Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Process of Growing (Thanksgiving)


Robert Heilbroner suggests comparing our lives with the daily life of over a billion people worldwide to help us count our blessings:
1. Take out all the furniture in your home except for one table and a couple of chairs. Use blanket and pads for beds.
2. Take away all of your clothing except for your oldest dress or suit, shirt or blouse. Leave only one pair of shoes.
3. Empty the pantry and the refrigerator except for a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt, a few potatoes, some onions, and a dish of dried beans.
4. Dismantle the bathroom, shut off the running water, and remove all the electrical wiring in your house.
5. Take away the house itself and move the family into the tool shed.
6. Place your “house” in a shantytown.
7. Cancel all subscriptions to newspapers, magazines, and book clubs. This is no great loss because now none of you can read anyway.
8. Leave only one radio for the whole shantytown.
9. Move the nearest hospital or clinic ten miles away and put a midwife in charge instead of a doctor.
10. Throw away your bankbooks, stock certificates, pension plans, and insurance policies. Leave the family a cash hoard of ten dollars.
11. Give the head of the family a few acres to cultivate, on which he can raise a few hundred dollars of cash crops, of which one third will go to the landlord and one tenth to moneylenders.
12. Lop off twenty-five or more years in life expectancy.

People usually thank God for what they have, seldom for what they lack. They thank God for the success, abilities, and opportunities they have, but seldom for the opposition, obstacles, and odds they face. Paul did that for the churches in Rome, Corinth, Philippi, Colosse and to Philemon. Paul’s introduction in his epistle to these churches or coworkers like Philemon was straightforward, almost stereotypical, usually with a commendation of their faith in Christ (Rom 1:8, Col 1:3-4, Philem 4-5), myriad of gifts (1 Cor 1:4-5), and partnership in the gospel (Phil 1:3-5). His second letter to the Thessalonians was slightly different. He gave thanks to God for their growth in the midst of encountering adverse circumstances and opposing forces.

Give Thanks for What You Have Endured
We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. 4 Therefore, among God's churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.

I learned patience the hard way. More than ten years ago, my knees swelled up and lost all strength while playing sports too rigorously. No doctor could quite explain why my knees locked, why my toes hardened, and my muscles stiffened and shriveled. I had never blamed God even though I doubted He would heal me.

The only rehab that worked so far was water exercises, which I discovered in the summer of 2003. Water exercises helped my frozen muscles regained part of its function, so that I could do more strenuous weight exercises in the gym, but I had to be patient, consistent, and hardworking.

Five or six days a week, I exercise one hour in the evening or at night. I bent my creaky knees 100 times - fifty times each set. Next, I do three sets of three different weight exercises on the leg, which I do 30 times, progressing from lifting 30 lbs before to 150 lbs presently. Then I proceed to the swimming pool and do three sets of 100 times running in the water, 100 times skiing movement, and 100 times vertical jumps. To top it off, I have proceeded from swimming 2 laps to 10 laps now. All of that from someone who hates water and gets a chill easily from the cold nights. Praise God, patience and endurance have paid off and I have regained partial mobility and strength.

Paul gave thanks because the Thessalonians’ faith grew more and more (v 3) instead of diminishing more and more and becoming less and less, and their love for one another had increased instead of decreasing and weakening when opposition came. In the midst of persecution and trials the church demonstrated fortitude, resolve and strength. Faith was more alive, people were more real, and love was more shown and shared in the worst of circumstances instead of the coziest of circumstances. The church has always thrived in adversity because persecution is the mother of perseverance and distress is the mother of determination. The church did not fold up but forged ahead when troubles came.

Paul used an uncommon word to describe Thessalonians’ faith: “grew exceedingly” or “growing more and more” (v 3). This compound verb huperauxano, consisting of the prefix huper or hyper and the verb auxano or growth, is not found elsewhere in the Bible. The nearest word “grew” or auxano describes the natural growth of the lilies of the field (Matt 6:28), the healthy growth of the boy Jesus (Luke 2:40), and the dynamic “spread/growth” of God's word (Acts 6:7), but the growth of the Thessalonians’ faith was extraordinary growth - above and beyond normal and expected growth. A church without adversity is a supersized church, not a supergrowth church. Instead of being fat and lazy, the church grew fit and lively in the face of persecution.

