Are Your Ears Burning? They Should Be!
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
† In Jesus Name †
May you realize the grace God our Father and the Lord Jesus have given you, and may that grace be so evident that those around you, and even far away speak of God’s work in your life!
Is the word ringing out?
Did you ever walk into a room and suddenly everyone stopped talking? Or walk by a group of people and they all started staring at you? Or get back to the office and find out that 4 or 5 people needed to talk to you?
There is even an old question that asked if you notice this kind of behavior,
Are your ears burning?
Well, looking at the church in Thessalonica that Paul was writing too in our epistle reading this morning, their ears should have been burning. People were talking to them, and it was a wonderful thing!
I pray that people are talking about us in the same way!
Here how Paul described it,
wherever we go we find people telling us about your faith in God. We don’t need to tell them about it, 9 for they keep talking about the wonderful welcome you gave us and how you turned away from idols to serve the living and true God. 10 And they speak of how you are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead!
Do people know that you’ve turned away from idols and false gods? Do they know of you look forward to the second coming of Jesus?
Are they so in awe of God’s work in your life that they speak of your trust, your dependence, your faith in Him?
How did the people of Thessalonica end up with their ears burning… as they should have been….
And how can we see that happen in our lives?
How can our dependence on God become so strong that it is remarkable, that people talk about it?
I mean, that is a good thing, if I were to invite someone to come here, and the people already knew how strong our faith was, how we set aside ungodly rubbish in order to we look forward to eternity in the presence of God?
So let us investigate what else Paul said about these people!
We know God..
He says in verse 4, “We know, dear brothers and sisters, that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people.”
It all starts there, and I know this to be true about you as well.
I said it last week this way,
The Lord …
Who loves you
Is with you!
For that is what it means to be chosen, to be called. It is to dwell in the presence of God, to dwell in the glory of God.
God loves you, as He did the people in Thessalonica, He chose you to be His people. We need to know this, not just with our minds, but deep, deep in our souls, in the places where we wonder how God could love us, and so traumatized by our past, we wonder why He loves us.
It is in those dark, anxious broken places, that God is there… even when we can’t see Him, can’t feel His presence. When He is revealed there, we realize that He is willing to pick us up, no matter how many pieces there are, that life begins to be transformed.
Hear something else Paul says… and we understand that it is reality too.
6 So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you. In this way, you imitated both us and the Lord. 7 As a result, you have become an example to all the believers in Greece—throughout both Macedonia and Achaia.
despite the trials and tribulations, despite the pain that is endured as God heals us. As God transforms us, as He did Paul, into the image of Jesus.
Imitation – reborn like Paul was reborn like Jesus (POWER)
That word behind “imitate” has another meaning. It means to be born, to begin, completely new, completely different. We talk about being baptized, being born again, that is the same concept here. To die to our sin, our past, our self-centeredness. To die with Jesus, in order to be raised to this new life, this being born again, in Jesus.
Just like Paul did, and Peter, and so many millions who God has join to Jesus, and to His death and resurrection.
This is why the preaching of Jesus has power, as Paul said in verse 5,
“For when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true”
It is the power, not just to any old miracle, but the incredible miracle that is the reason that God our Father sent Jesus His son into our lives, to live among us, to die for us, and to share that death and the resurrection with us.
One pastor, Chris Gillette’s mentor, Robert Webber, calls this power the divine embrace. It’s the prodigal’s dad, coming running to him, to smother him, so excited that the prodigal is finally home.
And it is the reason behind all of this…
For when God embraces us, that is the assurance we need. That is the power that is at work, making the love of God, not some intellectual exercise, not something to diagram or diagnose.
And as we rest in God’s arms, as we are welcomed by Him, into His family, as we know His presence, everything changes. We become an example to others, some older in the faith, some younger. The word goes out, for people know how much we abandoned to be with God.
And how much we look forward to the ultimate reunion, when Jesus returns, and brings us to the throne, to see for the first time, God our Father, face to face.
