Bob's Sermon for Sunday, December 3, 2017

 

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 “Is your love in good condition?” 

 

2 Thessalonians 1:1-4 NIV

 

      (2 Thessalonians 1:1) “Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: (2) “Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (3) We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.

     (4) “Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.”

 

     When you think of a successful church, what comes to your mind? Do you imagine folks crowding happily into a huge cathedral? Folks packed into a state-of-the-art facility furnished with high-tech sound and visuals? Do you think of a welcoming church providing something for everyone? Do successful churches feature sportily-dressed ministers and talented musicians?

 

     It is crucial to ask whether God defines church success the same way we do. What makes the question important? We tend to measure success by the numbers of people involved and finances. For many us, mega churches signify success.

 

     There is some biblical basis for this. Acts 2 reports that 3,000 persons were added to the Jerusalem church on Pentecost Day. Acts 4 tell us that the number grew to 5,000. Those figures include numerous Jewish priests who believed that Jesus is the Messiah. After Acts 4, however, neither Luke nor any other NT writer gave numbers that I can find. Consider two other facts.

·         For the first century or two, there were no church buildings.

·         We do not know the size of any church group.

Reports on quantity ceased; insistence on quality churches increased. If you are fixing breakfast, would you rather have ten thousand eggs of questionable quality or 12 Grade AAs?

 

     Of seven churches addressed in the Book of Revelation, the Lord highly praised Smyrna, the poorest one. Laodicea, the wealthiest, he criticized most severely.[1]  

        

     Today’s text highlights the Lord’s requirements for quality. Not only that, our text describes characteristics the Lord want: “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.” Our loving God mercifully forgives all of us. On the cross, Jesus covered all our mistakes and failures. He showed us unlimited, absolute, love. Among the Thessalonians, faith in our gracious Creator kept increasing. Their love for one another continued to improve.

     Paul, Silas, and Timothy commended the quality and increase of their faith and love.  This Epistle’s writers wrote nothing about the church’s size. I find no numerical citations in the epistles. Researching the Bible for what pleases God confirms what 2 Thessalonians emphasizes. 1 Peter 1:17-22 supports what we have been mentioning in recent weeks: “Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially. . .”

·         Do not fret about society’s injustice.

·         Only God knows all hearts and minds and he will render true justice.

·         The primary task of all believers is to get their own hearts right with God.

·         He knows your heart’s secrets.

 

     The world’s ideas are consistently proved wrong; why do we keep joining the world in its attempt to correct injustice? Believers wait on God; they do not worry about what societal experts demand of others. Peter advised us to deeply respect God: “Live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. . .” Folks misguidedly worry about what the world thinks of them. We should however be reverently concerned about our appearance before God, the Cosmos Supreme Court judge. 

 

     The world changes and decays; nothing we construct or arrange here will last long. Trying to make it permanent makes us more edgy and uncertain. (18) “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, (19) but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect . . .” We cannot pay sufficient money, work hard enough, or long enough to add solidity or permanence to life. Because Jesus’ blood on the cross gives us something infinitely superior to existence here, we waste time trying. Jesus’ sacrifice covers the mistakes we make and gives us new life.  Jesus said that worrying will not add an hour to our lives either[2]. 

 

     Angry religious folks killed Jesus, but he returned from the dead with a changed body. It evidently looked outwardly the same. But Jesus appeared to the disciples behind locked doors, and he could appear wherever and whenever he wanted.[3] (21) “Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.”  

 

     In what or who is your faith based? Is your greatest hope in Christ? As we saw last week, salvation is two-sided. God predestined the possibility for all of us to be saved by Christ’s perfect life, his death on the cross, and his hell-shattering resurrection. God did something for us no one else could do.

 

     But He expects some things from all of us. He requires that we believe in Him, commit ourselves to his way, and that we act and think according to his plan by putting full confidence in Him. No one coasts into God’s kingdom. Peter emphasized that growth part. “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.” Note how we obtain purity. Our text makes it very clear; God demands that we obey him. People who teach that the Lord just comes and  smites us and saves us seem to miss this point.

 

     Let’s look now at the love God expects.

 

     Our love must be sincere. Peter used a compound word of the type that many folks associate with Paul. You are familiar with this Greek word. You know the word “hypocrite”; a person who pretends to be other than what he/she really is.

 

     I do not whether this happens to you, but it does to me. Nearly every time I make a judgment about someone else being a hypocrite, the Lord reminds me of something I have hidden. It sobers me. He shows me why I should not judge. The word Peter used is the Greek word from which the English “hypocrite” comes. It has a Greek letter “alpha” in front of it that negates the meaning. The English term “theist,” meaning “a believer” becomes atheist by putting an “a” in front of it.

        

     The same occurs in Greek. Peter’s word hypocrite has that Greek “a” in front of it.[4]

It means that our love for brothers and sisters in Christ should not be pretend, two-faced, false, fake, or not genuine. We love one another from the heart.

 

     Psycholog­ist Leo Buscaglia taught classes in love at the University of Southern California. He wrote several books in which he emphasized the paradox of giving in order to receive. You deny yourself in order to find fulfillment.[5] In his book, That’s What the Man Said, author Maxie Dunnam shared the following illustration of self-giving love works: “In Living, Loving and Learning, Buscaglia identifies one thing that he considers ‘volun­tarily mandatory’ and that is that ‘everybody do something for somebody else.’

