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We have just come through the holiday season of “thanksgiving” and so I would like for us to think about giving thanks to God this morning. And specifically, giving thanks when we are suffering. We all know various ones who are going through hard times and perhaps we ourselves are. My goal today is to encourage us to give thanks to God, even in our difficult times.

Too often, I believe, our thanksgiving is based on our circumstances and our feelings about those circumstances. And so, if things are good we are thankful; but if things are bad, we are quiet, or worse – we complain or curse. This ought not be so sisters and brothers. For –

Scripture teaches us to give thanks in all circumstances

As Paul the apostle says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 – “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” And David said in Psalm 34:1 – “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.”

And we have many –

Scriptural examples of giving thanks in hard times

Let’s look at three this morning. The first is Habakkuk in Habakkuk 3.

What are his circumstances? Well, God has brought judgment on the nation of Judah. The Babylonians have come and have wreaked havoc and destruction. And they have carried off the rest of the people into exile. God had sent them to judge Judah, but they had gone way beyond what was necessary.

As the prophet surveys all that has happened, amazingly, he still rejoices in the Lord. v 17-18 – “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”

His rejoicing is definitely not based on his circumstances or his feelings.

Then we have the example of David in Psalm 57. 

What are his circumstances? His life is in danger. The superscription to the Psalm says that it is about when David fled and was hiding from king Saul in the cave.

Listen to his prayer in vs. 1-2 – “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.”

vs. 4, 6 – poetically describe his trouble -“My soul is in the midst of lions; I lie down amid fiery beasts – the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords. . .. They set a net for my steps; my soul was bowed down. They dug a pit in my way . . ..”

But even with his dire situation, he gives thanks to God. In both vs. 5, 11 he says, “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!”

And finally we have the example of Paul in Philippians 1.

What are his circumstances? He is in jail for preaching the gospel. And even in jail some of his adversaries are trying to take advantage of his this to promote their influence at Paul’s expense.

But Paul rejoices. v. 18 – “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”

His rejoicing comes in spite of his circumstances and his feelings.

What about us this morning? Can we be like Paul, David and Habakkuk?  Let’s look at –

Why we can give thanks in all circumstances

We can give thanks 1. Because of who God is. Apart from anything that God does, God is worthy of praise. God is glorious and awesome. God’s character and power are beyond anything we know. And so we should praise him for who he is.

Psalm 106:1 praises God’s character, “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!”

Whether things are good for us, or not – whatever our circumstances – God is still God, and is worthy of our praise.

We can give thanks 2. Because of what God has done. Even in times of trial, we can count our blessings and see what God has done.

James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father . . ..” We should give thanks for life and breath itself, for all the gifts that God has given us, for family – and on and on. Whatever good thing you are or have is from God.

And so despite whatever else may be going on, we can give thanks for God’s blessing to us.

We can give thanks 3. Because in God we have hope and a future. God allows us to go through hard times. Sometime really, really hard times. This is a fact. But whatever happens to us in this life, we have a hope for something better. This life is not all that there is. In fact, we are to live for the life that is to come, not this one.

In 1 Peter 1:6 Peter tells his readers that “now for a little while . . . you have been grieved by various trials.” Just before this he said, “in this you rejoice.” Why do they rejoice in their trials? It’s because of what he had just mentioned in vs. 4-5. They have “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven . . . a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

This hope puts things in perspective for us as Christians. Yes, we will go through difficult times. But we will be blessed in the world to come.

We can give thanks 4. Because God can use difficulties to bless us. God is able to bring good out of pain, suffering and tears. This doesn’t mean that God causes the pain, only that God is greater than whatever harm befalls us.

Paul makes this point in Romans 8:28. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God is able to work in and through all that happens to us to bring some good to us. God cares for us in this way in the midst of our difficulties.

We can give thanks 5. Because God gives us the strength to do so. As Jesus said, “the flesh is weak” and so when we suffer we easily give in to despair and want to give up. But as Jesus goes on to say, “the Spirit is willing” (Mark 14:38). The Spirit can strengthen us to give thanks in our difficult times.

