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To the Lord

Living out our faith together as a community of believers, we can find that there are different interpretations and beliefs on various issues. Some of these differences might be based on questions related to the scriptures, whereas other differences are related more to cultural contexts.

In Romans 14, Paul addresses some of these issues using examples such as eating meat or celebrating specific days.

Eating Meat

It is possible that Paul, when speaking of the issue of eating meat, itself not necessarily an issue from the perspective of either Jews or Gentiles except that which has been considered “unclean” for Jews, is speaking of the issues of meat that has been sacrificed in temples of Greek gods.

Here in Sicily, we can still see the temples that were built to offer sacrifices and worship the Greek gods such as Zeus, Juno, Hercules, and others. In fact, the picture for this post is the Temple of Concordia, one of the temples where these sacrifices had been done that had been standing in the southern part of Sicily near Agrigento for around 400-500 years by the time that Paul wrote the book of Romans. In that place, many different animals were slaughtered as a worship sacrifice to the particular Greek god for which the temple had been built and the mean was then available either for distribution or for sale.

Of course, this would have raised a question for a Christian who serves the One true God: Should I eat meat that has been sacrificed to another God?

Paul says here that each person should do it according to his own conscience and should be convinced that he is doing what is right. What is more, that person should not eat the meat if it will cause another person to stumble, meaning that it would scandalize their faith to see someone eat that meat because they believe the opposite.

That doesn’t mean that they are correct, necessarily, so they shouldn’t be allowed to preach or speak against the eating of that meat, but it does mean that we should act in love and keep our convictions between ourselves and God instead of forcing others to believe and act in the same way that we do when it is, instead, a secondary issue that isn’t worth causing problems over.

In this way, because we are not causing someone else to stumble in their faith and instead act in love and abstain from eating something that prevents them from entering or remaining in the Kingdom of God, we are acting as to the Lord.

Special Days

Paul uses another example in this chapter related to the question of celebrating specific days. This is actually an issue that we have run up against here in Sicily. Here, the Catholic church has had a strong influence for thousands of years and we have found that the Evangelical church has protested against practices of the Catholics.

An example of this is that the Catholic church has many different types of special days and someone that observes those special days is considered to be “faithful” to God through their observance. Here in Catania, for example, someone who participates in the Festival of Sant’Agata is considered to be part of the “faithful” to the adopted saint for the city.

I will say that, having gone to the Festival and seen what is happening, it seems to me to be idol worship. In fact, there is even an idol that is paraded throughout the streets of Catania, sponsored by the mother church of the city, specifically for the purpose of paying homage to Agatha.

I can, therefore, understand when the Evangelicals say that they don’t want to celebrate special days because they don’t want to follow the example of the Catholic church as they have experienced it here locally. However, we have found that this protest can also be taken to what we would consider to be an extreme position in that, even in the times of Christmas or Easter, the celebration or even remembrance of the time of year would not be mentioned in a time of worship in church, despite the fact that many people will then return home to celebrate the holidays there.

So, according to what Paul has said, to criticize the church for not celebrating specific days would be wrong. But to be considered wrong for celebrating Christmas or Easter as a remembrance of Christ’s birth or death and resurrection would also be wrong.

Instead, Paul says that the Christian life has nothing to do with any of these “religious” types of practices, but instead it is the life by the Spirit that makes all of the difference:

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.

Romans 14:17-18

Let us live in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit. May God guide us so that we please him, living to the Lord, not just live to please and impress others with what appears to be our righteousness through our religious practices.

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A debt of love

Paul says that we should not let any debt remain outstanding except our debt of love:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:8-10

What does that mean? A debt of love? How can we have a debt of love?

As I tried to show in my last post, God chose his people and even supplied to them the faith that they would be able to have to trust him and believe his promises.

What is the promise that God gave that we are trusting? It is the promise that Jesus’s blood is the payment for our sins. God sends Jesus – who is in fact the human representation of God himself – to take the wrath and punishment for our sins.

Jesus, in fact at the last supper, said that his blood, represented in that case by the wine in the cup that he handed to his disciples, is the blood of the covenant. This is the new covenant, the new agreement that God is making with his people. Those that put their faith in that blood will have their sins forgiven.