This is what it means for God to give you grace and peace, to belong to God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. AMEN!
Devotional Thought of the Day
34 Jesus always used stories and illustrations like these when speaking to the crowds. In fact, he never spoke to them without using such parables. 35 This fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet: “I will speak to you in parables. I will explain things hidden since the creation of the world.” Matthew 13:34-35 (NLT)
After a brief pause, Jack said, “Explain yourself. I’m willing to hear you out.”
“Okay,” I said, “but to explain myself I have to tell you a story.” I sensed a puzzlement on his part, so I quickly added, “All spiritualities are based on a story. You have to know the story of a particular religion to understand its spirituality.”
This statement aroused the curiosity of everyone. “Tell the story,” said Jack. “Maybe I don’t know the story; as a matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard Christianity told as a story.”
“Okay,” I responded, “but I have to tell you I can’t prove the story.”1
“I like that! I don’t like it when religious people try to prove their faith. Just the fact that you say that we shouldn’t try to prove the story with history and science makes me want to listen.”
899 The children of God are present and give witness in the world to draw others, not to be drawn by them. They should spread their own atmosphere, the atmosphere of Christ, not let themselves be won over by a different atmosphere.
One of the hardest lessons to learn in preaching is that it is very different from teaching, very different from teaching, very different from giving a lecture.
The goal isn’t merely to impart knowledge and information, but to draw someone into a relationship, to draw someone into the story, to reveal to them that they have a part, a role, and are wanted. (This is true not only about the sermon but about any time we bear witness to Jesus, that we share His love with others)
This is profoundly different than the way I was taught in the early days, in classes like Expository Preaching and Homiletics. I have written similarly before on apologetics, that the idea is not to win a case, to convince someone to judge Christianity right based on the proof I present.
We simply need to tell the story, to tell it so well the people are drawn into their place in the story,
This is why the post-modern sermon needs to be transparent, that the messenger be willing to tell his portion of the story transparently, the brokenness, the sin and shame (though not in great detail) the hopelessness that exists when we take our eyes off of Jesus, and His continual drawing us back, and the peace that comes when we see Him again. For if they know God can help us, then we are writing on their hearts the word of the story, the “God so loved (me)”, the “body broken/blood shed for (me).
I would assert that teaching the Bible without making the connection to the listener is not preaching, it is not bearing witness to Jesus. It is simply giving people, overloaded with facts, more facts to deal with intellectually. It appeals to their baser instinct, that they are the judge of reality. But they aren’t the judges, they are not just interested observers. So why preach to them if they were. Telling them the story involves them, it helps reveal to them that they aren’t observers and judges, but part of the story.
This takes the objective truth of salvation and helps it become subjective as well. It takes the historical information stored in our minds and makes it meaningful to our heart and soul.
This is the mystery that has been revealed, that which has been hidden from the beginning of the world. The mystery of God and His people, the people He makes His own, the mystery of how you and I, broken by our sin and the sin of the world, are picked up, healed, brought home.
That is preaching, that is bearing witness to God’s love, that is giving people what God wants them to comprehend.
Tell me the story, write on my heart every word, tell me the story of Jesus (and us), greatest that every was heard.
Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 3181-3182). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
11 And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. Revelation 12:11 (NLT)
And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. Matthew 6:13 (NLT)
1008 In the hour of temptation, practise the virtue of Hope, saying: For my rest and enjoyment I have the whole of eternity ahead of me. Here and now, full of Faith, I will earn my rest through work and win my joy through suffering. What will Love be like in Heaven? Better still, you should practise your Love by saying: What I want is to please my God, my Love, by doing his Will in all things, as though there were neither reward nor punishment—simply to please him. (1)
We all have temptations.
Some involve things we desire. Chocolate, desserts, alcohol, drugs, pornography, sex in any form other than marriage, gossip, slander (especially those people we don’t like). We can even be tempted to whine and throw a pity party, confident that no one has ever been challenged with what we face.
