1 Thessalonians: Contagious Faith

1 Thessalonians 1:2-10 (ESV)

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers,remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

An experience of god’s grace has an exponential impact.  As people see the effects of God’s grace in our lives, they are drawn to the supernatural work that God does in the hearts of those who have placed their faith in His Son.  At the outset of the book Paul is celebrating the faith of the Thessalonians that was born during difficult circumstances and has now inspired people throughout the region.

This passages reminds us that when we surrender to God’s grace and accept our need for his work in our lives, people see that they too may find something beyond what they have placed their trust in.  As we exercise our faith and demonstrate our convictions of faith, we impact the world around us.

Our response to the Gospel in both word and deed has more than just an effect on our own faith journey.  Our lives, when lived with conviction and led by the Holy Spirit, serve as examples for other believers to emulate.

Take a minute to take stock of your faith.  Would people around you see the convictions of your faith in your words and actions?  Would they identify you as a Christian?  How comfortable would you be telling people to imitate you so that they might also be imitators of Christ?

Consider asking someone that you are around each day if they identify you as a Christian.  Ask why they answer the way that they do.  Is it your actions or just what you are involved in on Sundays?

Baptism and Beginnings

Take a minute to read Mark 1:9-15.

One of the joys of ministry is watching someone be baptized.  It is amazing to consider the symbolism of the event and to watch as the person acknowledges that they were dead in their sins but are now alive in Christ.  Watching a baptism often reminds me of the whole point of all that we do as a church — making disciples of Christ.

Baptism is a powerful event, but it is important that it is correctly understood.  So many people think that being baptized is the end-all of the Christian faith.  What we need to understand is that baptism is not the completion of discipleship; it is the inauguration of discipleship.  Our baptism is the first step in a multitude of steps on the journey of faith in God.  Baptism does not seal our salvation or finish our justification.  Rather, baptism is a first act of obedience and sanctification

Just as baptism symbolizes the beginning of our obedience to Christ, Jesus’s baptism symbolized the inauguration of his ministry.  Right after his baptism, he entered into the wilderness and experienced temptation.  In the same way, when we experience salvation, we then become more aware of the spiritual battle that is all around us.  Following the time of temptation, Jesus began to proclaim the Good News.

Our baptism is a symbol, but it is also an event that we can go back to and remember.  Take a few minutes to remember your baptism and what it meant to you then and what it means to you now.  Ask yourself how the journey has gone since that day.  Are you growing?  Are you closer to God or has your faith plateaued?  Ask God to build in you a desire to grow in your faith and in your relationship to Him.

Humility and The Mission of God

Take a minute to read Mark 1:1-8

Sometimes it’s easy for us to think that we are bigger deal than we really are.  It is human nature for us to want to be praised.  We want people to think we are important.  We want to be a big deal.  Humility is not one of our best traits as human beings.

As we read the beginning of the book of Mark we see someone who could have easily decided that he was a big deal.  John the Baptist was not just a guy who was preaching in the desert.  He was a guy who had been prophesied to come and introduce the Messiah.  As big a deal as I would like to be, I know that nobody was writing about me in the Old Testament hoping I would come and change the world forever.

John the Baptist could have easily believed himself to be more important than anyone else in history.  He could have taken advantage of his position of forerunner to the Messiah.  Instead, he stayed true to his message and his convictions.  John’s message was not even one that would make someone popular, but for a people who were striving to come to peace with God, his message of confession and repentance struck a chord. Not only was his message on point, but he also lived a life that reflected just how committed he was to this message that God had given him.

Just like John the Baptist, we too have been given a calling that has nothing to do with elevating ourselves.  As Christians we proclaim the Gospel and glorify God with our lives.  When the temptation comes for us to think too highly of ourselves we can remember that our mission has no room for pride or selfish accolades.