In Habakkuk 3:19, after rejoicing in difficulties, the prophet says, “God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” It is the Lord who enables us to rejoice in hard times.

So for all of these reasons –

We can give thanks this morning as a congregation

1. Because God is awesome

2. Because God has blessed this congregation is so many ways

3. Because in God we each have hope and a future no matter what we go through

4. Because God can use these hard times to work good in our lives

5. Because God gives us the strength to do so

May he strengthen us even this week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thanksgiving is one of my favorite times of the year. As a kid I remember being thankful for the four f’s – family, food, free from school and football. But not necessarily in that order. I think I have a broader perspective now and a better set of priorities.

In our congregational meeting today one of the things you will be asked to do is list five strengths of our congregation. You will also be asked to list two weaknesses. The difference in number is intentional because we are much better as a church at finding our faults than in seeing our strengths. At least, this is my observation in various conversations I have been in or heard. But we also need to acknowledge and give thanks for those things that God has blessed us with as a congregation. And these will help us to see, I believe, what God wants to do through us. Perhaps as I share today, this will prime the pump for your sharing later in the meeting.

To set the tone, we begin by looking at –

Paul’s congregational thanksgivings

In his letters to various churches he almost always has a thanksgiving section at the beginning where he talks about some good things in the congregation. These are things he gives thanks for as he prays for them. Let’s look at some of these.

Romans 1:8 – “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.” He goes on to talk about his desire that there might be a mutual sharing of faith between them, if he can come and visit with them.

1 Corinthians 1:4 – “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus.” He seems to be thinking in particular about various gifts or abilities that God has given to them.

Ephesians 1:15-16 – “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you.” He is grateful for their faith and  also their love for fellow believers.

Philippians 1:3-5 – “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” They were faithful givers to support him as he did his mission work. This is what partnership means.

Colossians 1:3-4 – “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints . . .” This is very similar to what he said in Ephesians, a focus on faith and love.

1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 – “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.” Here we have the familiar faith, hope and love. There is an emphasis on their work of faith and labor of love, and their continuing hope in Jesus despite being persecuted.

2 Thessalonians 1:3-4 – “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.” Here the emphasis is on the increase in both their faith and love, and also again their steadfastness in trials.

So Paul knew of their weaknesses and he dealt with these in his letters. But he was also constantly giving thanks for these congregations and their good qualities in his times of prayer. And we should also be focused on seeing the good and giving thanks to God for how God has blessed us. So let me share with you today some of –

My congregational thanksgivings

1. Like Paul, I am thankful for our faith in Christ. As I have been a shepherd here I have seen a number of you go through some really difficult times. And I have been encouraged to see your faith expressed and acted on; to see you endure and stay strong in your faith.

I have also heard some of your life stories and testimonies and how you have trusted God’s promises and how God has come through for you. In our personal conversations and in our praise time, I so often hear of how your faith is strong and growing and I thank God for this.

2. I am grateful for the love that we have for one another. God has given us each other to encourage and support one another and to care for one another; to lift each other up and carry each other’s burdens.

And we do this. Time and again when needs are expressed people respond and rally around to help – taking a meal, working on projects to bless a family, visits, checking in on each other, praying for one another, encouraging one another. What a blessing it is to be in a group that share’s Christ’s love with one another.

3. I give thanks for hard workers in our congregation. So many people with servant hearts, who are willing to work behind the scenes.

I have been in churches where there are few workers and it is difficult. Do you understand how truly blessed we are in this way? Let me mention just a few names. Jeryl, our treasurer, takes care of our finances and does an excellent job. Alvin who is almost always here early working in various ways with sound, power point and other things. Gene and Fern who come early and make coffee and bring snacks. All our children’s Sunday school teachers and leaders Melanie and Cindy. Our trustees, Les Martin, Al Shands, Mike Martin who do a ton of work behind the scenes. And our food committee who has been busy of late, and is making a meal for us today – Dorothy Hoover, Linda Martin and Amy Zinn.

These are just a few. I am very grateful.

4. I give thanks to God for good leaders among us. I don’t carry the whole weight of the congregation. We have many very fine leaders who I work with. We have much wisdom and leadership skills on our Elder team, our Deacon team and our church council. And this is a blessing. And we have always had a good rapport.

