We Are Living In A Spiritual Fishbowl

 

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Several days ago, the Lord led me to do a study in 1 Thessalonians.  In His sovereignty, this study comes at a perfect time with the worlds current events.

I Thessalonians speaks about REAL HOPE in the midst of the trials and tribulation that surround us.

Warren Wiersbe written commentary on 1 Thess., “Be Ready” really sums up what we face ahead.

Aquarium/Fishbowl Experience –

What do you do with an aquarium?  What do you do when you visit an aquarium?  I just look.  The fish, for the most part are oblivious–could care less.

I remember when first married and we were as poor as a church mouse.  An aquarium sat on a stand in our duplex style apartment, with not much else in the room.  It was Valentine’s Day, and unable to afford much except exchanging Valentine cards, my wife said,  “Did you notice the aquarium?”  “No,” I replied. “Why?”  “Just go look,” she said.  There on the outside of our aquarium, on the outside of the glass, was a heart drawn in pink lipstick–“I LOVE YOU”.  But there’s more!  For fourteen cents, my wife bought an angel fish.  I must have watch that fish swimming around behind the glass for hours.  Even days later, that angel fish reminded me of my wife’s love for me and it wasn’t the amount spent, but the LOVE behind the gift.  “For God so loved the world that He GAVE…” John 3:16.

As Christians, we live in a spiritual fishbowl.  People are constantly examining us and looking at us, especially in times of stress and discomfort. They let us know when we misspeak or mess up entirely.

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There’s another reason why they watch us.  The problem is…we’re often oblivious–like fish in a bowl–we could care less what they see or even read on our social media page; which means they may be viewing the wrong things.  

The Barna Group–“Knowledge to navigate a changing world” says there’s “no difference between believers and unbelievers.”  

That’s tragic–it’s no wonder Christianity as we know it isn’t growing like it should.

This was definitely not the case with the Thessalonians.

Here was a church who realized they were being watched on all sides.  Paul hears about their reputation/testimony, and writes to them.

There’s a LESSON here for us.  Our reputation is at stake and the world is watching us; they need to see a DIFFERENCE is us.

1 Thessalonians 1 BACKGROUND:

This was a fledgling church (Paul was there but 3 weeks).  Paul had been kicked out, riots going on, their pastor was gone.  They were familiar with persecution.  I can imagine it was like being a Christian in Afghanistan or Iraq today.

You would think they wouldn’t be too concerned with their reputation, but the opposite is true.

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Here was a CHURCH whose reputation was faultless.  They had an incredible TESTIMONY.

WHAT OTHERS SHOULD SEE WHEN THEY LOOK AT US:  

“Your work of faith” – salvation (V. 3)

Philippians 2:12 (NIV)

“Therefore, my dear friends; as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

In our spiritual journey on this earth, FAITH gets us on the started on the right path.  Notice what Paul says about our FAITH:

1 Thessalonians 1:4-6:

[4]  For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,  [5] because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.  You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.  [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.

ELECTION makes our FAITH possible — Vs. 4:  “He has chosen us” not vice versa.

John 15:16 (NIV):

[16]  “You did not choose Me, but I chose you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last.  Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”

Somewhere in eternity past, God chose us to believe on Him.  ELECTION makes our FAITH possible, but not automatic.

That takes us to the next step:

CONVERSION makes our FAITH actual “because”– Vs. 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.”

“Because” shows why Paul is so convinced that God CHOSE them.  He sees their changed life, their “conversion.”

The Gospel isn’t just some fancy speech we mouthe that most don’t understand.

No amount of persuasion can “convince” someone to turn to Christ Jesus.

What makes our FAITH actual is the powerful work of the Holy Spirit exhibited in our lives.

Colossians 2:13 (NIV):  “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.”

Our conversion, the transformation of our OLD dead nature, to our NEW nature in Christ, is what makes our ELECTION sure.

The Thessalonian church didn’t just HEAR the Gospel message, they experienced the Gospel!  It transformed their lives!!

ELECTION makes our FAITH possible while CONVERSION makes it actual.

