Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Thessalonians Words ~ Day 3: Gospel

Day 3: Gospel

"For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere."              
1 Thessalonians 1:4-8

Paul's words to the Thessalonians about their faith in 1 Thessalonians 1:4 echo that of Moses in Deuteronomy:
"The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you..." Deuteronomy 7:7-8

God chooses His people because of His great love for them, and this has not changed from the Old Testament to the New. What has changed is the manner by which He calls them to Him. In the New Testament that manner is summed up in one word; the gospel.

The gospel, known by various terms in the Thessalonian letters (the gospel of God, the gospel of Christ, the Lord's message, the word of God), is "the good news of God's action to bring salvation to sinners" (Leon Morris). That good news is that we "receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 TH 5:9). Receive is key here. God'd gift of salvation through Christ is a gift of love, but it must be received.

Paul is confident that these Thessalonians are loved by God and have been chosen by Him because of the effect that the gospel had on them: They received it and they shared it.

Paul describes how they received the gospel in verse 5.
  • Not simply with words
  • But also with power
  • With the Holy Spirit
  • And with deep conviction
They had an intimate connection with the gospel that made it more than simply words. Verse 2:13 says  they "accepted it as the word of God". They "welcomed" (verse 6) it and took it to heart with the power and conviction of the Holy Spirit. They received it and embraced it wholeheartedly so that it changed their way of life.

The gospel they received impacted them so much that they became imitators of those who shared it with them and then became sharers of it themselves. Paul says of the Thessalonians that the message rang out from you". The Greek word used here for "rang out" is the word we get our English word echo from. It is literally that the Gospel message trumpeted or thundered from them.

We get a glimpse possibly of why the Thessalonians were so open to receive and embrace the Gospel message with such conviction and transformation. In verses 1:6 and 2:8 we see that Paul and his disciples did not simply come to town, share a message, and then move on. They lived among them, they shared their lives with them, and they showed them what life as Christ-followers looked like. They invested in the Thessalonians by building relationships with them, and thus, the gospel message was not just words they heard, but lives they witnesses and were able to imitate and share.The message of the gospel was visible.

"For the gospel to flourish people must share their own lives." ~John Piper
Let's make the gospel more than information we share. Be a living example of it in your home, your neighborhood, at your work or school. Love people, let them see God's love through you, and share the Good News.

Try "walking" through a passage again today. Getting the hang of this the tools used in this process can help you quickly see your way to understanding.

"You can see a lot just by looking." ~Yogi Berra

You just need to know how to look! 

I believe that we miss a lot in God's Word because we read too quickly, and then we simply rely on others - teachers, leaders, pastors, commentaries - to tell us what it means. Learning simple observation tools will enable us to see our way through a passage and provide us with more understanding. We then can turn to others when we come to the things we do not understand. Check out the new document on how to walk through a passage on the Bible Study Techniques page.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Thessalonians Words ~ Day 2: Hope

Day 2: Hope

I hope you tried a Word Study, or if you have not yet, that you plan to this week. Use any of the words in the challenge. Word studies are a great way to better grasp an author's meaning for the words he uses. Although, my notes for how to do a Word Study are long, they are actually a quick and enjoyable way to study Scripture. As with anything else in life, it just takes practice!

Today's word is hope. This is a word that our culture has watered down to simply something you hope will happen, a wish that might come true. But biblical hope is something much deeper.  It is an assurance of future good. John Piper says, "Biblical hope not only desires something good for the future - it expects it to happen".

We saw yesterday that Paul uses a lived out faith in Christ as an indicator that one's faith is genuine. In 1 Thessalonians 1:3, Paul thanks God that one of the visible signs of their relationship with God, is that their hope has produced endurance. In fact, we get a pretty good picture of what hope looks like in the first chapter of this letter. It may be helpful to pause and read 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 real quick.
"1 Paul, Silas and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace and peace to you.
We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell 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 rescues us from the coming wrath."
Here's a very easy way to walk through a passage. It's much like the work of an investigative reporter. Look at your verbs and the connectors (connectives, prepositions, and conjunctions) and ask questions, letting those verbs and connectors lead you through like markers on a map. Remember our focus here is on verse 3 which uses the word hope.