Along these same lines I am grateful for our youth leaders and also the former pastors who are a part of our congregation.

5. I praise God for our worship team and all our musicians and singers here – whether you are on the worship tead or only do special music or prelude. God has blessed this congregation with musical gifts. I have been a part of churches where this was not so. And although God loves a joyful noise, it is also nice to have beautiful praise to offer up to God.

We have people who are gifted in leading worship and in putting together worship services that lead us into the presence of God. And the worship team puts in a ton of work coming an hour early every Sunday and also have extra practices from time to time.

6. I love it that we are an intergenerational congregation. We have people of all ages here. So we have the wisdom of the older generation and the energy and life of the younger generations. We can get input from each other and help each other out. And this gives us balance. We aren’t just focused on one group, but have a place for anyone to fit in.

7. I am grateful that God has blessed us with resources. Yes, I am talking about finances. God has blessed many of you in your jobs and businesses and you have been generous.

Our building is paid off. We made it through the recession intact. And I am blessed that you support me full-time. Thank you! We also have resources to put toward the work of the kingdom as we think of the future.

8. I thank God for the stability of this congregation. You are steadfast and even keel. You don’t get too excited about things or too nervous when there is a problem. Being a pastor here is not like being on a rollercoaster. You have deep roots and deep relationships.

So I share all this to get us started thinking along these lines for our meeting today. But also, along with all the other things that you give thanks for this thanksgiving, include your thanks for this congregation that God has given to each of us.

William Higgins

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1 Thessalonians 5:16, 18

Our text today says, “Rejoice always . . . give thanks in all circumstances.” It may sound a bit familiar since we spent time on these verses last week. We’re actually breaking away from our series on 1 Thessalonians today, I am planning on finishing this up on the last Sunday of the month. But we are staying in the same neighborhood. I want to share more on the topic of giving thanks in all circumstances, specifically – why we can do this even in hard times.

Now it is easy to give thanks when God answers prayers and delivers us from our problems, although sometimes we forget to do this. But it is surely more difficult to give thanks when things are going badly for us. But it is possible. Let’s look at some –

Examples of rejoicing in suffering

The twelve apostles rejoiced in suffering. They were put in prison for their preaching but were miraculously released. Then whey they preached more, they were taken to stand before the governing authorities where they were beaten and warned to stop preaching. Acts 5:41 says, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”

Paul and Silas rejoiced in suffering. In Acts 16 Paul cast out a fortune telling demon from a slave girl and this made the owners mad. They made money off this girl. They promptly caused a stir and got Paul and Silas in trouble with the authorities. Vs. 23-25 say, “And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison . . . into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them . . ..” They were unjustly beaten, arrested and shackled – but they were singing praises to God.

This happened just before Paul came to Thessalonica, so he knew what he was talking about when he told them “rejoice always . . . give thanks in all circumstances.”

And the Thessalonians themselves knew about rejoicing in suffering. From the time they first believed they suffered. 1 Thessalonians 1:6 says, “you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” They suffered but they had joy.

Finally, the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews. They had undergone persecution and the writer reminds them of this in 10:34, “ . . . you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” Can you imagine having all your goods hauled away because of your faith – your big screen TV, your new dining set, your couches? Would you be able to keep things in perspective and still be joyful?

Why we can rejoice in all circumstances

– including when we suffer. As I said last week it certainly can’t be based on our feelings, these change all the time. It has to be based on something much stronger and more stable – our faith. So here are 5 aspects of our faith that show us why we can do this:

1. God is worthy of praise – period. Nothing else needs to be said. Whether we feel like praising God or not – God is worthy. Whether we are in good times or in bad times, it doesn’t matter. God is still the same – yesterday, today and forever and is still worthy of our praises.

Apart from anything God may or may not do for me; apart from whether God allows me to go through good times or bad, God is worthy of praise for who God is. God is awesome! God is holy! God is good! None of this changes based on our circumstances.

