“An Order of Events”

This message is based on 2 Thessalonians 2 and concerns the signs which lead to Jesus’ Second Coming.  It was preached at the Central Schwenkfelder Church on March 27, 2011.   

Today, we had the pleasure of honoring Dottie Heebner and Ann Lightle.  Ann has served as our 2nd grade Sunday School teacher for close to 50 years.  Dottie has been active with youth Sunday School and music education in our church for 35 years.  Their years of service remind us of how important our children are.  Each of us has a role to influence the next generation.  We are not to live for the present, but also with an eye to our future.

The apostle Paul wanted to prepare these Christians for the future.  As I mentioned last week, one of the main themes in 2 Thessalonians is to clear up confusion surrounding the Second Coming of Christ.  There were some that believed it had already come.  Others that thought it would be so immanent that they stopped working and were being intentionally lazy.  And now the church was confused because of the many voices which spoke on the subject.

But as New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce points out, there is a difference between suddenness and immediacy.  This is why we can speak of the Lord’s Day as being “at hand,” while watching signs that have yet to be fulfilled.  When will this day come?  Soon, as we are living in trying times.  But Paul mentions that there are a few things that must occur before this takes place.  What are those signs?  That’s what I would like to speak with you about today.  First…

BEFORE JESUS RETURNS, THERE WILL BE A GREAT FALLING AWAY. 

This falling away is also known as the great apostasy.    Notice what the apostle says in verse three: “Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction….”  This “falling away,” marks those who were once presumed to be a part of the church, but have gone astray and left the faith.  This is something that was known and recognized in the first few centuries of Christianity. 

For these, the good news that Jesus preached turned bland.  Jesus as Lord was replaced by “self” as Lord.  There are many things that lead to one’s going astray, one’s falling away.  Unfortunately, this happens all of the time. They are the following:

  • Unrepentant sin. Living the way you want with no regard to God’s moral law found in the Ten Commandments. 
  • Unbelief.  This is where a person sees no need for God in their lives. 
  • Worldly concerns and distractions.  It’s the attitude that asks: “What can I get and how can I achieve it?”
  • Consuming infatuation with self-absorption.  Worship of self.

It is important to note that there is a difference between church membership and membership in Christ’s kingdom.  Membership in the kingdom of Christ is marked by the following:

  • Faith in Christ and repentance from sin.
  • An active conscience. 
  • An active devotion to the Lord that includes a love for His word, His church and others, as I mentioned last week.

As this apostasy occurs, one will rise to a prominent place of leadership.  This one is called “the son of perdition; the man of lawlessness.  This person is otherwise known as the antichrist.  He is proud and self-exalting (verse four) and comes with signs and wonders (verse 9).  Many will follow him (verse ten).  What is the concept of the antichrist?  But many antichrists have come.  The Apostle John wrote: “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour (1 John 2:18).”  This is a spirit, a series of spirits and a person.  He is one who appears to be good, wise and even spiritual.  Yet, he is really someone evil, ignorant and demonic. 

The scary thing is that one day, people will follow such a person without as much as an ounce of discernment.  God will let them go, even encourage them through their seared consciences, for they saw no need for Jesus in their lives.  That’s right.  God will one day say: “You want it like this?  Have it your way!”  And they’ll turn and never come back.  Scary thought. 

Why will he be so attractive?  Because he will appeal to so many and their immediate needs.  People want a quick fix to their problem.  This person will be an immediate answer to our country’s or our world’s concerns.  He will be someone who will talk a good game, but his heart and his actions will be revealed.  Many names have come across the pages of world history who’ve been accused of being the antichrist.  All were popular at one time and had a significant following.  The Roman Emperor Nero, who lived in the first century and burned Rome, blaming it on the Christians; Attila the Hun, the fifth century barbarian who conquered much of Europe and raped and pillaged as he went; or Ivan the Terrible, who imposed a Reign of Terror in Russia in the mid to late 1500’s, publically torturing and executing those he subdued.  What about Adolf Hitler, who was responsible for the killing of six million Jews.  Or Joseph Stalin, died in 1953 and is responsible for the death of 20 million, many of them his own countrymen.  And the list goes on.  Although all go down in history as being ruthless, at one time, all were popular and all had a following. 

But the reality is many fit that bill and God’s people throughout every age are to operate with a high level of discernment.  Many have gone; more of them are to come.  So what are the things that the Lord Jesus wants us to know as we anticipate His coming?

BUT WE NEED NOT FEAR, FOR GOD IS AT WORK AMONG MANY. 

And so verses 13-17 offer encouragement: “But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. 14 And it was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. The encouragement is that God is sovereign.  Although the world seems to be spinning out of control and under various influences, God is still upon His throne.  He is reserving a people for Himself.  So what are we to do?    

  • Be ready.
  • Be holy. 

