Imitators or Impostors?

1 Thessalonians 1:6-10  (NIV):

[6] You became IMITATORS of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.  [7] And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.  [8] The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia–your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it,  [9] for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,  [10] and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead–Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

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MAKING AN IMPRESSION:

Sometimes I hear a new song, read a book, or see something that so grabs my attention, I can’t help myself.  As soon as I have the opportunity, I want to tell someone I meet or share my experience on Social Media, “I gotta tell you about this book I’m reading…” or whatever it is.

That’s when it is CLEAR…it really made an impression.

And what happened when Paul and his fellow evangelists came to Thessalonica made that kind of IMPRESSION?  Not only impressing the local church people, but also on people all over the place.

Conversation was “buzzing” all around Greece and neighboring countries.  Nobody had to ask,  “Have you heard about those strange Jews going around talking about someone called JESUS?” because everybody who had heard about them, were telling someone else without being asked.

That’s the meaning of what Paul says in VERSE 8:  “The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia–your faith in God has become known everywhere.”

And what people were talking about wasn’t just the new church down at “The Corner of Heartbreak Ridge and New Hope Road” ([i]Footnote). but the way it had come into being.

People were talking about the amazing and instantaneous effect the Gospel had effecting their lives.

At the heart of it all…

At the heart of it all was the call to WORSHIP…of the One True God rather than the surrounding idols.

It would be like asking the people of today, to give up using their cars, computers, tv’s and cell phones.

The gods of Greek and Roman paganism were everywhere.

For example, if you or your son or daughter were getting married this Summer, a serious and expensive worship of a deity would be expected of you.

At every turn in the road the gods were there; unpredictable, possibly mean and dangerous, and sometimes at war among themselves…there was really no way in appeasing them, making sure you had them on your side.

Paul, Silas, and Timothy…

Right smack dad into this wacky world came three unknown Jews: Paul, Silas and Timothy, telling these pagans there was only One True God and this God had a Son, and that Son had been raised from the dead!!! Nobody had ever said anything like that before!!!

And the people in Thessalonica, knowing right from the start, the huge risk they would be taking in the community–turned away from their idols to this Living God, and in doing this…discovered both suffering and great JOY at the same moment!!!

That’s what CONVERSION is all about–

The word “TURNED” in verse 9 of the text, is as close as Paul gets to the technical term of conversion or being SAVED:

“They tell how you turned to God…”

It’s what happens when someone stops going in one direction, turns around and begins going in the opposite direction.

Has this happened to you?

“Changing Beer Into Furniture”

In preparation for studying and meditating on the verses presented in this blog-post, I ran across a story told of a group of old friends hanging out and having conversation.  One of the men had recently become a Christian:

His old buddies were giving him a bit of a hard time about his conversion experience.

“You don’t really believe all those miracle stories in the Bible, do you?”

In response, his friend replied,

“I don’t know about the miracle stories in the Bible, but I do know about the miracle story in my own life.  Since giving my life over to the Lord, Jesus has changed beer into furniture!”  ([ii] See Footnote)

It’s a sight to see when someone gives their life to Christ!  I did so on August 15th, 1972–my spiritual birthday!!!

Transformation–

As we become more involved in a community of faith,

Volunteering our time,

Learning the JOY of GIVING to God,

Becoming friends–like a family with our brothers and sisters in the FAITH.

[In growing up, I had a brother who was seven years younger than I.  But when I became a BELIEVER, my family grew.  Now I have FAITH SISTERS in the Lord–and my wife, is also my sister in Christ!]

Christian Living in Thessalonica…

Christians had been true BELIEVERS for a very short time; we don’t know exactly how long, but it can’t have been more than a year.

They were very ordinary people doing something extraordinary in response to an unexpected MESSAGE and people from hundreds of miles around were talking about it.

The only explanation…the Living God at work through the MESSAGE of Jesus Christ!

“IMITATORS”/IMPERSONATORS – Verse 6 a.

“And you [set yourselves to] become imitators of us and [through us] of the Lord Himself”  (Amplified Bible).

Even in the face of “severe suffering”, the Thessalonian believers of the day, talked about…

—  GOING AGAINST THE GRAIN OF SOCIETY!!!

—  COURAGE!

—  COMMITMENT

—  ABOUT A MIGHTY GOD!

It wasn’t about them.  It was about HIM!!!

Even in the midst of their suffering and persecution, they were filled with JOY and the POWER of the Holy Spirit.

And so, other people became curious and wanted to know what they had discovered:  “What have they got that I don’t have?”  I wonder myself, if my neighbors are asking the same question about my life:  “Who is he, really?”