Habakkuk the prophet lived in a difficult time. The people were unfaithful to God. And he knew that judgment was coming – things were going to get worse. But he praised God anyway, because God deserves to be praised. Habakkuk 3:17-18 says, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord . . ..” I believe that this is the purest form of praise to God because it s not dependent on something that we get from God.

2. God has blessed us in many ways. Even in the worst of times, if we are able to think about it, we can recognize that this is true.

James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father . . ..” You have been given the gift of life. Also think about your abilities, your strengths, your family, your friends, your home – whatever good thing you are or have is from God.

And this includes our salvation – God’s grace and mercy to us in Jesus Christ, forgiveness of our sins, new life by the Spirit, a relationship with God, fellow believers who walk with us, strength and peace in difficult times – all these are gifts from God as well.

And so despite whatever else may be going on we can give thanks for God’s blessing to us.

3. Our hope for the future. God allows each of us to go through hard times, and a part of this is simply living in this sinful and broken world where evil is normal. But in the midst of this as Christians we have a hope for something better. This life is not all that there is. In fact, we are to live for the life that is to come, not this one.

When Jesus talked about suffering for our faith; being reviled and slandered, he said, “Rejoice and be glad” Why? “For your reward is great in heaven . . .” – Matthew 5:12.

In 1 Peter 1:6 Peter tells his readers that “now for a little while . . . you have been grieved by various trials.” Just before this he said, “in this you rejoice.” Why do they rejoice in their trials? It is because of what he had just mentioned in vs. 4-5. They have “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven . . . a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

This hope puts things in perspective for us as Christians. Yes, we will suffer in this life. But we will be blessed in the world to come.

And in fact the blessing will outweigh the sufferings. Paul says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” – Romans 8:18. Similarly he says, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” – 2 Corinthians 4:17. Our suffering may well be great, but what awaits us is far greater.

4. God harnesses trials for our good. We go through fiery trials. This is an image that is used in Scripture. And it makes a point. Fire can consume or it can refine. If we go through the fire in faith we will not be consumed. Rather, God uses them to refine and purify us.

God is able to bring good out of pain, suffering and tears. This doesn’t mean that God causes the pain, only that God is greater than whatever evil befalls us.

Paul makes this point in Romans 8:28. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God is able to work in and through all that happens to us to bring some good to us.

James tells his readers, “Count it all joy” when you suffer various kinds of trials. Why? “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” – James 1:2-4.

Along the same lines, Paul says, “. . . we rejoice in our sufferings.” Why? “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope . . .” – Romans 5:3-4.

The world will throw hard times at us left and right. But when we endure them in faith, God brings something good out of them for us. That’s how great God is. And we can give thanks for this.

William Higgins

 

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Series: Paul to the Thessalonians

Paul mosaic

We are in the fifth and final section of the teaching portion of 1 Thessalonians, which Paul began in chapter 4. And so we have looked at relationships with one another in the church, respecting Christian leaders, living in peace with one another, and helping those who struggle in various ways. We have also looked at relationships with everyone, inside and outside the church. And here Paul taught us not to return harm for harm, but to be patient with all, and to do good to everyone.

Today we look at vs. 16-22, focused on our relationship with God. There are eight statements which are held together by two themes:

– vs. 16-18 have to do with speaking to God in praise and prayer

– vs. 19-22 have to do with God speaking to us by means of prophecy (Ben Witherington)

  Let’s begin with vs. 16-18.

Talking to God: Praise and prayer

 “16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Rejoicing has to do with expressing our joy. This is quite similar to giving thanks (Psalm 97:12; Philippians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 3:9), which is the expression of appreciation for benefits and blessings. Given that there is a prayer focus here (prayer comes right between them) these expressions of joy and thanks are given to God. I am calling this praise to God.

Now, rejoicing and giving thanks are a kind of prayer, but here Pau distinguishes prayer from these, so the focus in on petitionary prayer, or making our requests known to God.

  The phrase, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” applies to all three of these things. It is God’s will for us to rejoice, give thanks and offer up our requests to him. God wants us to be in relationship with him; for us to communicate with him our praises and our concerns.

But how can we do these thing always? How can we rejoice always? How can we pray without ceasing?