There are also temptations to avoid things: confrontation, suffering, discomfort, having to sacrifice things that are important to us, even martyrdom. We may not like reality as we perceive it, and the temptation is to believe that perception and hide from that which we cannot control or enjoy.
We pray to God that He would strengthen us against such things, but we fail for so many of them. You aren’t alone in this dear reader, I fail as well, so does every priest and pastor you encounter. Every saint was tempted, and of all History, only Jesus was tested in all points and never succumbed.
Does that mean we stop striving for it and give it up? Do we just enjoy that which damages our bodies and souls? Do we just find our cave, and hide from anyone who might do us harm, including ourselves?
For if we can’t overcome temptation, if we can’t live the perfect, holy life, then why try?
Does God really expect us to live miserably, failing over and again?
The answer is seen in the quotes above, in the description of our lives, found in the Book of Revelation. Yes, the description of our lives, pictured as those who have overcome, (the word nike in Greek – we just did it!) How?
By the blood of Christ – the promise of our being rescued from this life and the damage caused to it by sin. We count on that; we have confidence that God is doing exactly that in this wearying life.
We trust in what God reveals! We know it so well that we are willing to testify to it, testify to it, even like the martyrs who died, rather than give up the hope that God instills in us…
The last comment is perhaps the hardest; we don’t cling to this life so much, that we face anxiety and fear in view of death. This isn’t easy, to not know this life, the only life we know. It is hard to focus on the future. We have obligations and pressures. We have to keep in balance so many different things.
I love Escriva’s two-step approach to this. The first, to have the ultimate sense of delayed gratification. To know what God awaits us, and press on like Paul – to reach that which God has already made it possible to enjoy. That challenges our perceptions, which our sacrifices are complete, that our commitment goes over and above what should be expected.
The second phase is where Christian maturity is revealed, where we have started to understand the depth of God’s love, the blessings He pours out on us, by loving us like that.
To endure life, to work through temptation and trial, to sacrifice things in this life, because doing so frees us to do something that brings God joy! When we got to the point where we don’t do things for the rewards of heaven, but simply because of love for God.
This attitude only occurs when we realize first His love.
Realizing His love puts this life with its trials, temptations and sacrifices into perspective.
I pray that as we deal with the trials and temptations of life, that first and foremost, we look to God and know His love and promises.
For then we know the Blood of Christ, we see it at work in our lives, we treat life in view of eternity, and because of God, we overcome.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3553-3557). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
8 But when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be filled with power, and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8 (TEV)
10 Then I heard a strong voice out of Heaven saying, Salvation and power are established! Kingdom of our God, authority of his Messiah! The Accuser of our brothers and sisters thrown out, who accused them day and night before God. 11 They defeated him through the blood of the Lamb and the bold word of their witness. They weren’t in love with themselves; they were willing to die for Christ.Revelation 12:10-11 (MSG)
35 Women received their loved ones back again from death. But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. Hebrews 11:35-37 (NLT)
12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12 (NLT)
Pictures of Stephen being stoned, with a smug young man named Saul standing in the distance. That same man, being beheaded. Peter and Andrew being crucified. The list of things in the Hebrews passage above, describing the end of life of many believers. In modern days, Jim Elliot and his fellow missionaries being killed, or the people in countries in the Middle East and Asia being killed because they went to church. Churches blown apart by suicide bombers.
Will it happen here? Will we be called upon to be Martyrs? Are the “restrictions” being place on believers in the public square and in public education and in the Healthcare Mandate the forerunners of a great persecution of the church?
Will the American Church fight against martyrdom, run from it, or in faith, embrace it?
Will we wait until we are truly persecuted to embrace it?
You see, martyrdom is not just dieing as victims, matter of fact, a victim mentality is foreign to the idea of martyrdom. We’ve lost the true concept of the word, which is to bear witness, no matter what! Martyrdom means to testify and to “prove”, to stand behind that testimony, even if it means our life.
