True Freedom

I. Introduction

We’ve been studying the book of Galatians and the truth of how God loves us, to free us from our bondage to sin. So that no one may boast by works, our salvation is secure through faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone. And I also know we’re supposed to study Galatians 4:8-20, but we’re not going to get that far. We’re only going to cover 3 verses today and stop in verse 10.

II. Galatians 4:8, Slaves to Sin

Today we’re in Galatians 4 beginning in verse 8, and Paul is reminding the Galatians who they once were.

However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods.

The Galatians were pagan gentiles living in the Roman Empire. They worshipped Roman deities like Apollo the sun god and Venus the goddess of love and beauty. One of the cities in the region of Galatia was Lystra, and there’s a peculiar story about Lystra in Acts 14. In Acts 14:8-10, Paul and Barnabas were preaching the gospel, and Paul spied a man who was lame since birth and had never walked. When Paul realized this man had “faith to be made well,” Paul commanded him to stand up on his feet and walk. And the man got up and walked!

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The crowd around Paul and Barnabas were amazed at this miracle and proclaimed Paul and Barnabas to be Roman gods. Not just any gods, Barnabas was Zeus, the head god, and Paul was Hermes, the fleet-footed messenger of the Gods. And I know those are the Greek names, but that’s because the book of Acts was recorded in Greek. The Roman equivalent were the gods Jupiter and Mercury.

Anyway, I digress, Paul & Barnabas immediately denied they were gods, of course, and gave credit to our Lord in heaven who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. The crowd, of course, nodded their collective heads in understanding and then immediately tried to stone Paul and Barnabas to death.

That is who the Galatians were before they received Christ. Paul reminds them in Galatians 4:8 of their past,

However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods.

Before the Galatians came to Christ, they were enslaved to demons impersonating deity. The Ten Commandments begin, “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.” It’s #1 on God’s list.

In the New Testament, Jesus repeats this Commandment #1 in more gentle terms; when asked by a Pharisee which commandment was more important, Jesus says in Mark 12:29,

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

If we are not free in Christ to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, then we are in bondage to sin. Jesus puts this bondage to sin even more strongly in John 8:44a,

You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father.

There is only one was to be free of this slavery to sin. By faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.

III. Galatians 4:9a, Free in Christ

So, now we are free in Christ. Now what? Let’s look at the next verse, or rather the 1st half of the verse, Galatians 4:9a,

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God,

It’s a curious phrase. Paul is writing to the Galatians, and halfway through his sentence, he corrects himself.

God already knows us, of course. In Matthew 10, Jesus is telling his disciples to spread the good news, and that God Himself will protect them from evil in verses 29-31,

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.

Slide8.JPGGod knows us before we are born, Psalm 139:13-14,

For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.

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So when Paul says, “or rather be known by God,” Paul cannot be saying that God doesn’t know us. I believe Paul is using a phrase to describe our spiritual growth in getting to know God.

Another way to look at it is this: everybody knows there is a god because the universe declares His existence. Psalm 19:1,

The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.

Slide10.JPGAnd we know that as God, he created the heavens and the earth, he is just and punishes the wicked, he is all powerful. But what does God think of me? How do I get to know the love He has for me? Why does He think of me so valuable that He would sacrifice His only son so that I may dwell with Him forever in the House of the Lord? My spiritual walk consists almost entirely of getting to know God intimately, only to discover that God already knows me. So let’s look again at Galatians 4:9a,

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God,

And now look at it in the original Greek cuz it’s fun,

νῦν δὲ γνόντες θεόν μᾶλλον δὲ γνωσθέντες ὑπὸ θεοῦ πῶς ἐπιστρέφετε πάλιν ἐπὶ τὰ ἀσθενῆ καὶ πτωχὰ στοιχεῖα οἷς πάλιν ἄνωθεν δουλεύειν θέλετε

Yeah, don’t understand it either, it’s Greek to me. But this word shows up twice,

γινώσκω ginṓskō, ghin-oce’-ko; a prolonged form of a primary verb; to “know” (absolutely) in a great variety of applications and with many implications (as follow, with others not thus clearly expressed):—allow, be aware (of), feel, (have) know(-ledge), perceived, be resolved, can speak, be sure, understand.