First, what does it mean to be holy?  It is interesting how Paul readies this group of Christians.  We are chosen for salvation (vs. 13). This involves sanctification and belief.  What is sanctification?  It is the act of God’s free grace whereby we are made new and become dead to sin and alive to righteousness. Sin distorts a person’s sense of right and wrong.  Some men were not providing for their families, but avoiding work because they believed Jesus would soon return. 

Next, be ready.  Readiness is an attitude is given to us in verse 15: “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.”  But there is a great encouragement here to hold fast to the traditions delivered to us.  Jude calls this the faith that was once for all, “…delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).”  This is contained is such elementary lessons as the belief in God as Creator; That Jesus is the only way to salvation because it was only He that shed His blood for our sins; that one must believe and repent; and that Christ is coming again one day.  And for 2,000 years the church has been God’s vehicle for His truth.  Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.”

Biblical tradition keeps us from falling for new lies.  The Apostles’ Creed is a summary of such doctrine.  Here what the church Father Cyril of Jerusalem said about the traditions handed to us.  “In learning and professing the faith, embrace and guard that only which is now delivered to you by the church and confirmed by all the Scriptures.  …For the articles of faith have not been composed to please human desire, but the most important points collected from the Scriptures make up one complete teaching of the faith.  Pay attention, therefore, brothers, and cling to the teachings which are now delivered to you, and “write them on the tablet of your heart.”[1]  It is our responsibility to know and embrace the truth. 

Let’s be a church that clings to the teachings of Scripture, and writing them on our hearts, by reciting the Apostles’ Creed.   Church, what do you believe?

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into Hades; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Christian Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.


[1] Cyril of Jerusalem, “The Creed,” found in Ancient Commentary on Scripture ed. Peter Gorday, Volume IX (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2000), 115. 

Patience and Faith Go Hand in Hand

This message is based on 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12 and preached at the Central Schwenkfelder Church on March 20, 2011.

I’m sure that a fair amount of us have been reading up on the situation in Japan.  Last week, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake occurred off the east coast, which caused a Tsunami which took the lives of 10,000 people in one village.  Close to 20,000 are dead or missing; 500,000 are homeless and 350,000 are without power.  Close to one million are without water.  Things like this happen and we can’t help but to ask: “Why did this happen?”  “What is the purpose in this?”  It does seem senseless, but then again, we operate with a limited amount of knowledge.  Oftentimes people ask that question of God, as if He were being put on trial.  This brings up the topic of why do bad things happen?  As Christians, we have a firm belief in the sovereignty of God, otherwise known as His decrees.  In other words, that God so rules the universe and the affairs of men that whatsoever happens is not according to chance, but according to His gracious choice.  And yet, God is not the author of evil. 

A natural reaction is to ask: “Why, God?”  This has taken place on a regular basis since the founding of the church.  That sort of question could have been asked by the Christians at Thessalonica.  Written shortly after his first letter, probably in the year 51 or 52, Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians addresses this subject and encourages them to have patience and faith.  The purpose of the second of Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians was to clear up any confusion that might be lingering about the Second coming of Christ. 

These Christians were being persecuted for their faith.  Such atrocities may have been seen as senseless; they could have wondered where God was.  This morning, let us discover that God’s ways are higher than our ways; and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9) and that Patience and Faith Go Hand in Hand.  First, let us discover that…

 ADVERSITY AND PERSECUTION HAVE A PURIFYING EFFECT. 

In other words, we can still have a thriving Christian faith and witness in the midst of difficulty and hardship.  Notice verse three: “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. 4 Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. 5 All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.”

Our passage is divided into two portions, verses 1-5 which deals with commendation and verses 6-11, which deal with clarification.  Verse one reminds us of the position that God’s people hold, which is not an earthly position, but a spiritual and heavenly one.  Paul writes: “To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  This reminds us of the position that the church, which is more important than its geographic location or political position.  This position allowed these Christians to see themselves as having something in common.  They were family; and they were in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The testimony of these Christians included a robust love for one another.  This is really the mark of a true Christian, as Jesus said in John 13:35: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Speaking of our love for fellow believers as family and our love for neighbor in obedience to the second greatest commandment, the late Francis Schaeffer put it this way: “This dual goal should be our Christian mentality, the set of our minds; we should be consciously thinking about it and what it means in our one-moment-at-a-time lives.  It should be the attitude that governs our outward observable actions.”[1]  Such love bonded them together, even though outward circumstances were not favorable towards them. 

But these were suffering for their faith.  There are a handful of words that might help us understand what they were going through.  He mentions persecution and tribulation.  Affliction would be another term.  In 1 Thessalonians 1:6 it is called “severe suffering.”  2:14 states: “You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews….”  And 1 Thessalonians 3:3 calls them unsettling trials.

