simply want the truth to come out? Do I love the truth or do I have an agenda of my own?

When I read the Bible, do I read to learn truth from God or do I have an agenda of my own?

A rich young ruler came to Jesus asking what he had to do to enter the Kingdom of God (Mt 19, Mk 10, Lk 18). Jesus told Him: keep the commandments. He said, “I have”. Then Jesus said, “Sell all your possessions and give the proceeds to the poor.” I am assuming Jesus knows about how people can enter the Kingdom and His answer was tailor-made truth for that man. The truth was that he had made a god of his wealth. Unfortunately, his love for his money was greater than his love for the truth Jesus spoke. He asked but then he didn’t want to know.

I’ve noticed in Bible studies sometimes that people will say they don’t like certain biblical teachings. What we like is not the point. We do not get to choose what is true and what is not.

I watched a Youtube video the other day asking if it was biblical to say that God loves everybody unconditionally. That is said so often: God loves everybody. God’s love is unconditional. The answer, on the video, was no. Oh! We would like to believe that God does but what does the Bible say?

In 2 Thessalonians, Paul points out a terrible sequence. When people refuse to love the truth, God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie. If people decide they love sin more than the truth about God, God says, “OK, have it your way” and they become even more entrapped in the sin. If we turn away from the light, God makes the darkness even darker.

See this sequence?

  1. They love sin more than truth.
  2. God says, “OK”.
  3. Their situation gets worse; they get more entrapped in the falsehood.
  4. They are condemned.

Verse 12 again describes the contrast: instead of believing in the truth they delighted in wickedness. The distinction is not between truth and falsehood but between truth and wickedness. People have to choose between truth and sin.

But there is another side to this: The Thessalonians show that God saves those who do love the truth.

2 Thess 2:13-14   13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Look at the sequence there.

  1. God chose them
  2. God called them through the gospel
  3. They believed the truth of the gospel. Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again.
  4. The Holy Spirit works to sanctify them
  5. God’s purpose was that one day they would share the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Even there, there might be some things that cause us to say, “Um, I’m not sure I like that idea.” So, even this passage (even this sermon) become a test case. Do we love the truth even when the truth disturbs us?

I missed out 5 and 6 but they are perhaps the most important part of this passage. In this crazy world, what are we to do while we wait to share Jesus’ glory? 5. is up to us. 6. relies on God.

2 Thess 2:15        So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

5. Stand firm and hold fast to the truth.

Christians in a crazy world, stand firm. Do not give up. Do not give in to the pressures. Truth might be very unpopular but stand firm and hold fast to it. Do not go with the flow and adopt the ideas and philosophies of the world. Hold fast to the Bible. Stand firm; hold fast to the teachings.

Earlier, Paul had said, “Do not let anyone deceive you. Do not be unsettled or alarmed by this teaching.” Essentially, that is the same thing: stand firm, hold fast to the truth.

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

6. May God encourage and strengthen you.

May Jesus and God the Father, who saved us in the first place – assuming that we have been saved. If you have not yet got to step 3 and believed the truth of the gospel and trusted in Jesus as your Saviour, I urge you to do that. Love the truth that Jesus died for you. Love that more than your sin.

But, where that is the case, may Jesus and God the Father encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

That is my prayer for all of us.

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23.7.17 – How To Give Glory To God (And Receive It) – Peter Cheyne

Have you been tempted recently to think that the world might have gone mad? How is it that things like Brexit and Trump have happened? Whether they prove to be good or bad, part of the craziness is that they came out of the blue, against most predictions. How is it that there can be such crazy things happening as schools believing they should let boys and girls use the same toilets and changing rooms? What on earth is happening?

I put a link in the newsletter this week to a talk by an Australian paediatrician. One of the things he said was that he had to fight hard to get ethics approval to ask parents at what age their children started eating solids. He is a paediatrician; he cares for children but apparently, in our PC world, it might be offensive to ask parents, in his research, at what age their children started eating solids. And yet, he said, doctors prescribe hormone treatment to children and do gender–reassignment surgery on children and it does not require ethic approval! How can that be? Is there any rational sense in that at all?