When Paul says the Galatians are to know God and be known by God, he means to know God intimately. In fact, we are to get to know God so intimately that we know how much God already knows us intimately.

I find it comforting to know that God knows me so well. My struggles, my plans, my history, my health, my thoughts… God already knows them because He loves me. And Paul challenges me to get to know God as well as God already knows me.

IV. Galatians 4:9b, Weak and Worthless Elemental Things

Let’s continue with the rest of Galatians 4:9,

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years.

When we become Christians, we are free of the penalty of sin. Jesus tells us in John 8:36,

So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

Slide15.JPGBut what does that mean?

When I last taught from Galatians 2, I spent a lot of time going over what it means to have faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone, and all of the rules we put in place that become obstacles to new believers. Nothing else saves – not church rules, not church attendance, not praying a prayer, not baptism. By faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.

I was focusing on repentance, and how we are to change our mind about Jesus, in order to have faith, and it is this faith that saves us, and not by our own effort, but because of God’s love. But that lesson focused on how to become a believer and gain salvation.

But what then, once we are believers? I have this little chart that talks about our spiritual growth and the different meanings of salvation:

Phase Justification
(a one time event)
Sanctification
(or progressive sanctification, spiritual walk, a process)
Glorification
(immediately after death or rapture)
Tense Past
(I have been saved)
Present
(I am being saved)
Not sinless, but sinning less.
Future
(I will be saved)
Saved from sin’s: Penalty Power Presence
Scripture Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5 Philip 2:12 Rom 5:10

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So last week was all about the justification column. It occurs once for all believers and then that’s in the past. Once saved, we are free of sin’s penalty. For the rest of our temporal lives, we are sanctified, on our spiritual walk, and we are free of sin’s power. And then when we die or are raptured, our heavenly bodies are glorified in Christ and we are free from the very presence of sin.

So this week, let’s talk about that middle section, our spiritual walk. We are free of sin’s power as well as sin’s penalty, but not free from the presence of sin. That comes later in heaven.

So how does that tie into our scripture in Galatians?

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years.

Sin is all around us, and we can be so easily deceived. Christians are not immune from turning to “weak and worthless elemental things.” Christian superstitions. For instance, I know realtors sometime bury a St. Joseph statue in the yard of a house they’re trying to sell. In fact, when I went looking for an illustration for this, I was astounded to find that you can buy a St. Joseph Home Sale Kit from Walmart for only $13.90. Free shipping, too.

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And this isn’t the only example of Christian superstition – rosary beads, holy water. Have you ever seen a horror movie where the good pious people were saved from a vampire by holding up a wooden cross?

What was happening in the church of Galatia was that these new Christians had started as pagans which mandated observations of certain days such as full moons, spring equinox, summer solstice, and so forth. Once these pagan Galatians had converted to Christianity, though, Jewish Christians convinced the former pagans that they should now follow the Jewish calendar of festivals.

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There are a lot of pagan holidays. Here are some of the holidays for just this month of September 2018 –

1: Celtic Tree Month of Hazel ends (there are thirteen lunar divisions in the Celtric Tree Calendar, Hazel Moon celebrates to “the life force within you.”)
2: Celtic Tree Month of Vine begins (Vine Moon celebrates happiness and wrath and intense emotions)
22: Mabon, the autumn equinox (celebrate gifts of the earth)
24: Full Moon – Harvest Moon (storing your harvest for the winter, and a month of thanksgiving. )
29: Celtic Tree Month of Vine ends
30: Celtic Tree Month of Ivy begins (self-improvement)

But many people do not realize the pagan influences on our Christian culture. The early church began new traditions on the same day as pagan traditions, I suppose to replace them. Instead, they melded in some weird hybrid way.

a: Christmas is probably the most well-known. While we celebrate the birth of Christ at this time, what’s with the tree? Christ wasn’t even born in December since shepherd would not have been in the fields in this month. The Christmas tree’s origins are based on the pagan celebration of Odin the sun god. Yes, that Odin, the father of Thor and Loki. And evergreen trees and mistletoe were decorations honoring Odin. Odin is usually depicted as a big chubby elf with a white beard and flowing coat.

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b) Easter. What’s with the bunnies and the eggs? As a kid, I wondered what kind of bunnies laid eggs. But while Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ, the date is chosen around the spring equinox and celebrates new life and the end of winter. Not surprising early Christians could connect this with Jesus. Even the word “Easter” has pagan roots, named after a goddess of fertility.

