Sunday Night Thoughts – June 25

This has been a great end to an interesting week. I could relate to the Psalmist David in some of his melancoly moments in the Psalms. Part of that changed as I read Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica. I was reminded that there is joy in serving others. That helped me greatly as I went about writing the sermon for the week and continued to serve the congregation here. Part of that melancoly feeling was that I had volunteered to head up our youth’s spaghetti supper last night. I was getting more nervious as Saturday approached. I owe a great deal of gratitude to several ladies who stepped in an were a great help. Thank you to Rhonda, Patty, Vicky, Dreama, Kathy, Gayle, and Lillie Ann. Let me apologize in advance for anyone I missed. Also thank you to Tony and Debbie who helped out in the kitchen during the supper. The youth did a great job and raised most of the remaining money they needed for youth camp this week. The rest was raised in this morning’s service. Thank you so much Preston Wesleyan for your investment in the Kingdom of God.

I wrote on Thursday, that I have tried to get out of youth work several times, but God brings me back to it. This week, I’m really beginning to feel like the youth pastor. Wednesday, I drove the van. Saturday, I (along with much help) headed up the spaghetti dinner and drove the van to pickup and drop-off teens and tomorrow I get to drive the van to youth camp. Not that I’m complaining, because this week I was reminded that Paul had every reason to complain but he served with joy. Actually, it’s been cool to be the “youth pastor.” I thank God that we are able to minister to all of the students in our church from the smallest to the biggest. We often say that they are the church of the future, but I’m convinced that they are also the church of today. I think that’s enough rambling and writing for one evening. God bless you all.

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A Unique Service of the Psalms

My friend Mark Wilson shared on his blog about a service of the Psalms that they did today. The entire service consisted of Psalms 1 to 72, sung, spoken, and prayed. The whole service consisted of scripture and scripture only. They are going to do the second half next week. Mark and his congregation along with other Wesleyans are reading through the Bible this year. We have quite a few at Preston Wesleyan who are reading through the Bible this year. By the end of this week we will be half way through. This marks the farthest I’ve ever made it through the Bible in one year. I have read through the New Testament as part of my New Testament Survey class at Indiana Wesleyan University. I’ve read through quite a few of the Psalms, but as of the end of this week, I will have read all of those as well. It has been exciting and interesting to read the adventures of God’s chosen people. It has been a great journey along with the rest of our church and I’m looking foward to the rest of the year.

Reflecting Christ

Imagine with me that God has called you to spread his word throughout the empire.. In fulfilling God’s call, you visit many different cities, even starting new churches in these cities. Imagine after being in a new city for three weeks, the local government starts trouble for you. In a matter of time, your, effectively kicked out of the city. You go to another city, and somehow the officials of the city you were first kicked out of, manage to get you kicked out of that city as well. This leaves two newly started church without a pastor.

This happened to Paul and Silas as they followed God’s call to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. The first church that I’m talking about is Thessalonica. Paul and Silas had started’ preaching in the synagogue about the Good News of Jesus the Messiah. This was a great place because they could use the foundation of the Old Testament (which many Jews who were attending would understand). In the process many Jews and even “God-fearing” Gentiles came to know Jesus Christ.

It’s not surprising that Paul and Silas’ quick success made the synagogue leadership jealous, so they began to stir up trouble for the two evangelists. As a result, Paul and Silas had to leave their new church plant and move on.

For the next few weeks we are going to take a look at the pastoral letter of Paul to the church at Thessalonica. This letter was written to a fledgling congregation who lost their pastor due to no fault of either party. As we take a look at the book of 1 Thessalonians, we want to take a look at Paul and his pastor’s heart for the church located there.

There is little disagreement on who wrote this letter. Paul’s known characteristics are apparent in this letter and few have ever disputed Paul’s authorship. It is usually agreed upon that this letter was written about AD 51. This is probably one of Paul’s earliest letters.

The city of Thessalonica was a seaport city and was an important communication and trade center. The population was around 200,000 and was the largest city in Macedonia and was the capital of the province. By looking at the book of Acts, we can determine that the church was largely Gentile in membership.

So what is the theme of 1 Thessalonians? There are various subjects covered in the letter, but the primary subject is (watch out, here comes one of those $5 words) eschatology (the doctrine of last things.) Each chapter of this book ends with a reference to the second coming or Christ or his second advent. We will take a deeper look at that when we get to chapter 4. 1st and 2nd Thessalonians together are considered to be the eschatological letters of Paul (or Paul’s letters of the doctrine of the end things.)