So God showed us an incredible love. He paid for our sins with the blood of Jesus, who was God himself. That is a love that humans cannot begin to understand. Even though we refused and rejected God, he still loved us. He still came for us. He paid for our sins. The holy God loved us enough to come for us.

In fact, this reminds me of another verse that I really like back from Romans 5. It says:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

So as God’s people, we have received his love, and we received it even though we were sinners. It wasn’t after we had decided to follow him. It wasn’t when we “cleaned ourselves up”. He sent Christ to die even while we were sinners. This is the demonstration of an incredible love from the only holy, righteous, and blameless God, showing love, mercy, and grace to his people that he has chosen.

So this is where our debt comes from. God showed us love even though we didn’t deserve it. He showed us love even though we had rejected him. He saved us even when we had no merit for ourselves to be saved.

Now, because we have received this great love, we must go on to do the same for others. We have received a great love from God, and now we must give love to others. We do not simply try to follow the law. That is much too simple. We follow God’s example to love others even when it is not merited. Even when I don’t feel like it. Even when the other person doesn’t deserve it. We love others because God loved us.

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God also gives faith

Paul had just finished his discussion in Romans 11 saying that the Gentiles had been grafted into the tree of faith. The tree in that case represents God’s people, so while it had started with the people of Israel, God then placed the Gentiles within the tree, although establishing them there as a graft into the tree following what had originally come through the nation of Israel, not rooted themselves as their own tree.

All of this is based on God’s gift of grace and mercy and that mercy is given based on his sovereign choice. Indeed, in Romans 9, Paul spends a lot of time and shares several examples to talk about how God chooses his people, even if to us it doesn’t seem “fair”. He gives the example of Isaac as Abraham’s child, even though Abraham already had Ishmael. He gives the example of Jacob and Esau, that God chose Jacob, the younger twin, instead of Esau the older. And then he also gives the example of Pharaoh, that God used him to show his power to the nations by destroying him.

So, God is choosing those who will be his people. He is selecting them, showing his intentions, even from a human timeline perspective, prior to the existence of those he has selected, such as in the case of Jacob.

Given this, we could then reason that we, as human beings, could accept God’s choice by faith, and there are many scriptures that suggest that this is how our relationship with God works. However, then this morning as I was reading Romans 12, I noticed this:

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

Romans 12:3

I’ve always liked this verse a lot because I like that Paul calls us to humility. We should understand and live under God’s grace and mercy, not living as if we have earned God’s favor and he owes us and should allow us to have eternal life. But instead, we should live under the knowledge that God has given us grace, and grace is unmerited, undeserved.

Still, we could then say that we accept his grace and mercy by faith, but here we see something different. Instead of our faith, we see that there is a source of our faith.

Note that I say source of our faith, not the object of our faith.

Here, Paul says “in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”

Hmm… That’s different than what I thought. So, my faith is placed in Christ’s sacrifice as a payment for my sin, and it is placed in Christ’s resurrection that I will live eternally, just as he will live forever. As a follower of Christ, I also follow him in his death and resurrection.

However, the source of my faith, the reason that I have faith in the first place to place in Jesus’s death and resurrection is because God has distributed it to me. I am not the source of my own faith, but instead God is the source of the faith that I have in Christ. He has given this faith to me and I am the conduit through which the faith flows back to Christ.

So, this makes God’s choice completely sovereign. It is his choice, not mine, so I have nothing that I can brag about, and as this verse says, certainly nothing that I should think of myself more highly than I ought. Instead, God has done all of the work of salvation and, for those who believe, is also the author and source of our faith in that salvation.

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Our Own Righteousness

Paul has been talking about his own people, the Jews, as he discusses the fact that the Jews have been cut off from God’s favor, his mercy and grace, as a result of their disobedience. In Romans 10, he talks about the fact that the Jews are zealous for God, but they didn’t understand who God is, nor what he was saying to them. Their understanding wasn’t based on what God had said about them, but what they had said about God.

Specifically, here is his statement:

For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.

