Devotional – 1 Thessalonians 3.12

Devotional:

1 Thessalonians 3.12

And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.

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God loves to surprise us. We will be worried about a particular event in our lives when God will use a friend or family member to speak a word of hope that we need to hear. We will have anxiety over a relationship when God will speak through the words of scripture to remind us about what we are called to do. We will be afraid about a current event when God will use a pastor to proclaim bold words about the power of God’s grace and mercy. God loves to surprise us.

As I was preparing for worship last week I knew that I needed to make an announcement about the importance of inviting someone to discover God’s love at St. John’s. We have embraced this as a congregational goal for the year and I put little inserts in the bulletin that anyone could use to invite someone to church. But on Saturday afternoon, I did not know how I would share this endeavor with the church, short of holding up the insert and asking people to invite others. And then when I was walking the dog on Saturday night, she got out of her harness and bolted into the darkness.

I went home to grab the flashlight, hiking boots, and a fleece cap and went searching. I looked and looked all over the neighborhood, I got in the car and combed the surrounding blocks, and I called out her name with as much love as I could muster. When I finally found her behind a neighbor’s house I quickly grabbed her and (because I forgot the leash) I carried her all the way home.

God loves to surprise us. As I carried the dog in my arms I was struck by how God loves me the same way. God will never stop searching for me when I am lost, God will use others to redirect me to the right path, and God will always be ready to carry me home. When I finally got home and the dog nuzzled up next to me on the couch I realized that I had my illustration for inviting others to discover God’s love.

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Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica and prayed for the Lord to “make [them] increase and abound in love for one another and for all.” It is a good and right thing to grow the church because it allows us to bear fruit in the world and seek out the lost. If we believe the church has done some remarkable and transformative things in our lives then we should naturally want to share that gift with everyone around us.

This week, let us pray for God to give us the strength and courage to invite someone to discover the love of God in church. Let us seek out the lost and offer to bring them home. And let us increase and abound in love for one another and for all.

 

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Devotional – 1 Thessalonians 5.20-21

Devotional:

1 Thessalonians 5.20-21

Do not despise the words of the prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good. 

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“But that’s the way we’ve always done it.” This is perhaps one of the most common phrases used throughout regular church life. Whenever someone has a new idea or a suggestion, a vision for the future, or even just a simple dream, it is not uncommon for someone to say “But that’s the way we’ve always done it.” After all, the church has been doing some of the same things for centuries: we break bread with one another and partake in communion, we celebrate Advent and Easter, we pray the Lord’s Prayer together. However, one of the things that makes the church truly vibrant is our willingness to experiment, to test everything, and seek new ways to interact with God’s grace.

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There is a church outside of Durham, North Carolina that celebrates Christmas Eve in a local barn. While other Christians are sitting in the warmth of their sanctuaries, listening to the beautiful message of a baby being born into the world, this church stands together in the frigid cold, singing hymns through chattering teeth, while the stench of animals wafts throughout the barn. I can imagine the first time someone brought up the idea for barn-worship, only to be met with “but we’ve always had Christmas Eve in the sanctuary!” Somehow or another the vision became a reality and it is now integral to the life of the community. The barn-yard service has given a new dimension and depth to the Christmas message to people who had become numb to the repetitious practices of the past. Through the willingness of someone to test the system, to propose a radically new idea, the message of God’s love in Jesus Christ has been spread to a group of people who otherwise might’ve have missed the Good News.

There is a church in Virginia that has a bluegrass band come to the sanctuary to play their Christmas Eve music. After years of hearing the same hymns from the organ, the pastor proposed a new musical style to relight the flame of faith. Though some were enraged by this new idea, it brought in an entirely new set of people who previously saw the church as a lifeless congregation. The bluegrass service is now one of the most highly attended during the year primarily because of the new musical genre. Through the willingness of someone to test the system, to propose a radically new idea, the message of God’s love in Jesus Christ has been spread to a group of people who otherwise might’ve have missed the Good News.

Paul encouraged the church in Thessalonica to “test everything” by what was good for the people. If something in your life has become flat and lifeless, let it go and seek something new. The beauty of church comes from our willingness to experience God’s wonder in a myriad of different ways.