If we take this literally, it doesn’t make sense. We have to sleep for one thing. But more to the point, you can’t both talk to God and also to someone else – at the same time. Or again, you can’t both rejoice with those who rejoice and also weep with those who weep, as Paul says (Romans 12:15) – at the same time

Rather, Paul is referring here to set times of daily prayer according to the biblical pattern. That is, morning and evening prayers, or perhaps also afternoon prayers. We see this all throughout the Old Testament in the Psalms and in Daniel for instance, as well as in the New Testament. In fact, there is a reference to this in 1 Thessalonians 3:10 – “we pray most earnestly night and day . . ..” This was a common Jewish way of talking about daily prayers in the evening and the morning.

Paul is saying, keep to your daily prayers, continue day and night; morning and evening. Always rejoice by coming before God constantly morning and evening. Unceasingly pray by coming before God morning and evening. And, of course, we can also pray and rejoice as we are able throughout each day. 

But there’s another part to this. Paul is saying keep praying even when things are hard. They were going through persecution, so the message is:

  • Keep on rejoicing, as individuals and as a group, not just when things are good, but when things are hard. This echoes Jesus in Matthew 5:11-12. When you are persecuted “rejoice and be glad.”
  • Keep on praying, as individuals and as a group, not just when things are easy, but when you have difficulty after difficulty. This echoes Jesus in Luke 18:1. “And he told them . . . that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.”

This also fits with v. 18 – give thanks “in all circumstances.” It’s easy to give thanks when things are just fine, but we are also to do this when things are not good – that’s what “in all circumstances” means.

But how can we rejoice and give thanks in bad times? Well, it’s certainly not based on our feelings or that we’re having a good day. It’s based on understanding what God is doing in our lives, and the bigger picture of the hope that we have, which is far greater than whatever temporary suffering we may have in this world. And we can do this because the Holy Spirit within us is the source of our joy (1 Thessalonians 1:6).

Some questions to consider . . . How is your prayer and praise life? Rate yourself:

  • Do you only come to God in an emergency?
  • Do you only pray and give thank on Sundays at church?
  • Do you have a private prayer life?
  • Are you constant in your prayer life?

Paul is teaching us here to be in this last category. Think about it. God spared nothing to be in relationship with us. He created us, bore with us, gave his only Son. But often we make little or no effort to spend time in relationship with God. This helps put things in perspective.

Are you overwhelmed by hard times? Paul calls the Thessalonians not to give up in persecution. And his word to us is don’t lose heart. When you have difficulty after difficulty piling up on you and it seems like praying is useless – keep at it. Press through. God will take care of you.

God talking to us: Prophecy

“19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise prophecies, 21but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22Keep away from every evil kind.” I want us to look first at what is the key to understanding these verses, prophesy. And so I ask what is prophesy? We have to turn to 1 Corinthians since it is just mentioned here in 1 Thessalonians.

  • It consists of words the Spirit prompts you to say. It is a manifestation of the Spirit, like all spiritual gifts, which in this case comes in words – 1 Corinthians 12:7; 14:12. It might be a word of encouragement, insight or even challenge.
  • It is directed “to people,” in contrast to speaking to God – 1 Corinthians 14:3.
  • It is intended for “their strengthening and encouragement and comfort” – 1 Corinthians 14:3.

So prophecy is simply speaking out a word from the Spirit in your own words. It’s a part of the promise of Joel 2:28-29 that all believers will have the Spirit and prophesy. Although some are classified as prophets since they have a specific ministry in this, God can speak through any of his children to say a word of encouragement, insight or challenge.

Prophecy was a completely normal part of the life of the New Testament church. We see references to it throughout the New Testament. And it happens among us as well – from the pulpit, from Sunday school teachers, in our Sunday school classes and small groups and in our praise time. We don’t call it this necessarily, but it happens.

I wanted to give you a specific example today and so I asked God to give me a word for us today. I have actually already said it as a part of my teaching. If I were to say it as a prophecy in the congregation I would say it like this, “I believe the Spirit is asking us today – God spared nothing to be in relationship with us. So why do we make such little effort to be in relationship with him in prayer?”