Who is speaking here? "We", which we see back in verse 1 is Paul, Silas and Timothy.

What do they do? Remember (the verb). Who do they remember? Look at verse 2, those in the church at Thessalonica. ("The church" gives us an indicator that this letter is written to Christ-followers.)

When do they remember them? Look back at verse two where it shows that the context of their remembering is prayer.

Who do they direct their remembering to? Both verses 2 and 3 point out that it is God the Father.

Now the meat: What do they remember about the Thessalonians when in prayer to God?
  • Their work produced by faith,
  • Their labor prompted  by love,
  • Their endurance inspired by hope.
Notice what is repeated in each phrase: "by". This shows us that each of these things, work, labor, and endurance comes about or is produced by the means of something else So we could ask a "how" question here. How did the Thessalonians do the work and labor and get the endurance for which Paul remembers them? BY faith , love and hope. And these, we are told in Galatians 5:22-23, that these are fruit of the Spirit, produced in us by our relationship and walk with Jesus Christ. 

So, focusing on the word hope, we see that the Thessalonians endurance is visible. What clues tell us what they are enduring? Take a look at verse 6 where Paul says they are experiencing severe suffering. At this point we don't know what that suffering consists of, we just know that it is true of them. 

So, what is their hope in and how does it inspire them to endure severe suffering? This is at the heart of what we need to know, both for understanding this letter, and for understanding how we can endure in times of pandemic, financial hardships, racial injustice, and any other types of trials and suffering we may face as Christ-followers.

What is their hope in? The short answer is found in verse 3, "in our Lord Jesus Christ". But a deeper look at verses 9 and 10 reveal the story of how the Thessalonians gained their hope. Again, look at the verbs. They turned to God. They made a mid-turn correction in life. And what did they turn away from? Verse 9 says idols. This tells us that many of those in the Thessalonian church were Gentiles who had served the gods of their culture. What was significant about this change in life? They turned away from idols, from their old way of life, to serve the living and true God. The word serve carries with it a weight of wholehearted devotion. Note Paul's description of God as living and true, as opposed to idols which are dead and false. 

In addition to turning to God and serving Him, they are also waiting, verse 10. What are they waiting for? God's Son in heaven. What are we told about God's Son here? That God raised Him from the dead. Who is the Son spoken of here? Jesus. What will Jesus do when He comes from heaven? He will rescue His followers from the coming wrath of God. THIS is what they look forward to in hope. And this hope is what enables them in this present age to endure trials and suffering.

Let me give you two other passages that help fill out our understanding of this hope. 
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls." 1 Peter 1:3-9

The Thessalonians turned to the living and true God and received a living hope in Christ Jesus.

"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us." Romans 5:1-5
Our peace with God through Jesus Christ gives us the hope of the glory of God . That hope enables us to persevere, to endure, to press on as the Thessalonians did. Hope puts our focus on the future and the promises of God to enable us to live in this present age. Praise be to God!

Here's a sample of walking through this passage:

Try walking through 1 Thessalonians 1:4-10 before tomorrow's post and see what you find out about the gospel.

You can "walk" through most Bible passages using these simple investigate questions, using verbs and connectors to guide you to understanding. By week's end I will have a document on the Bible Study Techniques page that will fill this our more.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Thessalonians Words ~ Day 1: Faith

