† In Jesus Name †
The gift of peace is yours, from God the Father, through the Lord Jesus Christ!
The fires threaten….
Yet the Valley is safe…
With the great winds blowing the remaining ash into the air, you could smell the destruction a mile before you could see it. But even that was not enough to prepare one to see the devastation left behind by the recent Banning/Beaumont fires.
Over the years, I have seen many, and been in two great fires. But even those did not leave the landscape as barren as the mountains above the cities of Beaumont and Banning. Literally, even the ground was scorched, and scorched so bad, that the ground appeared as smooth as ice. Nothing was left standing in most places, and even the rocks were now burnt black, leaving me with a really eerie feeling, even after a month since the fires.
As I winded around the corners, stunned at this site, I wondered what was left of the campground that Kay and I are members of, in a valley not too far ahead. For its pristine oaks, and tall eucalyptus and other trees make it a special place. As as I rounded the corner, and looked down into Silent Valley, there greeted me an incredible range of green, from the dark pine and oak, to the lighter greens of the leafy trees of section D. What a relief, our special place was safe!
If that is how I felt, over a simple campground, how much more was the Apostle Paul filled with joy, when he received a report from his trusted Timothy, about the church in Thessalonika. The verses just prior to our epistle reading today, give us that information…that because of the persecution of the church, and the temptations of Satan, Paul had to send Timothy there, worried about how the church was doing. And Timothy returns, indicating that the church had survived the devastating attack that Satan had thrown against them, and Paul rejoices, as we see in the first line of our reading,
Another translation reds verse 9 this way, “9 How can we thank God enough for you, for all the joy we feel before our God on your account?”
Imagine the relief of Paul, who thought these dear people, among the first of the churches he planted, were history. I can see his concern, as he wondered who whose faith would survive, despite threats of martyrdom, and those whose faith would fail them.
Great joy, because they are standing firm
Thanksgiving – to give joy!
Their faith is secure… they trust in Christ
Instead, Paul is full of joy, because Timothy’s report was so good – Paul wonders how he can thank God enough. Not only is there relief, the news couldn’t be better! It would be like getting an audit from the IRS, and then learning they found that you overpaid your taxes by $9000! But this is so much more, for it is people Paul loves, it is people that have endured, it is his people that are, safe.
These friends, these people he was brought Christ’s love to, whom He saw begin their life in the faith, have survived the onset of Satan’s attacks. They stuck to Christ, and the promise that He had rescued them from their sin, and from eternal death. As a pastor, there is nothing that brings more joy, than seeing your people grow in their faith, to begin to understand how much they can trust in Christ. What a joy to see people realize that God is there with them, and to see them begin to realize how complete His peace is!
In today’s world, the attacks are perhaps more subtle, the persecution more veiled.. Satan loves to get us to fall into sin, and then make us think there is no more escape. He wants us to see Christianity as obligations, where we have to do something to earn God’s favor and mercy. Went to church this month – check! Looked at my Bible on the coffee table – check! Prayed that the CHP officer driving behind me is in a forgiving mood – check! that all proves I am a “good Christian” – right?
Not really! What the people in Thessalonika counted on, was not their works, but the works of Jesus! They counted on the relationship they had, with the God who was born and lain in a cradle, and then died on the cross – for them – for us. To know that He, who died, that our sins would not be counted against us, would sustain us.
And that they realized this, excited Paul, and brought him incredible joy!
But there is a desire still
To come and make up where they lack
But they are saved – aren’t they?
To increase in love for one another
That happens as a result of love for God
It is realizing that these people – so responded to the gospel, that they treasured their relationship with Jesus, so much, that drives Paul to want to return, and as he says – provide what is lacking to their faith.
That idea surprised me, at first. I mean, if the church survived the trials and temptations that concerned Paul, why does he need to return, and teach and equip them more? Isn’t there a point where we have “arrived”, in our faith? I mean, if we can survive the challenges that Thessalonika did, and cause the pastor great joy with that, isn’t that enough, that we do not lack anything, or need more instruction and equipping? Isn’t being saved enough?