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c) Halloween. The origins of this come from Celtic pagans marking the end of harvest and the beginning of death, spirits roaming the earth and spirits of ancestors returning home. Costumes were created to keep the spirits from recognizing the living.

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What did Paul say again to the Galatians?

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years.

I think we need to give thought to the holidays we celebrate. The celebrations should be out of love, not obligation. And we should be careful to give God the glory, and not Thor or the Hulk.

V. Still Galatians 4:9b, Do Not Be Enslaved All Over Again

Look, whether one celebrates Christmas or Easter or Halloween or Valentines Day makes no difference to whether one is going to heaven or not. But Paul is telling the Galatians specifically that an obligation to follow a certain ritualist holiday is just like becomes enslaved to sin all over again.

How could that be? What is Paul really saying here? I believe he is saying that, to God, there is no difference between paganism and legalism. Whether one worships other pagan gods or whether one tries to comply with biblical rules makes no difference. Our obedience to the Lord’s commands should be out of love, not obligation or fear or compulsion and slavery to cultural expectations.

I think when we first come to Christ, we find joy and peace and life in Him. But we may also try to cling to our old ways because they’re comforting. We do them because they are tradition, or because we grew up doing it, or because our family or friends or neighbors expect us. And if those are our reasons, we have enslaved ourselves to the culture around us. We are in the world and of the world. You are in the world and of the world. And returning to our old self, our old ways, our old habits, our old sins before we knew Christ is how it’s described in Proverbs 26:11,

Like a dog that returns to its vomit
Is a fool who repeats his folly.

Slide24.JPGI know as we approach each holiday, I’m going to examine my motives. I am not interested in being a slave to the culture around me; I want to be a bondservant of Christ. So here are some of the thoughts I’ve had regarding the holidays – just for me and my household, you make up your own mind:

a) Thanksgiving. I’m still going to enjoy turkey or ham, and still celebrate a season of thanksgiving. But I’ll be sure to thank God for all His provisions. Just being thankful, in and of itself, to me is meaningless. I thank God specifically.

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b) Christmas. I’m still going to celebrate the birth of our Savior. It’s good news! And the lights are pretty, I love driving around and seeing Christmas lights and listening to Christmas music. My wife and I stopped exchanging gifts years ago, though. As she put it, “It’s not my birthday.” If I had kids, I’d probably still give gifts to express love for them. I’m conflicted on the tree, though. If I just like it because it’s pretty, then, sure, let’s have a tree. But considering the pagan roots and how I don’t see how it honors God, am I allowing myself to be enslave to the culture? Do I think people think it’s mandatory I put up a tree because I’m Christian? I want to be sure I’m honoring God with everything.

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c) Easter. There is never going to be a bunny or an Easter egg hunt or goddess of fertility in my future. But celebrating our risen Lord? Is there any better news? In the last few years, though, I’ve stopped calling it Easter and started calling it Resurrection Day.

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d) Halloween. You’ve got to be kidding.

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VI. Conclusion

Whatever you decide, make sure you examine your motives carefully. Make sure that your choice honors God and you aren’t following traditions because it’s an obligation. Don’t be enslaved to rules and regulations.

And whatever you decide – whether to go trick or treating or not, whether to have an Easter egg hunt or not – has no effect on your heavenly destination. But if you do not examine your motives and giving glory and honor to God, then you’re enslaved to culture and the world’s expectations. Your spiritual walk, your progressive sanctification, depends on your examining your motives and aligning yourself to God.

God wants our hearts in everything we do. He wants us to seek Him as He sought us. He wants us to love Him and love others out of love and not obligation. He wants us to be more like Christ because we love Christ and not because it’s a rule in the church.

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Christ came to free us, so let us be free indeed.

To God be the glory. Amen.