Romans 10:2-3

My experience with Muslims

Very frequently, I find this to be the case with the Muslims that we work with. At least in the times that I sit and talk with them, they have little understanding of the history of their own faith. For example, they will frequently speak of Adam, of Abraham, or Moses, but they have never read or understood the actual stories of these people. They will say that they have heard the stories from the Qur’an, which they say is the same as that of the Torah – although it is not at all! – and so they think that they understand.

The Qur’an, meanwhile, points adherents of Islam back to the Torah and the Injeel to “gain wisdom”, but few ever do. So they remain ignorant of the truth of the story, a story that, if they understood, could radically change the course of their lives!

So, I find that this statement from Paul seems to ring true to me in my experience of working with Muslims. They might be zealous for God, but their zealousness is not based on knowledge. For most of the people that I have worked with, if they had knowledge, of what God has said, they should have been led to a different conclusion than what they have come to up to now.

In fact, instead, Paul goes on to say that because they didn’t know the righeousness of God, they go on to invent their own. Many of the Muslims that I have worked with have explained to me how God will judge people. They talk about an angel standing on our shoulders and a demon standing on the other shoulder beckoning each of us to either do something good or to do something bad. Then on the judgment day, they have told me that God will count up the good deeds or the sins (the “mistakes”, as they have said) and this will be the basis for determination upon which God will make his judgment to allow them into paradise or not.

But as Paul says above, they are establishing their own sense of righteousness, their own sense of what it means to be righteous. Instead of listening to what God says about who he is and the definition of righteousness according to him, my Muslim friends are instead inventing their own.

And us?

But are we, as a people, any better? Don’t we establish our own sense of righteousness as well? Aren’t we also acting without knowledge? Are we not also acting in ignorance?

Yes, we do this by determining our standing in our society based on our relative goodness as compared to other people. “I am a good person”, we might think. “I haven’t killed anyone or even seriously harmed anyone. I’m not like those other people.”

And that may be true, but we are establishing our own sense of righteousness in that case. We are speaking and acting not based on knowledge of what God has to say but instead based on what we have to say.

And this is, I believe, the core of the problem. We, as people, shape and mold God into our image. Instead of remembering that God has made us in our image, we make him into ours.

Instead of understanding what he has to say about our relationship with him, we instead choose to believe what we have to say about our relationship with him.

And so our understanding becomes flipped, completely 180 degrees off of what is true, and upside-down, because we hold ourselves up as the knowledgable ones. We determine that we know how our relationship with God works. We are prideful and say that we can determine how God will see us, when what we have missed all along is understanding what God has said about us.

So I believe that we need to continue to return back to the Word of God, to understand what God is saying about who we are, who he is, and how he desires to relate to us. If we do this, then we are no longer establishing our own righteousness, but instead we are living according to true righteousness, that which comes from God and not from ourselves. We will now live based on knowledge and any zeal that we have will be based on a true understanding of our relationship with him.

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Not Master, but Father

Last week, I met a Gambian man named Abba. We were out together playing cornhole and riding “crazy bikes”, an activity that we do from time to time in an effort to connect with people and share the Gospel with them.

I asked Abba what his name meant in his mother tongue language as we sat together and talked and he explained that it was like someone who did good for other people.

I thought that was interesting, so I asked him to explain it a little bit further.

He explained that it was like when someone was sick and you take them to the “Abba” and they use magic to heal them.

….

Hmm… How interesting it is that this same term can be used in such different ways. Here we have an Abba that, in the mouths of man, can be used to mean something that is the exact opposite of the way that it is used to address God in the Bible. It speaks of someone who does black magic, who performs spells, even creating a spiritual slavery, in an attempt to heal and hold sway over the people of that town or village.

On the other hand, the word Abba is used in Romans 8 in a very different way. Instead of a term for someone who creates fear and enslavement, it is a term that means “father” or “dad” and can be used even when we are speaking about, or to, God our Father.

Why is this term used in this way? Because God, as our Father or Daddy, makes us his children. We are not his servants or his slaves, but instead as followers of Christ and those who therefore have the Spirit of God within us, he treats us as his children. Here is what Paul said:

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs —heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Romans 8:14-17

As we can see from what Paul has written here, the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives makes all of the difference. We are not slaves, but instead we are God’s children. And because we are his children, we can cry out to him, “Abba, Father”! How amazing is it that we can cry out to God and he will hear us and respond. The God of the universe, the God that made everything wants to know us and hear from us as his children. Wonderful!