And in this crazy context, it is becoming much harder, I believe, to stand up as a Christian. Christian views are more frequently mocked and dismissed and sometimes the reaction is vitriolic and nasty. This is a confusing and frightening world.

The Thessalonian Christians also lived in a crazy world. They were persecuted; there were strange ideas being taught that were confusing them. It must have been very confusing. So, this letter that Paul wrote to them is relevant to us. How can we be Christians in a crazy world?

Last week we looked at 2 Thessalonians 1 and noted that Paul affirmed the Thessalonians for two things: their faith was growing and they were loving one another more and more. There is not much that is more fundamental to Christian living than faith in God and love for one another and so Paul is saying, “Get the fundamentals right”. In a mixed up world, Christians need to refocus on those things that are most basic and most important. Don’t worry about all sort of other things; be a person who gets those fundamentals right. Be a person who trusts God and who loves others. More than that, focus on growing in those things. Be more and more a person of faith and more and more a person of love.

There was actually a third thing as well: perseverance. In a crazy world, it is important that we keep on keeping on. The harder it is, the more important it is to stay on course.

We also saw that in a crazy world, we need to hold onto the fact of God’s judgement. God is going to sort it out, and that means that it is crucial that we remain faithful Christians and do not get caught up in the craziness. There will be a judgement.

Today, I want to focus on the last two verses of the chapter.

2 Thess 1:11-12   11With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. 12 We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I have a question for you: what is the chief end of man?

You might recognise that as the first question from the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Before you answer it, I have another questions: what on earth does the question mean?

We might paraphrase it as “What is a person’s main purpose?” In other words, “Why do we exist?”

What is the answer the Westminster Catechism gives? To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

What is our primary purpose in life? Why do we exist? To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

Both parts of that are important but today I want to focus on glorifying God because that is what Paul says to the Thessalonians. To glorify God means to cause people to say that God is great. God is glorified as more and more people honour Him and praise Him. In other words, we give God glory when we live in such a way and talk in such a way that people think, “This God is something special.”

Most people live to try to attract glory to themselves, but Christians exist to bring God glory. A Christian’s desire is that God is loved and honoured and worshipped. We want to make God look good.

Do you think that, when people look at you, or listen to you, they have reason conclude that God is something special? Does your life bring God glory… because that is why you exist?

How might that happen? Maybe, if people can see a change in you, they will conclude that God must be good? If people knew you before you were a Christian and can see the difference Jesus has made, might they say, “This person is religious but it sure has made a difference.” Or if they can simply see you growing in faith more and more and loving others more, they might say, “Something powerful, and something good, is at work in that person’s life.” If you tell a story about an answered prayer, they might think, “Really? I wonder if God is real and does answer prayer?” When they see your priorities, might they question why you make the choices you do? What is it about this God you worship that causes you to put Him first in your life?

If we work our way backwards through verses 11 and 12, we see in v.12 that Paul says that the reason he prays constantly for these Christians is “so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you”. The ultimate purpose in all of this is that God be glorified in them.

It does also say so that they might be glorified. We will come back to that. For the moment, just stay with the idea of God being glorified in us.

So, look at what Paul prays for, because that is how God will receive glory. He prays for three things:

  • That God would make them worthy of His calling
  • That, by His power, He would bring to fruition their every desire for goodness
  • That, by His power, He would bring to fruition their every deed prompted by faith.

The first point, of course, is that Paul prays for them constantly. Christians in a crazy world need to be praying but, more specifically, older Christians need to be praying for younger Christians. Does it every worry you wondering how our young people are going to survive in this crazy world when there are so many temptations at their fingertips and so many pressure on them and so many strange and very unbiblical ideas bombarding them?

Of course, it is not the whole answer but it is an essential part of the answer, that we pray for them regularly. Yes, we can advise them; yes, we can try to guide them and help them be discerning but we are pretty powerless in the face of such huge forces. But, if God is at work in their lives, the effect will be greater. In each of these prayers it is God who makes the difference. May God make you worthy. May God, by His power, bring to fruition… It is all by the grace of God, as v.12 says. It is God who can really protect our young people from temptation and deliver them from evil. Regular prayer for them is crucial.