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Faithful Inside and Out

Icon of Second Coming (also used for All Saint...
Image via Wikipedia

I. Introduction
We’re wrapping up the letters of from Paul to the church of Thessalonica today. Paul’s 1st letter consisted mostly of encouragement as the church faced prosecution and urged Christians to live by high moral standards in an immoral society. Anybody think this might be applicable today? Paul also talked about Christ’s Second Coming, urged the faithful Christians to warn believers who refused to work, and gave guidance on how to live as Christians.
Paul must have received news that in spite of his first letter, the Thessalonian Christians still struggled with three major problems, so he wrote the 2nd letter to Thessalonica. In Chapter 1, Paul encouraged the believers that God is fair even if the world is not. God will punish those who punish the faithful, so we should leave judgment to Him. In Chapter 2, Paul provides additional information about the Second Coming of Christ and encouraging them to persevere despite the hardships and to seek correct doctrine and obey the Word.
Now, in Chapter 3, Paul asks his brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for him, and then addresses the growing problem of believers who not only won’t work, but also interfere with the work of others.

II. Faithful Outside the Church (2 Thessalonians 3:1-5)

Finally, brothers, 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 men, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

Responsible Christians pray and obey to spread the Gospel. When Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to live morally in the immoral society they lived in, he’s recognizing one of the greatest truths of the bible: we cannot do God’s will in this world under our own power. The powerful Christian life always involves two forces; the power of God and the obedience of the believer. There is no doubt Paul was one of the most effective missionaries in the history of the world. Paul was knowledgeable about scripture, Paul was obedient, and here we also see Paul relying on the power of prayer. In verse 1 he asks for prayer that God’s will may be done through him. Paul constantly asked for prayers when he wrote his letters – Romans 15:30-31, Ephesians 6:18-19; Colossians 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; Philemon 22; the list goes on and on. It pleases God when we pray for His will to be done, and the prayers of a righteous man are powerful. Prayer has many facets to it –

a. Continual Prayer.

In verse 1, Paul says “Pray for us.” The tense indicates a continual prayer, not just a one time event. Paul recognized the need for constant prayer; in 1 Thessalonians 1:2, Paul says he prays for the Thessalonians constantly, and in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul tells them to pray without ceasing. The world is as lost today as it was in the time of the Thessalonians and is in need of a savior they don’t even know. Pray they hear the word; pray we tell them the word. Pray and obey.

b. Offensive Prayer

These continuous prayers should be both offense and defense in our earthly battle. The words Paul chose for “spread rapidly” implies an imagery from the Old Testament where God’s Words runs swiftly, as though a runner in a race. Psalm 147:15 says, “He sends his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.” And “honor” – or “glory,” in some translations, indicates a winner. The runner receives glory through winning, and God’s Word receives glory when somebody comes to Christ. Evangelistic prayer encourages us to go on the offense and spread God’s message so He may receive glory.

Offensive prayer has a purpose. Our world, you may have noticed, is sick. Our world is dying. The Word of God is life-saving medicine. Paul prays that the medicine is spread rapidly because lives are at stake. Jesus had the same urgency in John 9:4: “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.”

c. Defensive Prayer

Prayer is also defensive; we must never forget we are soldiers of Christ engaged in spiritual warfare. The breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the sword of the Spirit are all parts of the armor of God to protect us. We are at battle with spiritual darkness and the plans carried out by evil men. Evil men that have not only corrupted themselves but intent on corrupting others. Evangelists are on the front line on this battle, and need both offensive prayer to spread the gospel effectively, but also defensive, protective prayer against the evil that would stop them.

III. Faithful Inside the Church (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15)

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”
We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.
If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

Discipline inside a church is necessary. And just like we’d like God’s justice to reign down on somebody else while only God’s mercy reigns on us, we only want church discipline to be imposed on other people. Some people and even some churches use discipline to kick people out of a church. But church discipline as used by Paul is a loving act. Church discipline is demanded by scripture to bring our wayward brothers and sisters back to the church, back to the fold, to heal wounds, to restore them in love.

Listen to what Jesus says in Mathew 18:15-17

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

The relationships we have with one another are those of brother and sister, and they reflect our understanding of the love God has shown for us. If we can’t show love to our brother or sister, do we truly understand love at all?

In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus tells us that our relationships with each other are so important that until we are reconciled with our brother, our offerings to the Lord are of little value. Our service to the Lord, our tithes, our worship, worthless. Jesus says to put your offering down and go reconcile with one another. Then come back and give your offering.

How do we do that? The first step is simple communication with each other. Just talk. If that doesn’t work, enlist a friend or two to help. If that doesn’t work, take it to somebody in the church leadership. Do that as many times as necessary, it’s not a one-time thing.