Persecution produces “perseverance” or “patience” and trials produce faith (v 4). In Romans 5:3 also, Paul states that suffering produces perseverance. The early church never closed from persecution. To the horror of the enemies of the church, persecution produced a different outcome: the believers were scattered and the gospel was spread (Acts 8:1). Paul did not invite persecution, but he delights in persecutions: for he is strong in Christ when he is weak in himself (2 Cor 12:10).

Even trials can be a friend. Persecutions are from people without, but the other word “trials” are pressure within. The word “trials” has been translated into generic words like “troubles” (Matt 13:21, Mark 4:17, John 16:33, Acts 7:10, Rom 2:9, 8:35, 1 Cor 7:28, 2 Cor 1:4) and “hardships” (Acts 14:22, 20:23, 2 Cor 1:8, 2 Cor 4:17, 6:4, 7:4, Phil 1:17, 4:14, 2 Thess 1:6) in NIV, but it means more. It literally means “pressure,” or “hard pressed” in 2 Corinthians 8:13. So this word is better translated as “distress” (Matt 24:21, 29, Mark 13:19, 24, 1 Thess 3:7, James 1:27), “suffering” (Acts 7:11, Eph 3:13, 1 Thess 1:6, Rev 1:9, 2:22), and “affliction” (Rom 12:12, Col 1:24). This is the word for “orphans and widows “in their distress” (James 1:27). Persecution is an unlikely professor and trials are a good teacher. Overall, they are lethal but not fatal.

The Thessalonians have patiently endured persecution and distress and more. They blossomed, triumphed, and matured. “Endure” in Greek is make of two words: “repeat/intense” + “have”; so “endure” literally means what you “repeatedly or intensively have.” The word “endure” (v 4) is in the middle voice, which is an action done on oneself; so “endure” means “to hold oneself up against, i.e. (figuratively) put up with,” according to Strong’s. Others can encourage you but they cannot endure for you; they can pray for you and with you but they cannot prop you up or pick you up. They can support you but they cannot sustain you.

Give Thanks for What You Will Escape
5 All this is evidence that God's judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. 6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power

I have first-hand knowledge of how tragedy can easily occur and how unfair things can be. Several years ago, a driver at a stop sign charged from a side street and hit my van that was on the main street. The force of the Rodeo Isuzu that hit my right rear door spun my van 180 degrees.

None of us was visibly injured, including the other driver, who was a high school girl, but my neck was stiff and my body sore and aching since. Her hood was damaged but my door, wheels, and back of my van were severely crushed. After police had taken our statements, she could still drive away but my van had to be towed.

When the collision center notified me that the $9,000.00 repair had been approved by my insurance company, I was stunned by the amount. My 2000 Toyota Sienna van had notched 125,000 miles. The best my insurance company could do was to repair it and the best the other insurance company had to offer was to compensate my insurance company for the repair and pay me $300 to see a doctor. I felt worse ten days later when a church member said, “Pastor, you should take the cash and forget about repairing it.” When the collision center called again to say that the repair was now a little over $10,000, I went online next day and discovered from that my van e in good condition was only worth $9,835.00! I felt aggrieved. My shoulder was sore, the car value had plunged but I could still praise God because I was at least safe and sound.

Present and human things are in suspension mode but future and divine matters are far clearer. On earth some people get away and some do not, but in heaven nobody gets away with anything. The first thing God will do in His righteous judgment is to return trouble to those who trouble you, or rather “recompense distress to them that distress you,” the word distress being the same word for “trials” in verse 4. God will recompense those who cause you pressure within, make your head sore, give you sleepless nights. The Greek verb “pay back” or “recompense” occurs only six other times in the Bible, listing the recompense at the time of the resurrection to generous people (Luke 14:14, 14), the compensation to those who give to Him, if any (Rom 11:35), and the payment of God’s vengeance (Rom 12:19, Heb 10:30).