And, of course, it is not just young people chronologically but younger Christians who can be susceptible and need older Christians praying for them.

Might these be prayers that we could pray for ourselves and for other Christians in this crazy world?

“May God make you…” speaks of the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. It is a process that happens over time as God moulds and shapes us. The goal of the transformation is that they/we become worthy of our calling – worthy of being chosen by God.

That doesn’t mean that God will save us if we are worthy. Christians have already been saved and have become children of God. We already have worth – chosen by God. It is an amazing thing that God loves us and that Jesus died for us. May we be worthy of that.

Suppose a dirty, sickly orphan was rescued from poverty by a benefactor. That child is already of huge worth but, over time, he/she will be transformed to look like a natural child of that family. He/she would be cleaned up, dressed differently, taught new patterns of behaviour, come to love and honour the new parents. When people see the change in the child, they honour the benefactor. Likewise, for us. As the Holy Spirit transforms us, our lives become more and more worthy of God’s adopted children, and that will cause others to glorify this amazing God who has rescued and changed us.

The Thessalonians desired goodness – they want to be good, and they want to do good. They wanted to be better people. They wanted to do great things for God. Their faith prompted them to action. Paul prayed that those longings might be fulfilled. It takes the power of God to make it happen.

What is God calling you to do? Your faith in God prompts you to do what? For some it might be to become missionaries or to volunteer their time in their church or for some good cause. Some have started welfare projects in their community or have written Christian songs. Or whatever. There is a vast range of deeds that people of faith dream of, prompted by a nudge from God. Faith always does prompt deeds. Faith is always expressed in action. Paul here prays that God will bring those dreams to reality.

I wonder how many really good, God-prompted, dreams have never got off the ground because other people were not praying in support of those who had the vision. Paul didn’t want that happening in Thessalonica, so he prayed for the power of God to be at work as these Christians put their faith into action. In a crazy world, people of faith doing good by the power of God, have an impact, and God receives the glory. Our faith-prompted, good works glorify God.

Matthew 5:16      In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

1 Peter 2:12        Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

This again is about being Christians in a crazy world. What could we do in our community that would bring glory to God? What could we do, by the power of God, that even hardened pagans would say, “I cannot deny that God is doing good things through those people”? And, are we willing to pray together that God would bring these things to fruition? Are we, as a church, willing to get together and pray?

Finally, let us return to that, perhaps surprising, comment in v.12. Paul prayed that God would be glorified in us, but also that we might be glorified in Him. If God transforms us and we become worthy of our calling; if God, by His power, brings to fruition the dreams we have of being good people and doing good things, we also will receive glory. Irrespective of what the world says, God will rejoice is us. In God’s eyes, we are something special. As that orphan is changed, that brings glory to his/her new parents. They are seen to be very fine people. They have made a sacrifice. They have made a difference. In the same way, the goodness of God is visible when sinners are forgiven and redeemed. What a great God!

But also, the orphan receives a glory he/she did not have before. People say, “What a fine young man/woman.” They would never have said that before.

In a crazy world, we exist to bring glory to God. We do that as God works in us to transform us and through us, as we do the works He has called us to do. This crazy world might dismiss us and mock us. We might have no glory as far as the world is concerned but as God works in us and through us, we have value and significance in Jesus. One day we will be elevated and receive great glory.

We will come back to this in the next chapter because look at 2:14: He called you… that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. God’s plan is that you share in the glory of Jesus.

But that happens as God transforms us by the Holy Spirit and as God does good things through us. So let’s pray for those things.

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16.7.17 – Reasons For Rejoicing – Peter Cheyne

I have no really good reason for this except that I read 2 Thessalonians myself recently and I thought it was good stuff. So, I thought we might all look at 2 Thessalonians. Can I encourage you to have your Bibles open?

On his missionary journeys, Paul had visited Thessalonica, preached the gospel and some people had been converted. But, as usual, there was opposition. There was a riot and Paul was forced to leave town… which meant that these baby Christians were born into a context of persecution. Paul was really worried about them but, in fact, they proved faithful and the church flourished and Paul was delighted.