What did they encounter?  We read of it in Acts 17:5: where a mercenary and raucous mob instigated the authorities to wrongfully accuse Paul and his friends of insurrection.  Christians are often misunderstood and wrongfully accused.  Their natural reaction would be to be discouraged and troubled in heart.  But Paul reminds them that their ultimate citizenship is in heaven.  One commentator states: “Persecution has a purifying effect and seals the doom of the enemies of God’s people.”  But there is more going on than just the mistreatment of God’s people.  It could be that through the trial, He desires His people to draw closer to Him.  Such things separate us from the world.

We should not be surprised at the conflict between our faith and popular opinion.  Whether it is Easter, the exclusive claims of Jesus or Christmas.  Take for instance, a few years ago when members of the Music Department at the Bloomsburg University wanted to create a disc of holiday music from various religions and cultures because the traditional Christmas carols with their Christian message offended some non-Christians in the area. The University’s programmed bell system required a special disk and they couldn’t find one with holiday music that wasn’t Christian in nature.  After reading the report, a reader identified only as “Jodi E” wrote these words to the editor: “ …what happens to a person’s right to hear the traditional songs one grew up without it being muddied with the modern definition of “all inclusive” —— what it should be called is ‘all exclusive.’”[2]       

What should we expect from a culture that is slowly growing more hostile to the gospel but to be excluded? Furthermore, Jesus predicted more than exclusion, He said we would be persecuted for His name. Our reaction reveals who we are.  Affliction has the ability to draw us to God and clarifies who is on the Lord’s side. Remember that Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:43-48: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”  Persecution in this life is an indicator of justice in the next.  That leads us to our next thought, that…

PERSECUTION HAS A PURPOSE OF CRYSTALLIZING JUDGEMENT. 

In other words, there will come a day of perfect and final justice.  In verse six, notice that their afflictions prove that they are a part of God’s kingdom: “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.”

Paul makes a couple of promises here.  For one, God will repay their persecutors.  Secondly, He will give them relief.  So he gives us a picture of what Judgment Day will be like.  It will be a day in which mighty angels are seen.  There will also be the presence of flaming fire.  This is an Old Testament allusion to God’s majesty.  Remember that He led them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, for 40 years in the wilderness (i.e. Numbers).  Or when Elijah called down fire from heaven, which consumed the altar, atop of Mount Carmel in front of the prophets of Baal, to prove that He was the one true God (1 Kings 18).  Or when Ezekiel witness God sitting atop his chariot of fire and called him to speak to His rebellious people (Ezekiel 1)  Or when God promised to judge Judah for their sin in Jeremiah 4:4: “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD And remove the foreskins of your heart, Men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, Lest My wrath go forth like fire And burn with none to quench it, Because of the evil of your deeds.”  Or when God vowed to judge the nation of Assyria in Isaiah 30:30: “The LORD will cause men to hear his majestic voice and will make them see his arm coming down with raging anger and consuming fire, with cloudburst, thunderstorm and hail.”

But these will not be as significant as what will take place on the Day of Judgment.  Verse 8 tells us: “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people….”  Here, God will take vengeance and those who have mistreated His people.  He will also punish evil doers with “everlasting destruction.”  Jesus spoke of it in terms of “where the fire is never quenched and the worm never dies (Mark 9:44).”  In other words, God is a god of final and perfect justice!

Why are Christians persecuted?  Where does persecution come from?  Aren’t we a civilized world to where that does not occur anymore?  Not at all.  We can know the following about the persecution of Christians:

  •  Is alive and well;
  • Comes from God’s enemies;
  • Comes from within and outside the church;
  • Comes often from those who do not know God;
  • Is always mysteriously used by God for His sovereign purposes.

In addition, persecution and affliction are a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment.  Notice John Calvin’s words: “I am of opinion that the true meaning is this- that the injuries and persecutions which innocent and pious  persons endure from the wicked and abandoned, show clear, as in a mirror, that God will one day be the judge of the world.”[3] Paul says that persecution has happened in the lives of the believers at Thessalonica, to seal the doom of those who do not believe in the Lord Jesus and do not obey the gospel. 

So the real question is not “am I happy?” or “Do I have purpose?” as if there were some selfish reason we exist.  No, the real question is “how may I glorify Jesus?”  The real question is: what is the chief purpose of humankind?  It is given to us in the Westminster Shorter Catechism where it states: “Man’s Chief purpose is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”  Our Thought for Mediation is taken from 2 Thessalonians 1:11: “To this end we pray… in order that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you….”  Let us pray. 


[1] Francis Schaeffer, The Mark of the Christian (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1970), 9.

[3] John Calvin, “Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians,” Calvin’s Commentaries, Volume XXI, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 312. 

“The Greatest Reprise”

The following sermon is taken from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 and was preached at the Central Schwenkfelder Church on February 20, 2011. It deals with the subject of Christ’s Second Coming.