Human nature being what it is, you’re thinking of somebody that you’d like to drag up before the church leadership. But what if somebody drags you to the church leadership? What sort of attitude should you have?

Removing somebody from the church body is serious. Remember the goal is to restore sinners and bring them back into repentence. We should give them every opportunity to respond. The most important thing to remember is that we never have the right to treat them in an non-Christ-like manner just because they are acting in a non-Christ-like manner. Regardless of how the other person acts, we are to love them.

Here in the case of the Thessalonian church, Paul was dealing with a specific issues. In 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul explained to the church how to act while under persecution. Chapter 2, Paul warned against false teachings. And now, Paul is addressing idle people. See, most of the Thessalonians were Greek and part of the Greek culture was a disdain for work. Work was beneath them, and so they owned slaves to do all their work. Did you know the Roman calendar at this time observed 156 holidays a year? Festival of feasting, Festival in honor of Mercury, Festival of Mars, Festival of Flowers, Festival of Childbirth, Festival of the Dead, Festival of Success. They even had a festival, Agonalia, honoring Janus, the god of gates and doorways.

The Greek Thessalonians used the return of Christ as an excuse not to do work. These idle Greeks became burdens to the church; rather than contributing to the benefit of all, the Greeks lived off the works of other church members, working hard to make a living and contribute to the church.

Paul begins his discussion on church discipline first by studying scripture, in verse 6 he says we must live according to the teaching we received. What does the Lord say about work?

Turns out God has a lot to say about work. Starting in Genesis 2:15, Adam’s job before the fall was to cultivate and keep the garden. In Ecclesiastes 9:10, Solomon says, “whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might.” There are a dozen proverbs (Proverbs 6:6-11; 10:4-5; 12:11, 12:14, 12:24, 12:27; 13:4; 15:19; 18:9; 19:15, 19:24; 20:4; 21:25-26; 22:13, 22:29) that deal with work. Here’s Proverbs 6:6-11 –

You lazy fool, look at an ant.
Watch it closely; let it teach you a thing or two.

Nobody has to tell it what to do.
All summer it stores up food;
at harvest it stockpiles provisions.

So how long are you going to laze around doing nothing?
How long before you get out of bed?

A nap here, a nap there, a day off here, a day off there,
sit back, take it easy—do you know what comes next?

Just this: You can look forward to a dirt-poor life,
poverty your permanent houseguest!

Ok, so scripture is consistent about work. After making sure your exhortation is consistent with scripture, the next thing Paul commands is that you yourself aren’t guilty of the same thing. Jesus once said that before you judged another for the speck in his eye, you had to make sure you didn’t have a plank in your own eye. Paul had a vocation; he was a tentmaker and earned his living as he traveled. He reminds the Thessalonians of his example in verses 7-10. In order to be an effective witness for Christ, you must examine your own life first to ensure you are a worthy imitator of Christ. Paul didn’t have to work so hard; I’m sure he was fatigued after teaching all day, writing letters to churches, and then making tents at night. As an apostle, Paul was entitled to accept help from the church, but instead Paul went the extra mile to make sure he was an example worth imitating and relieving the church of the burden of supporting him.

First, examine the scriptures, then examine ourselves. The next step is to examine the situation. Why are the Thessalonians not working? Is it because they are unable, or because they are unwilling? Some people are unable to work. Perhaps they are disabled. Perhaps they haven’t found an opportunity or there are no job openings available. Our country is in a recession, and it appears it’s getting worse, not better. We should be diligent in applying ourselves to work as soon as possible.

Don’t take this to mean that the job must be a well-paying job, or that it pays at all. Some of the most demanding work is housework or taking care of children or ministry work. The point is that, as far as you are able, to contribute to work instead taking, to be busy at the things that pleases God instead of using idle time to simply please ourselves or meddle in the lives of others.

Look at verse 12 again. What commonsense advice does Paul give? As Christians, how can we apply this in our approach to society in general? What type of character is created by honest work?