It is what we are commissioned to do, from the very moment of our baptism. It is our call as the church, to be so focused on the mercy and grace and love of God, that our very lives testify to this relationship God wants with everyone.
Martyrdom is our mission, our apostolate, the reason why we aren’t taken to heaven when God calls us and makes us His own. In order to be martyrs, we embrace sacrifice, suffering and even persecution the way Christ did, not struggling against it, It takes a a special attitude. It means that we have to realize that those who would annoy us, try to restrict us from expressing our faith publicly, those who mock us, and even those who are determined to physically abuse or kill believers, they are not our enemy. They are the ones we have been sent to love, to show mercy to, to share the reason we have hope, no matter what we have to endure to testify to God’s love and mercy for them. We have to get out of our mind that they are the opposition. They are the ones we are called to be martyrs for, even as we pray for them as Stephed did in Acts. Asking that God would NOT hold their sin against them.
We need to embrace it, we need to have the trust in Jesus, that as we live, testifying to His love, that He will give us the strength to endure in Him. That He will give us the words, and the strength to love, even as He calls us to be His witnesses, His martyrs.
May His church always embrace that call.
Lord Have Mercy!
- Persecution, Martyrdom, the Love of Christ…. and a hard lesson in prayer (justifiedandsinner.com)
Today’s Devotional/discussion thought:
Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens, “It has come at last— salvation and power and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to earth— the one who accuses them before our God day and night. 11 And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. Revelation 12:10-11 (NLT)
I will grant that you behave properly… But, allow me to speak sincerely. You must admit that you are doing things in such a leisurely way that, apart from not being entirely happy, you remain very far from holiness. That is why I ask: Do you really behave properly? Could it be that you have a mistaken idea of what is proper? (1)
This morning, my sermon is about being a disciple, about being united not just in Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, but to be united to His desire that drove him to the cross.
That’s something I think we overlook a little – being united to the cross includes being united to His heart, His soul, His will. Therefore to the Father’s will as well.
To know and to desire that no one should perish, but that all would come to eternal life. To desire this so much, that we are willing to give up our lives to see it occur. Whether that means martyrdom, as is becoming a daily event again in Egypt, and has been the case in so many other places, or whether it means putting to death our normal desires and wants – to see His accomplished. Will we give up an afternoon of rest to be there for a friend, will we drive a few hours to hold the hand of someone who needs it? Will we forsake our treasures, our bank accounts, even our families, when God chooses and anoints us to be the one who reveals God’s love to others? We are called to love others, as Christ loved us…
You see – martyrdom isn’t just physically dying for our faith. The word means to testify, a testimony of one’s life – what we are willing to die rather than recant. It means putting others needs first – sacrificing our lives for theirs.
It’s not about our death – it’s about that to which we testify, that to which we witness with our very lives..
I think we, in our comfort, in our lack of external physical threat – forget that we too are called to be martyrs.. to give our life, as the One we are united to, gave His…for us.
A heavy call indeed… yet one we need to respond to…and only can…as we know the love of Christ.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 848-852). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
- Why I don’t hate “religion”, because it is His One, holy, catholic/christian and apostolic church (justifiedandsinner.com)
- Would you like a better life? (justifiedandsinner.com)
“The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and make you remember all that I have told you. 27 “Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid. John 14:26-27 (TEV)
“Don’t look for consolations apart from God. See what that priest wrote: There should be no unburdening of your heart to any other friend when there is no need to do so.”(1)
There is a cartoon of a priest, sitting in the confessional. In the booth next to him, a youth is saying, “Father forgive me, for I have sinned.” The priest, with a laptop open to Facebook nods his head and says, “Yes, I see you have!” While meant to be funny, there is a great deal of truth there – most of us would never say in person what we type into our computers, tablets, and phones. We would never purge our soul for all to see. (I note – I have a dozen or so friends with multiple accounts, so that they can tweet or post things that those they are posting about can’t see their gripes and complaints.
