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David Bahn-Reflections Podcast

For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 [ESV]

Past its Prime | Dearborn, MI | August 2022

I remember it so vividly. The pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming was 80 years old, but fit as a fiddle. He was also the District President. And he was a strong leader. Direct and forthright. Clear and able to make his point. On one occasion he had cause to make his point with me. I had provided a funeral service for a man I had seen in the hospital…without his knowledge or permission. As a vicar, you’re really not supposed to do anything without permission. And he let me know.

But that’s not what I vividly remember. One Sunday he had preached on John 6:37, where Jesus says, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” He so very eloquently and kindly laid out the gospel promise of Jesus. No one would be rejected if they come to Jesus in humble faith. He is open to all. His heart is open to all. He receives sinners. Such good news. And that Sunday, a young woman, as she left the church said with deep emotion in her voice and demeanor, “Thank you so much for that message. I really needed to hear that.” I don’t know what in her life made that so important, but I knew the message had a powerful impact on her.

I also vividly remember the way he would sign his letters…or at least one letter I happened to see. “He loves us so much!” How powerfully encouraging that was to me. Our God is a God of mercy, faithfulness, justice, and steadfast love. That is precious good news for me and for us all. When God gave the 10 Commandments to Moses, it says, “The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.'” And while it is clear that God is no pushover, but a God of justice and judgment, the comparison between God’s justice and his loving forgiveness, is 3 or 4 generations of justice compared to thousands of generations of love. 

Paul speaks of his attitude toward the people at Thessalonica when he says, “We were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (v. 7). There is a time for tough love. There were times when Paul was harsh. But on this occasion especially, his tone is kind and gentle, reflecting the very nature of God’s tender love for us. That soothes my soul and comforts my heart. I hope it does yours as well.

 

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David Bahn-Reflections Podcast

For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 [ESV]

Orange Flower | Dearborn, MI | August 2022

I was sitting with some fellow pastors in a meeting of a local ministerial alliance. We had a cordial relationship even though we were from decidedly different beliefs and church bodies. That became clear to me as we spoke about evangelism, Jesus, judgment, and hell. One pastor disavowed belief in hell. Another spoke about Jesus as a moral teacher (only). And another rejected the idea of miracles. Then he added, “Of course, I’d never tell my people that!” I shake my head now as I recall that moment. Sad.

It’s also true that proselytizers to the cults will withhold much of their unique and blatantly bazaar beliefs from people as they begin to woo them. Only later does one find out that the LDS belief includes a Mr. & Mrs. God procreating spirit children for their own planet. In fact you may not know that while polygamy is officially rejected by the LDS church, they hold out the idea that a man will have a harem of spirit wives in their celestial realm. No polygamy now, but wait until then!

Paul makes the point that his “appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.” He comes with the truth in no way shaded or obscured. In fact that truth got him in lots of trouble. The cross was a scandal to the Jews. The empty tomb a stumbling block to the Greeks. But he spoke openly and boldly of both.

When I first was exposed to Lutheran teachings I was impressed by two things. Every time I asked a question about a belief or a practice (from Jesus’ descent into hell to the practice of infant baptism), I was pointed to the Bible. Our teachings – even the unpopular ones – come from the Bible. And that was made clear again and again. The second was that we were always led back to Jesus: his love, grace, truth, mercy, and forgiveness. The center of our theology is Jesus, specifically, justification by grace through faith.

Some people don’t feel the need for God’s grace. Their consciences are seared. Some reject the idea that he is the sole repository of truth and the only way to God. Some people reject God’s word. Some people want nothing to do with what they call, “your truth.” But this is our confession, our delight, and our joy: Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father apart from him. We need not look elsewhere. No one else has died for us. No one else has conquered death. No one else offers the pure joy and peace that he offers. And that’s the truth. Let it be told!

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David Bahn-Reflections Podcast

For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 [ESV]

Bee on an Orange Flower | Dearborn, Michigan | August 2022 

Maybe you remember the TV program, To Tell the Truth. Kitty Carlisle and Tom Poston were two of my favorite panelists on the program. Three people would claim to be a person of some unusual note, two of whom would have to lie or make up stories to play the part of the real “Sally Smith,” or “Thomas Thompson.” At the end, of the segment, the host would say, “Will the real Sally Smith, please stand up.” And the real one would be revealed. The goal was to outwit the panelists and have them guess the wrong contestant.