Day 1:Faith

Today we begin a new Words Challenge which will carry us through 1 & 2 Thessalonians over the next 31 days. Earlier this past week I was making a page about how to do a Word Study for the new Bible Study Techniques page here on my site. As I was putting it together and explaining how much I enjoy word studies, it dawned on me that it may be my passion for doing word studies and understanding words that was probably the catalyst for these Word Challenges. Words help us interpret life. They give meaning to everything from our emotions to relationships to theology. I pray that as these words guide us through Paul's letters to the Thessalonians that we all will have a deeper understanding of these books, but more importantly, that we will find that we have drawn closer to the Lord. Over the past months as we have faced the trials and challenges of a global pandemic, I have continually been drawn to a quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who was killed for opposing and resisting the Nazi's. He said,
May God in His mercy lead us through these times; above all may He lead us to Himself."
The letters to the Thessalonians can help us in our current age, as we face many challenges, to remind us of who we are in Christ Jesus. It can help us have a right perspective in the midst of trials and suffering, and help us have hope. And it all starts with faith.

Today's post will be a bit longer as we include some of the story behind the letters to the Thessalonians. The story begins with Paul's second missionary journey. On that journey he was accompanied by Silas and Timothy. The journey began in Jerusalem and went through Phrygia and Galatia (modern day Turkey). The purpose of this journey was to visit the churches Paul had planted on his first missionary journey and share with them the results of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-29). As Paul is preparing to leave the Galatian region and head to Asia he has a dream, a vision from God of a man in Macedonia pleading with him to come there. So Paul concludes that God has called them to share the Gospel in Macedonia (modern day Greece). You can read about Paul's vision in Acts 16:6-10. 

In Acts 17:1-10 we come to the story of Paul in Thessalonica. Paul had stopped there because there was a Jewish synagogue. It was there that Paul began to share the prophecies from Scripture about the promised Messiah (the Christ). He showed them through the Scriptures that the Christ would have to suffer and rise from the dead, declaring that, "This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ." (Acts 17:3). The story goes on to tell us that some Jews, a large number of God-fearing Greeks, and some prominent women believed in Jesus as the Christ, and so the church of Thessalonica was established! But it immediately met with opposition. The Jews there had heard of the message Paul was spreading, they had heard of the riot surrounding the events in Philippi and Paul's imprisonment (Acts 16:11-40), and the Scriptures tell us that "the Jews were jealous". They began a riot and went to the home where Paul was staying. When they did not find Paul and Silas there, they took some of the converted Christ-followers before the city officials to proclaim that they were "defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus" (Acts 17:7). Paul and Silas are able to flee the city unharmed, but so begins the life of this young church which will be defined by persecution and suffering.

Months later Paul sends Timothy back to Thessalonica to see how these young believers are faring. I Thessalonians is Paul's response to the church after hearing Timothy's report. And it all starts with faith.

The word faith, pistis (S4102) in Greek, is used 13 times in the two letters to the Thessalonians; 8 times in the first letter, and 5 times in the second. Faith refers to belief, trust, confidence, conviction of the truth. In the New Testament, faith is mainly used to refer to belief in the Gospel message: The good news that God provided a way for man to be freed from the penalty of sin through Jesus Christ.

Reading through these two letters and the instances in which Paul uses the word faith, I have come to two conclusions. 1. Faith is active and visible. And 2. Faith is like a muscle. Let's look a bit deeper at each of these.

Faith is active and visible. 

Paul begins both letters expressing that his prayers are full of thanksgiving to God for the faith the Thessalonians have. He hears from Timothy that their faith has stood up against the trials and suffering they continually face (1 TH 3:1-8). In fact their faith is enabling them to stand firm in the midst of those trials, and as a result "the Lord's message rang out" from them and was known everywhere (1 TH 1:8). Their faith was visible, it was evident and visible in their works  and in their labors of love (1 TH 1:3). To Paul, one's faith is proven genuine by the work or deeds one does as a result of their faith. We may even wonder, as a result of this, if a hidden faith is even true faith at all.

Faith is like a muscle.