This morning we want to deal with the introduction and Paul’s opening prayer to the church in Thessalonica.

1 Paul, Silas, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace and peace to you.

2We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers.
3We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. 6You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia–your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us.

They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead — Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

This letter begins in the typical fashion of letters written in this time period. First, we see who the letter is from; Paul, Silas, and Timothy. Next, we see who it is written to and that is the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a distinguishing mark. It makes them different from all other assemblies that might be gathering in Thessalonica. It also tells us their true identity is found in Jesus Christ. Finally, the salutation contains a greeting; “Grace and peace to you.” This greeting combines the source of the blessing, grace – and that is God’s undeserved favor – with the result of that blessing and that is peace. This is more than an absence of conflict but wholeness.

Most of Paul’s letters start with a prayer of thanksgiving for those he is writing to and this letter is no exception. Paul wants the believers to know that he cares about them. Paul is often thought of as a pastor, missionary, church planter, and evangelist, but usually not thought of as a prayer warrior, but as we look at this passage we see that he is a strong and constant intercessor. The believers at Thessalonica are constantly on his mind. As we take a look at what Paul thanks God for in the lives of the believers here are three things; faith, love, and hope. These should be virtues that each and every believer should have. Why? They are God’s good gifts to us and they are habits of the heart that we should exercise.

Let’s take a few moments to break this down. 1) Faith works. Most of us know that faith is much more than intellectual, but neither is it blind. God wants us to use our intellect so that we can know him more. Faith is a total commitment to Christ which leads to action. Remember what James says, faith without works is dead. If we have faith in Christ but do nothing about it, we should be cut off to use Jesus’ illustration in John 15. 2) Love labors. The word labor is a strong one. Think of a woman who is giving birth. We call it labor because it is. It is hard work. I’ve never given birth and from what I’ve experienced (it’s nothing compared to the woman’s part) I never want to. The word labor implies painful, persistent effort. That describes a woman giving birth. I like what Warren Woolsey says, “So if faith works; love is prepared even to toil; it never wearies of serving those who are loved.” I like that. Paul is a great example of a pastor. We never catch Paul acting like Eyeore of Winnie the Pooh fame. Paul never says, “Oh poor me, I always get the worst of it.” Paul is actually energized by the work that he has to do for the ones he loves. Earlier this week, I was struggling to get started. Guess what helped me. Reading this passage and working on the sermon that you are hearing now. You are loved by God and you are loved by your pastor. As I started writing the words, I found new energy that I didn’t have before. That persistent labor of love is sustained by hope. So many times we think of hope as simply being optimism about the future. Hope is so much more than that. It has a solid foundation of confidence in God, based on what He has done through us in Christ.
It is this faith, love, and hope that inspired the believers in Thessalonica to persevere even in the midst of persecution. Look at verse 6, “You became imitators of us, and of the Lord; in spite of sever suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” We often forget that living the Christian life in early Roman Empire was a matter of life and death. Christianity survived in the midst of great persecution. What’s even more amazing is that they were able to have joy in the middle of the persecution. They were able to receive God’s word with joy in spite of their suffering. Tribulation was the normal Christian experience. Remember Jesus’ words in the Upper Room? “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

As I was reading the commentary for this passage, I came across this. “We have no detailed knowledge of what hardships the Thessalonians experienced, but certainly the forces that succeeded in getting rid of the missionary team would next focus on the local believers, who were probably in a vulnerable position. The only explanation for their continued joy, Paul affirms, is that this is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in their lives. It may be legitimate to raise the question, if tribulation is the context for normal Christian living, is it only a matter of time until we are back to ‘normality’? Or is our Christianity so diluted that it no longer threatens the existing state of affairs? Are we no longer dangerous?” Ouch! That hurts. Think about that for a moment. It’s interesting that throughout the course of Christian history, persecution has been the norm. During the 20th century, more Christians died for their faith than in the previous 19 centuries. It’s interesting that more and more people perceive Christianity as a threat. Just this week I read an article about how a movie with no sex, violence, or foul language received a PG rating. “Why?” you ask, because it mentions Christianity in a positive light. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Persecution is coming. I wish it weren’t. We need to pray for God’s grace to be overcomers, just as Jesus promised.