I wonder whether we too easily fall into the category of fooling the people around us into thinking we’re someone we’re not. That’s a dangerous ploy, especially if we’re pretending to be Jesus people, or godly people. Jesus called such people hypocrites. They tried to hide their unbelieving hearts by outward shows of piety. They prayed long prayers. They made a show of their religion. They let everyone know of their giving. They dressed the part of pious Jews. But inside they were far from God. Jesus called them whitewashed tombs. 

Truth be told, we are all sinners in need of God’s mercy and grace. For some reason – perhaps because of the added bandwidth in my life after retiring – I’ve become more and more aware of both the temptations around me as well as my abiding need for God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness. That’s the truth about me. I want to be a man after God’s heart, but I, like Paul, see a different power at work in my heart. The good I would do I don’t do. The evil I hate, I do (cf. Romans 7:18-25). Maybe you can relate to that struggle too. 

But we have been entrusted with the gospel (v. 4): the good news that “not for our own merits, but for Christ’s sake, God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake”(Augsburg Confession, Apology [Defence] Article V). We can take that two ways. God has forgiven our sins. God’s Gospel has come to us. That calls for us to live in forgiveness. Rejoice in God’s mercy and forgiveness. Repent daily and claim Christ’s forgiveness. Don’t hide it. Confess your sins. Confess your Savior. Truth be told that is the way to eternal freedom and pure joy. 

But there’s another way in which we’ve been entrusted with the Gospel. We can realize that we have been entrusted with a message to share with others. Indeed we have. Whenever we are able to point people away from their sin and toward Jesus’ cross and empty tomb we are to do so. It might start by telling the truth about our own brokenness and your thanks to God for Jesus’ mercy and grace.

Truth Be Told

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David Bahn-Reflections Podcast

For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 [ESV]

Black Crowned Night-Heron | Dearborn, MI | August 2022

In the movie, Martin Luther: Heretic Luther is teaching theology at the university. His students are tracking with him, but not in agreement. He speaks of justification by faith, and one of the students exclaims, “Faith! Every German peasant has faith!” “Yes,” says Luther. “Will heaven be filled with German peasants?!?” he asks in disgusted disbelief. 

But the conversation continues and Luther is leading this by his wit and intelligence to an even more important lesson than who will be in heaven. “It can’t be that simple,” says the student. Luther responds, “You think faith is simple?” Then…”You mean we can do whatever we want as long as we have faith? We can do as we please?!?” goes the incredulous reply. Luther: “And what pleases you? Spend the night in a whorehouse? Make silly faces at the Duke?” Luther goes on to teach that the tree makes the fruit good, not the other way around. 

So…what pleases you? Getting away with whatever mischief you can? Finding a way to hide your wealth all the while you indulge your every pleasure? Seeing how little you can do to look good to others? Indulging yourself at every opportunity? Showing off your wealth in order to impress others? Belittling others who are less fortunate than you?

There are a thousand ways we can indulge our selfish appetites. But all of them have in common the desire to please ourselves or impress others. Better we should seek to please God. 

Paul made a big deal about pleasing God rather than man. He made a point that his ministry was all about honoring God rather than gaining man’s approval. And he suffered for it. He alludes to that suffering here when he writes, “we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi.” In other places he speaks of having been beaten, shipwrecked, imprisoned, and harrassed for the sake of the Gospel. Paul didn’t blink an eye when it came to choosing between pleasing God and gaining man’s approval. He chose to please God – no matter the cost. 

If I am to order my life around pleasing God, I will be true to his word. I will obey his commands. I will encourage others in their walk. I will look to him for guidance. I will trust him above all things. That will sometimes mean suffering. I may be ridiculed. I may forego some worldly pleasures. I may miss out on some so-called fun. But I am choosing to align myself with God’s will and ways. When I fail, I repent and God forgives. How about you, Dear Reader? What pleases you?

Join me in praying these psalms on this Lord’s Day. He loves us so much!

Psalm 28:1-2, 6-8

To you, O Lord, I call;
    my rock, be not deaf to me,
lest, if you be silent to me,
    I become like those who go down to the pit.
Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy,
    when I cry to you for help,
when I lift up my hands
    toward your most holy sanctuary.