This is a letter full of love and appreciation. He does not have to chastise them or correct them but, being a disciple-maker, he, of course, does urge them on to greater things.

Picking up on Paul’s enthusiasm and encouragement, let’s look at the reasons for his rejoicing. Read 2 Thess 1. (Go to next slide, vv.3-4 again)

V.3: Paul said that he always gave thanks to God for them. Why? What were the characteristics of a church that delighted the apostle Paul?

v.3 – “because your faith is growing more and more… and the love you all have for one another is increasing.” Faith and love. Paul was happy – and, presumably, God was happy. Faith and love.

But faith and love were not simply present. They were both growing. It is their growth that delights him – and presumably God. It is not a static faith but a faith that is getting bigger and deeper and stronger. It was not simply the faith they had had when they were saved. It was a growing faith present in their daily lives. It was not that they loved one another but that they were loving each other more and more.

What do you think a growing faith would have looked like?

We get one clue in V.4. Paul skited about the Thessalonians. When he visited other churches, he told them about what was happening at Thessalonica. He was proud of them. Here were young Christians, experiencing persecution, but going on for Jesus. In these other churches, he boasted about the Thessalonians’ perseverance in the midst of persecution and trials.

There would be some Christians who would say that as your faith grows, you receive more and more of God’s blessings. God wants you to be healthy and wealthy; just have faith. But no, the faith that Paul told stories about was the faith of people suffering and enduring.

Why would you persevere when persevering bring suffering? Why not give up? Many people obviously have faced persecution and have given up. What is the difference between persevering and quitting?

The difference is faith. You persevere only if you trust God to keep His promises. Why endure suffering now? Only because you believe that God will do what He has said He will do. Only because you trust that if you suffer now, but remain faithful, God will be faithful and will give you future blessings – if not in this life then certainly in the next. Why not have peace and security now? Only because we trust God for peace and security in the future, if we remain faithful now.

You might remember that earlier this year there were several suicide bombings of Coptic Christian churches in Egypt and recently 28 Copts were gunned down while travelling by bus. In April, Amr Adeeb, perhaps the most prominent talk-back host in Egypt, was left speechless. Twelve seconds of silence is an awkward eternity on television. Amr Adeeb, leaned forward as he searched for a response.

“The Copts of Egypt … are made of … steel!” he finally uttered.

What caused that? He had just watched a colleague speak to a newly widowed woman in a simple house in Alexandria. The woman’s husband had been a guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral. On Palm Sunday, he had redirected a suicide bomber through the perimeter metal detector, where the terrorist detonated. That guard was probably the first to die in the blast but he saved the lives of dozens inside the church.

His widow, with her children by her side, had told the reporter, “I’m not angry at the one who did this. I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you. You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of.’”

Stunned, Adeeb stammered about Copts suffering atrocities over hundreds of years, but one thing, in particular, shocked him. “How great is this forgiveness you have!” his voice cracked. “If it were my father, I could never say this. But this is their faith and religious conviction.”

Millions marvelled with him across the airwaves of Egypt. [Christianity Today, April 20,2017]

Perseverance in the face of persecution is the aspect of faith mentioned here but I am sure that Paul was perhaps also excited about their use of their spiritual gifts – trusting God to use them supernaturally – about their sharing the gospel – trusting God to bring other people to faith, etc.

The second reason for rejoicing was their growing love for one another.

The descriptions we have of the life of the early church emphasise the degree of community and togetherness – the worshipping together, the eating together, the sharing of possessions so as to care for the poor, etc. There is a famous quote from the second century. It actually comes from a Christian priest, Tertullian, but he imagines a pagan saying, “Look, how these Christians love one another!” For onlookers, the love that Christians had for one another was just as stunning and mind-boggling as the forgiveness that the Egyptian Copts extend to their persecutors. The church showed what community and compassion and sacrifice were like. And, in Thessalonica, that love for one another was growing and growing. No wonder Paul was delighted.

What could we do; what could you do, that would mean that people look at this church and are stunned? Conversely, if our faith and love are growing, we can be sure that God is delighted with us.