A reprise is defined as a repetition, a return to the first subject or theme. You may remember this word from your favorite albums, which contained your favorite song, which may have had a “reprise.” This, of course, was back when we used to listen to albums! Some of the greatest songs would have a repeat later on in the record. Maybe it was the same song, done a slightly different way. The Second Coming of Christ, will be like a reprise of sorts. It will be his second advent, “the parousia,” as it is sometimes referred to as, when Jesus returns in bodily form, at the close of human history. This event is also referred to in the New Testament as our “blessed hope” as in Titus 2:13.

But there have been those who have assumed knowledge of when this will take place. Like Marshall Applewhite did and led 38 others to their death in March of 1997. Listen to the following recap, as provided by RBC ministries: “Applewhite and 38 of his Heaven’s Gate followers committed suicide because they were convinced that by leaving their bodies they could rendezvous with a spaceship trailing the Hale-Bopp comet to begin life on a higher plane.   “Experts” immediately offered their explanations of this bizarre incident. Several took advantage of the opportunity to strike a few low blows at Christians who believe in the literal return of Jesus. “After all,” they reasoned, “Don’t Christians also anticipate being caught up for a rendezvous in the air?” But Jesus and Applewhite are two vastly different people. Our message for today is entitled: “The Greatest Reprise,” where we’ll seek to understand the events surrounding Christ’s Second Coming and why it has relevance for our lives today.

A JOYOUS REUNION AWAITS THOSE WHO HAVE TRUSTED CHRIST.

Paul starts off our passage by stating, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope.” The word that Paul uses the infinitive form of the verb avgnoe,w which means, “to be ignorant; to fail to understand; or to disregard.” It happens to be a favorite formula of Paul’s as we something similar in 1 Corinthians 12:1: “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware….” For Paul, it was of utmost importance to inform them of the way the Holy Spirit gifts God’s people for service. Or in 2 Corinthians 1:8 he remarks, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia…” Here, the apostle wanted to make the Corinthian believers aware of his hardship and suffering for the gospel. And we can see that in this portion of 1 Thessalonians, he wanted these Christians to be properly informed of what happens to believing loved ones who have passed on.

When Jesus returns, He will bring with Him the dead in Christ. And there will be a gathering of believers past and present, to be with Jesus forever. Some label this the rapture, positioning it before the Second Coming. One question would be are the events described in 4:17 and 5:2 separated or are they two components of the same event? In other words, is the rapture and the second coming of Jesus two different occasions, separated by an undisclosed period of time, or are they positioned so closely that they are basically one in the same? I tend to think the latter. But there are Christians from both perspectives. The point is that Jesus “…will return to judge the quick and the dead,” as the Creed teaches us.

The subject of death can be daunting and mysterious. We have the tendency to surmise, make things up, or think we experience a foreshadowing of what is to come. We treat them as legitimate and objective, when they are really illegitimate and subjective. At this we must submit to God’s word. And when we do, there is comfort offered!  Maybe you are curious about what happens when people die. A good answer is found in the following statement from the Savoy Declaration, a document written in England in 1658 which states the beliefs of many Protestants. It states: “The bodies of men (and women) after death return to dust, and see decay; but their souls immediately return to God who gave them. The souls of the righteous are made perfect in holiness, and are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies; and the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torment and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day: Besides these two places for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledges none.”

The believers had a curiosity about their loved ones who had passed away. Therefore, Paul seeks to encourage them by saying that those who have fallen asleep in Jesus will come with Him at the second coming (verse 15). This will occur when Jesus comes back which will be indicated by the following:
• A descension and shout from the voice of the archangel (Michael)
• The trumpet of God,
• The resurrection of the dead (in Christ)
• A gathering of believers at the time, and those who have passed.

This was to be a source of comfort to the Christians in Paul’s day. It should also be an encouragement to us here today. Verse 18 states: “Therefore comfort one another with these words.” The comfort involved here is the assurance that there will be a reunion. Believers who’ve passed and children of believers will meet present believers and it will be one glorious reunion. My mom recently stated how she’s looking forward to reuniting with her parents. She has something to look forward to. Maybe you are looking forward to seeing others that have gone on before you; Christians that have been instrumental in your faith; a parent or a grandparent, possibly a Sunday School teacher. There will be a great reunion for those who have trusted Christ. We must have a view towards Jesus’ literal and physical return, because…

THE SECOND COMING WILL BE A PLEASURE FOR SOME AND AN UNWELCOMED SURPRISE FOR OTHERS.

It is interesting that what a comfort to believers, is a dread for unbelievers. Many times, the Day of Judgment is described as a surprise, an unexpected event, like a thief that comes when the homeowner least expects it. Peter writes: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare (2 Peter 3:10).”
For instance, it will be an ironic day. In other words, it will be a day of apparent conflict where people espouse life as usual, alongside of looming destruction. Look at verse 3: “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.” Your preparedness will largely determine who you are listening to today. Do we listen to the status quo or those who don’t believe? Or are we listening to the voice of God through Scripture?