But there’s even more.  We need to have a WORKING FAITH, a VISIBLE FAITH.

ACTION makes our FAITH visible–Vs. 6 (AMP):

[6]  “…become imitators of us and [through us] of the Lord Himself, for you welcomed our message in [spite of] much persecution, with joy [inspired] by the Holy Spirit.”

THEY, the church, became IMITATORS (of Paul and the Lord).  They acted out their FAITH and they welcomed the message with JOY (in suffering).

A baby learns by imitating/children playing “copy-cat.”  The same is true in our spiritual lives (we learn by imitating).

When someone comes to Christ, they immediately begin looking at other professing believers to see how they behave; how they act.  [ Prayer, church etiquette, sit in the back, express/hold our emotions, worship. ]

Who are you imitating?  Your spiritual parents?  Your Pastor?  Are they truly IMITATING Christ?

1 Corinthians 4:16 (Paul says)  “So I urge and implore you, be imitators of me.”  He could say that because in Galatians 2:20 (NIV):

[20]  “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Paul commended the Thessalonians because they had a REAL working FAITH.  In other words, they wore their FAITH on their sleeves, visible to everyone they came in contact with.  There was a great difference between them and their pagan, unbelieving neighbors.  So Paul didn’t need to defend them, he bragged about them!

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1 THESSALONIANS 1:7

People often wonder how we can know if someone is SAVED or not.  Paul knew that God chose the Thessalonians for SALVATION because he saw the POWER of the Gospel in their lives.  He also saw their transformation in their working, visible FAITH.

DO WE HAVE THAT KIND OF FAITH?

The world should see JESUS in us!

The WORLD should see our LABOR OF LOVE – Vs. 3:  “Your LABOR should be prompted by LOVE”

Whereas FAITH gets us started on the journey, LOVE becomes the vehicle on our way.

Will Rogers once said,  “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

What is the LABOR OF LOVE?

1 John 3:18 (NIV):  

“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”

John 4:15 (NIV):

“If you love me, you will obey what I command.”

There are so many opportunities that are missed in our Christian life in reaching out to others with the LOVE of Christ.

  • At WORK:  working for the Lord or your boss?
  • At HOME:  patience?  loving our families as Christ loves us.
  • In SOCIETY:  Lifestyle Evangelism?  integrity?
  • In CHURCH:  seeking to meet others’ needs, rather than our own?

FAITH & LOVE go hand in hand.  You can’t have visible faith without real love!

Galatians 5:6 (AMP):

“For [if we are] in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith activated and energized and expressed and working through love.”

The WORLD is watching us!  Our reputation is framed and hanging on the wall!  

They should see our working FAITH and our labor of LOVE in action.

V. 3…your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ

The WORLD should be able to SEE our everlasting HOPE!

Paul actually uses three qualities as bookends in the closing of this chapter (vs. 9-10 AMP):

[9] For they themselves volunteer testimony concerning us, telling what an entrance we had among you, and how you turned to God from [your] idols to serve a God Who is alive and true and genuine.

[10] 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 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].

FAITH gets us started on the journey, LOVE becomes the vehicle, and HOPE…? HOPE shows us where we’re going.

There’s a difference between HOPE & WISHING.  This HOPE Paul’s referring too, isn’t like dropping pennies into a wishing well.  This HOPE is like saying, “I hope tomorrow is Monday!”

The Thessalonian BELIEVERS had a real, visible, enduring HOPE.

They hoped for 3 things that we too, should hope for (VERSE 10):

#1.  They HOPED for Jesus’ return!  “…look forward to and await the coming of His Son from heaven.”  (v. 10)

#2.  They HOPED in Jesus’ resurrection, who He raised from the dead and because of the RESURRECTION, they knew too,  and they will eventually conquer death and be raised to a new life in Christ.  When Jesus returns, all those who HOPE in His resurrection can have confidence that we will live with Him forever!

#3.  They HOPED in Jesus’ rescue from God’s coming wrath (v. 10).  There’s coming a Day when God will return vengeance and wrath upon this godless and evil world we currently live in.  Those who’ve chosen God, those who’ve been transformed, those who’ve a visible faith and a labor of love…have a heart peace from the HOPE they will be RESCUED from His great wrath.