Then we come to another reason for rejoicing – judgement! What? How can that be? Is it not interesting that, right at the beginning of this letter, in the midst of the thanksgiving and affirmation, Paul wrote six verses about judgement – and as a reason for rejoicing? That really does not fit with our modern thinking. We do not like talking about God judging. How can Paul rejoice in the fact that people will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord? Is he just ghoulish and vindictive and nasty? Or is there something else going on here?

The context is still the persecution. Is it fair and right that good, God-fearing people should suffer? No. So the reason to rejoice is that God is going to sort that out.

Look at the phrases Paul uses here. “God’s judgement is right (v.5).” There would be plenty of people today who would say it would be wrong for God to judge but that is not the biblical view. The biblical view is that judgement is right. When Paul knew that the Thessalonians are suffering unjustly for their faith, He also knew that to restore justice would be right. Sorting out injustice is just the right thing.

They will be counted worthy of the Kingdom of God (v.5). They were suffering; they were rejected and despised but when God sets things right, these faithful, sincere, godly people will be counted worthy of the Kingdom of God. That is the way it should be! That is great!

God is just (v.6). God will do what is absolutely right. There are all sorts of injustice now but a just God is going to act. That is something to rejoice in.

Now here’s the sticking point: God’s justice will mean that the unjust will be punished. Justice means we reap what we sow. Those who have troubled the Thessalonian Christians will be troubled by God (v.6). And the Thessalonians will receive relief (v.7). At the moment, their persecutors rejoiced and the Christians experienced turmoil but one day the situation would be reversed. The persecuted will receive relief and the persecutors will reap what they have sown.

We possibly struggle with the idea of God punishing anyone but Paul describes it as a great day. It is a day of great majesty and glory. Jesus will be revealed from heaven in blazing fire with His powerful angels (v.7). This is the day that God asserts Himself and justice is finally done. We pray “Your Kingdom come”. Here it is. God will reign and all those who have taken control and defied God and abused other people will be punished. Those who do not know God and those who do not obey the gospel will be punished. Those who reject God; those who don’t have a relationship with God because they have rejected the Saviour and rejected the gospel – the good news of God’s grace – experience the consequences of their choices.

Does God enjoy punishing people? Absolutely not! Let us be clear about this. The Bible says that God finds no pleasure in judging, that He wants no one to perish but everyone to come to repentance; that He wants everyone to be saved. But if people oppose God and dishonour God, God will win.

The consequences are severe. Again, Paul doesn’t pull any punches. V.9: they will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might. On the other hand, God will be glorified in His holy people and marvelled at among all those who have believed (v.10). God, who is currently rejected and ignored and mocked, will receive the glory that is rightfully His. What a great day! Hallowed be Your name. May You be honoured and glorified!

Paul says that these Thessalonian Christians will be amongst those who glorify God and marvel at Him, because they believed in Jesus. We see the past, the present and the future in these verses. The past is that they believed in Jesus. Because of that, they are currently being persecuted and suffering injustice but they are growing in faith and love. And the day will come when God will reign in His Kingdom; He will be glorified; and they will be in His presence.

Paul Windsor was once running some preacher training in Cambodia. In one session he was teaching them about the story of the Bible – the story the Bible tells from beginning to end. But it wasn’t going well. The Cambodians were not engaging with it at all. Paul and his team felt they were missing the mark. There was no response. They somehow were not reaching these people – until they got to the end of the story. When they talked about Jesus returning in victory and judging the whole world and establishing His Kingdom of justice and peace, the Cambodians started cheering and clapping and stamping their feet. If you think about their history, the knowledge that God would establish justice, was huge for them.

So, as Paul starts this letter with reasons for rejoicing, two reasons related to the Thessalonians – that they were growing in faith and loving one another more and more. And one reason related to God. Jesus will return. Jesus will judge what is wrong and will reign over His Kingdom, where His people will experience His glory.

Yes, God, You will receive glory. Yes, God, your suffering people will be vindicated. Yes, God, there will be no more injustice because You are just and Your judgement is right. Christians, rejoice when you se growing faith and growing love. And rejoice, God’s Kingdom is coming.

If there is a challenge here for us, we might ask “Is that true of us that our faith and our love for one another are growing? What would God have us do so that it might be more true of us?”

