Monday, March 30, 2009


1Th 3:1 Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone;

In our Wednesday night bible study, we are currently looking at the book of First Thessalonians. One of the things that strikes me about chapter 3 is Paul's transparency. For sake of time and space, I'm not going to post the entire verses that I will reference, but you're welcome to follow along in this chapter with me as I make a few remarks.

The older I get, the less interest I have in shallow and trite expressions of faith. I believe in the power of positive speech (Proverbs 18:21), but I have come to detest the type of cliche' teaching and verbiage we use in Christian circles. What I love about Paul (among many things) is the fact that he wasn't afraid to be authentic and transparent. Yes, Paul would write to the Philippians and say "be anxious for nothing" (Philippians 4:6). But he also admitted to the Thessalonians that he had some anxieties about the state of their faith (I Thess 3:1, 5). Sometimes we must confess as the man in Mark's Gospel did; "Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief" (Mark 9:24b). Paul wasn't afraid that being authentic would somehow undermine his ministry.

Paul was also transparent about the ramifications of answering God's call. He doesn't seek to portray a life of faith as a bed of ease, or a means of being more successful by worldly standards. Yes, he reminds us that God is a God of hope, peace, and joy. But he also reminds us that trials and suffering are equally a component of the Gospel (I Thess 3:3-4). We demand accountability and transparency from worldly institutions. Should those who teach and preach the Gospel have any less stringent requirements? I think not. Those who promise others that a life with Jesus is nothing but a picnic of prosperity are no better than financial advisors who promise outrageous rates of return on tanking stocks. In fact, they're worse; because you can lose your money and make a comeback. What happens to those who lose their faith? (Luke 8:13)

Paul was transparent in his expressions of joy (I Thess 3:7-9). He wasn't afraid to let his converts know that he celebrated victories. Some of us are pretty transparent in our efforts to be negative, but are we secure enough to let others see us rejoice? Truly, there is something about rejoicing that makes us feel vulnerable. Ironically, it takes a measure of humility to allow others see you celebrate your victories in Jesus. But it's worth the risk!

Finally, Paul is transparent about the need for holiness in the Christian life. There are a myriad of reasons why Christians should strive for holiness (not the least of which is that God commands it). Paul reminds the Thessalonians that one day, Jesus will return (I Thess 3:13). To many in our modern world, this may seem like a fairy tale reserved for gullible people. But as surely as the prophecies concerning Christ's first advent are true and were fulfilled precisely, so shall it be with His return. The question is not whether or not He will return, but will you and I be ready? (I John 2:28)

These are some random thoughts on transparency. I hope they challenge you as much as they have challenged me in recent days.

Until next time....

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

God Tries Our Hearts

1Thes 2:4
4 But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. (KJV)

Admittedly, I Thessalonians is one of the earlier writings we have from Paul (some commentators believe it to be his earliest letter). Nevertheless, Paul had enough experience under his belt to speak with authority to the Thessalonian believers. Earlier in this chapter (just two verses prior), Paul refers to his sufferings at Philippi.

To make a long story (very) short, Paul's ministry seemed to have been cut short in Philippi. He casts a demon out of a woman, ends up in prison as his reward, and God supernaturally delivers him (the account is found in Acts 16 if anyone wants to read the back-story). They were kindly asked to leave the city shortly thereafter (Acts 16:39).

When Paul writes to the Thessalonian believers, he assures them that his motives in preaching the Gospel were pure. His purity of motives could be trusted, because he affirmed that God continually tried his heart. The word translated as "trieth" (in the KJV) is the Greek word 'dokimazo'. It means: to test, discern, examine, prove, etc.

Without a doubt, Paul's life was filled with difficulties. You will rarely hear a sermon about this, but when Jesus called Paul to the ministry, He remarked about the "great things" Paul would have to suffer (Acts 9:16). Doubtless, the trials Paul endured (read 2 Corinthians 11:23-33 for a brief summary of what life was like for Paul), helped to purify his motives.

There are times, when I am confident that my motives for ministry are 100% pure. Rarely do I sense or feel the need for God to try me and see if that's the case. But the Word of God tells me that He will try my heart, to make sure my motives are pure. More often than not, He will use adversity as a tool of refinement. Just when I think that I've been tested enough, I'm reminded that I'm no better than Paul. Scripture would seem to indicate that Paul was continually on trial from the devil, from his critics, and from those who sought to undermine his efforts.

So the next time you are going through a difficult season of life, try to take a positive approach to it all. I know it's much easier said than done, but try to remember that God loves us enough to help us keep our motives pure. Jesus gave an example in the famous "sermon on the mount" that illustrates this point. He said it's possible to do "the right thing" for the wrong reasons (praying, giving, and fasting). Let's not forget that why we do what we do is as important as what we do.

Until next time...