SO, WHAT DO PEOPLE SEE WHEN THEY LOOK INTO… OUR “FISHBOWL”?

Do they see CHRIST in us?

Do they see a WORK OF FAITH?  a labor of love?  an enduring, everlasting LOVE?

Do they see a DIFFERENCE in us?

If not, why would they want to become a Christian?

Whether we like it or not, we are LIVING in a public aquarium, where we’re putting on a show for the world to see.  How’s the show going?

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We need to be ready for Jesus’ soon return.  

In the meantime, we also need to be busy bringing people to Him by being imitators of Jesus, before it’s too late.

 


CREDITS –

COMMENTARY:  Enduring Word Bible Commentary:  1 Thessalonians 1 – Receivers and Responders.

PHOTOS:  Google Image Search.

BIBLE TRANSLATIONS:  New International Version (NIV), except where noted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Are The Teachers?

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Before answering the question in this blog title, I felt needed to identify–find out who the teachers are in the body of Christ.  So let’s look at the Book of Ezra together to observe some distinguishing qualities.

EZRA’S RESUME: 

First of all, Ezra wasn’t the one who had the Temple rebuilt.  That was Zerubbabel.  He wasn’t the one who had the wall built around Jerusalem to protect the inhabitants.  That was Nehemiah.  Ezra wasn’t responsible for the things made from stone.

Then who was he?

Ezra was a PRIEST, a direct descendent of the line of Aaron.  Because of his lineage, he could have functioned as a HIGH PRIEST.  Yet we probably better know him as a “SCRIBE”, a teacher of God’s Word (Ezra 7:6).

Ezra is often called the “father of Judaism” and ancient rabbis said, “If Moses hadn’t received the Law of God, Ezra would have.”

He was the author of the following books:  1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and some scholars have suggested he may have written Ester as well.

Ezra was responsible for the establishment of the SYNAGOGUE.  This was a system to help the people learn the Law of Moses in a setting near their homes on a weekly basis, rather than just going to Jerusalem three times a year.  This would become the basis for Christians of having church each week.

We actually don’t get to meet the man named EZRA until Ezra 7–where we see one of the unique characteristics of a teacher’s life.

“For the hand of the Lord his God 

was upon him.”

(Ezra 7:6-b.)

“THE HAND OF GOD” –

Psalm 63:1-8 Amplified Bible:

[1] O GOD, You are my God, earnestly will I seek You; my inner self thirsts for You, my flesh longs and is faint for You, in a dry and weary land where no water is.  [2] So I have looked upon You in the sanctuary to see Your power and Your glory. [3] Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise You.  [4] So will I bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.  [5] My whole being shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips.  [6] When I remember You upon my bed and meditate on You in the night watches.  [7] For You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings will I rejoice.  [8] My whole being follows hard after You and clings closely to You;  Your right hand upholds me.” 

Psalm 63 is a song of David.  But it could have very well been a Psalm of Ezra, or what that matter, yours and mine too.

WHAT IS THE “HAND OF GOD”?article-1169776-046ECDC9000005DC-372_634x475

It is another way of displaying the POWER OF GOD; it is how God gets His work done in our lives.

So what moves the ‘hand of God”?

I noticed an interesting thing about God’s hand being on Ezra.  Ezra didn’t just think this was some sovereign move of God which he had no part in. He realized there were certain things that moved God’s hand–

Ezra 7:9-10:

[9] On the first of the first month he started out from Babylon, and on the first of the fifth month he arrived in Jerusalem, for upon him was the good hand of his God.

[10] For Ezra had prepared and set his heart to seek the Law of the Lord [to inquire for it and of it, to require and yearn for it], and to do and teach in Israel its statutes and its ordinances.

A “prepared heart”–

PREPARED  kuwn, Hebrew word. (hipul); to establish, to set up, accomplish, do, make firm; to fix, make ready, prepare, to direct toward (moral sense); to arrange, order.

