Summary: Tjo show how the Thessalonian Christians exhibited qualities of an encouraging church, emphasizing the need to be aggressively moving ahead in the building of the Kingdom.
Introduction: I want to begin with 3 stories this morning that each make the same basic point…
Story 1- In his book, Masterplanning, Bob Biehl visits behind the scenes at an Arizona circus with a man who trains animals for movies. He’s curious how a 10-ton elephant could be tethered to the same kind of stake that was used for a baby elephant of only 300 pounds. The trainer tells him. 'It’s easy. When they are babies, we stake them down. They try to tug away from the stake maybe 10,000 times before they realize that they can't possibly get away. At that point, their 'elephant memory' takes over and they remember for the rest of their lives that they can't get away from the stake.'
Biehl writes: "Humans are sometimes like elephants. When we are teenagers, some unthinking, insensitive, unwise person says, 'He's not very good at planning,' or 'She's not a leader,' or 'Their team will never make it,' and zap, we drive a mental stake into our minds. Often when we become mature adults, we are still held back by some inaccurate one sentence 'stake' put in our minds when we were young.
I want to suggest to you that these wonderful organisms we call “church congregations” can be much like those big circus elephants -- tied down by the stakes of the past, with powerful elephant memories - hindered from doing the great things the Lord knows they could; but never moving away from some of their unnecessary stakes driven long ago.
Then there are people and churches who move…just not in the right direction…
Story 2 - New Year's Day, 1929, Georgia Tech is playing UCLA in the Rose Bowl. In that game a young man named Roy Riegels recovers a fumble for UCLA. Picking up the loose ball, he loses his direction and runs 65 yards toward the wrong goal line. One of his teammates, Benny Lom, chases him down and tackles him just before he scores for the opposing team. Several plays later, the Bruins have to punt. Tech blocks the kick and scores a safety. It demoralizes the UCLA team. Riegels had made progress. He just made progress for the wrong team!
Not so in Thessalonica. Their progress in Christ was encouraging to Paul, and he was encouraging them in this letter we call I Thessalonians. We heard chapter 1 earlier. Paul was pleased. They’ve brought him all sorts of happiness because they’re a congregation, in spite of pressures, that’s moving ahead for the right reasons
Story 3 - John Claypool - The Future and Forgetting - years ago a thunderstorm blew through the southern KY farm where the Claypool family had lived for 6 generations. It blew over an old pear tree that had been there as long as anyone could remember. His grandfather was grieved to lose the tree – he’d climbed in it as a boy and eaten from it all his life…
A neighbor came by and said, "Doc, I'm really sorry to see your pear tree blown down."
My grandfather said, "I'm sorry too, it was a real part of my past."
The neighbor said, "What are you going to do?"
My grandfather paused for a long moment and then said, "I'm going to pick the fruit and burn what's left."
That's such a wise way of working with the past. We need to pick its fruit. We need to learn its lessons. Amnesia is a sickness, not an asset, but having learned what the past can teach us, we need to pick the fruit, burn what's left, and go on. We need to move on ahead.
These 3 stories remind us of the need to be progressive; to make progress, forgetting some of the past, and to move in the right direction. Understand when I use that word I’m not talking about a particular political philosophy that is being adopted and labeled by some today. I’m talking about being a Church that is making progress – moving forward.
The believers at Thessalonica were moving ahead.
Let’s talk for just a minute about the city of Thessalonica. Not much of the ancient city has been excavated, because most of it is located underneath the modern city of Greece called Thessaloniki. Thessalonica was a capital of Macedonia, a city of many false gods. It provided a connection between important land routes and a sea route at its harbor. It had a famous amphitheater, and a circus for public games. It also had what was probably the only Jewish synagogue of Macedonia. That’s where Paul and Silas preached on the 2nd missionary journey. It was in the agora, the marketplace, that jealous Jews rounded up a bunch of no-accounts and incited a riot against Paul and the other believers. Paul and Silas ended up making a getaway at night. So, a young church got underway, right in the middle of a hotspot, and it grew into a solid family of believers. In fact, the church of Thessalonica grew into a model that we can use this morning for the kind of church that moves ahead.