Or, is the only thing they notice–my car parked along side of the house on Sunday mornings with the engine at idle–waiting for my wife to get out of the house– then rushing off to Sunday morning services and back home by noon.

“Are the Thompson Family IMPOSTERS or what?”

The people  of First Church of Thessalonica had become Imitators…

 The church as a whole, through their IMITATION OF CHRIST, others began to imitate them…Macedonia and Achaia:

“Your FAITH has become known everywhere” Paul exclaims.

And when something is GOOD…something is REAL, and the word gets around to those who need to hear the Word.

When Christians begin to “LIVE OUT” with…

DEEP CONVICTION,

THE CALLING OF CHRIST JESUS,

THE LIFE OF JESUS,

THE WAY OF LOVE, and

GENEROSITY THROUGH CHRIST, and

the POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT…

…people can’t help notice that THE REAL THING HAS ARRIVED!

Living in a CULTURE engulfed in idols.

We may not call them idols, or call them gods, nor pray to them, but our ACTIONS speak volumes.

When we concentrate our efforts on building a better church buildings for ourselves rather than spending time, talent, money on going out to those who don’t know Christ…we’re WORSHIPPING IDOLS.

But when we give sacrificially so others can eat…

…when we knock on doors and offer a free cup of water or whatever…

…when we become peacemakers and reconcilers…

…when we make an effort in random acts of kindness…

…when we become lovers and not judgers…

–when we seek to heal, help and restore…

…when we offer Christ in these ways…

WE ARE TRULY WORSHIPPING THE ONE TRUE AND LIVING GOD.

And that’s exciting!!!  It’s exciting not only for us, but for those who hear about us.

No wonder the apostle Paul was delighted to write a letter to them,

“We continually remember before our God and Father

your work produced by faith, your labor

prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope”

“Imitators” are Contagious!!!

Bill Hybels says, “God wants us to become contagious [believers]…who will first catch His love and then urgently and infectiously offer it to all who are willing to consider it…”  [See Footnotes – iii]

Are you living your life in such a way as to cause people to want what you have in Jesus?

Paul concludes the opening paragraph in his letter:

“And [how you] look forward to and await the coming of His Son from heaven.  Whom He raised from the dead–Jesus, Who personally rescues and delivers us out of and from the wrath  [bringing punishment] which is coming [upon the impenitent] and draws us to Himself [investing us with all the privileges and rewards of the new life in Christ, the Messiah]”  (verse 10 – Amplified Bible).

Jesus is coming again!

There is no “if’s” in Paul’s wording here.  And being “left behind” as an RELIGIOUS IMPOSTER when He does return… is not a good thing.

“Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.”  Charles H. Spurgeon.

JESUS' Social Media Post

AN “IMPOSTOR’S” IDENTITY:

IMPOSTERS have religious activity that is not connected to a living relationship with Jesus Christ.  They love to look religious–in a “form of godliness.”

“FORM” refers to an outward shape or appearance, putting style over substance.  Read what JESUS SAYS about some impostors of His day:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence”   (Matthew 23:25).

The Separating of Christ’s IMITATORS and the IMPOSTERS:

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His throne in heavenly glory.  All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on His left.  Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry…feed you…or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’  The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

And the IMPOSTERS…the “goats” on the left response?

“Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?”  (V. 44)

“He will reply,  ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did NOT DO for one of the least of these, you DID NOT DO FOR ME”  (V. 45).

The “impostor’s” destiny…

“…they will go away to eternal punishment”

The “imitators” outcome…

“but the righteous to eternal life”  (V. 46).

So where do you belong in your community?

A Imitator…or an Impostor?

Footnotes:

[i]  Gaither Vocal Band Lyrics @ http://elyrics.net > Gaither Vocal Band Lyrics to Heartbreak Ridge and New Hope Road.

[ii] Story from Kenneth Sauer.

[iii]  Bill Hybels, Contagious Christian, pg. 23

 

“Keepers of the Aquarium”

Keepers of the Aquarium
Keepers of the Aquarium

A “FISHING” STORY:

Fishing season for the lakes open up every April  near my home in Washington State.  This year, I purchased a fishing license and headed towards a well-stocked lake nearby.  Since this was my first experience in lake fishing after 71 years, I decided to invite a neighbor who had some expertise in catching FISH.  I definitely needed some instructions from someone who was patient enough to teach me to bait my hook and cast the line out into the water. After a few miss-casts into the tree branches, I finally managed to get the rigging where Henry (my good neighbor) thought the fish might be.  I then was told to lay the fishing pole in a homemade fork looking device that Henry had brought along and then… wait.  I waited…and I waited…watching for the tip of the pole to begin twitching.  And then, it happened!  Henry yelled out, you got a fish on your line Mel.  Reel it in!  My eyes must have been as big as saucers and with a wide grin on my face I reeled in my FIRST FISH…ever.  Actually, when we decided it was time to leave our guarded fishing hole, while reeling in my fishing line…I caught another trout.  I yelled out in glee, somewhat surprising Henry I think, “Thank You Jesus”!  This does prove a point:  You can ‘teach old dogs new things.’