This advent season, I encourage you to “test” and explore your faith in vibrant ways. Seek out opportunities to catch a new glimpse of God’s glory from the people around you. And remember to hold fast to the good so that others might see the Good News through you.

Devotional – 1 Thessalonians 5.9-11

Devotional:

1 Thessalonians 5.9-11

For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing. 

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When I arrived at church yesterday morning I had a lot on my mind. We had a rough and busy week here at St. John’s and the events from the previous days were weighing heavily upon my heart. After having the funeral service and burial for Chris Harris on Monday afternoon, I was surprised to hear on Wednesday that her husband and now widower, George, was rushed to the hospital and passed away shortly thereafter. Moreover on Thursday I received a phone call informing me that Howard Cassidy had been placed on Hospice care, and by the time I got to his room next door, he too had passed away. Our church quickly became the location for a tremendous amount of heartache and grief, and I was tasked with entering into that suffering and proclaiming the hope of the resurrection.

While I stood in the pulpit yesterday morning, talking with the gathered people about the importance of telling the great story, Marshall Kirby stood up from his pew and walked to the front. The sanctuary became silent as all eyes were on Marshall as he made his way up into the pulpit and wrapped his big arms around me in a hug. In the midst of our embrace Marshall said, “You do a great job telling the story for those who have died, and we are praying for you.” Up until that moment I had neglected to realize how much the recent funerals had taken a toll on me, and how badly I needed to be encouraged by the church through Marshall’s hug and words.

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Therefore, readers of this devotional, I task you with the same responsibility that Marshall exemplified yesterday in worship. The gathered body of Christ is tasked with encouraging one another and building up each other for the betterment of the community. Whether you know it or not there are people in your lives who are suffering and need some encouragement. It can be as simple as a phone call, an email, or even a letter. All it takes is that extra effort to ask how someone is doing, and then truly listen to their response.

I needed Marshall’s embrace and kind words yesterday. I needed to be reminded of my calling and feel the support of the people I serve during this difficult time. Moreover we are now called to encourage and build up the families who have lost their loved ones in the midst of death. We gather to support them at the funerals, but our support cannot end there; it must transcend the walls of our church into the great bounds of our community so that we can be Christ’s hands and feet for the world.

Who needs encouragement and building up in your life? How can you show them a glimpse of God’s love through your actions this week?

Devotional – 1 Thessalonians 2.9

Devotional:

1 Thessalonians 2.9

You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.

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All Saints’ Day is a strange celebration in the worship life of church. As United Methodists, we will gather together next Sunday to remember those who have gone on to glory; we will honor their lives, deaths, and promised resurrections. For a young pastor the celebration of All Saints is one that I look forward to in order to help the still grieving families mourn appropriately, but it is also a sacred day of privileged preaching that cannot be taken lightly.

I have been a pastor for 1 year and 4 months. It has been a tremendously rewarding experience thus far, and I continually feel that I am exactly where God has called me to be, and doing what God has called me to do. Throughout the first year, no one died in our church community. (They tell you in seminary to prepare yourself for a funeral your first week in the church; but for me that did not happen) We celebrated some incredibly special moments together in worship: baptisms, professions of faith, weddings, confirmation, the Eucharist. But we did not gather together for a funeral. While so many of my clergy colleagues felt fatigued under the tidal wave of death that was striking their local churches, I felt guilty for making it through a year without having to do a funeral.

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Over the last few months, however, we have lost 6 church members in quick succession. While sitting with families in the deep and dark moments of planning a funeral after the loss of a loved one, I was also worried about someone that had just entered the hospital, or received a bleak diagnosis. Death, it seemed, had caught up with us.

Church is often made out to be a place of sacred happiness where people can discover an element of joy and grace that they might not otherwise find. Yet at the same time, the church is one of the last arenas of reality. It used to be that people feared having a quick death. They did so because they feared dying without having the time to be reconciled with their enemies, who were often members of their family, the church and God. Today we fear death. They feared God.

All Saints is a time for us to remember the great promise that God made with us when Jesus was resurrected from the dead: that we are not alone and that Christ has defeated death. This does not mean that we will not die, but it means that death is not the end.

As we prepare for All Saints’ Sunday, let us remember the “labor and toil” of those who have gone on to glory, those who “worked night and day, so that we might not be burdened while we learned about the gospel of God.” Let us remember our own finitude and give thanks to God for not abandoning us. And let us praise the Lord who defeated death so that we might have life.