Secondly, of course, there is the challenge of judgement. Which group will we be in on that day? Have you, like the Thessalonians, put your faith in Jesus? Do you look forward to the coming of His Kingdom? Or, is judgement a frightening prospect for you?

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2.7.17 – It’s The Doers Who Are Blessed – Peter Cheyne

Read James 1:19-26

One morning Jeremiah got up and read his Bible, as he did, indeed, every morning.

James 1:19-21     My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry because our anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

He nodded and thought how wonderful and how profound the word of God is. “Imagine”, he thought to himself, “how the world would be if everybody was quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. God’s ways are exactly what this world needs.” He then said a little prayer. He had read his Bible; he had prayed. In his own mind, Jeremiah had done exactly what God asked of him. How wrong he was.

He then headed off to the bathroom. Looking in the mirror, he noticed how his hair was sticking out at all angles. There was sleep in his eyes, a day’s stubble on his chin and tomato sauce around his mouth from last night’s sausages and chips. What is more, he noticed that he still had his pyjamas on.

Jeremiah then turned away from the mirror and immediately forgot everything he had just seen. He had some breakfast, packed his lunch and headed for work on the train. He did notice that a lot of people looked at him, some with puzzled looks. Many glanced, looked away and smiled at one another, raising their eyebrows. So many did it that he began to get a little irked. By the end of the trip he was quite upset that people would be so rude and insensitive. Was there some conspiracy to make fun of him – something everyone knew about except him?

In his own mind, Jeremiah thought he was looking pretty sharp that morning. How wrong he was.

Walking through the foyer at work, the youngest recruit sidled up to him and said, out of the corner of his mouth, “My Jeremiah, you’ve got you pyjamas on.”

That was more than enough! Jeremiah snapped at him, “Get lost, you young twerp! What does someone your age know about pyjamas? Have more respect for your elders.”

He stormed to his desk but soon became aware of some sniffling. How could he work with that sort of noise? He looked up to see Jennifer with her head in her hands, her shoulders shaking and a pile of tissues on her desk. “Jennifer!” Jeremiah exploded, “What on earth are you doing? Stay at home if you can’t keep quiet. People here are trying to work.”

Jennifer’s sniffling turned to sobbing. She packed up her things and left the building.

All day Jeremiah noticed people talking about him but no one talked to him. He went home thoroughly miserable.

The next morning, he again read his Bible.

James 1:22          Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourself. Do what it says.

Jeremiah nodded. “Wow, God’s word is so relevant and true. Imagine if everybody did what God says.”

In his own mind, Jeremiah thought that he was quite religious. God frowned as He watched Jeremiah close his Bible. In fact, God wished they knew each other.

Meanwhile, that same day, in another house, Jemima got up and read her Bible.

James 1:19-21     My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry because our anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

She nodded and thought how wonderful and how profound the word of God is. She read her Bible notes and wrote a reflection in her journal. “Imagine”, she thought to herself, “the impact I might have on other people if I was like that – quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. God’s ways are exactly what I need.” She then said a little prayer. “Loving Father, please help me to be just like that – quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. In other words, dear Lord, please help me to relate to others like Jesus did.”

Jemima then headed off to the bathroom. Looking in the mirror, she noticed how her hair was sticking out at all angles. There was sleep in her eyes. There was no stubble on her chin, or tomato sauce around her mouth. She had taken care of that last night (the tomato sauce that is, not the stubble) when she had looked in the mirror. She did notice, though, that there were bags under her eyes from all the recent late nights. And, of course, she still had her pyjamas on.

And so, she set to work. She got dressed and she spent quite some time in the bathroom – as women are wont to do – making herself presentable, repeatedly checking things in the mirror.

On the train, a number of people glanced her way, then looked at each other with very approving expressions. It wasn’t as if she was a 20-something sex-bomb. Jemima just knew that she looked smart.