ANOTHER “FISHING” STORY TO TELL IN A MUCH LARGER LAKE:

Bigger Fish, bigger lake
Bigger Fish, bigger lake

There were men pulling in their fishing nets one morning.  The water from the wet nets broke the silence as two of the men stood up to stretch in their 20 Foot wooden boat.  They were eagerly searching for results from their labors of fishing all night long.  Although my experience was but a few hours on a small lake, I too eagerly waited for positive results.

But as the last of the empty nets pile into the boat bottom, they discouragingly reach for the boat’s oars as another wasted night is realized.

“How’s the fishing?” — a mans calls out from the shoreline.

“Nothing.  Absolutely NOTHING!” —they answered back.

“Throw your nets on the other side of the boat”,  orders the man from the nearby water’s edge.

“But we fished all night.”  

Frustration must have been heard in their voices.  I know my impatience would have certainly been with the fishermen’s; if I had been at Lake Padden and the results were…ZERO FISH!  But fishing in a much larger lake, the the Sea of Galilee…all night…fighting the surrounding elements…and coming home with NO RESULTS?

BUT, In Obedience–

After a long pause and the shaking of heads, a sense of authority in the voice coming from the beach is felt and the fisherman responds,  “All right, but only once more…”

456991202_47102379fbAfter a short time, letting out their nets in the same water, shouts of excitement ring out…calls for help sound from the boat.  The nets were so full, they were beginning to break!

You know this story from the conversations given in John 21:1-12.  What a moment that must have been!

The Nets Are FULL of FISH…now what?

Peter and his brother Andrew desperately brought in the catch with the nets breaking.  They must have thought silently to themselves, how did the stranger know where the fish were?  Was it a miracle?

Suddenly Peter remembered the words of Jesus,  “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

On that Post Easter Morning…

On the shore of the Sea of Galilee, as Jesus and the disciples shared together the “fish fry”, a new wind began to blow.  As the Father had sent Jesus into the world…now Jesus was sending them into the world:

“Go then and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”  (Matthew 28:19).

THE TEST:  The Acts of the Apostles 8:1, 4-5.

[1] “…On that day a great and severe persecution broke out against the church which was in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”

[4]  “Now those who were scattered abroad went about [through the land from place to place] preaching the glad tidings, the Word [the doctrine concerning the attainment through Christ of salvation in the kingdom of God].”

[5]  “Philip [the deacon, not the apostle] went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Christ (the Messiah) to them [the people].”

PAUL HARVEY once said,  “Too many Christians no longer are fishermen but keepers of the aquarium.”   

Had the church in Jerusalem become a “fish aquarium”?  Have we in the church– in our communities, become a “fish aquarium too?

I don’t know.  But what I do know is…it wasn’t God’s plan.  Jesus had been very specific when He said,  “And you shall be My witnesses in JERUSALEM and all JUDEA and SAMARIA and to the ends (the very bounds) of the earth”  (Acts 1:8 AMP).

But what about Judea and Samaria?

The Martyrdom of Stephen:

Stephen’s death was an important factor in the life of the Christian community in Jerusalem.  It ignited “a great persecution” which instead of destroying the church movement, it spread the gospel beyond the walls of Jerusalem (Acts 8:1).

In my study and investigation of the evidence given in Acts 8,   I noticed the 12 Apostles remained in Jerusalem.  “Why were they not scattered like everyone else?”  

The church leaders had been granted religious protection by Gamaliel:

[34] But a certain Pharisee in the council  (Sanhedrin)  named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, highly esteemed  by all the people, standing up, ordered that the apostles be taken outside for a little while.  [35] Then he addressed them [the council, saying]:  Men of Israel, take care in regard to what you propose to do concerning these men.  (Acts 5:34-35).

After having them flogged and telling them not to speak in or about the name of Jesus…allowed them to go (verse 40).

Now personally, if that had happened to me, beaten with a whip and told you better not or else…I would have probably thought seriously, “Do I really want to be place in this same dilemma again?”  Maybe it would have been ‘safer’ if I would just mind my own business.  You know, go to church every week; help serve when I can; pray for the lost, the unsaved in the world; just be “low-key” in the larger scheme of things and keep on maintaining in the back row of the church I attend.