HEART – lebab, Hebrew word; inner man, mind, will, heart, soul, understanding.

Ezra 7:10 NASB –  “set his heart”

Ezra 7:10 NLT –  “determined to” 

Ezra 7:10 NIV –  “devoted himself”

It all starts right here my friends–with YOUR HEART.  If you don’t want God to work in your life. He won’t.

BECOMING A DEVOTED STUDENT–

When I was a student in school, my concept of success in  study was to “just get by.”  I would do the minimum amount required to gain approval from my parents.  In High School, this idea worked fairly well maintaining a “B” average.  But when I went to college…the “just getting by” plan didn’t work.  After 3 1/2 years of stumbling around academic target practice, trying to decide what my future profession would be–with little help from parents, friends, and school counselors–I dropped out of school.  I came to the general conclusion–I just wasn’t going to be a STUDENT.

The Change that Occurred in My Life…

After becoming a born-again believer in Jesus at age 30, and as I matured in Christ over the years, God’s hand wasn’t in my life and I had become frustrated in being a servant in His service.

As I grew in spiritual maturity, I began to become a student of God’s Word as Ezra became and as a result of God’s POWER, His hand, I became a TEACHER of God’s truth.

Ezra became a TEACHER of God’s truth and restored a nation of believers in a right relationship with God.

COMMUNICATING GOD’S WORD EFFECTIVELY IN THE WORLD TODAY–

Much like in Ezra’s day, as he thirsted after God’s holiness and insights and then communicated it effectively to others should be all of our goals.  Our reputation as TEACHERS is at stake as was Ezra’s.  How did he get that reputation?  “having God’s hand on him” (Ezra 7:6).  

We LEARN by the words given…

Ezra was a TEACHER who was well-studied and diligent in knowing God’s teachings.  Ezra’s REPUTATION was one of being known [and not to just the “religious” ] as a STUDENT of God’s law and because of his studious mindset, God’s hand was on him.

You might be thinking right now, “I’m not a teacher.  It’s just not my spiritual gift.  I didn’t go to bible school or seminary or have I taken an online bible college class.  There isn’t a teaching certificate on the wall. 

Let me counsel and guide your thoughts here, taking you to the apostle Paul’s instruction to  a young man by the name of Timothy:

“Study and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial), a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth”  (2 Timothy 2:15 AMP).

**Note:  “The best teacher is one who is always a student and always learning.” ~ Dr. Howard Hendricks’ “Learning Professor”.

A TEACHER’S RESPONSIBILITY:

Dr. Hendricks felt it was the RESPONSIBILITY OF THE TEACHER to teach people to learn, not the students.

Hendricks tells of a professor who made a great impact in his life.  He passed the teacher’s home many times–early mornings or late at night, and often saw him pouring over his books.  One day Hendricks asked him, “Doctor, I would like to know what is it that keeps you studying?  It seems you never cease to learn.”  His answer:  “Son, I would rather have my students drink from a running stream than from a stagnant pool.”

“STUDYING” GOD’S WORD wasn’t enough for Ezra–

EZRA devoted himself–prepared himself–set his heart to–STUDYING.  He was zealous, relentless in his study of God’s Word. Nothing superseded his study time.  He digested it in his heart and in doing so, it changed him so much that he became DEVOTED to observing what he learned.  He LEARNED and then put it into practice in his own life.

I’ve often thought to myself over the years, wouldn’t it be nice to see the results of my effort before committing the effort.  But take a moment to look at EZRA’s success–

THE RESULT FROM STUDYING–

Others noticed his effort and because of his passion he earned a reputation; his REPUTATION to those who would listen.

EZRA was not only studious but a TRAINER, TEACHER of people who probably followed these principles.

The RESEARCH INSTITUTE OF AMERICA gives us a list of requirements for those who train–teach others.  I keep this list in a notebook on my desk for reference and reminders for my own teaching: (by Donald Kirkpatrick)

#1.  DESIRE TO TEACH.

#2.  KNOWLEDGE OF THE SUBJECT.

#3.  ABILITY TO COMMUNICATE.