Secondly, it will also be a day of enormous regret. Revelation 1:7 describes the Day in this way: “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him.” The unbelieving world will be full of dread and fear when Jesus returns. But the church will be elated and exuberant when Jesus parts the clouds and returns.

Lastly, it will be an unknown day. Although we can never place a date on the Lord’s return, there are certain things that indicate it could be closer than you think. Matthew 24 lists many things such as religious deception, wars, famine and earthquakes; the persecution of the church alongside of the worldwide advancement of the gospel (Matthew 24:14); the dwindling presence of love (Matthew 24:13). All of these are signs we see today and are necessary happenings before Jesus returns.

So what is our answer? I am a former Boy Scout. I have twelve merit badges to my name. I love the Boy Scout motto: “Be prepared.” I think Christians ought to be prepared for the end of life and Christ’s Second Coming. That’s why Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:4: “But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. (Vs.6) So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.

In other words, we ought to pay close attention to how we live. Of primary interest in our spiritual walk is to learn and grow closer to Christ. We must live every day as if it were our last. This is what Jonathan Edwards did. Edwards was an early American Congregational minister in Massachusetts, who ushered in the First Great Awakening. Many people came to faith during the 1730’s and 40’s. He was the first president of Princeton University and considered to be the Father of the American Church. His portrait hangs in my office. As a young man, he made these resolutions in 1722-23, reading them once per week. There were seventy total , but I read today only those that pertain to the end of life:
• Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.
• Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.
• Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.
• Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
• Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump.

The best way to be prepared for Jesus’ return is to serve Him as Lord and Savior.  Have you committed your life to Him and sought His forgiveness for your sins?

“The Right Use of a Great Gift” from 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

The following message was preached at the Central Schwenkfelder Church in Worcester, PA on February 13, 2011.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go to the Philadelphia Car Show. While there, my sons and I walked around, admiring the Chevrolet Camaros and Corvettes. They also sat on a BMW motorcycle, the closest their mother will let them get to buying one. We then walked down a hallway and up a stairway to where the more expensive cars were. There we saw a Lamborghini, a Porsche and a Rolls Royce. If you’re interested, the Rolls Royce was available for only $405,000.

Now if I would have let my sons get in and drive one of those cars out of the Philadelphia Convention Center, I would not be a good father. Barring the fact that they are 9 and 11 or that we owned none of the cars on display, they don’t know how to drive yet! They would have put themselves and others in grave danger. But one day they’ll be driving. It is only after they receive their permit, their driver’s training and their license will they receive this privilege. Driving is a privilege that must be enjoyed only under certain parameters.
But today I’m not here to talk about what the legal age of driving should be. Actually, I’m talking about another one of God’s gift; the gift of intimacy. And for that, we find helpful guidance in 1 Thessalonians 4. We first learn that…

I. CHRISTIANITY IS A WAY OF LIFE.
1 Thessalonians 4:1: “Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you may excel still more. 2 For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.” Many times in the New Testament, the Christian life is compared to a walk. An act of progression. Some like to compare it to a journey. More importantly, it is a description of a constant state of growth from one point to the next. For instance, Paul states in Ephesians 4:1: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called….” Or Ephesians 4:17: “This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind… .”
For Paul, “walking” stood for the Christian way of life, a behavior, our habits and how we live out our days. The way we “walk” should please God. Our behavior either pleases Him or displeases Him. And the wise person pays attention to such things.

Our “walk” has a sexual ethic attached to it. Notice verse three: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor….” In this verse, vessel refers to the body and sanctification refers to the work of God’s grace in making us holy and set apart. That God calls us to be a certain type of people, with a certain type of ethic. And that behavior must be honorable. Biblical sexuality has endured a lot of misunderstanding. It is not like the Shakers, who did not believe in comingling of the sexes. Christianity is not synonymous with taking a vow of celibacy. Nor is it compatible with a “do as you please” mentality, as if any lifestyle is acceptable. In contrast, Christianity teaches that intimacy is good and a gift from God, but it must be used in the right parameters. For instance, verse five: we are not to live, “…in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God.” In other words our desires must not rule our lives, much like the proverbial ring in the oxen’s nose.

In other words, what we understand about God’s gift will also be an indicator if we know God. So it makes good sense that we understand what God says about intimacy. Exodus 20:14 gives us the seventh commandment: You shall not commit adultery.” So often we read the Scripture and don’t catch the full application of it in the Scriptures. The seventh commandment is really a calling to purity, for the young and old, single and married. Do we think that God was just speaking to the married from among the Israelites? Out the 100,000 Israelites that were at the foot of Mount Sinai in 1500 B.C. when Moses delivered the Ten Commandments, do we think that God was segregating in this one instance? The answer is no. In the commandment against adultery, we have a clear teaching on God’s expectations for human intimacy for the single person and the married person.