Once the examination of scripture and examination of ourselves is complete, we may find that it’s time to confront another in the church out of love and to heal the body of Christ. Verse 13 is key to our heart at this point; Paul says we are never to tire of doing what is right. Doing what is right may be uncomfortable, but it can also be a time of significant personal growth. Here are some reasons for Christian confrontation –

i. Personal differences. This is probably the most common. We are so quick to judge others, yet are so blind to ourselves. The Thessalonians may have grumbled among themselves, “If they don’t have to work, why should I?” Sin is often unintentional, but sin nonetheless hampers God’s plan for us and for His church. When there is sin in the life of a believer, the health of the church is affected. Paul’s word for these believers were “disorderly” believers, people that marched out of step with others, disobeying Christ’s commands or the instructions of church elders. Instead of being busy, they were busybodies, and 1 Timothy 5:13 says that busybodies are more than just idle gossipers, they may be opposing God’s will by talking nonsense about others and doing Satan’s will. How tragic to find that we think we are good Christians but find instead that our idle talk is encouraging Satan instead of the church.

ii. Doctrinal error. We may find another Christian teaching the wrong doctrine. If they are doing it out of ignorance or lack of knowledge about scripture, we are to teach them the truth. 2 Timothy 2:25 says we are to do this so that God will grant them repentance and lead them to the truth. If they continue, Titus 1:10-14 says we are to rebuke them sharply. If the error continues, Romans 16:17 says avoid them, and 2 Timothy 2 says eventually we are to separate from them because their teaching will spread like gangrene.

iii. Another reason for righteous confrontation is if a believer has been overtaken by sin. This happens to believers, far more often than we think. Even the Apostle Peter denied the Lord, David yielded to lust, Moses to pride, and so on. Galatians 6:1-3 says that for these believers, we the church are to restore them gently. Remember Jesus and the adulterous woman? Jesus wasn’t harsh with her, He was gentle, admonishing to her to go and sin no more. The word “restore” literally means “to set a broken bone”. It takes gentleness and kindness and patience, not sudden judgment and condemnation.

iv. Then we get to the repeating troublemaker. Titus 3:10 tells us to warn them twice and then have nothing to do with them. These people are divisive, they often have good scriptural knowledge but because of their pride, they love to take side and encourage argument. They have a strong opinion because they love to get their way – they may argue about how the Lord’s Supper ought to be served or how the worship songs should be sung or even what kind of service to the Lord is more important. Pride is at the root of division, and Satan uses such heretics to divide a church.

v. And then, there is the church member living in open immorality. 1 Corinthians 5 deals with a case of incest within the church. The church was proud of their tolerance, how despite this open, flagrant sin, the church passed no judgment on him. There are many churches like this today that openly accept members and elders in open sin. Paul tells us that instead of being prideful of our tolerance, we should be in mourning. A believer in open sin should be expelled from the church. Paul warns us not to treat these people as enemies, because they are not. They are our brothers and sisters. Just like Lot fell out of fellowship with Abraham and the Lord because he moved to Sodom, Genesis 14:14 says, “When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan.” Our goal is to rescue our brother, not condemn him.

2 Thessalonians 3:14 says we should have such a purpose in our separation. When it comes to the idle, the busybodies, the heretics, the unrepentant sinners, after trying to restore them, rebuke them, disassociating with them, the purpose of our actions is to bring them back into the Lords will. Examine scripture first; make sure you are correct in your theology. Examine yourself, make sure you do not have a plank in your own eye and that you are a good example. Confront them individually, with another believer, with a church elder in order to restore them. And then, if all else fails, leave them alone and mourn that they are not in fellowship with the Lord.

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Paul wraps up 2 Thessalonians 3 with note that as Christians, the Lord of Peace himself will give us peace at all times and in every way. This peace is for all Christians; notice Paul says, “The Lord be with all of you,” and this includes those he just finished rebuking. This peace is for us. Let us examine ourselves and our church family and work for what is right for the benefit of all, to make a strong, healthy body of believers for our Lord and Savior.

In the two letters to the Thessalonians, Paul taught them how to live in fellowship as believers. The lesson Paul taught is just as true today. We don’t know when Jesus will return, but we do know that His return is eminent. Until then, we have tasks to do as His body. Work eagerly and joyfully at the tasks God has given us on this earth, all the while keeping an eye toward heaven. In this Chapter, Paul tells us about two of those tasks; we are to pray, and we are to earn a living. In all circumstances, we can take comfort in the peace given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Happy Halloween

Halloween icon
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When I was a child, I celebrated Halloween. I didn’t care for the gory and gruesome stuff. I didn’t even care for the scary stuff. I thought the costumes were fun, and I loved the candy.