The second consolation is that God will give relief to those who are “troubled,” again the word “distressed.” Sleeping pills, meditation exercises, and pain relief can only do so much. “Relief” gives the idea of alleviating pain, but the word in Greek means “peace of mind” (2 Cor 2:13) and “rest” (2 Cor 7:5), which goes to show true rest is heavenly, futuristic, divine. Paul remarked that rest will come when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels (v 7). The word ‘revealed” is apokalupsis, from which the English word “apocalytic’ is derived from. He will come with great fanfare in a great ball of fire accompanied by angelic assistants. The same Greek word for “blazing” has been translated as “burning” (Acts 7:30) and “flaming” (Heb 1:7), to emphasize its intensity, onslaught and harm. The word occurs just seven ties in the Bible, three times specifically in Revelation describing Jesus’ eyes of flaming fire (1:14, 2:18, 19:12).

The second thing that occurs when he comes is that He will execute righteousness, or ekdikesis in Greek, better translated as “carrying out right” than NIV’s “punish,” which has a vindictive or spiteful or personal element about it. His target is those who deny, disparage and disobey Him. The other “punish” word in verse 9 is also not the classical word for “punish.” The second “punish” word occurs only once in the Bible and it consists of two Greek word, righteous and penalty, indicating that people pay the penalty for their righteous or unrighteous lives, or things will sort themselves out. The word “obey,” or hupakou in Greek (v 8), literally means “to hear under” or “to be under authority or to fall in line.” Eternal destruction is perpetual, permanent, and painful, but not as painful as being shut out or ushered from the presence (v 9) – “face” in Greek – of the Lord and the majesty of his power, or “the power of His glory,” in Greek. Without his presence, there is no prospect, and without his glory, there will be no light. Without his presence and glory, there will only be darkness, doom, desolation, desperation and death. No pain now is comparable to or close to the absence of God, eternal separation from Him, and His rejection of people.

Give Thanks for What You Can Expect
10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. (2 Thess 1:10)

Scottish minister Alexander Whyte was known for his uplifting prayers in the pulpit. He always found something for which to be grateful. One Sunday morning the weather was so gloomy that one church member thought to himself, “Certainly the preacher won’t think of anything for which to thank the Lord on a wretched day like this.” Much to his surprise, however, Whyte began by praying, “We thank Thee, O God, that it is not always like this.” (Our Daily Bread, August 26, 1989)

All is not business as usual or doom and gloom when He comes. Good news abounds for the saints, God’s holy people. God’s glory, which He does not share and which He so jealously guards, will be revealed in His people. This word “glorified” occurs only in this chapter (vv 10, 12) and nowhere else in the Bible. The recipients of His glory are not wishy-washy, fence-sitting, double-minded people or but those who have sincerely and steadfastly believed, and have paid the price for their belief.

“The day,” or better “that day” in Greek, is identified in the next chapter as the “day of the Lord” (2 Thess 2:2). “The day of the Lord” (2 Thess 2:2, 1 Cor 5:5) refers to the apocalypse or revelation in verse 7. It is also known as “the day of God” (2 Pet 3:12), “the great day of God Almighty” (Rev 16:14), “the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6), “the day of Christ” (Phil 1:10), “the day of the Lord Jesus” (2 Cor 1:14), “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:8).

The Old Testament three times stated that the day of the Lord is a great and dreadful day (Joel 2: 11, 31, Mal 4:5), depending on whose side you are on. It is near (Isa 13:6, Obad 15, Zeph 1:7, 14,), at hand (Joel 2:1). On the day of the Lord, he will come like a thief in the night (1 Thess 5:2, 2 Peter 3:10). On great and glorious day of the Lord (Acts 2:20), the heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare (2 Peter 3:10).

Believers can only marvel on that day. Jaws will drop, eyes will pop, and activities will stop. Tears will fade, questions will cease, and doubts will disappear. Believers will respond like the longsuffering Job, who was dumbfounded that God, not him, was the one asking all the questions when He appeared. God will not be on trial in the future, man will be. Job burst out proclaiming in God’s presence: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6).

Conclusion: The Bible tells us not to develop a serious case of evil envy, that is, not to be envious of three types of people: violent people (Prov 3:31), sinners (Prov 23:17), or evil people (Prov 24:1, 19). The Lord detests a perverse man but takes the upright into his confidence (Prov 3:31-32). We are not to desire the company of evildoers (Prov 24:1), for they have no future hope, and the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out (Prov. 24:19-20). Instead, always be zealous for the fear of the LORD (Prov 23:17).


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