Notice how the Heidelberg Catechism understands the seventh commandment. Q109: “Does God forbid nothing more than adultery and such gross sins in this commandment?” Its answer: “Since both our body and soul are a temple of the Holy Spirit, it is His will that we keep both pure and holy. Therefore He forbids all unchaste actions, gestures, words, thoughts, desires, and whatever may excite another person to them.” All of this as we live in an oversexed culture. Psychiatrist Mary Ann Layden calls our culture “sexually obese.”

But immorality starts in the heart. Jesus said out of the heart come such things which defile a person (Matthew 15:18). And since it starts in the heart, if acted upon, it can hurt ourselves and others. If not, why does Paul say in verse six: “…and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter.” “Brother” can stand for anyone. Sometimes our brother is our neighbor who’s married to the nice looking wife. Or the coworker you find attractive, but you know he has a wife and children at home who love and need him. Sometimes our brother is the opposite sex in general and how we view them. Are they just objects of desire? Or are they people meant to be respected because God created them in His image?

Intimacy is a beautiful gift from God, meant for pleasure and procreation. But it is meant to be used within the bonds of marriage. Any use outside of this sells ourselves short and incurs God’s anger and displeasure. There are many examples of fornication and immorality today. Did you know that Super Bowl weekend is also one of the biggest weekends for participation in deviant behavior? Or that pornography is a more lucrative enterprise than Hollywood motion pictures? According to one source, the number of explicit rentals rose from 75 million in 1985 to 490 million in 1992. The total climbed to 665 million, an all-time high, in 1996. Last year Americans spent more than $8 billion on explicit material—an amount much larger than Hollywood’s domestic box office receipts and larger than all the revenues generated by rock and country music recordings.
Although the world’s has no boundaries in these matters, and there’s the promotion of immorality all around us, God calls us to recover our sensitivities towards what is appropriate and what is inappropriate.

So if you’re single and struggle with self control, pray that God would give you the strength to wait for His provision in a wife or a husband. If you are married, cleave to your spouse, the one you committed yourself to. Do not open yourself up for the impure and unholy through the internet, through the bookstore or through the television set. Get a blocker or a filter, like ones offered at www.safefamilies.org or www.safeeyes.net. And commit yourself to chastity. Every time we choose to go the way of our sinful desires, we set ourselves up for trouble. That leads us to the final point I’d like to make this morning. That is…

III. WE MUST BE AWARE OF GOD’S JUSTICE AND GOD’S CALLING IN THE MATTER.
Notice verse six: “…because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.” Here, we are told that God has called us to be sanctified. To be set apart. To be holy, even when the world is obsessed with pleasure at all costs.
Maybe it’s a matter of focus. One church member wrote me recently, knowing that I was preparing for this message. She was concerned with “…us getting caught up in all that encompasses our culture and keeps us from being focused on God and contemplative. (She reminded me of) Naturalist Henry David Thoreau and his 2 year retreat in the woods of Massachusetts in 1845. Afterwards, Thoreau’s conclusion was this: “Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” She ended by quoting Andree Seu who wrote: “I need to find a way this year to deal with the BlackBerry age and to live before God intentionally.” We must recover the need to live before God intentionally.

But if we pay too much attention to other voices rather than God’s, we will suffer the consequences. Those who indulge in their own sexual standards, open themselves up to guilt, self loathing, and the wrath of people they have wronged. But most importantly, they open themselves up to a God who promises to judge the immoral unless they turn to Him. Hebrews 13:4 puts it in this way: “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”

This bit of instruction on a very sacred part of our lives, is not just conjecture. It is not what has proved right for those who’ve tested it. Rather it is instruction from the God who made you and the God who loves you. He wants what is best for you. He wants to give you the Lamborghini and be content with it! It is up to us to hear His voice in its wisdom. I want to close with verse 8: “Consequently, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.”

Our Church’s TLC

The following message was preached at the Central Schwenkfelder Church in Worcester, PA on January 23, 2011, taken from 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12   

What is meant by the acrostic TLC?  What do these letters stand for?  When we speak of TLC, it stands for “Tender Loving Care.”  Solicitous and compassionate care, as in: “These houseplants sure have had tender loving care,” or “older house for sale, needs some renovation and TLC.”  Originally used to describe the work of care-givers such as nurses, this term today is often used as a figure of speech.

Today’s world needs more people and places of “TLC.”  In my trip to Greece in June, I heard of gut wrenching story of a pregnant woman who traveled from Afghanistan to Athens in search of a better way of life.  Upon conceiving the couples’ third child and finding out it was another daughter, her husband promptly kicked her out of the home.  His reasoning was this: since she did not produce sons, there was no room for her in the home.  So the lady became a refugee.  Unfortunately, this is how people are treated in the world.  So places and groups of TLC are much needed around us. 