Devotional – 1 Thessalonians 1.6-7

Devotional:

1 Thessalonians 1.6-7

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 

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There is a burden that comes with being a Christian leader (or as the Spiderman comics would put it: with great power comes great responsibility). Just as in the day of Paul, we, as Christians, are expected to imitate the Lord through our actions, so that we can be examples to all other people. The great challenge with this responsibility comes with the temptation to use the power we have been given for ourselves, rather than for God’s kingdom.

For too many years some Christians leaders and preachers have tended to elevate their ministry to such a staggering degree that they become more important than the living God whom they claim to follow. I have seen churches that have no images of Christ displayed in the sanctuary, no cross to remember the great act of the incarnate God, and nothing else that would lead anyone to know that the gathered people were Christians. I remember visiting a church when I lived in Harrisonburg, Virginia that looked like a music venue and by the time the service was over I realized that the triune God was not mentioned even once. It seemed that doing church, for them, was more about living a good life based on the standards imposed by the leaders rather than a profound commitment to discover the living God and follow Christ.

Grunewald's Crucifixion

Grunewald’s Crucifixion

When the great theologian Karl Barth was a pastor in Basel, Switzerland he discovered Matthias Grunewald’s depiction of the crucifixion and kept a copy of it on his desk throughout his ministry, from his days as a young pastor until his death. Barth believed the work of art was a worthy metaphor for Christians; John the Baptist stands off to the side holding an open bible while pointing away from himself to Christ on the cross. Christians, at their best, are called to be like John and point away from themselves to the incredible Christ who is the only one worthy of our imitation. We point toward Christ through our words and actions, while also remembering the distance between us and Christ; we will never live exactly like him, but we nevertheless strive to imitate him in our living.

When I learned about Barth’s affection for the Grunewald piece, I made sure to find a copy for my office. It is the first thing I see when someone enters my office, and the last thing I see before heading to the sanctuary for worship. It hangs at eye sight right next to the door as a constant reminder about my responsibility to point toward Christ and not myself.

How do you imitate the Lord in your daily life? Where in your life can you point to Christ so that others can come to know the love of God?

Weekly Devotional – 11/11/13

Devotional:

 

2 Thessalonians 3.6-

Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.

 

He had attended church throughout his life, but his faith was basically idle. He listened to the sermons, put money in the offering plate when it came by, and even attended a few bible studies. However, the extent of his belief, participation, and discipleship was lacking. It was clear that nothing excited him about church and he was simply attending because it was the “right thing” to do.

The pastor took notice of this and decided to invite the young man on a mission trip to build stoves for indigenous Mayans in the highlands of Guatemala. Though perhaps initially reluctant, the young man thought it might be a nice little vacation and he would get to work on his spanish.

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For 5 days he was worked to the bone. The food and coffee were often cold, the air was too thin for proper working conditions, he kept finding dried cement between his fingers, and he was perpetually exhausted. But something happened. Something changed within his disposition while in that remote village of the Highlands; his faith caught on fire. Though he felt run down by the physically exhaustion, for the first time in his live his faith was no longer idle. He was working for the kingdom of God and (as if the blindfold had been removed from his eyes) he began to see the importance, joy, and depth of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica regarding the idleness present in the worshipping church. Clearly, there were people that were not participating to the degree that Paul would have liked and their behavior was detrimental to the greater church. While reading his words about isolating the idle believers it seems too drastic and definitely unchristian. Though it is perhaps extreme, the point that Paul makes is remarkably important: Christianity is dependent on the character of its disciples. If idleness is present throughout the church, the excitement and joy of what it means to the be the body of Christ for the world will disappear. Paul encouraged the Christians in Thessalonica to keep away from idle believers, but perhaps what we really need to do is help build up their faith, invite them to participate in ways that will light their faith on fire, so that the kingdom can become real for them.

So, if you know someone idle in their faith, reach out to them. Invite them to participate in new and exciting ways. Help them to see the glory and joy of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

If you feel that your faith is idle, find ways to engage in the local church. How can you serve those in need? Where can you be Christ’s body for others? What would it take to set your faith ablaze?

Faith is only faith when it is being practiced.