Take a few minutes to do some soul-searching.  Is it more important for people to respect you than it is for people to see Christ in you? Are you seeking to be known or to make Christ known?  Do people see the real you or the you that creates your own followers?  Ask God to help you resist the temptation of pride.

Titus: Devoted to Good Works

Titus 3

I’m not so great at remembering.  My family gives me a hard time because I have forgotten about entire vacations or even places we lived growing up.  We all have things that we have a hard time remembering.  At times we also have a hard time remembering what our faith says about us and about other people.  In our passage today Paul tells Titus to help his people remember a few key things about their faith and how it plays out in their lives.

Remember to live in light of the Gospel.  Paul calls us to live a holy life that reflects the relationship that we have with God.  We are to live in such a way that honors other people, even when it is difficult.  We are to treat people with respect with our actions and our words.  Few of us would physically attack someone who was difficult to be around, but it is so easy to harm them with evil words or to slander them behind their back.

Remember who you once were.  It think that it is incredibly helpful for us as Christians to be reminded of who we were before Christ.  It not only helps us with our relationship with God, making us more gracious and thankful for his grace and mercy, but it also helps us as we relate to other people who have not experienced the transformation that God brings in our lives.  Understanding that we were once “foolish, disobedient, and slaves to our passions” helps us to have much more patience with those who have not yet met Christ.

Remember that our faith is expressed in actions.  As people who have been renewed by the Holy Spirit and justified by grace the expectation is that we would live in light of that renewal.  We are to embrace the work that God is doing in our lives and focus on being devoted to good works, not to gain righteousness, but to participate in the sanctification that the Spirit has begun in us.  As we devote ourselves to good works for God’s sake, he is glorified and made known to those who need to meet God.

Are you participating in the work of the Holy Spirit in your life or are you working against it?  Have you devoted yourself to good works for God’s glory or to earn favor with others and God?  Does your life call people to Christ?  Ask God to show you areas in your life where he is at work.  Take time to remember who you were before Christ and allow those memories to grow your appreciation for the work that God has done in your life.

Titus: The Lifestyle of a Disciple

Titus 2

In an information rich world, it is easy to think that knowing things is an end in itself.  However, only when knowledge is applied and put to use does it make a difference.  We can know all about nutrition, but if we still insist on eating chocolate cake for every meal, we will not experience health.  We can know all about traveling to another country, but until we take the trip and turn that knowledge into an experience then all we have are daydreams.  We can know sound doctrine and be experts in the gospel, but until we seek to live out the implications, we are basically just religious study majors, not true disciples.

In our passage today Paul reminds Titus that there is a responsibility that comes with knowing sound doctrine.  After the knowledge comes the lifestyle informed by the information.  The gospel has implications for all of us at every age and social position.  Titus 2:1-10 explain the way that we would live when we have encountered the truths of the gospel.  These truths when expressed in our lifestyles produce godliness and good fruit.  They lead to peaceful living with God and peaceful living with one another.  The gospel is meant to transform the way that we live our lives, not just the way that we think about God and ourselves.

In Titus 2:11-15 we see why we do these things.  It is because of God’s work in the world and in us.  We live godly lives because we have experienced the grace of God and his salvation.  We do these things because that grace is transforming even our most evil characteristics and tendencies.  We do these things because we have a hope and a future through Christ that motivates us to think beyond our experiences on this earth.  We do these things because we have experienced redemption and have been given a new life and a new purpose.

It is a real challenge for us today to be focused on applying what we learn about our faith.  It is much easier to learn about God rather than live for God.  It is also easier to think that having knowledge about God is sufficient when it comes to being a disciple.  Fortunately, we are called to a much more exciting and fruitful life.  Take some time to think about how your faith is put into action.  Does your lifestyle match up with what Paul describes in the first part of the passage?  What is the fruit that your life is producing?  Have you become satisfied with knowledge of the Bible and the gospel or are you seeking a lifestyle that reflects what you believe?  Ask God to help you grow into a disciple who lives according to the doctrine that you profess.