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Encourage the faithful

I wasn’t going to jump on the “Thanksgiving Bandwagon” but the first verses of 1 Thessalonians are all about being thankful.

Paul is thankful for the believers in the church in Thessalonica.

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3).

He brings his thanksgiving to God in prayer and is thankful for three things:

Their work of faith – The church had suffered persecution while Paul was there and it doesn’t appear that it had gotten any better. Yet they continued with the teachings that Paul and his team had brought them. They didn’t give up in the face of persecution.

Their labor of love – In the following verses Paul commends them for their testimony which had spread throughout the area. As he and his team moved into new areas, they were welcomed because of what had happened in Thessalonica. A change had taken place and the news was spreading.

Their hope in Christ – Persecution, trials, death, and fear are issues which Paul addresses in the rest of the letter. Life had not gotten easier for the Thessalonians after they put their trust in Christ. But their continued hope was evidence of the change that had taken place. In spite of the difficulties that they were facing because of their turning from idols to the living God, they remained steadfast.

Two lessons for us:

  1. How do you measure up with the Thessalonians?
  2. Do you have some people in your life who are going through hard times but are remaining faithful to the truth? What about sending them a note and reminding them that you are thankful for them?
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Not my problem.

My job is to paint white lines on the side of the road. I paint white lines all day long. My boss pays me to paint white lines. I’ve got a special skill set for painting white lines. My title is “White Line Painter.”

Someone else takes care of road kill.

It’s not my problem.

While this is comical, sometimes we carry this attitude over into our interactions with others.

We don’t get involved in helping other Christians with dealing with sin in their lives. The alcoholic, the adulterer, the porn addict, the sluggard, the gossip, the slanderer, and many others don’t get the help that Christ can give them. Some of them may admit to sin, and even ask for help. Sometimes, we know that they are struggling from observation and conversation.

Yet they don’t have someone who comes alongside them to help them. There’s no one there who says, “No, that’s not the right thing to do.” No one picks them up when they’ve fallen again. No one encourages them in the many small successes that help them experience freedom.

We don’t want to get involved because it’s messy. It’s hard work to help someone get out of the habits that they’ve been giving in to for decades. A trained professional is needed, we reason. It might reveal some of our own struggles with sin that we’re not ready to give up. And we could make a long list of why we don’t bother.

Well, basically, because it’s not my problem.

James concludes his letter briefly addressing this issue:

19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

James points out the rewards of making someone else’s problems your problems: “whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

Don’t think of it as meddling. Don’t think of it as one more thing on your schedule.

Remind yourself that this friend who needs help, needs more help than just getting his life back on track. He is wandering away from God. His sinful choices have taken him away from God and the life that He has promised. His lifestyle is characterized by misery and pain, like approaching death.

He needs your help. It is your problem. Step in and step up to help.

 

I swear on a stack of Bibles!

I wonder where that practice started. Probably some Puritans or Anglicans thinking that if someone put their hand on the Bible, they were more likely to tell the truth.

And to make it even more intense, and hence even more likely that a person would tell the truth, the idiom “swear on a stack of Bibles” came about.

James refers to this in James 5:12 –

12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

Swearing on a stack of Bibles shouldn’t be necessary. Speak the truth all the time and there is no need to swear on anything – heaven, earth, or the Bible.

It reminds me of the little boy who cried wolf. He had lied so many times about the wolf attack, that when it really happened, no one believed him.

The same happens when you consistently lie. Eventually, no one believes you. It’s better to tell the truth all the time and not make people wonder if you’re telling the truth.

(For those of you concerned with separation of church and state, and the rest of you who should be concerned with the separation of church and state: Swearing on a Bible in court, or into an office is not required. It’s a tradition that may or may not be followed.)

Hold on, just a little bit longer

We like to move on to the next thing, especially when we are in the midst of trials. We want the cancer to go away. We want to find a job. We want the relationship to be restored.

James is writing to Christians who are suffering trials, probably due to their faith in Jesus. And it appears that they were getting anxious about how long those trials were going to last (James 1:2-4). They really are no different from us. We don’t want trials. We don’t want to be persecuted for our faith. And when it happens, we want it to get over quickly.

But as James wrote in chapter one, he encourages them to be patient:

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful (James 5:7-11).