How should Christians treat each other?  What makes us attractive organization?  Could it be our sense of TLC?  For our answer, let’s look in our passage of 1 Thessalonians 2.  Paul starts with…

I.  A DEFENSE OF HIS APOSTLESHIP. 

Notice his words in verse one: “You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. 2 We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition. 3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. 4 On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.”  Paul is defending his apostleship and motivations as he did in 1:5: “… because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake.”  But whenever the gospel advances, opposition is expected.    

Paul and his friends lived with this tension.  Peter Cousins writes: ‘The ancient world was full of wandering “philosophers” and “holy men,” who were greedy and unscrupulous.  Some of Paul’s enemies suggested that he was one of these, but he denies the charge.”[1]  People were skeptical then, just like they are today.  People have always been vulnerable to so called “spiritual men,” asking for money or seeking power. He also brought their attention to how they conducted themselves among others.  They worked hard, provided for themselves and served their hearers.  He states that they did not show up with flattering words.  There is an old saying: “Flattery will get you nowhere.”  Flattery can be defined as any insincere use of words.  In some instances, a person may flatter, while secretly having underhanded motives. 

Paul also points out that it was not because of greed that they ministered in the city.  In contrast, Paul draws attention to the intense opposition he encountered.  For instance, he was flogged at Philippi, and then jailed at Thessalonica.  Not a vacation by any means!  As in Philippi, so also in Thessalonica, the message of Jesus encountered strong opposition (Acts 16 & 17). 

This reminds us that the Christian faith will always receive opposition in this world.  It will not be popular as long as Christians behave as salt and light in this world; as long as believers take a stand for God and His truth.   For instance, we believe there’s only one God and that He created the universe.  And the way in which we relate to God is simple: through Jesus Christ.  We hold to the truth that one must not only seek forgiveness for their sins, but turn from them to have eternal life.  Christians have a strong sense of right and wrong.  Even though this will be unpopular in the eyes of our peers, we are called to an exclusive loyalty.  We are to be God pleasers, rather than people-pleasers.  These convictions can appear unattractive, even repulsive, in the eyes of some who want to believe that God is what you make Him to be, and that even you are God, as promoted in the recent movie: “Eat, Pray and Love.”  Then there is the attractive aspect of our message, what appeals to the masses.  What sets us apart from the other religious groups?  Not only our theology, but also our way of life and how we relate to one another.  For this, we turn to…

II. PAUL’S OFFENSIVE OF LOVE. 

From this, we know that a healthy church has an offensive of love.   This can be understood by the letters: TLC.  Notice Paul’s words in verse 6: “As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, 7 but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. 8 We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. 9 Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.”  

Notice that Paul likens his love for these believers to a family.  The apostle cared for these, “like a mother caring for her little children….” in verse seven and as “…a father deals with his own children….”  Paul did this, not for personal interest, but for one unselfish outcome as verse 12 gives his purpose: “…so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.”  This objective was contingent upon how they received God’s word and God’s ministers. 

 The kind of people that occupy church leadership is critical to the health of a congregation.  As we discussed last week, we want people who have a deep love for others, as well as a deep love for the truth!  We were reminded last week of what Jesus said in John 13:35: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 

But the call to be people of TLC is upon all of us.  There are many TLC verses in the Bible.  I’d like to share just a few with you.  How about Hebrews 10:24: “…let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another– and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  Or Colossians 3:12: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Or how about Hebrews 13:16: “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

What is the product and result of this love and ministry? It had a common goal which was that all who believed should be walking the same path and headed in the same direction, which is spiritual maturity.

But how is that fleshed out?  It is only the church, or close friends that take the time to visit you when you are in the hospital or give you a meal when life throws you a curve.  Or it’s only a brother in Christ that knows you’ve been out of work and gives you a lead.  Or it is only a loving church member who knows that your teen is giving you fits and lends you some timely advice or a word of encouragement: “Don’t give up.”  We enjoy an uncommon affection that is much like familial or brotherly love.  My father had an uncle who wanted him to always feel welcome to come and visit.  He would say: John, come and see us.  You’re always welcome at our home.  You’ll keep warm and have plenty to eat.”  Likewise the church is a welcoming place, in which we also care for one another in times of need. 

