“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…

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…

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…


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…


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. 


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.”