Four times he writes about being patient and one time about being steadfast in these five verses.

Be patient and wait for the Lord’s return. It’s close, just wait. James wants them to have an anticipation about the glory of Christ’s return. They need to be reminded that the things of this earth are not permanent. There is hope just around the corner.

Interestingly, he calls them to be patient about complaining about other believers. Don’t grumble about them and risk being judged. The Judge is right around the corner. Let Him take care of it when He gets here. This is also a repeated theme from earlier in the letter: Let God take care of those whom you think have acted wrongly against you. He knows better and can do something about it.

Then James calls the readers to remember the steadfastness of the prophets, especially Job. The prophets of the Old Testament suffered greatly for preaching the truth, yet they continued. (Jeremiah preached for 50 years and not even his scribe believed what he said). Job was tested and came out successful, trusting God, even though he didn’t understand what God was doing.

While we may not be persecuted by our government for our faith, we often do face trials because we stand up for what is right. Confessing your sin may lead to a collapse of your dreams. Confronting someone else about their sins may cause a volcanic reaction that will destroy much. Sticking up for the truth is not always easy and there may be painful consequences.

But God, the righteous Judge, is just around the corner. Do the right thing.

Wealth is an interesting topic in a Christian context. Some would claim that wealth is a sign of God’s blessing. If you are doing what He wants you to do, God will bless you financially.

Others take the other extreme: the poor are blessed. Take a vow of poverty, join a monastery, and live a life of meager existence – and then God will bless you.

And the average Christian will look at someone else’s financial status and make a judgement call: “He’s wealthy, so he must be following some false teaching.” Or, “He’s wealthy, so God must be blessing him.” “If they would just live by Christian principles, they wouldn’t be poor.” “She’s living in poverty, so she must be extra-spiritual.”

The Bible has a lot to say about finances – more than it says about heaven and hell, actually.  (Check out this thorough study). This short blog is certainly not going to look at every passage, but a paragraph in James 5 needs to be considered:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten.Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you (James 5:1-6).

It seems that this passage is not condemning wealth, but the heart of the wealthy, specifically evidenced in how they accumulated their wealth.

The treasures that they have accumulated are rotting, and testifying against them. The financial gains were made at the cost of fraud – not paying their workers. And they have used their power to condemn and murder righteous people.

The warning is that God is aware of how they have made their financial gains. The laborers who were cheated have cried out to God. Judgement is coming and it’s coming soon.

God is not constrained by the laws of the land which the rich had used to cheat their workers. God is aware of the bank accounts and the attitudes of the rich, and He will not be swayed by a bribe.

The bottom line is not the bottom line in the checkbook. The passage goes deeper than that. How does your financial status reveal what’s going on in your heart? What have you done to accumulate wealth? (BTW: if you live in the United States, you’re wealthier than 99% of the world). How have you treated people? What laws have you bent to get that extra padding in your wallet?

God is not impressed by the amount of money you have, but what’s going on in your heart.

…and in conclusion

The last verse of James 4 doesn’t really need much explanation:

So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin (James 4:17).

You’re going to be held accountable for doing the things that you know you should be doing.

If you know what’s right, but choose not to do it, you’ve done wrong.

This is the shortest post I’ve written.

 

Life-goals. Career plans. To-do-lists.

Graduate. Marry. Have children. Work. Retire. Enjoy grandchildren. Die peacefully.

We tend to be obsessed with what’s going to happen next. Indeed, it reflects the image of God in us – the ability to reason, to plan, to make decisions.

But it can also be just the thing that takes us away from God. We have our plans. We’ve developed our strategy for success. We’re headed in the right direction.

And then, it happens. Or, perhaps it’s a coalescence of numerous events that throw us off our path to success. The certainty of life is that life is uncertain.

So how is a Christian to plan?

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil (James 4:13-16).

James writes that a Christian is to plan in submission to God’s sovereignty.

Those twists and turns that life brings, the certain uncertainties, are all under God’s control. And He does not tell us when those curveballs are headed our way.

Life is short – it’s like a vapor. But God’s plan is far greater than that fog that passes through.

So, we make a plan, step into the action steps, but realize that God may have a different plan. And since He’s bigger, better, smarter, and stronger than we are, we are better off when we submit to whatever He brings across our path to shake up our world!