No more than the wedding is about what being married is all about! No more than surviving a devastating fire, means that nothing will ever grow again in that place!
Because salvation is not the end, but the beginning of a fabulous relationship with God.
Paul’s return is about deepening that relationship – helping the church realize there, that their relationship with God, affects every part of one’s life. Not out of some burden, or out of some obligation, anymore than marriage is supposed to be about the woman cooking all the meals, and the man bringing home the paycheck.
We see that in what Paul expects to see, from his coming, and supplying what they lack. Look at verse 12,
2 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all
How many of us, easily abound in love for “all”? or just for each other? Where you can easily tell someone how much you really care for them, and where you can tell them the hard things, in love, to help them out.
How do we grow in loving each other? How do we learn to love the unlovable? How do we mature, so that we learn how to truly help each other? Sustaining each other in times of need, sharing in the joys, and supporting each other in times of tears? Ow can we learn to cherish each other, as true brothers and sisters in Christ, as the family of God?
Not by command, not by threat, for those things cause us to rebel more. To walk away from that which we need.
It is only through deepening our relationship with God, and drawing on His strength. On learning that His love, that calls us to the foot of the cross to hear him say that His death is so that we might live, we can begin to know what love really is.
How then, do we deepen that relationship with God? How do we grow in the knowledge of His love, for us? Is it even up to us, to achieve some form of Christ like Holiness?
Firm up, enfolds and supports
Blameless in Holiness
Our maturity my friends, our ability to love God, and our neighbors, comes from our relationship with God. Paul describes it this way,
“He may establish our hearts blameless in Holiness”…
Another great picture, as the word contains the idea of enfolding a support, in order to strengthen it. Putting cement around a steel beam, reinforcing it, add to its strength, but also protecting it. Or perhaps a better example, from my youth.
My dad loved to build stone walls on our property in Salem, New Hampshire. I don’t know how many bags of Portland cement, or trucks of sand we went through, but it was a lot. In the early days, we only had one wheelbarrow. It had a metal wheel, and long metal pipe for handles. A layer of concrete covered it’s shallow bucket, and in it my dad hand mixed a lot of the cement. I remember trying to pick up the wheelbarrow, and move it to help my dad, but boy, was that thing heavy. I probably toppled it a time or two trying. But I wanted to help my dad, and using the wheel barrow was an important job. One day, I scrunched up close to the bucket, thinking it would give me leverage and I lifted, and wow was it easy! The wheelbarrow, piled to overflowing with rocks, was so easy for me, a five or six year old to lift! I walked probably 75 feet with it, and could have walked a mile. When I put it down, my dad was standing behind me, with a big smile on his face! I did it, and he was proud of me, I thought.
Of course, he had snuck in behind me, and lifted the barrel with me. But that is how God works, guiding our lives, bearing the burden, should we allow Him to be part of that. He strengthens us constantly, and it is as we spend time in His word, that we understand the extent of His promises.
That is why reading and meditating on the Bible is so important, not that we do it from some urge to appease God, but that we may be sure of His love. Reading it we realize the depth of that love. We begin realize that God has always has kept his promises, and to understand how incredible those promises! We see how God has guided people in the past, and shown them His love. And to see the incredible things they did, trusting in Him! And we know, we are His people, just like they are.
The same goes for the Lord’s Supper, to look face to face with the love of God, to realize His sacrifice, that we would be Blameless and Holy. To realize that the creator of the universe invites us, to eat with Him, to share in His Body and Blood, as His holy people!
He has taken us, from lives that were burnt and barren, and given us new life, redeemed and restored by Jesus. We are the new life that sprouts up, and can feed on His word, and His sacrament, deepening our faith, our trust in Him.
Knowing the peace of God, which passes all understanding in Christ Jesus!