As an adult, I see more evil in the world thatn I’d like to admit. Today in the news, a woman beats her own 4 year old daughter, calls her a slut, and throws her into traffic. I’m horrified, daily.

Way too many movies glorifying death, destruction, dismembered limbs for my taste. Saw V? Eeps, the poster enough gives me the heebie-jeebies. Scary is good – I liked the old Hitchcock movies, and M. Night Shyamalan‘s movies have great apprehension in them without the gore and killings. And I like movies where things explode as much as the next guy.

But I’ve had enough of the dismembered bodies, the celebration of evil over good. And the last several years, I’ve seen Halloween become such a celebration. I’m not going to participate anymore.

So the lights at my home will be off tonight. Come back at Christmas when we can share joy and love instead.

Have a *happy* Halloween for a change.

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Boycotting "Winter Holiday" Again

I’m boycotting “Winter Holiday” again. If you want to celebrate some sort of pagan winter thingy, you just go right ahead. But if a retailer can’t acknowledge that I’m celebrating Christmas, then I’m not going to shop there. I did this last year, too.

Some changes from last year, though – Wal-Mart firmly has the Christmas spirit this year. They recognize other religions and holidays, that’s great. But they learned a lesson last year, and this year they’re celebrating Christmas.

I’m not shopping at Best Buy this year. “We are going to continue to use the term holiday because there are several holidays throughout that time period, and we certainly need to be respectful of all of them,” said Dawn Bryant, a spokeswoman at Best Buy Co. Inc., whose advertising omits any reference to Christmas.. If their advertising omits Christmas, then I’m going to omit Best Buy.

Here is a summary of who’s recognizing Christmas this year:

Target – They’ve changed their tune since last year and now are offering mention Christmas and Hanukkah.

Sears has a “Merry Christmas” signat the entrance to its stores nationwide.

Walgreens released the following response: “Next year, you can be assured our advertising will better incorporate ‘Christmas,’ and our holiday trees will be called Christmas trees. Unfortunately, all of this year’s December ads are already printed, so it’s too late to make changes for this season.” It’s too late for me to shop there this yeat, too, so if Christmas comes back, so will I.

Lowe’s is also recognizing Christmas this year.

Here’s the Grinch List:

Office Max, K-Mart, Home Depot, Best Buy, L.L. Bean, Zales, Kmart, Outback Steakhouse, Lexus, Old Navy, Kroger, Cingular, Pier 1, Red Lobster, Office Depot, Gillette, Applebee’s, Burlington Coat, Nordstrom, Dell, Walgreens and Milton-Bradley.

Banning Christmas

An administrator, Patricia Sonntag, at California State University, has banned Christmas.

“Time has come to recognize that religious discrimination, as well as ethnic insensitivity to certain holidays, is forbidden,” Patricia Sonntag, director of the Office of Services to Students with Disabilities, stated in the directive she e-mailed to members of her staff on Dec. 9.

While Patricia was at it, she banned Thanksgiving, Halloween, Valentine’s Day, the 4th of July, St. Patrick’s Day and Easter on the grounds that they are “offensive.” She wrote in an email that the ban was necessary “in order to avoid offending someone else.” Someone else could not be reached for comment.

So in order to avoid offending “someone else,” it’s OK to offend everyone else?

The Catholic League has already pointed out the problem with an adminstrator of a public university taking such a stance.

Catholic League president Bill Donohue called the policy a violation of free speech rights. “It never occurs to these secular supremacists that it is their aversion to anything religious – or patriotic – that accounts for their desire to muzzle free speech.”

Try to remember this simple rule: The US Constitution say you cannot abridge freedom of religion. It doesn’t say to eliminate religion.

More "Christmas," Less "Holiday"

As some of you know, I’m boycotting “Winter Holiday” again this year. I’m not even sure what that holiday is, but I’m pretty sure it’s some sort of pagan / atheist thing. Whatever it is, I want none of it.