CONCLUSION

Should churches be places of TLC?  For instance notice the following statements that were made by church members.  One person, struggling with cancer, said: “I know that the months ahead are going to be challenging, and we feel blessed to be part of such a caring church community.”  And another who is dealing with aging and ill parents: “Please be assured that even if you don’t see me on Sundays, my church friends and family are in my thoughts and prayers, and as many of my friends also are in the predicament my family now faces, we draw strength from each other, and share our experiences—good and bad.”  And lastly, some of you may remember Jeanne Klein, who was one of our church secretaries here at Central.  Jeanne was a generous person and there were those who were generous with Jeanne.  Before she passed away last year, she penned a note to thank the anonymous person who helped her many times.  I read it with her family’s permission.  Her letter read some thing like this: “I can’t tell you how much it blessed me to open the Christmas card and discover your generous money gift.  I felt ashamed as I wanted to give, rather than receive.  Your gift came at a very critical time, as I’ve been visiting doctors lately.  The treatment which I needed was not covered by Medicare.  Needless to say, your gift came at just the right time.  I am blessed that you are among us.  You are a living example of Hebrews 13:16.  I pray that the good you do, will come back to you.  With Much Love and Appreciation, Jeanne Klein.” 

Encouragement, love, and support.  These are the small things that make the church different than the world, because we serve a great God and Savior.  We treat visitors and how we treat one another lovingly because of how Christ has treated us.  The Scriptures say. “We love, because He first loved us.”  Let us pray.

Some Musings on Summer Travel

I just returned from some time out west.  I visited a sister of mine who I hadn’t seen in a while.  I also experienced such places as Cripple Creek and Canon City, CO.  Afterwards, we flew to CA and stayed with family in Los Angeles.  While there, we enjoyed the Reagan National Library and Museum in Simi Valley, as well as Disneyland, of course.

What I garnered from all these travels is that it is good to be with family.  I spent some concentrated time with those I love the most.  God has a lot to say about family in His word, the Bible.  Psalm 127 comes to mind.  It says that children are a gift from the Lord and are to be valued above all earthly concerns. 

Spouses are also pretty special.  Check out Ephesians 5:25, where we husbands are to love our wives as Christ loves the church (no small task).

Parents are important.  So important that we are to obey them, and show them respect regardless of what stage they are in life. 

I also learned something about rest.  My church family is giving me a three-month sabbatical.  This is a time for concentrated recreation and growth.  The strange thing about stress is that it finds you.  You don’t have to go looking for it.  Slowing down requires a decision, followed by action.

This year I turn 41.  Time is slipping away.  I’m blessed if I register another 40 years.  So there’s no better time than the present to savor those things which matter most: God, family and the opportunity to be alive.

Time in Athens, Greece

I just returned from a short term mission trip to Athens, Greece to visit the work of Tim and Donna Sirinides. I traveled with the Rev. Dr. Rich Craven from Cornerstone Church of Skippack. It was an amazing time.

Tim and Donna minister with International Teams, which serves the refugee community worldwide. One highlight of the trip was having lunch with a man we’ll call Joseph. He’s from Afghanistan and has been a refugee for the past 20 years in several southern Asian countries.

A few years ago, Joseph had a business selling spare automobile parts. The Taliban thought he was making too much money, so they came and burned his business to the ground. Now he and his four children are in Greece, trying to survive.

Tim and I shared the love of Christ with him. Joseph also heard a message in his native Farsi language about Jesus. We were grateful that he was receptive, acknowledging Christ’s love for him.

After experiencing this, I can’t help but to think of how blessed I am. I heard a statement once that said if you have clothes on your back, a bed to sleep in, food on your table and spare change in your pocket, you are among the world’s richest people. Moreover, if you know Jesus Christ, you are the richest of all.

1 Corinthians 1:27: “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things- and the things that are not- to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.”

National Day of Prayer

Father in Heaven, we come to You today with thankful hearts on this National Day of Prayer. On this occasion, we thank You for the education we have and the educational opportunities all around us- for ourselves and for our children.

Your word tells us in the book of Proverbs that “the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.” We know that our schools and colleges have not always respected this. So today, we ask that You work in them. Enable our educational institutions to return to truth and Judeo-Christian ethics. Provide our children with a safe atmosphere conducive to learning. Raise up excellent educators who fear You. Provide equal opportunities for every student to achieve their full potential.

We pray for spiritual renewal on our college campuses. Bless those ministries who encourage this. Establish an awareness of You that draws souls to Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior. We thank you for all that You have done, are doing and will do in this area of our nation. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Prayer at PA House of Representatives

On Monday, April 26, 2010, I had the pleasure of giving the opening prayer at the afternoon session of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.  Mr. Matthew Bradford invited me.  It was a great experience.  Mr. Frank Ianuzzi gave me a personal tour of this majestic national landmark, dedicated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1904. 

The following is what I prayed:

 “Our Father in heaven, we thank you for this day, as You have gathered these men and women to make important decisions concerning our Commonwealth.  We thank you for their gifts, abilities and education.  They serve us and You as lawmakers of this great state of Pennsylvania.

 And yet, Lord, we understand that You are the ultimate Lawmaker.  Help our laws to reflect Yours.  Your word tells us in the book of James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”  Father, again, help our laws to reflect Your law.  Give us wisdom and discernment to make choices that would glorify You, and that You would be pleased with. 

 I pray this in Jesus name, Amen.”