Blessed be the Lord!
    For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
    in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
    and with my song I give thanks to him.

The Lord is the strength of his people;
    he is the saving refuge of his anointed.

Psalm 58:10-11

The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance;
    he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.
11 Mankind will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
    surely there is a God who judges on earth.”

Psalm 88 (Read this as Jesus’ prayer during his suffering and death.)

Lord, God of my salvation,
    I cry out day and night before you.
Let my prayer come before you;
    incline your ear to my cry!

For my soul is full of troubles,
    and my life draws near to Sheol.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
    I am a man who has no strength,
like one set loose among the dead,
    like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
    for they are cut off from your hand.
You have put me in the depths of the pit,
    in the regions dark and deep.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
    and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah

You have caused my companions to shun me;
    you have made me a horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
    my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call upon you, O Lord;
    I spread out my hands to you.
10 Do you work wonders for the dead?
    Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah
11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
    or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness,
    or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

13 But I, O Lord, cry to you;
    in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 Lord, why do you cast my soul away?
    Why do you hide your face from me?
15 Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,
    I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
16 Your wrath has swept over me;
    your dreadful assaults destroy me.
17 They surround me like a flood all day long;
    they close in on me together.
18 You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
    my companions have become darkness.

Psalm 118:1-4

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures forever!

Let Israel say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let those who fear the Lord say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”

Psalm 148

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
    praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
    praise him, all his hosts!

Praise him, sun and moon,
    praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
    and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the Lord!
    For he commanded and they were created.
And he established them forever and ever;
    he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you great sea creatures and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and mist,
    stormy wind fulfilling his word!

Mountains and all hills,
    fruit trees and all cedars!
10 Beasts and all livestock,
    creeping things and flying birds!

11 Kings of the earth and all peoples,
    princes and all rulers of the earth!
12 Young men and maidens together,
    old men and children!

13 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for his name alone is exalted;
    his majesty is above earth and heaven.
14 He has raised up a horn for his people,
    praise for all his saints,
    for the people of Israel who are near to him.
Praise the Lord!

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®)
Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission.
All rights reserved. 

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace to you and peace.

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 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. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and 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 delivers us from the wrath to come. 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 [ESV]

Daisies, Water Wheel, & Water Fall | Dearborn, MI | August 2022

We were enjoying a road trip with some friends, and talking about some of the geological features we were seeing. “That was made by a giant glacier,” he said. I have no doubt he is right. He is a strong Christian and an intelligent geologist. And I believe God works through means. While I might express the manner of God’s creative work a bit differently: It’s as though God too his finger and scratched out a large gorge in the earth, I might say. I suspect God’s finger was actually a glacier. For God works through means.

We’re brought to faith by means of the Word of God, the Good News of Jesus comes to us and the Holy Spirit excites faith in us. It’s not a zap. It’s not our doing. It’s God’s work through means. The same is true of geological formations, healings (often by means of medicine, and sometimes my means of a miracle), and our daily bread.

God is at work in all these things…through means more often than immediate miraculous activity. When miracles do happen (and surely they do!), it is often to point to something more important than the miracle, but to the goodness, power, and grace of God; calling us to faith.

I see that in this passage. The Thessalonians were brought to faith by the Gospel message, demonstrated with power, and by the diligent work of Paul and others. They became examples to the people there, and inspired them to labors of love, works of faith, and steadfast hope. God used them then to inspire others. And the Gospel message was not only confirmed. It was spread to others. Others were encouraged by the bold faith of the Thessalonians.

All this is so that more and more people commit themselves to serve God and wait for Jesus’ return at the end of days.

The same is true today. Our service, faithfulness, love, hope, waiting and witness is God at work in and through us. Others are blessed by our living and active faith. God works through us to bless others. God works through others to bless and encourage us. It’s a big synergy of grace, love, faith, hope, and service.

The next time you want to check out of life, or give up on hope, or withdraw from an opportunity to serve, consider how you might be short-circuiting God’s work. He will get it done, but you will be the poorer for not being part of God’s work in and through you. For God not only works through you. He works in you, for his glory and your and your neighbors’ good.