The problem is of course, that such posting rarely leads to reconciliation, indeed it often prohibits it. it may feel like such purging is beneficial, but what does it say of your faith? What testimony does it give. If everyone agrees with you and has your “cyber-six” does it increase your peace, or lead to more anxiety? Will blasting your lack of trust in your boss, your parents, your president really help the situation?
Jesus has blessed us, by giving us the Helper, the Advocate, the Paraclete (the one called alongside to support and guide) rhw Holy Spirit. It is my thought that when Luther indicated that the commandment about no misusing God’s name also inferred that we must us His Name correctly, Luther had such in mind. Do we turn to God with our burdens,with that which causes us anxiety or pain? Do we let Him deal with us first, do we see Him reconciling the situation and causing it to work our for good, as He promised?
There are times where God will call someone alongside, someone through whom the Spirit will bring comfort, encouragement, I am not talking about that as much as our mass distribution of our gripes, complains, anxieties. Will we bring them to God before bringing them to the world? WIll we take it to the Lord of All, who can change the situation, or change us within it? (nor am I talking about asking people for prayer btw)
Or will we turn away… and let the entire world see how little we trust in God?
My friends- cry to God for mercy first – and watch how different things take on a different view…..
He always has answered, He always will…He will now….
So go ahead, He is listening..
(1)Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1645-1646). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Today’s thought and devotion:
It seems that many Christians today are on crusades. Those crusades can be very different – but they are often against our leaders, or those who wish to be our leaders. With heavy hearts and loads of anxiety we worry about our future, and our children’s. It can get to the point where we lose control – and the anxiety causes us to… well lets be honest… sin. Especially in thought and with our words, as we pass along tweets and posts that we think “zing” those we oppose. But what happens if we measure them against scripture. For instance, as Paul talks about living in joy, and being anxious for nothing he writes:
4:4 Always be joyful, then, in the Lord; I repeat, be joyful. 5 Let your good sense be obvious to everybody. The Lord is near. 6 Never worry about anything; but tell God all your desires of every kind in prayer and petition shot through with gratitude, 7 and the peace of God which is beyond our understanding will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, let your minds be filled with everything that is true, everything that is honourable, everything that is upright and pure, everything that we love and admire—with whatever is good and praiseworthy. 9 Keep doing everything you learnt from me and were told by me and have heard or seen me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:4-9 (NJB)
Those highlighted words are hard to hear – in these days were we see a sharp retort or a really smart comment, and hit “share”before we think about how the post affects us. Does it cause our faith to fail, and if so, our faith in whom? Does engaging in such boost our pride, and rob us of our peace? Does it breed more anxiety over our situation, as we continue to bear witness that is negative and fatalistic. Do our sarcastic and cynical quips stop us from discussing the true issues – and paralyze us from actually engaging in God-pleasing actions to make a difference. What is the impact of our own unrighteousness, as we encourage dishonor, and do we think what it does to that which is truly important that we bear witness to – the mercy of Christ?
I am serious, when I make the claim that our political activisim can easily work to undermine our faith, without consideration to whose “side” we are on. It as much how we battle, and how we speak, that creates brokeness as it is the issue or the person we are backing, or opposing. In the heat of the moment, as our anxiety gets the better of us, we don’t realize it.
So here is the challenge – do we look first to God, do we consider the mercy of Christ and such things as Peter wrote about the Emperor who would order his death, when he wrote – Respect the Emperor… Do we grasp what our actions will do to our witness of God’s presence and the peace it brings? Do we realize what dwelling in all this muck and mire will do to us, how it will result in even more brokenness in our lives?
DO we look to Jesus, and embrace Him, as Psalm 2 says, when it considers the schemes and plans and evils of leaders? Let us find Christ’s joy and peace and the great things Paul thinks of – then let us engage the world. From the position of His strength, trusting in His promises…
and crying our in faith, Lord have mercy!
May we be confident that He will…