But what about the persecution, so what? How we behave when undergoing stress tells us a great deal about our character. Verse 7 says, “. . . so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia…” By being imitators of God, the word of the Good News spread. Remember that Thessalonica was a seaport and commercial center. It was at the beginning of the road to the Danube. Because of the witness of the Thessalonian believers, the word spread. It didn’t just spread to the region of Macedonia but became known everywhere. This is a great witness. This is a great model of what we should be. There witness is so strong that Paul and the missionary team don’t even have to elaborate on it. Those who have encountered the Thessalonian church tell of the great things God is doing there. What was happening? This little church plant that was suffering persecution had turned away from idols to serve the true and living God. What kind of idols do you have in your life this morning that you need to turn away from; work, sport, television, lust, food, drugs, alcohol, sex, or selfish ambition, money, power or fame? These all take away from the allegiance that we should have to God and God alone. These Christians not only turned, but also turned to serve God. What does serve mean? It means to perform the duties of a slave, serve, and obey. A great transformation happened in the life of these believers and everyone knew it. They had a fantastic witness.

One of the things about receiving Christ is that we are bought with a price. Paul writes about the work Christ does in us and tells us, “You are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you an heir.” So we have a wonderful inheritance waiting for us in heaven, but we can also experience that here and now, even in the midst of persecution. That is what gave the believers hope. That is why they “wait for his son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead-Jesus, who rescues us from God’s wrath.” There is coming a day when Jesus will come to take those who have placed their faith in him to heaven where we will have the inheritance of a lifetime. It will be ours for all eternity.

This morning I have two challenges:

Have you placed your faith in the living and true God? If not today could be your spiritual birthday. The inheritance is only available to those who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus. Do you want to do that today?

If you are a believer here, does your life reflect the Lord you serve? Have you completely turned away from the idols that can entangle you? This morning can be a new starting point for you as well. So that people can see your witness. It’s amazing that the Thessalonian believers didn’t go around telling people what God had done. The people knew simply by observing. Is your witness that strong? Is your faith completely grounded in Christ that you could face severe persecution as the Thessalonian believers did?

The altar is open for anyone this morning. Do you hear God calling you this morning? Are you willing to obey?

An Unexpected Blessing

Tonight, my wife and I had the opportunity to take our teens to a local rehab center. (I keep trying to get out of youth work, but it keeps coming back to me.) The teens made cards for some of the residents last week. As we were walking in, several of the residents asked if we were going to sing in the activity room. I told them we were coming to visit a lady from our church. The teens and I went to her room and sang several songs. I read some scripture and prayed with her and left. One of the nurses thanked us and said we sounded wonderful and it brought tears to her eyes. I had left my guitar out of the case, just in case we ran into the residents who were outside on the way out. As God would have it, the lady who asked if we were singing was coming in the building as we were leaving. I asked if we could sing her a song and she said yes. We started with Open the Eyes of My Heart and finished with Amazing Grace. It so happened that Open the Eyes was one of her daughter’s favorites (Her daughter was pushing her wheelchair.) Amazing Grace was mom’s favorite. You can’t go too wrong with Amazing Grace! While we were singing, some of the teens handed out homemade cards to the residents who were sitting around us.

As we left the building and climbed back into the church van, I left feeling as if we had changed the world this evening. I’m looking forward to taking our kid’s ministry next week. It was very cool!

Sunday Night Thoughts – June 18

No, I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth. Last week my family and I took a vacation to visit good friends. These are the friends that I wrote the silly song for that I wrote about last week. We had a great time visiting them. One of the spiritual gifts I know they have is the gift of hospitality. When they were at our house last fall, we consumed a great amount of calories. That was small potatoes compared to the amount of calories we consumed last week. My wife’s lifelong dream has been to go to Camp Lejeune. She wanted to be a Marine. We went to visit a chaplain friend of ours and ended up meeting not only him but another of our chaplain penpals as well as another chaplain. They did a great job of giving us the ten-dollar tour. It rained the first part of the week, but on Thursday, we finally got to go to the beach. This was my first time on a southern beach and it was great. Thank you for the great time.

As with all vacations, it was nice to get back home. I had to quickly gather and prepare for today’s services. I’m looking forward to life returning back to normal this week. Tomorrow, I’ll write about one of my favorite Old Testament stories. It’s one we’ve been reading this week in our journey through the Bible.

Where Are The Men?