She didn’t dwell on it though. As she travelled, she pondered again her Bible reading: quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry. Listening should be the first response, she realised. God’s way was to not speak until you have listened. Quick to listen and slow to speak. And definitely be slow to get angry. Jemima noticed that it didn’t say, “Do not get angry”. “Maybe there are times to get angry,” she pondered, “just be slow to do that. Before I get angry, I must listen – listen well – and only then speak. In fact, if I listen and speak calmly, we might avoid anger”, she thought, remembering Proverbs 15:1: A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Walking through the foyer at work, the youngest recruit grinned at her. “Mrs Jemima, you look stunning – as always.”

“Why, thank you, Joanna. That is very kind.”

Jemima went to her desk but soon became aware of some sniffling. She stopped to listen. Someone was upset. She stood slightly to peer over the dividers and followed the direction of the noise. Her eyes fell on Jemma who sat with her head in her hands, her shoulders shaking and a pile of tissues on her desk.

Oh no, not Jemma! Jemima had always found Jemma difficult. For some reason, Jemma seemed to want to undermine her. Jemima saw her whispering to others and glancing her way sometimes and, at morning tea, there were often sarcastic remarks about Jemima. It had got under Jemima’s skin. She wanted to defend herself. A couple of times – OK, maybe more – she had bitten back with a less-than-positive comment. When Jemma made that comment about Jemima being mutton dressed up as lamb, Jemima had responded – just loud enough for everyone to hear – that that was better than dressing like a tart. There was a little bit of a running war between them. The feeling was always frosty.

Plus, Jemma always seemed to want to draw attention to herself. Was that the point of this public display of, presumably crocodile, tears? Jemima’s scepticism and distaste rose up in her.

But the Holy Spirit brought to mind this morning’s reading. “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” Jemima was glad that she had memorised it. What if she was obedient to God?

She walked quietly over to Jemma and put her hand on her shoulder. “What’s the trouble, Honey?”

Jemma was startled, looked up at her with wide eyes and then dissolved into sobs.

“How about we go to the staffroom and you can tell me about it – but only if you want to.”

In the staffroom, Jemma poured out a story about how she and her boy friend had both been high on pot and how they had fought and he had kicked her out. She had stayed last night with a friend but was afraid that, now, with no permanent accommodation, she might not be allowed to have her 5-year-old daughter to stay on the weekends.

Jemima had often felt angry about Jemma’s lifestyle and the impact it was having on wee Jessica. She was tempted to make a comment but she held her tongue. As Jemma kept talking, Jemima heard a tale of abuse and deprivation. “This poor kid,” she thought, “How can she possibly know how to be a mother when she hasn’t had a good mother of her own. How can she make good decisions about her lifestyle when no one has modelled it for her? How can she get out of her relationship when he controls her so much? And how can she save, when she has to pay off his never-ending debts?”

Jemima pulled Jemma to her and they both cried. When they had stopped, Jemima sat quietly for quite some time. Then she asked Jemma if she would like to come and live with her and her husband, Jonah.

Jemma went to sleep that night in a warm bed for the first time ever. Jemima went to sleep with a warm glow in her heart.

The next morning, she gently woke Jemma, as they had agreed. They read the Bible together and Jemima helped Jemma memorise the verse.

God smiled and said, just loud enough for Jemima to hear, “That’s my girl!”

READ James 1:19-27 again.

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25.6.17 – Jesus Gives Life – Peter Cheyne

This shorter reflection was part of a family service which had focused on the raising of Lazarus.

The raising of Lazarus shows Jesus’ power over death. It is an example of Jesus giving life.

Lazarus would die again. But on the basis of his faith in Jesus, we can assume that he would also have eternal life – the life made possible by Jesus resurrection and defeat of death. The prospect of eternal life is fantastic.

But what about now? Is life to be miserable now and fantastic later? Well, Jesus also promised an abundant life now. What does that look like?

John 10:10          The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

What is this life that Jesus gives – this full and abundant life? Are the Christians you know living this abundant life? Are you? How can we?

Satan messes up people’s lives. He promises much… “Life will be better if you do this. You will be happier if you do this. Why should you have to sacrifice? Enjoy yourself.” But the end result is always misery. He literally robs, kills and destroys – robs us of happiness, sometimes literally kills people, destroys lives and relationships.

Satan impoverishes our lives. But Jesus promised to enrich our lives with overflowing abundance.