Muscles need activity and exercise if they are to grow and stay healthy. Unused muscles often end up in a state of atrophy, they shrivel up, waste away and become useless. According to the words Paul uses alongside faith, the same is true of faith. Our faith can grow, strengthen, and increase or it can decrease, be tempted away, and be found lacking. Read some of the verses that describe these conditions: 1 TH 3:2, 5, 6, 7, 10: 2 TH 1:3. We are saved by grace through faith as a gift from God, and not as the result of anything we do (Ephesians 2:8). But Paul makes it clear that the faith that results in our conversion must continue to grow and be strengthened and, ultimately, be proven genuine. God gives us the gift of others in our life who pray for us, encourage us, and help strengthen our faith. He gives us His Spirit to help build our faith. And despite, how we feel about it, He gifts us with trials that test and refine our faith, that reveal our faith to others, and that ultimately show God's glory through us.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:8 Paul says to "put on faith and love as a breastplate". A breastplate is the metal armor used in ancient days to protect a soldier's vitals organs. Faith and love are the breastplate that protects our heart in the midst of spiritual battles and the trials and suffering we face in life.

I am using my Leuchtturm journal for my creative responses to this study. I decided to continue in this journal that I have been using for my word of the year, rather than starting a new journal. I am going to keep my art more on the simple side this time and mainly get creative with study notes. Plus a bit of cut paper here and there!

Today I would like to encourage you to try a Word Study with any of the words from Thessalonians. Hop over to the Bible Study Techniques page where you will find a document on how to do a word study. All the resources you need are a Bible and the internet.

Share your creative response, in in the conversation, and ask questions about Bible study or creative response in the Words Challenge Facebook group. Share your response on Instagram using #thessalonianwords.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Thessalonians Words Challenge ~ My Set Up

My Set Up

Today I thought I would share a bit about my set up for going through the Thessalonians Words challenge. I like to print out any passage or book I'm going to study so I can make the marks that help me walk through the Word. Making observation marks helps me "see" my way to understanding and act like road markers on a map. I'm going to go through these types of observation steps as we advance through the challenge. 

My basic supplies are:
  • A print out of the book and a print out of the challenge calendar.
  • An A5 journal with dotted lines to keep my study notes in.
  • Lots of colored markers. I like the Staedtler Triplus Fineliners best.
  • An art journal. I'm going to continue to use the Leuchtturm 1917 Journal I've been using all year for my word of the year journal.

I mentioned in my last post that I am expanding this challenge to offer ways to go deeper for anyone who is interested. With each Words Challenge I offer a significant verse and a Bible study devotion to go along with each word. But, in all honesty, my heart is to see people learn to dig in and discover what God's Word says on their own, and to find the joy and growth that comes along with it. 

Let me explain briefly. Many times we will study the Bible using a book or study guide that someone else has written. There is nothing wrong with that! But what we are doing is taking in someone else's interpretation and opinion of what the Bible says and what the theology or doctrine means. And again, there is nothing wrong with that. However, we are shaped by their opinion. Instead we can learn observation and interpretation skills, take what we learn and compare it to what scholars and teachers say, and then make an informed decision on meaning. When we learn to dig in and study God's Word for ourselves and do the work of interpretation a number of things result:
  • We become more biblically literate. That time and energy we put into observation and interpretation and determining meaning results in the Word of God going deep into our hearts and minds, and we then KNOW the Bible. Intimately! Bible Study teacher and author, Jen Wilkin says, "The heart cannot love what the mind does not know".
  • We are shaped and transformed by God's Word. Now, transformation can come from using other's Bible study guides and books, but when you dig in and chew and digest the Word of God you gain more than knowledge and you become transformed. Over and over! You grow to know the Father, Son, and Spirit more deeply. And more than the purpose of our own transformation, the purpose of the Bible is that we grow to know who God is more intimately. It's His book. We grow to know Him more and we are transformed..
  • We find a joy in reading and studying the Bible. You may not get pumped up about every observation step or tool, but some of them will really connect with you and an excitement about studying the Bible will grow. That excitement will draw you back to studying God's Word again and again. One lady in a study methods class I led wasn't really connecting with the tools we were learning. That is until we went through a passage and made a list of all the things being contrasted in the passage. For her, breaking down what was being said into this list, made the Word of God open up more clearly to her, and her excitement began to grow. I love finding repeated words and finding out what message the author is communicating by emphasizing these words over and over. Along with that, word studies are a fun way of discovery for me. In fact, it is from those passions that these Words Challenges were created!
Would you join me in going deeper with this challenge? If so, I have created a new section here on my site. Bible Study Tips and Techniques. You'll find it at the top of the page on the menu.

