“A Place In Our Hearts”
1 Thessalonians 1

clouds-sky-heart-peace-love1Together we’re going to spend the next couple of months looking at Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians. There are two letters he wrote which have been recorded in our Bible.

The first letter Paul wrote is considered to be the oldest of the letters in the New Testament and it is dated to be around 50AD. The second letter was written about a year later.

One thing I’m learning about being a pastor is that the previous churches you have been part of always hold a special place in your heart. The five churches I have been privileged to serve all have taught me valuable lessons about being in ministry and have helped me grow into not just a better minister, but a better person. So when I hear stories, good or bad, about these churches, it impacts me in some way. I rejoice with them in good news, I feel their pain when their is bad news. It’s hard not to feel these things when you have been part of the family, even if for a very short time.

The church of Thessalonica is thought to be the first church he planted. This was his first baby. So no doubt he was very interested in hearing about how they were doing over time.

But it seems he’s heard word they have been struggling, not quite sure about some things. They’ve also come under some persecution because of what they believe. Hmmm, sounds like something we could probably relate to ourselves in the church today.

Paul also wants to take some time to address some of what he’s hearing may be errors in what they are believing and teaching, he wants to bring them back to the main message of Jesus Christ.

These are some of the challenges we are facing in the church today. We are under attack from secular society as we are mocked and made fun of in the press, movies, television, and even just on the streets.

We are also experiencing a time of great diversity in our church, which can be a good thing, except in cases where the message, or even the person, of Jesus Christ is not just ignored, but swept aside as myth or fantasy.

So it’s good for us, once in a while, to step back and take a strong look at what we believe and why. It’s good to bury our heads in the Bible to re-centre ourselves on what it is we truly believe.

It’s good for us to pick up one of Paul’s letters and see how he challenges the church and its people to come back to proclaiming Jesus Christ as the risen Lord.

Paul begins this letter as he does most of his letters. He sends greetings and then gives thanks for the work they are doing.

For the Thessalonians, Paul reassures his friends he is continually praying for them and the work they do in the name of Jesus Christ.

Paul reminds them they have not been chosen by him, but by God. He says it isn’t just by words they have responded, but by the Holy Spirit which gave them the conviction and passion by which they have become believers.

Paul gives full credit to God for bringing these people into the family of Jesus Christ. Sure, Paul went and preached, but he says the people were open to the Holy Spirit coming into them and transforming their lives so they may fully live out the gospel message.

Paul knows they were under persecution right away. There are a number of Jews in Thessalonica and they would have been trying to put a stop to this movement in their community, which they would have seen not just as a challenge to their religion and power, but also as a false religion since they did not believe the Messiah had come yet.

However, the Thessalonians did not let this opposition hold them down. Paul says they lived joyful lives of faith in God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and in doing so became great examples of faithful living for other villages as well. Their leadership and example became inspirations for Macedonia and Achia and beyond as Paul has encountered their story in many places where he went to plant churches. Meaning their faithful example was spreading faster than Paul could travel, and it made his work easier because people have already heard what God was doing in other places.

Paul closes the first section of his letter by mentioning what they had overcome to believe in the one true God. They had stopped worshipping false idols and living pagan lives and how they now wait for the fulfilling of the promise of Jesus Christ with his return.

It’s great to hear such wonderful stories of churches spreading the good news far and wide. Sometimes we can end up kind of insular and inward focused and lose sight of the bigger picture.

But then we hear stories, not unlike what we have heard Paul referring to this morning. Stories of churches who continue to live lives of joy, full of the Holy Spirit, living passionately for Jesus Christ.

It makes us excited. But I hope it does more than that. I hope it causes us to pause and question how joyfully we are living. Sure there are times in the year when we are excited about what we are doing here, but is it a daily occurrence?

I confess I don’t wait up every day jumping at the bit to praise the Lord with every breath I take. It’s not an easy thing to do, being “on” all the time.

Certainly with the Thessalonians they weren’t able to keep it up day after day, because Paul had to take the time to write this letter. If they had been going along great, they wouldn’t need to hear his praise, and what comes next, that is a call back to faithful living.

Jesus said, “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)

Notice Jesus didn’t say, “I’ll take away all your troubles.” Or, “Smooth sailing from here on to the end of your days.”

Jesus said that, in him, we can find some rest from what burdens us. In him we can find a source of life which nothing else can provide. In him we are renewed, reborn and returned to God, the one who created us and the one to whom we return.

In Jesus, we can learn to live joyful lives with the spiritual blessings of God, our Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

My friends, God wishes us to be this close. God wishes for us to live joyfully in our faith so that we may be examples for others to follow. God wishes to bring His people back to lives of faith as others see the examples we are and want to be part of the excitement, to be part of the joy of a Holy Spirit filled life.

May we all be blessed by God to fulfill this high calling through the power of His presence in our lives.