But reading further, we see how the 12 apostles reacted to the dilemma:

“Yet [in spite of the threats] they never ceased for a single day, both in the temple area and at home, to teach and to proclaim the GOOD NEWS (Gospel) of Jesus [as] the Christ (the Messiah)”  (Acts 5:42 AMP).

“Pastor, that is easy for you to do and say but…”

The religious leaders had agreed but…ordinary believers; the everyday working man; the stay-at-home housewife and mother had no protection.

No Programs or Written Materials to Hand Out–

I also noticed the message was a simple one:  Jesus’ death and resurrection was carried on the lips of ordinary people.

The gospel message has not changed, nor has God’s plan for personal delivery.  We must depend on the Holy Spirit’s POWER–

It Takes Time to Make Disciples:

Time of paying personal attention to people’s needs around us and hours of prayer are part of what it takes.  There isn’t a Christian assembly line knocking out believers like new cars in 30 or 45 days.  No automatic robots welding spirits and souls together to be “functional participants” in the local church.  It takes patience to teach people How to Fish: How to read the Word of God; How to feed and nourish their souls and their applications to the teaching of Jesus in their behavior.

It is ALL of that and more!

I had many questions for my neighbor Henry the first time I went fishing.  After putting the bait on the fishing hook, I asked Henry, “What do I do next?”  And his short answer to the question…“Get the fishing line in the water.  You’re not going to get any fish just thinking about what might be.” 

“Becoming a Contagious Christian” and not just “Keepers of the Aquarium”:

Bill Hybels developed a mathematical formula for reaching those who are spiritually lost from Jesus:

MR + CP + CG = ND

— Meaningful relationships + Caring for people + Communicating the Gospel = New Disciples –

This is the same pattern that the Holy Spirit used with the believers who fled Jerusalem and it is still an effective plan today.

“Salt Without Savor”–

In Matthew 5:13  JESUS SAID:  “You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?  It is not good for anything any longer but to be thrown out and trodden underfoot by men.”

SALT WITHOUT SAVOR IS:

— Ineffective…

— Worthless…

— Lost its POWER…

— Won’t create thirst…

— Won’t add much spice…

— Won’t prevent decay.

Becky Pippert wrote:  “Unless salt gets poured out of the shaker, it remains a mere table ornament.”

Knowing What To Say When Opportunities Present Themselves; or how to have “savor” in the Church!

Don’t let the idea of being “salty with savor” overwhelm you.  When opportunities present themselves, just tell your story.  It really IS that simple!

Why do you believe in JESUS?

How did you come to know God’s love in your life?

How has JESUS made a difference in your life? 

JESUS TOLD HIS DISCIPLES  “You will be My witnesses”–

In a courtroom, a witness is not expected to argue the case, prove the truth or press for a verdict.  That is the job of the attorney.  A witness just reports what happened.

The Holy Spirit is our attorney…just telling your story in sharing your testimony; it builds a relational bridge between your heart and the people you are sharing with and it lets JESUS cross over the bridge from your heart to theirs.

Here’s An Old, Old Story in Sharing Your Testimony:

I love old hymns and there is one in particular that came to my mind when telling your story or how you came to be who you are as a Christian and how they too can have the same story in their life:

Verse:  

I heard an old, old story,  how a Savior came from glory

How He gave His life on Calvary to save a wretch like me.

I heard about His groaning,  of His precious blood’s atoning,

Then I repented of my sins and won the victory.

Chorus: 

O victory in Jesus, my Savior, forever!

He sought me and bought me with His redeeming blood.

He loved me ere, I knew Him, and all my love is due Him–

He plunged me to victory beneath the cleansing flood.

Being a witness for Christ is that simple.  Just sharing an old, old story about your Victory in Jesus, a hymn written by Eugene M. Bartlett years ago.

“But how do I begin the conversation?”

I’ve learned over the years, asking questions in personal conversations… is a good place to begin.

One example might be, when someone asks you this often asked question “How’s it going?”  

Rather than giving the usual pat answer…“fine”, try this:

“Well, financially, okay; family wise, pretty well; and spiritually really great.  Which one do you want to talk about?”

What’s the Point?

GOD is already at work in people’s hearts…we learn to ask questions to see the Word seeds of the gospel.  The SEED needs to be planted, watered or harvested.

So do we really want to be Fishers of Men, as Jesus instructed us…or, are we just satisfied in being dedicated “Keepers of the Aquarium”?