But wait, there is more… Paul goes on to say that if we are truly God’s children because of the Spirit that God has placed within us, we are also God’s heirs. In fact, we are co-heirs with Christ. Yes, we will suffer, but we will also be with Christ in his glory.

Thanks be to God for his wonderful grace and mercy to us. Through Jesus, we have a way to know God and we are so thankful for this because we can call our God our Father, we can call him Abba.

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The Righteousness of God

It is difficult to even begin to imagine the nature of the righteousness of God. God is perfect, holy, righteous in every way, but we as sinners don’t have a way to truly appreciate what that means. How is it possible that I could know what complete righteousness and perfection are? How can I even begin to understand holiness when all I have ever known is my sinful self that desires only those things that are for my own selfish advancement, my good. In fact, the way that I judge is through comparisons with other people who are also imperfect and sinful. I can’t really even begin to understand the righteousness of God.

A classic example of someone who comes to the realization of how sinful they actually are is in Isaiah as he had a vision of God in the temple. As he sees God, he says, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.”

Isaiah understands that, just because he has seen God in his holiness, he is doomed. Imperfection cannot stand with perfection. Otherwise, perfection no longer is perfect because it is accompanied by imperfection. That which is unclean cannot stay with what is clean. Otherwise, what is clean is no longer clean.

That is the situation with Isaiah, except that God sends one of the seraphs that has been declaring the holiness of God to Isaiah with a coal from the altar in his hand to touch Isaiah’s lips. The effect is that he is now made clean. God now makes Isaiah, a man of unclean lips, clean so that he can stand in the presence of God.

This is the message that Paul announces to both the Jews and the Gentiles: That God has made it possible for them to be considered to be clean, to be righteous, to be holy before Him. This is the Gospel that he has been declaring to people everywhere.

Writing to the church in Rome, Paul says this:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed —a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Romans 1:16-17

Paul is saying that God’s power has brought salvation to those who will believe, both to Jews and Gentiles.

Through faith, we can be made righteous. God reveals his righteousness, his holiness, and gives it to those that have faith that they receive it through Jesus Christ. God gives Jesus to us as a sacrifice to pay for our sins and we must live by faith, believing and not doubting that God has given us his righteousness. And when we do that, he will consider us righteous and we will continue to live within this virtuous cycle of faith.

Of course, this is not new. From the beginning of God establishing a people for himself on the earth through Abraham, righteousness was given by faith. We see this in Genesis 15 where God gives Abraham a promise that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Of course, Abraham at that time had no children, was an old man, and Sarah his wife was also past child-bearing age. Yet Abraham believed God and verse 15 says that God credited his belief, his faith, as righteouness. God made Abraham righteous before him. Through faith and believing God’s promises, Abraham will remain in relationship with God.

And so it is the same with us today. God has acted on our behalf, providing the perfect sacrifice as payment for our sins. He brought his wrath upon Jesus who took the punishment on our behalf, and through faith in believing what God has said, we are made righteous before God.

It is for this reason that Paul says that he is not ashamed of the Gospel. He is thankful that God has made this way to stand before him, and calls each of us to live a life of faith, believing in what God has done, so that we each can be declared righteous as we stand before him.

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Pray for us

Paul is signing off on the final paragraphs of his letter to the Thessalonians when he asks them to pray for he and his band of leaders who are leading the way in spreading the messsage of the Gospel. He asks for prayer in two separate areas:

First, he asks that the Thessalonians would pray that their message would be accepted quickly and that the messsage would be honored. Paul isn’t asking that they pray that he or his team would be honored. In fact, he even goes on to talk shortly after that they could have demanded payment for the work that they had been doing, but didn’t because they wanted to give the Thessalonians an example to follow.

So he isn’t saying that they should pray for he and his team’s well-being, nor that they would be honored where they are working. Instead, he is asking that they pray that the message of the Gospel would be honored and that it would spread quickly.