You’re not just imagining it: Christianity is short on men. Here are the facts:

  • The typical U.S. Congregation draws an adult crowd that’s 61% female, 39% male. This gender gap shows up in all age categories.
  • On any given Sunday there are 13 million more adult women than men in America’s churches.
  • This Sunday almost 25 percent of married, churchgoing women will worship without their husbands.
  • Midweek activities often draw 70 to 80 percent female participants.
  • The majority of church employees are women (except for ordained clergy, who are overwhelmingly male).
  • As many as 90 percent of the boys who are being raised in church will abandon it by their 20th birthday. Many of these boys will never return.
  • More than 90 percent of American men believe in God, and five out of six call themselves Christians. But only two out of six attend church on a given Sunday. The average man accepts the reality of Jesus Christ, but fails to see any value in going to church.

It’s not just a lack of presence; most of the men who do attend our worship services just aren’t “getting it.” Every week the gospel bounces off their souls like bullets off Superman’s chest. Here are the facts:

  • A significant number of churchgoing men attend out of habit, unaffected by what they hear.
  • Quite a few men go to church simply to keep their wives/mothers/girlfriends happy.
  • The majority of men who attend church do nothing during the week to grow their faith.
  • Relatively few churches are able to establish or maintain a vibrant men’s ministry.

This gender gap is not just a U.S. phenomenon; churches around the world are short on men. No other major religion suffers such a large, chronic shortage of males. In the Islamic world men are publicly and unashamedly religious—often more so than women. Of the world’s great religions, only Christianity has a consistent, nagging shortage of male practitioners.

Jesus had no trouble captivating men. Fishermen dropped nets full of fish to follow Him, but today’s church can’t convince men to drop their TV remote controls for a couple of hours a week.

The big questions:

  • What is it about modern Christianity that is driving men away?
  • Jesus was a magnet to men, but our churches repel them. What’s changed?
  • Why do rival faiths inspire male allegiance, while ours breeds male indifference? (Source: www.churchformen.com/allmen.php)

So the question remains, where are the men? We want to take a look at that question this morning. From the statistics I just gave you, you’ll see that Preston Wesleyan is no different than the rest of Christian kingdom. How can we reverse the trend? How can we pull men into the Kingdom? Are men not called by God to be participators in the Kingdom? Let’s take a look at 2 Timothy 1:3-14.

3Timothy, I thank God for you. He is the God I serve with a clear conscience, just as my ancestors did. Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. 4I long to see you again, for I remember your tears as we parted. And I will be filled with joy when we are together again.
5I know that you sincerely trust the Lord, for you have the faith of your mother, Eunice, and your grandmother, Lois. 6This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. 7For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. 8So you must never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don’t be ashamed of me, either, even though I’m in prison for Christ. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the proclamation of the Good News.
9It is God who saved us and chose us to live a holy life. He did this not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan long before the world began–to show his love and kindness to us through Christ Jesus. 10And now he has made all of this plain to us by the coming of Christ Jesus, our Savior, who broke the power of death and showed us the way to everlasting life through the Good News. 11And God chose me to be a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of this Good News.
12And that is why I am suffering here in prison. But I am not ashamed of it, for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return.
13Hold on to the pattern of right teaching you learned from me. And remember to live in the faith and love that you have in Christ Jesus. 14With the help of the Holy Spirit who lives within us, carefully guard what has been entrusted to you.

Some of you are going to ask, what does this have to do with subject? This is part of a letter that the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy. Timothy was a young man of faith. Paul considered Timothy to be his son in the faith. Paul challenges Timothy in several areas. As your pastor, I want you know that as Paul prayed and thanked God for Timothy, I pray for the men of this church and thank God for you. I pray that the men of our church would want to get involved. I pray that we can be the church that men would want to get involved.
One of the things that we see in this passage is typical in Christianity today. We notice that Timothy received his godly heritage from his mother and grandmother. Here is another interesting statistic.
· If both your parents worshipped with you as a child, there is an eighty percent chance you will worship God as an adult.
· If only your mother worshiped regularly with you, there’s only a 30 percent chance that you will worship God as an adult.
· If only your father worshiped regularly with you, the percentage jumps back to 70 percent.
I don’t want to discount the tremendous responsibility mothers and grandmothers have in passing down a spiritual heritage, but it is so important that fathers and grandfathers pass it down as well. Timothy had a wonderful mother and grandmother who passed the faith along. Fathers have a tremendous impact on their children. That is why I have such a great concern about the lack of men in our church.