I received a link to this prayer today. It comes from Pastor Justin Kollmeyer (more information below). I invite you to pray it with me and many others today…

“Dear Heavenly Father, we come to You again at this important time in the lives of so many. As we think about the start of another school year, we are mindful that it is You who are the root and source of all knowledge and learning. You are the Creator of all things and by Your plan and design all things exist, and not only just exist, but form together in Your divine simplicity and complexity to give us the blessings of life and the capacity for meaningful and fulfilling existence.

“So, we thank You, O God, for Your marvelous creation and our opportunity to learn about it at all levels and grow in our knowledge of it.

“We pray especially for all students at every level. Open their minds to learn and grow in knowledge. Open their minds to see and find You in all things. Give them all a thirst for always seeking more knowledge and skill so they can function at their highest capacity in making our world a better place for themselves, their families, and all those around them.

“We pray for all our teachers. We thank You that they have given their best efforts to attain their expertise in teaching and conveying their knowledge to others. We ask You to give them patience and understanding. We ask You to help them discern what is best for each student under their care. We ask You to encourage them when they grow weary of well-doing.

“We pray for all our administrators and school board members. We thank You for them. You have placed them in places of decision-making and problem-solving. Strengthen them in this. Give them wisdom to see the big picture and lead with confidence and courage. Also encourage them when their burdens seem too much to bear.

“We pray for our parents and grandparents. Thank You for their daily and constant love and care of their children. Give them all a special dose of patience, perseverance, and dedication to stay close to the education of their children. Help them to find the good and affirm it, and to find that which needs righting and make it right.

“We pray for all our ancillary staff members: office staff, custodial staff, bus drivers, teacher aids, and anyone involved in this expansive world of education. Touch their hearts with the assurance that they hold key roles for everyone they serve.

“We pray for our security personnel. Keep them alert and let them respond as quickly and appropriately as a situation dictates.

“And as we pray for our security personnel, we ask most of all, O Lord, that every child and every teacher and every administrator and everyone at our schools would be kept safe. Help families and mental health professionals identify and prevent those who might do harm. Help our churches influence our community so that Your Love, O Jesus, would be the prevailing spirit of all who live among us.

“All of this we ask in Your Strong Name, O Jesus. Amen”

Justin Kollmeyer is Pastor Emeritus at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Fayetteville, Georgia.

 

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace to you and peace.

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 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. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and 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 delivers us from the wrath to come. 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 [ESV]

Flowers and Fountain | Dearborn, MI | August 2022

Hope springs eternal: A saying, quoting an Alexander Pope poem. Hope Floats: A movie title. Hope is a dangerous thing: A quote from the movie Shawshank Redemption. Steadfast hope: something we would all wish to have. But for many, hope is all too illusive and fleeting. 

On an earthly level I exercise hope as I look forward to special travel opportunities. Whether it’s a visit with friends in Michigan, a future cruise with other friends, possible travel to visit family, or a road trip with Diane, I love planning and anticipating our travels. I look forward to the adventures. I imagine the experiences, accomodations, new discoveries, and fun times. But changes to those plans can all too easily interrupt those plans. Whether it’s COVID, a family emergency, a ministry need, or the impingement of financial realities, travel plans can easily be cancelled. 

Steadfast hope must be placed on something more certain. Such is our hope anchored in Jesus death and resurrection. Our salvation is a secure and certain thing to which we may attach great hope. The cords of such hope are strong enough to hold our deepest yearnings. Financial realities never intrude: our salvation has been secured and paid in full by Jesus blood. Even the worst disease will not prevent this hope from being realized: the resurrection on the Great Last Day will mark the end of all disease and suffering of every kind.

Nothing stands in the way of hope centered in Jesus’ promises except that which marks hope’s essence: time. Hope is a future thing. Time doesn’t actually stand in the way of hope, it simply proves hope’s purity. As we navigate through time, we keep our hopes alive by focusing on the promises of God. Whenever we get distracted by the cares of this world and the worries of this life, hope waits patiently for us to take hold of it again. Hope in Jesus is steadfast. It is always there, waiting for us to reclaim. 

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace to you and peace.