Paul is concerned that Jesus would receive honor and glory as a result of his work. He is pouring out his life on behalf of Jesus, working for what is eternal, not for what is temporal. Not for now, but forever. This is Paul’s concern.

He also asks them to pray that God would protect them from evil people. Where they are working, they are being persecuted by the Jews who are against the message of Jesus as the crucified Messiah, often just because they are jealous of the crowds that Paul and his team are drawing instead of them.

In addition, they are working in the midst of people who are worshiping the Greek gods, offering sacrifices in the temples and organizing their daily lives around the religious activities prescribed for the worship of these man-made, false gods. These activities create much of the culture of the area where Paul is working. In fact, he is writing this letter from Corinth on the peninsula of Achaia, the in heart of the Greek empire, very near Athens. Paul has gone into the heart of the people who are opposed to his message of Jesus and is being opposed at every turn, and so for this, he is asking the Thessalonians to pray that God will deliver them from evil people so that their message can move forward.

As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith.

2 Thessalonians 3:1-2

In the same way, we should also be working, taking the message into the midst of the people who do not know it.

We need to rely on God’s help for the spread of that message and for his protection and deliverance from people who oppose it.

And we need to ask others to stand with us as we do these things. Those that are working in the areas where they are living, those who are faithful and are showing themselves to faithfully continue to make Jesus known in both actions and in words, in these people we should confide our needs and our prayers, asking each other to call out to God for help.

God, I pray that you will raise up a community of people that are faithful to who you are and what you have called us to do. I pray that this community will not only do what they have been called to do, but will hold one another up in prayer and cheer each other on in Christ. Thank you, Father for what you have done, and I pray for more and more of your work in our lives and in the lives of those around us each day!

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Refused to love the truth

On a daily basis, it seems, I speak with people who are either not interested in their spiritual life, or seem to be blinded by a religion that they follow only because it is the religion of their family or of the part of the world that they come from.

On the one hand, those that are not interested in their spiritual life are frequently concerned primarily about making money or demonstrating how popular they are, or how cool they are. Or maybe in talking about the women that they have been with… as if these are the important things in life that are worth spending time to talk about. In the midst of our conversations, they might even open TikTok and start flipping through videos there.

On the other hand, there are those that follow a particular religion because it is what they have learned since when they grew up, or because that is the religion of their country, or of the region where they are from. They actually know very little about it except for the religious actions or some basic practices, but to know why they are doing what they are doing? There are few that can speak to these things. Even to understand some basic historical facts and base their understanding of spiritual things on these facts? No. Instead, they prefer to either remain in the dark or believe a changed version of history in an effort to somehow support their own view of the world.

I was thinking about all of this today primarily because I read this in 2 Thessalonians:

They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.

2 Thessalonians 2:10

Each day, we plead with God that he will open their eyes and open their hearts to know Jesus so that they can come to him. So frequently, though, it seems that we are working in vain because of a seeming wall of mist and darkness that we must walk through in an attempt to get through to these people.

How can I begin to explain this wall? Paul seems to give some explanation of it in the next verse:

For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

2 Thessalonians 2:11

Clearly, Paul has been experiencing similar problems as he has proclaimed and explained the Gospel to the people of his day as well. He says that, because they have refused the truth, God himself gives the delusion to these people so that they will continue to believe the lie.

Honestly, that is difficult for me to reconcile. Doesn’t God want everyone to be saved? In other places, the scriptures say that as well. So, how can it be that God would give them this powerful delusion so that they will believe a lie if he wants them to be saved?

I think it has to do with the fact that the people want to believe the lie, that they find comfort in the lie. Whether it would be their comfort in the lie of their religious cultural background, or the lie that the things of this world such as money or fame can satisfy them, they prefer the lie to the truth that God is calling them into his kingdom, but that he is the king of their lives, not them. And so God gives them the delusion, essentially saying to these people: “You prefer the lie? OK, you can have the lie since that is what you want.” And so as we connect with these people, we find them surrounded by this “wall” of misty fog and darkness that traps them in those lies.