 

     “When one of his students, Joel, asked ‘What's there to do?’- Buscaglia took him to a convalescent home not far from the USC campus. Inside were a lot of aged people lying around on beds in cotton gowns, just staring at the ceiling.“They walked into the hospital, and Joel said, ‘What'll I do here? I don't know anything about gerontology.’ And Buscaglia said, ‘Good. You see that lady over there? Go over and say hello. ‘That's all?’ ‘That's all.’

 

     “So Joel went over to the lady and said, ‘Hello.’ She looked at him suspiciously and then asked, ‘Are you a relative?’ Joel said, ‘No. ‘Good,’ she said, ‘sit down.’“ So he sat down and they started to talk. I'm going to use Buscaglia's words now, because I want you to hear them as he wrote them. “‘O, my goodness, the things she told him! . . . This woman had known so many wondrous things about life, about love, about pain, about suffering. Even about approaching death, with which she had to make some kind of peace.

 

      “‘But no one cared about listening! (Joel) started going once a week, and pretty soon that day began to be known as “Joel's day.”. . . And probably the greatest triumphant mo­ment in my educational career came one day when I walked out on campus and there was Joel, like the Pied Piper, with about thirty little old people following him, hobbling to a football game!”[6]

  

    That’s one example of how to increase our love for others. Let me tell you about another way: it centers on one evening that changed my life and Norma’s too. During my high school years, I did not think much about my future. I had no idea what I wanted to do in life.

 

     In one HS class they distributed brochures describing various trades and professions. I reviewed them all and found little that interested me—nothing that I could see doing the rest of my life. Toward the end of my junior year, Norma showed up at church one Sunday night. For many months, I still did not know how I wanted to make a living. But I knew that someday, I wanted her to marry me. She had other ideas, and you will have to ask her about that.

 

     For two years, I worked at the Bomber service station south of Portland. When I graduated from high school, I still had no plans and no vision of a career. Many of my friends decided to enroll in Portland State College. In order to “join the crowd,” I also enrolled intending to major in psychology. The professor who signed my card allowing me to enter his class was shocked to see that I incorrectly spelled psychology.    

 

     At that time, Norma was no closer to being serious about our relationship. In the meantime, a new preacher in the area thought I should consider ministry. That possibility occurred to me at about age twelve, but had hardly crossed my mind since.

 

     That preacher’s confidence stirred something in me. From them on, I have consistently and strongly felt: that’s what God wants me to do. After her graduation, Norma began work as a bookkeeper for a bank in downtown Portland.  During the spring of 1955, Norma finally consented to marry me.  I am not sure why she did.  

 

     I was a physical wreck and was wearing a full brace on my back. I had quit work at the Bomber. My 1946 Chevy was my only asset. With a little help from a mechanic friend who tightened the main bearings with his torque wrench, I overhauled the Chevy’s engine myself.   

 

     Norma and I did have a plan. The minister we befriended recommended that I attend a small Christian college and I planned to enroll. Our idea was that I would drive to Oklahoma, get a job, and enroll in school. Norma would remain in Portland with her parents and work at the bank. When we saved enough money, she would travel to Oklahoma and join me.    

    

      My sister Carol’s in-laws lived in Kansas. She had two daughters, eight and seven at the time who wanted to visit their grandparents in Kansas. I would take them with me. My sister and her in-laws would help with my gasoline expense.[7]

 

     On Sunday about the first of August, those were our intentions. The next morning I would leave, taking my nieces with me. Our minister friend had performed our ceremony about ten days before and we wanted to say goodbye to him. Norma and I attended a Sunday evening service at the church where he preached in East Portland.  Toward the close of the service, the minister called us forward, introduced us to the congregation, and told them our plans. He prayed with us and then said, “Norma and Bob will be standing at the door as you go out. If you can help them, put whatever you can in their pockets and pray for them.” 

 

     The church building was full that evening. Many people came by, shook our hands, wished us well, and stuffed money into our pockets. Old people, middle aged, even children. Until we got home and emptied our pockets, we had no idea how much we had received. It was then that we decided (we are deeply convinced that it was God’s will all the time) that Norma would go with me the next day to Oklahoma. That was one of the many powerful ways that God’s love working through his people changed our lives.

 

     We know that he is working through your love today, and we continually thank him for it. Norma and I are not unique. Each of you could tell your own story of how God’s love has operated through His people to encourage and strengthen you in your faith and demonstrate His guidance.

 

     “Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (3) We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.”

 

     God bless all of you who hear and read this message!

 


[1] See Revelation 2:8-11 & 3:14-22.  

[2] Matthew 6:27

[3] See John 20:10-31 & 21: 1-25.

[4] Greek grammar requires an “an.” before hypocrite here, but the effect is the same. It still negates the meaning of hypocrite, and creates the meaning, “sincere.”

[5] I became familiar with Buscaglia through the author, Maxie Dunnam.

[6] As quoted by Maxie Dunnam, That’s What the Man Said, pp 87,88 (Buscaglia. pp. 215-216) 

[7] Those two nieces are now loving, responsible women.  

 

 

Bob Blair

PO Box176

Cleghorn, IA 51014

 

 

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