Now let’s break down these verses and see how they fit together. “19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise prophecies.” These two phrases basically say the same thing. For it is the activity of the Spirit that animates prophecy. And so to quench the Spirit is to despise prophecies.

Quench is a fire metaphor. It is when you put out a fire. The Holy Spirit is compared to fire in several places (e.g. Matthew 3:11). And so to quench the Spirit is to suppress or restrain the movement of the Spirit among us.

To despise prophecies is to look down on them, reject them, to treat them with contempt. So both of these phrases are about restricting prophecy.

Why restrict prophecy? The answer is simple – it’s easy to abuse. I have seen this and perhaps you have as well. People can speak out their own opinions as if they were God’s, or mix the two together. People can speak out wrong teaching (see 1 Corinthians 12:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2). People can speak out things that come from the flesh, from the world, from the evil one – and not from the Spirit.

  So there is certainly a temptation, perhaps especially by leaders, to suppress it; to look down on it. But Paul’s word to us is don’t quench it or despise it because of abuses, rather the answer is test prophecies (also 1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 John 4:1-3).

He doesn’t’ say anything here about how to do this but certainly testing it against the apostolic message, now written down in the New Testament is foundational (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

Once we test what is said, we are to “hold fast what is good.” That is, receive what is truly from the Spirit. But if it is not of the Spirit we are to “keep away from every evil kind” of prophecy – that is, keep distance from receiving bad or evil prophecies. (Notice the spatial language hold on to the good, keep away from the bad) (Gordon Fee’s discussion of these verses is very helpful).

So any prophecy has to be tested. Any if you want to share I encourage you to test it yourself before you share. It might be a bit embarrassing for me or the Elders to have to correct you in front of the whole group. But I will if necessary.

Some questions to consider . . . Are we OK with people speaking out by the Spirit? (Maybe we are more comfortable when we don’t call it prophecy). We will find out because I want to give you a chance to do this next week during the praise time. Think about this. Can we expect the Spirit to move among us, which is what we pray for and desperately need, but only on our terms and in ways that we dictate? “Oh Spirit come and do your work; give us revival; transform lives among us; bring people into your kingdom. But don’t do anything that we are not comfortable with; don’t use any spiritual gifts; don’t let our routines get messed up. We want you, but only on our terms.” Do you think God hears this prayer?

Finally, do you quench the Spirit in other ways? Do you restrain the work of the Spirit in ways beyond the topic of prophecy. When the Spirit speaks to you, but you don’t like what you are hearing – do you suppress the Spirit? When the Spirit seeks to lead you but you don’t want to go – do you quench the Spirit?

I will tell you plainly – we need the renewal and transformation of the Spirit among us as individuals and as a congregation. But we will only receive this when we open ourselves up fully to the Spirit – no strings attached.

William Higgins

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I want us to look at the theme of God’s love today, as this is reveled to us in the unfolding story of Scripture, and then even up to today. And I want to do this to show us and to remind us that we ought to give thanks for God’s love to us. Whatever else we have to give thanks for in this season, above all we should give thanks for this.

We begin with –

The beginning

God loved us so much that, he brought us into existence. Having thought of us before the foundation of the world, God acted to create us and give us life. And he gave us a place to live, the earth, and provided for our needs.

Psalm 8:4-6 says, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet”

God loved us so much that despite our wrongdoing, he worked for our salvation and restoration. Adam and Eve rebelled in the Garden, but God sought our redemption. Cain ruthlessly murdered his brother Abel, but God raised up another, Seth, through whom salvation would come. At the time of the flood, human wickedness sunk to the depths of depravity, but God chose a remnant and saved Noah and his family. Where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more.

God loved us so much that he called Abraham to be the father of many nations and the source of our salvation. God said to him, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” – Genesis 12:3. And God gave him a son, Isaac, and a grandson Jacob, who had twelve sons.

God loves us so much! If you believe this, will you say “amen” this morning?  This brings us to –

The time of Israel

Because his steadfast love never ceases, God brought his people out from Egypt and into the land of promise. As Psalm 136:13-14 says, he “divided the Red Sea in two, and made Israel pass through the midst of it . . ..” As Deuteronomy 4:20 says of Israel, “the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance.”