So I can only pray: God, you know the people that we are trying to reach with your truth. I pray that you will remove the veil, remove the darkness that surrounds them, and allow them to see you. Allow them to see what you have done for them through Jesus. Bring them to Jesus so that they may know you. Use all of the tools at your disposal so that these people will be saved. Lord, I’m begging you to move and to work here amongst those that you have put in our path. Do not allow your word to return void. It never will. But instead allow your Word to penetrate into each heart. I ask you this in the powerful name of Jesus!

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Peace and safety

Paul continues his writing to the Thessalonians about the last days. He gives them a warning saying that there are those will be calling for, and predicting, peace and safety for people around the world. And yet, that is precisely the point at which the end will come and destruction will fall upon them.

Paul’s prophetic words, of course, echo back to the time of Babylon’s coming to Israel and the overthrow of Jerusalem. In that time, the king and the priests were falsely prophesying a time of peace for Jerusalem when, in fact, Babylon was coming soon to destroy Jerusalem. It was a false prophecy and declaration of peace, standing in direct contrast and contradicting the true prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel:

“From the least to the greatest,
all are greedy for gain;
prophets and priests alike,
all practice deceit.
They dress the wound of my people
as though it were not serious.
‘Peace, peace,’ they say,
when there is no peace.

Jeremiah 6:13-14

In the same way, Paul says that, in the end times, there will be people who will be calling for “Peace and safety” for the people, when in fact, destruction is at the door. People will have been deliberately living against the ways of God, living contrary to whom he has called us to be, and storing up God’s wrath for themselves, all the while saying that we should expect and have peace. And yet, this is precisely the time that Jesus will come to bring judgement upon those who stand in opposition to him.

Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-3

As people, we are very easily dulled and lulled to sleep in the midst of our own daily lives. We become busy. We become engrossed in the things that we consider to be important, in our own worries and daily concerns…so much that we forget the broader context of what is going on around us…so much that it becomes easy for us to accept what our culture is telling us, its version of reality.

And yet, this is precisely when God’s judgment will come. When we least expect it, Jesus will return like a thief in the night. To most of us, it will seem sudden because we weren’t watching. We weren’t waiting. We were caught up in our own worries, our own concerns, our own daily lives. And so, just at the moment that we think we should be achieving peace and safety, God’s judgment will come, and no one will escape it.

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Encourage one another with these words

Paul is writing back to the church in Thessalonica and he reminds them of what has happened and what followers of Christ believe will happen next. He says:

For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

1 Thessalonians 4:14-17

I want to start by saying that I believe this. I believe that Jesus died and rose again. I believe that, as his follower, I will follow him in his death and resurrection. I also believe that Jesus is coming again to judge the people of the earth and to fulfill the establishment and rule of his kingdom here amongst his people.

At the same time, I am also cognizant of how this sounds to many people. In fact, on television shows you frequently see people who believe these things portrayed as kooks, as crazy lunatics who should simply be disregarded as simpleton idiots. So if that is how I am regarded, I suppose that is what it is and I can only continue forward living as I believe God has called me to live.

Yet I think that this naturalistic / materialistic perspective comes from the myopic view that imagines that we know everything there is to know already. That we understand the earth, that we understand the universe, its creation, how we arrived here, and where history is leading us.

And yet, none of that is true. We understand very little of our earth, we understand almost nothing of our universe and its creation. We have flimsy theories of evolution that, upon investigation, hedge into the realm of the ridiculous…and somehow we think we think that we know what we are talking about. But we don’t, and we won’t for centuries and many millenia to come, so I can’t feel too discouraged that we would be criticized for “crazy” ideas such as a God that created the earth and each of us, Jesus’s death, resurrection, and return, and much more. That criticism simply comes from those who have arrogantly proclaimed that they somehow know more than the rest of us, when in fact God has been explaining what we see around us and where we are going through his Word.

And so Paul finishes chapter 4 with this:

Therefore encourage one another with these words.

1 Thessalonians 4:18

We should be encouraged that there is a God who is much bigger than each of us. We should be encouraged that our lives aren’t intended to revolve around us. We should be encouraged, instead, that our lives are meant to give praise and worship to the one who created us, who saved us, and with whom we will live forever. May God receive this praise and worship from my life and may we all continue to be encouraged as we look forward to the day that Jesus will return!