#4.  PATIENCE.

#5.  SENSE OF HUMOR.

#6.  TIME TO DO A THOROUGH JOB.

WE ALL HAVE A GOD-GIVEN RESPONSIBILITY TO TEACH:

No, sorry. It is NOT just the responsibility for the pastor.  After JESUS’ resurrection and exaltation, He sends his disciples out with the mandate to perpetuate His teaching:

“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.  TEACHING them everything that I have commanded you…”  (Matthew 28:19-20).

THE SALVATION MESSAGE:

“For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the word that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that WHOEVER BELIEVES IN (trusts in, clings to, relies on)  Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life”  (John 3:16).

OBEDIENCE IN TEACHING–

EZRA 7:10 says a teacher is to PREPARE, SEEK, and to coin a phrase from Madison Avenue,  “…and (‘just’) do it!”

Ezra knew enough that it wasn’t enough just to KNOW God’s Word, yet we don’t let it affect our behavior, fooling ourselves.  We need to LEARN to OBEY what God says:

“Let the word [spoken by] Christ (the Messiah) have its home [in your hearts and minds] and dwell in you in [all its] richness, as you TEACH and admonish and train one another in all insight and intelligence and wisdom [in spiritual things and as you sing] psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody to God with [His] grace in your hearts”  (Colossians 3:16).

“BUT [as for] you, TEACH what is fitting and becoming to sound (wholesome) doctrine.  URGE the older men…  Bid the older women…  So that they will wisely train (teach) the young women…”  (Titus 2:1-4).

 SHARING IN OBEDIENCE–

EZRA 7:10 further gives us our responsibility as God’s disciples:

“…and to teach in Israel statutes and its ordinances.”

TO TEACH – Hebrew word lamad – to learn, teach, exercise in, train.

STATUTES – choqstatute, ordinance, limit something, prescribed, due.

JUDGEMENTS – mishpat – judgements, justice, ordinance.

Ezra’s RELATIONSHIP with the Word wasn’t just about living a better life for himself.  He knew he needed to share–COMPELLED–to share, to communicate God’s Word with those around him.

“So we are Christ’s ambassadors, God making His appeal as it were through us. We [as Christ’s personal representatives] beg you for His sake to lay hold of divine favor…”  (2 Corinthians 5:20).

We are PLENIPOTENTIARIES (Ambassadors) and as God’s representatives we have a responsibility–

According to Dictionary.com, the definition given for the noun AMBASSADOR reads:

A diplomatic official of the highest rank, sent by one sovereign or state to another as its resident representative (ambassador extraordinary) an authorized messenger or representative.

“But I’m not a teacher in any stretch of the imagination!”

By your definition, perhaps not.  But with God’s hand on your shoulder, you have entered the priesthood and by His definition…you are teachers.

If you are a Christian father, God’s Word says you are a TEACHER:

“Fathers don’t over-correct your children or make it difficult for them to obey the commandment. Bring them up with Christian teaching in Christian discipline”  (Ephesians 6:4 – J.B. Phillips New Testament).

LIVING THE EZRA EXAMPLE IN OUR FAMILY AND THE COMMUNITY:

We as Christians need to practice daily Ezra’s example–

#1.  We need to have a REPUTATION like Ezra’s as God’s hand was on him.

#2.  We need to STUDY God’s word with diligence and have a Godly reputation with those around us.

#3.  We need to be DEVOTED to God’s teachings and have a Godly reputation.

#4.  We need to have a reputation so Godly that earthly rulers see and testify about our example.

#5.  We need to be walking sermons and not just talking sermons with no action.  “DO IT”

#6.  We need to be PRIESTS that trust God with all of our heart, mind and soul.  A reputation of being confident in God 100%.

WHO ARE THE TEACHERS TODAY?  The responsibility has been given to you and I.  So, let us all…

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CREDITS:

Photo Images:  Google Images and Photo Pin.

Bible Translations:  Amplified Bible except where noted.

English/Hebrew translation and definitions:  Expository Dictionary of Bible Words – Stephen D. Renn, Editor.