Because his steadfast love never ceases, God gave Israel his word through Moses to guide them. Nehemiah 9:13-14 says about God, “You came down on Mount Sinai and spoke with them from heaven and gave them right rules and true laws, good statutes and commandments . . . and a law by Moses your servant.”

Because his steadfast love never ceases, God bore with Israel as they rebelled against his will in the time of the judges. The people continually strayed from God’s word doing what was right in their own eyes. And they suffered the consequences. But in mercy, God did not let them perish.

Because his steadfast love never ceases, God established David as king to protect and guide Israel. And he became a model of the promised One who was to come, the Messiah and Savior.

Because his steadfast love never ceases, God bore with them as Israel’s kings rebelled. Think of Solomon’s idolatry, the divided kingdom, the complete failure of the Northern kingdom, and the many evil kings of the southern kingdom. Yet God was patient and merciful.

Because his steadfast love never ceases, God spoke to them by the prophets to call them back to his will. As judgment loomed, 2 Chronicles 36:15 says, “The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place.”

Because his steadfast love never ceases, God brought his people out of captivity and brought them home. God had sent them away into exile in Babylon because of their sin. But Nehemiah 9:31 says, “In your great mercies (God) you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.” God reestablished them in the land of promise.

God’s steadfast love for his people truly never ceases. If you know this to be true will you say “amen”?  This brings us to –

The fullness of time

As an expression of God’s deep love for us, God sent his son, Jesus, born of the virgin Mary, to save us. As the angel said to Joseph, “he will save his people from their sins” – Matthew 1:21. God knew we could not save ourselves. So he came to us. God became one of us. God did what it took to bring us salvation.

As an expression of God’s deep love for us, Jesus taught us God’s way. Mark 6:34 says, “Jesus . . . saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.”

He taught us to turn away from our wrongdoing – and to live a life of love and mercy. And as Mark 1:22 says, “they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority . . ..”

As an expression of God’s deep love for us, Jesus healed people of their ills. Matthew 14:14 says, “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”

He healed lepers, the blind, the deaf, the paralyzed – he even raised the dead. And the people said, “We never saw anything like this!” – Mark 2:12.

As an expression of God’s deep love for us, Jesus set people free from the evil one. He cast out demons with a mere word. “And the crowds marveled, saying, ‘Never was anyone like this seen in Israel’” – Matthew 9:33.

As an expression of God’s deep love for us, Jesus laid down his life for us to save us from our sins. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” – John 15:13. And this is exactly what he did for each one of us.

As he said, his death was “for many for the forgiveness of sins” – Matthew 26:28. He died so that our sins could be forgiven.

As an expression of God’s deep love for us, the resurrected Jesus gives us new life by the Spirit. As he said in John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life.” And he told his disciples, “receive the Holy Spirit” – John 20:22. They received new life and the power to live a different kind of life.

As an expression of God’s deep love for us, Jesus commanded this salvation be offered to all. He said “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations” – Luke 24:47. It is for everyone who will receive it.

If you have received God’s deep love for you, will you say “amen”?  This brings us to –

Today

God cares about each one of us, and so he searches after each of us until we are saved. God is not content with the sheep already in the pen. But as 1 Timothy 2:4 says, God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

God cares about each one of us, and so he wants us to know what our purpose in life is; what his plan is for us. God want us to walk in this so that we can find true meaning and significance and peace.

God cares about each one of us, and so he provides for our needs and watches over us in our everyday lives. God doesn’t leave us alone, he continues to walk with us and help us in our times of trial.

If you know God’s love and care for you in these ways, will you say, “amen”?

 

And if you know it, how can you not give thanks for it? Such amazing, indescribable, persistent love. Such undeserved love, freely given to us. We must give thanks for such a priceless gift!

If you don’t know God’s love in your life, open up your life to him. As the apostle Peter put it, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” – Acts 2:38.

  • Ask for and receive the forgiveness of your sins
  • Ask for and receive new life by the Spirit

Receive these gifts of love from God and then you will truly have something to be thankful for. Even if nothing else is going right for you – you can thank God for his love.

William Higgins

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