As I researched this I came across an author who wrote a book titled, Why Men Don’t Like Church. The summary of the book was interesting to read and we will take a look at some of the reasons men don’t like church. One of those reasons is found in verse 7. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. Many men think that they have to change and become a different kind of man to come to church. When our friend Gordon was here last fall he shared with us this statement about men and the church. They need a hero’s send-off. Christianity has emphasized the feminine virtues (patience, meekness, compassion, mercy, and gentleness). Gone are the challenges to do the tuff stuff like take up your cross and to storm the gates of hell.
Think about where you got your Christian training. Usually it was you mom or grandmother or some other “mom” type figure. Our earliest recollections of church include many feminine figures. Who was your first Sunday School teacher? How many men were ever your Sunday School teacher. Think about this, except for the pastor, how many men are involved in any sort of teaching ministry in the church, not just Preston but other churches you know? Sunday School, Youth, KICS, Wesleyan Kids for Missions, Vacation Bible School, Junior Church, Nursery…these are all ministries usually staffed by women. No wonder men think Christianity is for women and children.

The church is producing men with no “fight” in them…a suntanned lot whose primary moral achievement is to be “nice.” Where is the wildness of spirit seen in Jesus? The confrontation with religious leaders; the command of peace; where is courage, strength, boldness, sacrifice, and heroism. Challenge your men…Ministries should challenge men to wrestle with a lack of devotional life; battle temptation; overcome compromise; reach the lost and poor; and sacrifice themselves for the family…

As I think about this, men would prefer that church would be more like Tool Time (MORE POWER!) and less like Dr. Phil. The verse we looked at said that God has not given us a spirit of timidity or fear, but a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline. A church with more power is my kind of church.
Paul continues in his letter, 9It is God who saved us and chose us to live a holy life… this plan is not just for women, it is for men as well. One of the inspiring things that came from Gordon and Lasana’s visit to us was our men’s breakfast. Yesterday, we had a smaller than usual crowd, but the food was great as usual and the camaraderie around the table was great as well. This men’s breakfast was started after Gordon gave us some suggestions to build our men’s group. One of the important things for men is that they like less structure. Our breakfast lacks structure. There is no agenda except for prayer and eating. The conversation centers on whatever we come up for that day. This is a place were we can come and relax with other men. C. S. Lewis observed that men in England didn’t visit the pub regularly to drink, they want to be with other men. Men like to be with other men, not like women like to be with women, because men don’t have that herding mentality. Men are more vulnerable with each other. Stick a woman in with men and the atmosphere changes. I’m really not picking on the ladies today. Men are intimidated by women’s ability to articulate their faith and their knowledge of the Bible.
Several weeks ago, I came across an article by Keith Drury titled, “Do Women Sin.” In a class, Drury asked his students to name sins. The sins that came up were lust, anger, and others. When he took a longer look at the list, it appeared that the sins listed primarily belonged to men. There were both men and women in this class. It begged him to ask the question, what about women’s sins…what are they? One of the reasons men don’t like going to church is that they are intimidated by women, who appear to have their act more together. Think of how many times it appears the preacher is preaching to the men because the BIG sins are “men’s” sins. ARE women more spiritual, or do men struggle more than women? As we read the Bible this morning, it doesn’t appear that God is more concerned with women than with men, but in our churches it would appear so.
Let’s take a look at one more challenge from Paul to his son in the faith. 13Hold on to the pattern of right teaching you learned from me. And remember to live in the faith and love that you have in Christ Jesus. 14With the help of the Holy Spirit who lives within us, carefully guard what has been entrusted to you. This is great stuff. Another thing I learned while Gordon was here was… “Real men don’t eat ‘baloney.’” Men want the fellowship the church provides, but they want it without sounding churchy or artificial. Men don’t like religious jargon-they want things explained in terms they understand. Men are more earthy…they like to hear about real situations…Jesus did that when he spoke in parables. We can have all the right teaching we want, but if there’s no one to hear it or we can’t understand it, it doesn’t make any difference. I have received compliments from this assembly that my teaching is down to earth and practical. That is a good thing. I do that because Jesus taught in simple, earthy terms and the common people understood him.
Where are the men? What can we do to bring them in? Men appreciate time together (men with men). They also enjoy one on one time, like fishing and hunting trips. They want church to be practical. They prefer less structure and authenticity. I can’t disagree there. The church needs to be a place where we can find real people dealing with real problems in a real way. As we leave this morning, I want us to leave with an old hymn sung in a new way. It was introduced to me through Promise Keepers. It should be the prayer of our church and of the men in our church. Let’s make this an uplifting prayer for what God wants to do through the men of our church.