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 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. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and 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 delivers us from the wrath to come. 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 [ESV]

We came home from the hospital to find the house completely cleaned up, the pleasant smell of clean laundry and the sight of shining floors greeting us. Beds made. Dishes washed and put away. With three boys and a fourth one on the way there was always something out of place or a dish on the counter. And the youngest three made their own beds as you might expect 3-, 6-, and 8-year olds to do. But I felt like I was walking into a model home. What kindness had been visited upon us!

The guilty party was a member of the church I served at the time. And she wasn’t the only one given to such kindnesses. Others volunteered to take the boys to the park, brought dinner, or helped in other ways. Diane’s pregnancy was challenging and our youngest was born 8 weeks premature. He was tiny, but the people’s love was large. Their kindnesses were labors of love for God and for us.

Paul is thankful to God for the labors of love on the part of the Thessalonians. That most likely involved financial support while he was in prison, or off on a mission trip. It most likely also involved acts of kindness and love for one another in the church there as well. And Paul realized that love within the Body of Christ was not only a command of Jesus, but a cause for joy and thanksgiving. It was a reminder of God’s love and an encouragement to keep the faith.

Perhaps you have experienced such labors of love. You may have done them yourself for others. Sometimes they are remarkably easy. You enjoy cooking so you cook twice as much as you need and bring a meal to a friend. You are passing the store on the way home and stop by to get needed items for a sick neighbor.

But sometimes these acts of love are much more challenging. You don’t really have time, but you listen patiently as your brother in Christ pours out his tale of woe and disappointment. You a weekly trip to the residential care facility to see a cousin and offer him a ray of sunshine. You dig deep into your savings to help a niece who can’t seem to hold a job. You consider it an investment and hope it pays off in a better life for her. You forgive a close friend for his offence against you.

Love does these kinds of things because it is inspired by God’s love for us. God’s love moved him to do the most difficult thing imaginable. It moved him to die for us. That is a source of joy and cause of praise. However we may reflect that in our labors of love simply reflects that love, and dimly at best. For Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. By his death we are saved. And because we are saved we are free to do labors of love freely. And others will thank God for us and his name will be praised.

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace to you and peace.

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers,  remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 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. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and 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 delivers us from the wrath to come. 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 [ESV]

Canna Lily II | Dearborn, MI | August 2022

Has your faith ever wavered? Have you ever wondered whether it’s all true? Have you grappled with doubts? I certainly have. The devil has a way of planting seeds of doubt, and a willingness to question all this about God. Does he really exist? Does something really happen when I pray? But these questions have not ever kept me from praying, preaching, studying, and wanting to learn more about God. Some of that was born of fear: I honestly do fear the dire consequences of abandoning faith in God. Some of it has to do with love. In fact I am more captivated and sustained by the pure truth of God’s steadfast love. I have no doubt of that. Some of it has to do with trust. I do not trust anyone other than God. I never doubt the trustworthiness of the God in whom I believe.

As a result of this, I continue to write, preach, teach, and give myself to God’s service as best I can. I rely desperately on God’s grace in all this. If he were not a gracious and forgiving God, I would have no hope. If he is not trustworthy, I would have no reason to share these thoughts with anyone. If he did not love me and all people, all would be lost. And it is the purity of God’s love that holds me fast in faith.

Love is truly good. Love is patient, kind, gracious, and constant. Love keeps no record of wrongs, bears all things, believes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. (cf. 1 Corinthians 13 for a refresher course in the nature of true love – God’s love)

Because of this, I am willing to be generous. Because of this I delight to share the hope of God in the face of death. Because of this I resist temptation. Because of this I seek always to honor God. These are the works of faith. And whenever I falter or stumble, I fall back on God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. And I keep on going.

Yours may be a different list. A kind word to a troubled woman battling chronic pain. A word of encouragement to a struggling coworker. A gift to someone who needs cheering up. A listening ear to a wayward daughter. A word of forgiveness to someone who has hurt or offended you. A phone call to a grieving widow. A helping hand to a neighbor in need. A sack of groceries to a sick friend. A meal to a grieving family. A silence in the face of false accusation, knowing that God has the final say. A willingness to be known as a follower of Jesus…one who is still learning what that means and how to follow him well.

All these at best are works of faith. At worst they are an ugly cover-up for an unbelieving heart. And while ours will never be perfectly pure, faith’s essential tenet is that our sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake, and any work of faith flows from that faith.