For me, it’s Christmas. And for many, it’s Christmas. Why is so terrible to acknowledge that? It doesn’t bother me if somebody wishes me a Happy Honukah or Really Good Ramadan. I don’t celebrate those holidays, but I recognize others do. So why has there been such a push to eliminate “Christmas” from our vocabulary?

I’m going to list some stores in a minute that are anti-Christmas or Christmas-neutral, but I want to pass on kudos to Hobby Lobby first. Not only are they wishing people a “Merry Christmas,” but they do it with big advertisements in USA Today. They do it for Easter, too. And if you’re seeking, they even steer you to a Christian ministry that can tell you more about a relationship with Jesus. Here’s Hobby Lobby’s Christmas 2005 message.

Last year, Dillard’s and Macy’s removed all references to Christmas from their stores. Word got around, and Christians didn’t shop there as much. This year, Macy’s has a full-page “Merry Christmas” ad. Sure, it’s really for a commercial Christmas, but I’d rather have that than a secular “Happy Holidays” anyday.

Lowe’s took a little heat this year for selling “Holiday Trees.” Is there another major holiday celebrating with trees this year that I don’t know about? Lowe’s finally decided to dump all their “holiday trees” and only offer “Christmas trees.” Yeehaw.

Worldnet Daily reports that Wal-Mart promoted other holidays by name, including Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, but not Christmas. The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights called for a national boycott. Wal-mart has apologized and redesigned its website, though they still encourage employees to say “Happy Holidays.” Other retailers hiding Christmas behind the “Happy Holidays” sign include Kmart, Sears, Home Depot, Target, Kroger, Office Max, Walgreens, Staples, J.C. Penney, Dell and Best Buy.

Have you run into any “Christmas aversion” this year while shopping?

A Simple Light

Like you, I’ve noticed the days getting shorter – and not just the hours of daylight. The actual 24 hour cycle is getting shorter, as we hurtle from the calm eddy of our county’s brief experience of Autumn into what we call the Holiday Season.

It was only a few days ago when the trees were showing off. I noticed the chinaberry trees in bright yellow robes – startlingly bright – in yards all over town. And the cypress trees’ needles were just starting to rust. Then the winds blew one night and these splendors were dumped in halos on the ground around newly naked trunks – looking like discarded bathrobes – and it seemed Fall had fallen until I remembered we still have some maples showing and the red oaks have yet to blaze. The pecans and sycamores are littering the ground just now with bran-colored drifts. Still, the sight of millions of cypress needles dusting the river made me realize it was time to gird for the onslaught of the hardest season of the year.

Our old black mailbox groans daily with catalogs of delights – most beyond our means, and certainly all beyond our needs. We’ve been offered clothing (lots of clothing), fruit, travel, books, gadgets and whatnot, all presented in vibrant color, all with guaranteed delivery by Christmas, page after page of gifts. The stack of catalogs we’ve received this month alone is more than two feet tall.

I’ve seen, on my way home from work, delivery trucks parked in the dark, their headlights on, delivering gifts. This must be a tough time to be a driver for the parcel companies – and the volume will continue to grow, swelling like a crescendo, until the last few hours of Christmas Eve – as entire mountains of gifts pour from their tributaries right to our doorsteps.

In all of this haste, all of this shopping, all of this worrying about budgets and finding the right thing for that difficult-to-shop-for friend, amidst the travel and houses full of family, the grumpy uncles and the weepy aunts, it’s hard to remember this time of year offers some beautiful opportunities.

Churches will offer special musical presentations, opportunities for worship and service. Several local charities will be collecting gifts for the needy, and all of us will find appeals in our mailboxes from worthwhile groups. While many of the appeals ply on our sense of guilt (I’m thinking about the seemingly endless fundraising efforts of a San Antonio radio station), a precious few of the groups will offer a chance to share in the hope they bring to others. To those it is easy to give, and to give joyfully, if in secret.

Overhead I’ve noticed the moon dancing farther and farther away from bright Venus in the sky. A few weeks ago the moon, just a crescent, seemed close enough to the shining planet to touch it. As the gap between them grew, the moon grew fuller and fuller until it got so bright several friends complained it was interfering with their sleep. I guess the approaching holidays are like that – as the noise and spectacle of the holidays grows bigger and bigger, until it seems to occupy all the available space of our feeble attentions, it gets more distant from the simple single light that is the reason for the holiday in the first place.