Here’s a question: What does God make available to only Christians and to all Christians? It has to be only to Christians because this abundant life is found in Jesus. And it has to be available to all Christians because this is something Jesus promised. It cannot be for just some. What do you think?

We might think of abundance in terms of material wealth or of ease – floating lazily on the sea in a tropical island paradise.

But for some people becoming a Christian means persecution. Some have all their possessions taken from them as soon as they become Christians. Some are brutally treated and maybe killed. Does that mean that the very bravest of Christians do not receive God’s promises and only the affluent and comfortable do? How can we say that the life of the Syrian or Sudanese Christian is abundant? If people can lose everything they own and suffer beatings and humiliation, how is that abundant?

I think there are answers throughout the Bible but I realised a good place to start was the Beatitudes. There Jesus says, “Blessed (or happy) are those who…” and it is not the rich and famous. It is those who know their need, who are gentle, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who are merciful, who are pure in heart, who are peacemakers, who are persecuted. What are the blessings promised to them?

Jesus lists 8 blessings:

  1. the Kingdom of heaven.
    1. The greatest blessing, the greatest wealth we can possibly hope for is heaven – God’s perfect, blissful new creation. We don’t experience that just yet of course but we can have a certainty about it. The expectation we have is a life-changing blessing.
    1. Our circumstances might be excruciatingly painful but Jesus promises His people comfort. Even in the midst of turmoil, Christians rich and poor can know the peace that passes understanding. The person who has peace, knowing that he/she is loved, and cared for, by God, is rich.
  2. Inheriting the earth.
    1. That is a bit tricky and we don’t have time for a more careful look. Let’s just say that while it looks like the powerful rule the earth, Jesus is saying that the meek will inherit everything – will own all things.
  3. Will be filled.
    1. No lack, no emptiness, no longing, no regrets, full. It reminds me of David, in Psalm 23, saying, “My cup overflows. I have a superabundance of blessings.”
    1. God forgives. Mercy stands in contrast to judgement. The person who messes up but is forgiven by God is rich indeed.
  4. Seeing God.
    1. Wow! What a privilege to be in the presence of God Himself and to be welcomed there and loved there. There will be nothing to compare with seeing God. Would you rather have several billion dollars or see God? Who is richer?

God is so unbelievably awesome that to see Him will be the greatest experience.

  1. Being children of God.
    1. The God of all the universe – the God enthroned in heaven – says to the Christian, “You are my child. We are family. Oh I love you and I will protect you like a dad protects his children and I will give you good things just as a dad wants good things, and a bright future for his children.” The person who is a child of God is rich beyond measure.
  2. Great reward.

That list covers things like peace, hope confidence, being loved…

Can I quickly suggest a few more?

  1. The Holy Spirit.
    1. The Holy Spirit is God with us. God’s greatest gift, available to all Christians, is His presence.
  2. Significance, meaning, worth, purpose.
    1. What makes life worthwhile? People can pursue money or pleasure but, in the end, what will it amount to? The person who dies with the most toys still dies. Will God be impressed by fast cars or the number of romantic relationships?

But Jesus said, “I have chosen you to bear fruit that will last [for eternity.]” Now that gives life meaning. We can work for God and do things that will really have significance – eternal significance. If you lead another person to faith in Jesus, that is significant.

  1. The blessing of giving.
    1. Our first thought might be that an abundant life is about what we receive but Jesus said it is more blessed to give.
  2. The adventure of faith.
    1. I’m talking about living on the edge – actually trusting God for the things only He can do, and seeing Him do them. People who are obediently stepping out in faith see God. They see God at work. They see God’s power. They might also be killed for that faith but they die experiencing the reality of God. That person is rich.

It seems to me that those things are available only to Christians but they are available to all Christians. The Syrian or Sudanese Christian can know all of those things. Maybe they are more likely to than western Christians.

I say these things are “available” because not all Christians are living the abundant life. In fact, many Christians are living very boring lives. It is as we show mercy, as we make peace, when we are meek and poor in spirit, as we give and obey and bear fruit; it is as we serve that we experience the abundance Jesus gives.

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