As we go through the Words Challenge I will introduce different steps and techniques for Bible Study. Then each step or technique will have a dedicated page on the Bible Study page that you can either print out or refer back to. My steps and techniques are not much different than other Inductive Bible Study methods. Over the years as I have learned from others, my own style of study has developed. Without having to purchase numerous study books and Bible resource books or software, I have found the tools and resources needed on the Internet, and I will introduce my favorites to you and help you understand how to use them to expand and deepen your study. There are already some steps posted on the page. Check them out!

If you are up for adding the Bible study to the Words Challenge, then I am excited! But please don't feel it is necessary. You can still follow the Word Challenge with the daily Scripture reading and Bible Study devotions posted on my blog. And with both I hope you'll respond creatively and share your responses in the private Words Challenge Facebook group and/or on Instagram (#thessalonianswords).

We begin on Monday July 6th!

Click photo for printable PDF.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Thessalonians Words Challenge

Thessalonians Words Challenge

July 6 - August 5, 2020

It's been a while since I did a summer Words Challenge and the time just felt right to take one on. A friend at church asked me to do a Bible study with her this summer to help refresh her memory on study methods as well as to keep her accountable in the Word. So, since I am doing that study I thought I would turn it into a Words Challenge as well!

We will use 31 significant words to guide us through 1 & 2 Thessalonians from July 6 - August 5. In these two letters Paul writes to Christ-followers who are struggling to hold onto their faith in a time of great trial and suffering. He uses these letters to help encourage them to focus on Jesus and the hope of His return as an anchor during the trials they face. He calls them to a right perspective about how to live life as Christ-followers while holding onto the hope of Christ. Fitting topics for us in our current times while we live through a pandemic. May we also find encouragement for our faith from Paul's letters to the Thessalonians.

Click on image for a badge to download

The words of this challenge will provide us with opportunities to dig deeper into these books and inspiration to express what we discover through art journaling or other creative practices. That's my whole desire for Words Challenges. Daily devotions will be posted here on my blog and you can share your art and insights in a private Facebook group, while building community with others who enjoy Bible study and art. To join the Facebook community click the link here or on the button in the side bar.

With this Words Challenge I would also like to challenge anyone who is up for it to go deeper than simply reading my Bible Study Devotions. I have created a page with my Bible study tips and techniques. I would love it if you joined me in studying these letters as we go through the challenge. I have morphed together my own style of doing an inductive style discovery study and I will post different tools I use as the challenge progresses. Why not follow along! The Bible Study Tips and Techniques page can be found here or you can access it through the menu at the top of the page. I love to study the Bible and to teach others to study it as well. True spiritual transformation comes as we intimately connect with God through His Word and His Spirit, yet many Christ-followers are intimidated by study skills or feel they need seminary degrees to wade through study resources. This was not God's plan! We need to know how to study the Word of God for ourselves. How else can we grow deeply and understand how to live as a Christ-follower? How else can we know how to identify false teaching?  I have already loaded the first two pages of tips and techniques to get you started in advance. You may already know how to use the inductive study method, if so, join me in this study with your preferred method and give my techniques a try as well if you like.

Below is the calendar for the Words Challenge. Each word has a theme verse. Use these verses or content from your study to help you respond creatively. Creative responses can be anything you choose - art journal, collage, photography, poetry, Bible journaling, visual study pages...anything you choose! Taking what we have read or studied and adding a creative response is a way to meditate on the word - we take it from our minds to our hearts and our hands and visually express it to the world!

Click on photo to download a pdf to print

Use #thessalonianswords on Instagram.